Mammoth High School (MHS) Principal Gabe Solorio proudly announced that the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accredited MHS for the maximum six years.
WASC is one of six regional accrediting associations in the U.S. According to the WASC website, its intent is to “foster excellence in elementary, secondary, and adult education by encouraging school improvement.”
Solorio described the accrediting process through WASC as a “self study; you look at what you’re doing, your strengths and weaknesses, your areas of critical need, and develop an action plan,” he said.
The WASC accrediting process began a year ago. In January, MHS crafted a report to the WASC committee, followed by a WASC visit in March to assess the high school. WASC then reported its recommendations, and MHS had until June 1 to turn in a modified action plan according to those recommendations.
“Like everyone, we can always do better,” said Solorio. “We have our challenges, but we also have a lot of successes.”
One of the challenges highlighted by the WASC report, and discussed at length at last Thursday’s Mammoth Unified School District Board of Education meeting, was a learning achievement gap at MHS between white and hispanic students, particularly in the subjects of Math and English.
“The most resources need to be directed to the most needy kids, and all of our studies show that our most needy are our hispanic population,” said MHS Athletic Director and WASC Project Leader Chris Powell. Board Member John Stavlo agreed, noting the dramatic difference in achievement between white and hispanic students in the subject of Math. He gave the example of Algebra I, where 45% of white students test proficient. By comparison, only 15% of hispanic students test proficient. “What are we doing to change this?” he asked.
Powell pointed to an effort to add support classes during school hours as an example of MHS strategies for solving the discrepancy in student achievement. This additional support is crucial when it comes to Algebra I, which Principal Solorio called a “gateway” class into the Math classes that follow. Another approach that MHS will be looking at, according to Solorio, is “putting [at risk] kids into Algebra I with additional support, working with these kids more one-on-one.”
“We can’t change everything about Mammoth High School over the summer,” said Chris Powell, “but what [the WASC review] saw does need to be addressed.”
Mammoth Middle School (MMS) Principal Annie Rinaldi pointed out that the School District needed a broader perspective on factors contributing to the learning gap in Math and English. “We shouldn’t wait until high school to address the math issue,” she said. Another solution could therefore be to require that all MMS students take pre-Algebra, with intensive summer school between MMS and MHS to accommodate at-risk students. “We’re working on the student achievement gap as a K-12 issue,” she said. Ultimately the WASC review is “great for the whole district,” she added.
MHS Principal Gabe Solorio agreed. “The WASC process is really valuable in that it makes you look at what you need to do, and how you’re going to do it,” he said.
MUSD will also consider how to close the learning gap in the subject of English, he said. “We need to build literacy from kindergarten,” said Rinaldi, “because again, this is not a high school issue, this is a K-12 issue. The question is, how do we build literacy, especially with our rapidly changing demographics?” She noted that the incoming Mammoth Elementary School class will be 66% Hispanic.
Said Powell, “If the steps that we talk about don’t work, we have to continue addressing this gap and these persistent failures in our program.”
However, Solorio noted the many successes necessary to ensure the WASC approval. “I’m really proud of everybody for their efforts all year,” he said. “It says something good about our district. It’s hard, education in this day and age. It’s easy to nitpick schools to death, but when you really look at it, you see we’ve accomplished a great deal.”