WASC visit postponed

Amber Buhagiar, Editor-in-Chief & Entertainment Editor

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) evaluates schools to ensure that they can be trusted to provide students with quality education through continuous self-improvement.  WASC accredits schools that achieve a focused mission and goal for its students.

If a school is not WASC accredited, the credits that students earn at that school are virtually worth nothing to universities and the military, and they do not have to accept students who apply.

In April 2008, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges granted an accreditation term of three years to Bear Creek High School.  This accreditation cycle encompasses a written progress report and a two day visit by the WASC committee during the third year.  In February 2011, the committee again visited Bear Creek and granted another accreditation term of three years.

Ideally, a school should aim for a six year accreditation cycle— Bear Creek has only ever been granted one six year cycle.  As 2014 quickly approaches, some are wondering if Bear Creek will be ready for the upcoming WASC evaluation. Principal Bill Atterberry doesn’t think so.

Recently, Atterberry requested a one-year extension to Bear Creek High School’s term of accreditation in a letter to WASC.  The extension was granted by the committee.

“If we host a visiting committee this year we will get spanked!” Atterberry said in the request letter.  “We’re simply not ready.”

WASC coordinator and English teacher Laura La Rue says that the high turnover in administration over the last few years has made it hard to set goals.  The inconsistent leadership has made it especially hard to make improvements.

“There’s nothing to suggest that there has been focused attention paid on the critical areas for follow up in terms of culturally responsive curriculum, strategies used consistently school wide, and a system for intervening when students are struggling,” Atterberry said. Attterberry says that the first job will be to define a concrete purpose for teachers and staff.

“We haven’t had a refined mission and vision statement and focus on learning process,” Atterberry said.

Atterberry also says that the number of failing students needs to be addressed, especially the number of students who are coming late to school.  He suggests that student tutors in advanced classes be grouped with students who are struggling and offer them assistance a few days a week.

“There needs to be more intervention,” Atterberry said.  “We need to provide students with organizational skills needed to be successful.”

English teacher Lynda Farrar is the head of one of five WASC focus groups at Bear Creek. The purpose of her group is to review the curriculum in place for students, and explain how that curriculum meets school goals and serves students by meeting school-wide learning outcomes.

“We attempt to offer a variety of approaches for all students,” Farrar said.  “This year, we implemented a number of non-CP classes designed to meet other students’ needs.”

However, Farrar says that Bear Creek could be improved if there were more electives available to students.  Although teachers try to make the curriculum accessible for all students, Farrar says that many of these intervention programs, like AVID and remedial classes, are taking away from elective classes that could be offered.

“We would like the students out of intervention programs and into more academic classes,” Farrar said.

Atterberry agrees that more elective classes should be offered.  However, he says that students should first become more invested in school to avoid failing classes.  Teachers should work to make class more engaging. Once students stop failing, the school will bring back more electives.

History teacher Beth Oesterman’s group targets assessment.

“One focus needs to be the development of a cross curricular curriculum that reflects common core and encompasses instruction,” Oesterman said.  “We need to keep in mind students of minorities, students in ELD…all subgroups need to be addressed.”

Outside of the classroom, Oesterman says that parent involvement in students’ lives could be improved.

La Rue says she is confident that the active leadership this year will lead the school to be ready for the WASC accreditation process in 2015.