WASC committee leaves positive impression with staff

"Students really seem to enjoy their time at Bear Creek" —WASC member

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Jessica Lee and Cameron Morelli

After their recent three-day visit, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) visitation committee had several positive remarks about Bear Creek and were able to clearly identify the school’s strengths and weaknesses. The members stated that they came to a complete consensus over Bear Creek’s accreditation — a term the school will find out in June.

During the 2007-2008 full visit, the WASC visiting committee pinpointed 11 areas of improvement for Bear Creek and added four more during the 2010-2011 visit. These critical areas of improvement included having “the school leadership and staff implement ways to have a stronger parent, student and community role in the entire school improvement process” and implementing “strategies and practices designed to engage the interest and involvement of students not succeeding optimally.”

Bear Creek addressed these goals for improvement through school-wide, department and leadership meetings, and the staff has worked diligently to implement strategies to improve the success of all students.

In these meetings, the school created three site goals: implementing two to three research-based strategies in classrooms to actively engage students in learning, offering students more schedule options and developing an intervention program for struggling students.

WASC Leadership Team Site Coordinator and English teacher Laura La Rue says that these three goals, although still in progress, seem to have great momentum.

In regards to the two to three research-based strategies, the school has implemented close reading and collaborative group work. The third strategy has yet to be decided.

“We’ve done a really good job implementing close reading across campus,” La Rue said. “We’re currently working on collaboration but we still need to progress. For the third one, we’re looking at a couple of different areas, either possibly technology or project-based learning assignments, but we haven’t gotten to that point yet. We want it to be organic, and we don’t want to just assign things to the staff.”

Some students state that close reading and collaborative group work has a positive impact.

“For English, close reading really gets you more active and engaged with the text, getting you to understand it better and talk about it more,” senior Annie Nguyen said.

“The group work helps because students are able to put their ideas together, work together, and try to figure out problems together,” junior Kevin Phan said.

In regards to scheduling options, La Rue says that Bear Creek has done a great job by offering more AP classes and elective courses such as online journalism, creative writing and coding in addition to opening up summer school so students can make up and get ahead in classes.

Bear Creek’s tutorial program also seems to be heading off to a good start. According to the self-study, comparing the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 first semesters, there were 180 fewer students with D’s.

“There have been results that show [the tutorial program] is working,” junior David Pham, a tutor, said. “Tutors are working well with students.”

“We’ve had successes,” Vice Principal Sera Baysinger said. “We’ve had some participation that hasn’t been as successful as we had hoped, which is why we opened it up because we ended up having spaces available for students requesting to be in the program.”

The improvements that Bear Creek has made since the last WASC visit seem to be reflected in the WASC committee’s perspective on Bear Creek’s students, staff and campus.

“I’ve noticed a lot of strengths,” Lisa McCusker, a teacher of Andrew Hill High School and WASC visiting committee member said. “There seems to be a general confidence among your staff with the administrators and their ability in the administrative space and [also towards] the teachers [and their ability to] make positive changes on campus.”

One primary asset the visiting committee continuously brought up was the student population and their positive attitudes.

“The students seem to really enjoy their time at Bear Creek,” said Scott Corso, a teacher at California High School in San Ramon, Calif., and a member of the WASC visiting committee. “They don’t want to leave the school. They want to stay. There’s a lot of great programs during school and after school, different activities that kids can get involved in, and there seems to be general excitement for those programs.”

“The students are just so positive about their school,” René Malamed, Principal of Valley Springs Elementary and WASC visiting committee member, said. “I really haven’t heard any of the students saying anything negative about their classes. They said they want to be here and they’re engaged in not only their classes but their own learning and the other activities they’re doing here.”

The visiting committee additionally noted how Bear Creek is extremely clean.

“The campus is extraordinarily clean and well maintained,” McCusker said. “It’s a beautiful set of facilities.”

The student restrooms, a critical area for follow up identified last issue, has since been addressed and the sanitary aspect has improved. Principal Bill Atterberry has assigned custodians during lunchtime to maintain the restrooms.

“I think they have improved, but I’m not using them all day long, students are,” Baysinger said. “We’re having to close them down less often and we’re making sure [stalls] are stocked. We’ve put extra personnel in place so that during the high traffic times there’s a constant review of the facility to make sure that its stocked and that it’s clean.”

Most faculty and staff agree that Bear Creek has made a leap forward in the right direction since the last WASC visitation.

“We’ve got forward momentum going with a lot of the programs that we’ve got happening inside the classrooms,” Baysinger said. “I think we need to continue working on those things and bringing everyone to consensus. It doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is going to agree with everything all of the time but [we need] to bring everyone to consensus and continue working [with] the staff to make that happen.”

WASC accreditation is important and impacts students as students’ credits aren’t worth anything to colleges and the military unless the school is accredited. These institutions do not have to accept students from nonaccredited schools.

WASC examines schools to ensure that they can provide students with quality education and encourages continuous improvement in all areas. WASC accredits the schools that are able to implement a clear, focused mission and carry out goals to maximize student success.