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Attending a comprehensive high school is part of the unique experience of receiving a public education in the United States.  According to the Webster Dictionary the word comprehensive is an adjective to describe “including many, most or all things”.  The fact that American high schools attempt to be all things to all people should be cause for celebration and in fact, is part of what’s great about our schools.

The purpose of our schools is to ensure that all students learn at high levels and graduate prepared for college and career.  However, learning should include not just academic, but social and emotional growth as well.  Participating in one of the many extracurricular activities offered by a comprehensive high school can provide a student with a multitude of opportunities for collaboration, leadership, and to express their creativity.  These opportunities come from participation in not only traditional athletic and fine arts programs but clubs as well.  At most comprehensive high schools, almost any student can find a club to meet his or her interest.  At my previous district we had clubs that met a variety of students desires including meat society, conspiracy club junior statesmen, knitting club and fishing club.

An extracurricular activity is sometimes the factor that drives a reluctant student to come to school.  The truth of the matter is that most teens, at one time are another, are reluctant to come to school.  Students who see some or all of the academic work as rote or drudgery find their time participating in an extracurricular to be the most interesting part of the day.  The growth and learning that occurs during clubs, sports and activities can seem effortless because the student is engaged in an activity in which they have high interest.

Athletics, arts and clubs are part of what make our schools special and are often what our students remember most fondly from their years in high school.   As adults, there are one or two special teachers who stand out in our minds, but almost every adult has a variety of memories of high school from playing in “the big game”, to cheering their team on to victory, to performing in a music ensemble or drama production or perhaps watching a friend give a performance they never thought possible.

Although the economy is now on the upswing, when things get rough again, surely one of the first conversations about how to save money will be to cut arts, clubs or athletics.  These discussions often ignore the irrefutable fact that these activities offer invaluable learning and leadership opportunities for our students.  If we define twenty-first education skills as creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking and we recognize that athletics, clubs and the fine arts foster these skills then we should actually increase opportunities for involvement of students.  Some schools have gone as far as requiring that students have extra curricular involvement because they recognize the essential learning that occurs in these venues.

American high schools are often the target of negative attention in the media and by reformers.  However, the notion of a comprehensive high school with a wide array of sports, clubs, fine arts opportunities and leadership opportunities for students is one area in which our schools excel.  It’s part of what makes our high schools special and something to celebrate.  As an educator, I’m proud of a record of decision-making that supports and expands these amazing opportunities for our students.  If you have any doubt about the importance of these programs, I challenge you to attend the next performance or sporting event at your local high school and see for yourself what our students have accomplished outside of the classroom.

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For many years there has been a national dialogue regarding the gap in achievement between low-income, minority students and their middle to upper income, white peers.  As we compare standardized test scores, grade point averages and graduation rates, we can easily see a persistent gap between these groups.  In fact, in many school systems, we can predict the outcomes for a student based on their zip code or the size of their parents’ paycheck.   Most educators find this gap unacceptable and many programs and ideas are introduced annually into schools in order to help reduce the gap.  The research on the efficacy of these programs varies, but for the most part, despite the good intentions of educators and policy makers, the achievement gapspersist.

When we focus on the achievement gap, we consider the measurements of results. In other words, the focus in on an outcome or what a student is able to do after a semester or year of school.  What if we were to change the conversation so that we focus on the experience of students rather than the measurements we use after the fact?  Many educators have adjusted their language and their thinking on this issue and now focus on the opportunity gap rather than the achievement gap.  The question that we should really be asking is about inputs, or the experience of the students.  Do all students in the system have the same opportunity to experience success?  When we consider the opportunity gap, we examine the differences between what courses and experiences are available to various groups of students.

When we take an honest look at schools, we often see very different experiences for low income and minority students.  A few questions to consider:

  • Do all students have access to at least grade level instruction or are some students placed into remedial tracks with very little chance for advancement?
  • Are there research based, non-optional interventions available to all students who struggle academically and emotionally? Do these interventions allow students to stay in grade level courses? Do experts administer these interventions?
  • Are minority and low-income students proportionally represented in honors and Advanced Placement courses? If not, are their barriers to admission that prohibit students with the desire to challenge themselves?
  • Are minority and low-income students over represented in special education programs and courses? Statistically, these students are no more likely to be disabled than their peers.
  • Are minority and low-income students proportionally represented in specialty and niche programs such as International Baccalaureate, magnet schools or charter schools? If not, what barriers to admission or participation exist?

If we believe that our schools should prepare all students for college and career, then it is imperative to eliminate the gaps in opportunity that our students often experience.  All students should receive at least grade level instruction and those who need extra assistance to function at grade level should have access a robust system of intervention and support.  We should not be able to look in a classroom door and know that it’s below grade level, tracked class because of the color of the students’ skin.  If we are fulfilling the promise of American education, gifted, honors, and Advanced Placement classrooms should be visually indistinguishable from grade level courses.  The barriers to participation in rigorous programs must be eliminated.  All students deserve access to the very best that every teacher and school have to offer.

