Now in his second year at El Cerrito High School, Principal David Luongo said Monday night that he's excited to be moving forward this year with changes on several fronts designed to improve instruction and community at the school.
His goal, he said, is to make El Cerrito High one of the best schools in the nation.
"For me, number one, the most important thing when I'm thinking about the school and how we move forward is, 'How are we improving instruction?'" he said in a half-hour "State of the School" presentation to the PTSA.
"Instruction is the number one key to the success of our students," he told the audience of about 60 people for his talk titled, "Vision for Academic Excellence."
Improving instruction occurs on several levels, he said, including finding good teachers and providing them the training and support they need. He described opportunities for new teachers to meet with him once a month and to observe classes taught by gifted teachers as well as strategies to foster learning communities for veteran teachers.
On the student side, he said, improved instruction means extra support for students, such as programs that allow students to work with a core curriculum and core group of teachers. These include the three academies at the school – information technology, media, and green auto science – and the ninth-grade "houses" that assist students in the difficult transition from middle school to high school.
Improved instruction also means not only improving and increasing the dozen AP classes but also providing more access for under-represented students, he said. He cited data showing discrepancies between the ethnic mix of the school and the ethnic mix of students in AP (Advanced Placement) classes.
The 1,304-student school is 31 percent African American, 26 percent Latino, 22 percent Asian American and 19 percent white, he said. The 422-student enrollment in AP classes is 30 percent Asian American, 30 percent white, 22 percent Latino and 18 percent African American.
"Something that I want us to be aware of as we continue to improve the school is that we need to raise that number up for the number of African American students that are enrolled in our AP classes and successfully completing those courses to match and correlate a little better with the total population," he said.
Luongo also provided data on where the students come from, showing that the majority are from outside El Cerrito and Kensington. He said 48 percent are from Richmond, 42 percent from El Cerrito, 4 percent from Kensington and 6 percent from elsewhere.
"I think this is really important data to look at because we need to keep in mind, even though the school is called El Cerrito High School, that we expand much further than just the city of El Cerrito and our population is much larger than that," he said.
"So with 48 percent plus 6 percent coming from outside of the El Cerrito-Kensington area, it's really important that when we're making decisions and we're thinking about how we're going to become a distinguished and successful school that we're keeping all of our students in mind," he said.
Luongo laid particular stress on the need to address large class sizes.
"The biggest challenge that we have here at El Cerrito High School, number one, is large class sizes," he said. "It's just hard to teach with, whether it's 35 bodies or 40 bodies at the beginning of school year. Right now most of our classes are around 35 or less, but every once in a while you do get a class that gets up because the district has set the limits at 38 as an average, which means you could up to 42, but we try not to go that high."
To limit class sizes, he urged voters to support school revenue measures on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Another strategy he stressed is "restorative justice," which he said is more a philosophy than a program, designed to ask the right questions in addressing conflict at the school, reducing suspensions and expulsions, increasing attendance and improving the learning environment in the classroom.
"We need to add an element of working with the students so that they understand what they're doing and then let them really understand what difference, what impact that's making on the people that they do it to, those directly impacted and those indirectly impacted," he said.
"And that's really changing the culture of the campus," he said. "Restorative justice is the philosophy that's going to move us in that direction."
Luongo also stressed approaches to enhancing community at the school, including school events, administration communication with stakeholders through phone messages and improvements to the school website, and parent involvement in activities and groups that support the school.
Parents can help by joining a WASC group, intended to help the school with its next accreditation from WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges), joining the PTSA, becoming a volunteer writing coach with WritersCoach Connection, helping the Student Activities Fund (which supports various student activities) and helping with the school garden, Luongo said.
Another way for parents and others in the community to help would be to support Measures E and G on the Nov. 6 ballot, he said.
Measure E is a bond measure to rebuild run-down schools in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. It would increase property tax bills by $48 per $100,000 of net assessed valuation. Measure G is an extension of the current parcel tax of 7.2 cents per square foot of building area to support academic programs in the district.
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