By Reggie Ellis
exeter – A local school administrator is setting the pace for continuation high school success on a statewide level.
Last month, the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) announced that Kaweah High School Principal Darin Pace is the Tulare County and regional award winner for the Continuation/Educational Options Administrator of the Year. Pace’s award for ACSA Region 11 — which encompasses Tulare, Kings, Kern, Inyo and Mono counties – makes him eligible for the statewide award as well.
The Administrator of the Year award, for both alternative education and traditional school settings, is based on the following criteria: creating a vision of learning that is shared by staff, creating a culture of learning conducive to student learning and staff professional growth, creating a safe and effective learning environment, collaborating with families and community members to support students, promote student success by understanding outside issues and implementing the use of new technology.
“Our staff believes students can do anything and they all have the that same belief in our students,” Pace said.
Pace said he is humbled by the award but is proud of his teachers and students. Academically, KHS was granted the maximum six-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), was named a Model Continuation High School last March by the California Department of Education and has received numerous Golden Bells from the California School Boards Association.
“This award showcases the incredible growth that our staff and students have made,” Pace said. “In comparison to other schools and districts, our student achievement has closed the gap.”
Students are excelling in other areas as well. KHS students volunteer at every school site in the Exeter Unified School District, were the first to play organized athletics as Cougars, the first to help grow its agriculture program and even had two students who were finalists in a statewide art program and another that beat out 900 applicants to win a garden design program. The school has started a successful horticulture program that raises money for the school and has fostered a relationship with the Optimist Club of Exeter, which raises money to help pay for yearbooks, field trips, and other needs.
“Everything has to be built on respect,” Pace said. “That’s the difference. We can either make the best of any situation or we can eat each other, there are only two choices. Our students are choosing to make the best of it.”
The student success at KHS is even more impressive when you consider the obstacles that continuation high school students often have to overcome. Most students come to KHS from Exeter Union High School because they are academically deficient by three grade levels, are behind half a year in course credits, average a 1.4 GPA and, to a lesser degree, social and behavior issues. KHS students are English language learners, have learning disabilities, and come from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes at a higher rate than the comprehensive high school.
“There is a lot of trust-building that goes on,” Pace said. “It’s all about developing a comfort level for the student. Everything in life is explainable you just have to take the time to understand the issues and then provide resources to assist them in those areas.”
Instead of giving students a long list of rules to follow, Pace has simplified the list to focus on just three core rules: 1) Come to school; 2) Respect Yourself; and 3) Be Respectful to Other People. Students have responded to the short list and many students are choosing to stay at KHS even after they have accumulated enough credits to return to the high school. KHS has seen an 82% increase in enrollment in the last four years while the district overall has seen a 15% decline.
“They need to be a person of character and everything else will come,” Pace said. “When students do or don’t do well it usually has nothing to do with school. It’s usually from outside influences, both positive and negative.”
Pace will be honored at the County level on June 15, and at the regional level on May 2 in Bakersfield. ACSA has yet to announce its finalists for statewide awards. The awards will be presented at its annual Leadership Summit in November in San Jose, Calif.