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As the school year comes to a close, we once again find ourselves in a time of both celebration and reflection. Another year has passed, we have celebrated the academic, creative and athletic successes of our students and our graduating seniors are on their way to new adventures.   June is a time for teachers to calculate final grades and for report cards to be sent to families, and at the district office we are poring over data from the year in order to determine the trends and patternsthat point us in the direction of improved outcomes for students.

There is no doubt, the data from the last five years tells us that we are moving in a good direction.  Our students are performing considerably better than state and national averages and TUHSD student achievement increases year after year.  As a district we track many data points.  Here are just a few highlights of our success:

College Enrollment and Completion Rates

This is the first year that we have had college entrance and completion rates available to us as a district. In the coming years, we will continue to work to ensure that more students are prepared for success in post high school education.

  • TUHSD has a far higher percentage of students who enroll in and complete college within six years. In fact,our college completion average is 15.8% than the national average.

Advanced Placement Courses

The research is clear, access to rigorous coursework in high school is one of the best predictors of success in a post high school environment.  The statistics for our Advanced Placement courses are just one way that we assess rigor in our schools.

  • Total number of AP courses taken per school year has increased from 2918 to 3729 over past five years.
  • Percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher on the AP exam (generally considered a passing grade) is 21.8% higher than the California average and 24.5% higher than the national average.
  • The percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher on AP exams has increased over the past several years even with the huge increase in numbers of students taking the courses.


The SAT website defines the test as a, “standardized assessment of the critical reading, mathematical reasoning, and writing skills students have developed over time and that they need to be successful in college”.  Many of our students are also now choosing to take the ACT assessment, which is accepted by almost every college and university.

  • Average SAT scores for all demographic groups have increased over five years
  • Total number of students tested and percentage of students tested has increased over five year term

Graduates Meeting UC/CSU Requirements 2007-2013

The University of California and California State University systems have set minimum entrance requirements for admission.  Our courses are aligned with UC/CSU standards and courses that meet the entrance requirements are noted in our course descriptions.

  • There has been a 7.4% increase in the number of students who graduate with UC/CSU requirements over the past five years. This is well above the state average.

Academic Performance Index Growth Scores

The Academic Performance Index (API) is calculated by the state and incorporates a variety of measures including state assessments.  The new state assessments, which are aligned to common core standards, will be give for the first time in Spring 2015.

  • API grew district wide from 2009-2013.
  • There has been a reduced gap between the achievement of our Hispanic students and non-Hispanic students from 2009-2013.
  • There has been a reduced gap between low income and non-low income students from 2009-2013.
  • All subject areas have shown a positive trend in average growth over the past five years.

These data points are a source of pride for our skilled teachers, staff, administrators and trustees. As a district, we continue to monitor many data points so that we can be sure that our great schools continue to perform well and benefit ALL students. We are committed to ensuring that all students, even the highest achieving, learn and grow during their four years of high school.  Continuous improvement is often difficult to attain in a high achieving system and so we are immensely proud of these accomplishments.  As a community, we have so much to celebrate this June.  Our students are served well by our teachers and schools.

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The curriculum work at TUHSD is focused on answering three very important questions:

  1. What should all students know and be able to do as a result of taking a course or series of courses?
  2. How will we know when students know the information and have mastered these skills?
  3. How will we respond when students don’t learn and how will we respond when they do?

Program Goals are the Answer to Question Number One

For the past several years, teachers and counselors have worked with their colleagues in content area teams to answer question number one through the development of program goals.  Program goals are statements of what students should know and be able to do and they emphasize the knowledge a student would potentially gain from taking a course.  These goals are important because they help us ensure that students are ready for the next course in a sequence and that ultimately, students are ready for post high school education and/or employment.  All departments have either finished or are currently finalizing and agreeing to their program goals.

Examples of program goals:

  • Students will be able to graph and solve a quadratic equation (Algebra I program goal)
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of the five components of health related fitness which include flexibility, body composition, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular endurance (Physical Education program goal)
  • Students will be able to determine the essential idea of a text and analyze its development (English program goal in the area of reading)

How will program goals be used?

Once program goals are completed, teachers will use them to plan the activities and assignments that they use in their classroom.  Think of it like planning a trip, first we determine where we want to go, and then we plan how to get there.  It is also important that teachers are explicit with students about the program goals.  Students should understand to goal, be able to discuss the goal and be able to monitor progress towards the goal.  In fact, if you dropped into a class, you should be able to ask your student to explain the learning goal for the lesson, how the current activities relate to the goal.

Curriculum work at TUHSD is driven by the strategic plan, which can be found at the following link:

Stay tuned for information about question number two and three in future editions of the Parent Connection!

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