Richard Esparza, Granger High School, Washington
Story posted February, 2008
• 100% parent attendance at conferences for the past 3 years
• Over 90% of students now graduate, up from 59% in 2004
In 2001, Granger High School’s test scores were dismal. Gang-related graffiti marred every surface, and fewer than half of students graduated. Most of the 300-odd students at this Washington State high school come from low-income families working on farms in the surrounding Yakima Valley. Eighty-four percent are Latino, and six percent are Native American. Could these students succeed? Principal Richard Esparza has the answer on his license plate: “Se puede!” (It can be done!) Under Esparza’s confident guidance, the school reached out to students and their families, creating supports to keep students on track.
Reading across the curriculum, aligning coursework with state standards, and intensive academic interventions for struggling students all contribute to Granger’s steady improvement. But caring connections between students, teachers, and parents bring all these strands together.
Esparza set up an advisory system where each certified school member–teacher, administrator, or counselor–is responsible for 20 students. Advisory groups meet four days a week for 30 minutes, developing individual learning plans for each student and providing daily support in reading, mathematics, homework, and study skills. Advisers stick with their kids for four years, taking on a new group when their last group graduates. “No coach would say, ‘I can coach 400 kids at one time,’ so why do we expect one counselor to handle that many?” says Esparza, a former wrestling coach. “Teachers can’t give that much individual attention to the 150-180 students in their classes.”
English teacher Joyce Golob says, “Advisers act like a second set of parents. We keep students on course academically and reach out to caregivers and other instructors when there’s progress or a problem.” Students say the system helps them stick to their goals. “The advising classes are one of the best parts of school,” says Jessica Carpenter, who’s aiming for law school. “We do homework and get help from other students or our teachers. We have time to work on our portfolio. When we’re ready to apply to college, we have our work on hand.” Student portfolios contain not only grades, credits, and standardized test scores, but also career goals and examples of their best work.
Twice yearly, students lead mandatory conferences with parents and teachers about their progress. The meetings motivate kids to keep their grades up, Jessica says: “No one wants to explain why they aren’t doing well.” Advisers make sure every family shows up, scheduling conferences during extended-day hours or even during intermission at school baseball games. Granger has seen 100 percent parent attendance at conferences for the last three years, and student achievement has risen steadily-over 90 percent graduate now, and test scores are up.The school turnaround has impacted the surrounding community–Granger has come from having one of the highest crime rates in the Yakima Valley to one of the lowest.
“People often ask me how our high school can get 100 percent of parents to attend the conferences,” says Esparza. “The answer: one parent at time.”