Community credited for BUHS success


Staff Writer

Garth Isom, superintendent of Brawley Union High School District, is happy to give credit where it's due for the implementation and ongoing success of Brawley Union High School's strategic master plan — and that is to the community at large his school district serves.

"We stacked our master planning team with parents, business people, students and administrators from our five feeder school districts," Isom said, adding, "A team like this is supposed to be a microcosm of the community."

In a move seen only in a handful of schools in California, the school superintendent and his team decided to combine the process of school accreditation with that of the development and implementation of the school's master plan.


"The last time we went through the accreditation process was in 1994 when we were awarded a six-year accreditation. We had several community members on that committee and they left saying that it was a ‘token representation' … they thought the process was weak involving community members and parents and that they didn't really do anything besides attend a few meetings."

Isom said as he went through initial strategic master plan training, he could see where the two processes were not mutually exclusive and in conjunction with an outside consultant, the school approached the accreditation commission, successfully, for approval to combine the two endeavors.

"We actually had parents help write some of our reports for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation commission," Isom said, adding parents were involved in visiting and observing other schools along with school administrators, teachers and students.

Another six-year term of accreditation, with a mid-term review, was granted by WASC in January.

The 45-strong master planning team first met in October 2000 over a three-day period and in Isom's words "brainstormed" an action plan into existence that would allow for the development of strategies at BUHS that would give a focus to areas of the education process the team wanted to concentrate on.

"I gave it to them raw," were the words of high school senior Arthur "T.J." Singh, 17, a member of the team. "It was exciting for me; I had a lot to say and I wanted to put it all right out there on the table."

With an obvious sense of satisfaction, Isom said, "Nobody walked away from this saying it was a token effort. It was a big commitment on the part of the community members because they had to give three full days in October and then two full days in March when we would ask them to leave their cell phones in their trucks and come in at 8 a.m. That first day we were there until 10 at night!"

Goals were set, a mission statement authored and five action teams organized. These teams, with a total of some 85 community members, spent the next six months developing educational strategies for the school. And those strategies are bearing fruit, according to educators at the school.

"It has given the teaching staff a real focus and it has provided us a very solid sense of direction," is the way internship teacher Inez Estrada views the master plan.

The news is good on the student front as well.

"I see more of my peers being helpful to others … referrals are down and there are no groups like gang-type stuff … that's gone now," is how T.J. describes the atmosphere on campus.

Career specialist Brenda Haley says she's particularly noticed a change in student attitude when it comes to report card time.

"In the past, kids would typically get their report cards and sort of take off and hide somewhere but now we see a whole lot of sharing of those report cards. They'll ask each other, ‘What did you get in this class … in that class?' The kids are working together and helping each other."

One of the areas in which this concept of students helping students is well illustrated is the after-school tutoring center, Isom said.

"The big thing that really took off right away in this whole plan is our tutoring center," Isom said, explaining that as well as involving paid and volunteer teaching staff, the center has a sizable number of senior students mentoring younger students.

When asked if there are plans for major changes in curriculum next school year, Isom responded enthusiastically.

"Yes, we've got some big changes in our freshman schedules. We're going to do what we call parallel classes."

Isom explained that the concept of parallel classes comes from the Aiming High High Schools for the 21st Century study from the state Department of Education.

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