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July 19, 2011 > Robertson High School - a unique learning environment

Robertson High School - a unique learning environment

Story and photo by Miriam G. Mazliach

Summer school is in session at Robertson High School and Principal Salvador Herrera, Jr. is completing his fourth year at its helm.

"We have many challenges as the students that come to Robertson have a lot of different needs, and so many different stories," says Herrera. "As a staff we need to identify their needs and alleviate them; the reality being that somehow these students weren't successful in the comprehensive, traditional setting."

The overall game plan for students is to help them graduate. Robertson uses the same textbooks as other Fremont high schools but does not offer Honors or AP classes. Students need to earn 200 units to graduate, compared to 230 at a more traditional high school due to a lack of some elective courses. Robertson offers six periods, just like the other high schools in Fremont and there is a 0 period or 7th period for contract work or extra classes.

"Because we don't offer Honors or AP classes, our students aren't eligible for four-year universities, but the majority can and do apply to community colleges," explains Herrera. "Ohlone College presents a parent night three times a year. We try to reach out and help kids get into Ohlone and Chabot; they both hold their placement tests here for our students. We're seeing more kids pursuing higher education," he adds.

Robertson High can accommodate a student population of 330 and 16 teachers. Most students remain there for two years. According to Herrera, the school occasionally encounters a "super senior," meaning a student past the age of 18 who does not have enough credits to graduate. In that event, the student can remain for an additional year, but has the option of attending Adult School. There is an exception for Special Education students who may remain until the age of 22, if needed. The oldest student to receive a diploma at Robertson to date was 19.

Students are usually referred to the Robertson campus by their current school principal, a parent or counselor. Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Rickey Jones receives information on the student and reports to the School Board where placement decisions are made. An individualized plan for success involves the student, parents and teachers, and monitor transition and progress.

Besides a high school curriculum, Robertson also houses the Vista and Opportunity programs. Vista is a non-charter "Independent Study" school for grades 7-12 grade students in the Fremont Unified School District. Academically students are at grade level but opt for this program for a variety of reasons: anxiety in larger groups, religious reasons, the need for flexible work hours to support their family, or for students who travel a lot due to athletic competitions or the like. One example is Olympic gold medalist, Kristi Yamaguchi whose training and performance schedule made it impractical to participate in a traditional school environment.

Although most attend more often, at a minimum, students meet one-on-one with a teacher at an assigned time for a two hour block during the week. During that time, the teacher explains lessons and assignments for the week. When the student returns the following week, he/she is tested to demonstrate mastery of their studies. Vista program has four teachers and an enrollment of approximately 115 students.

The Opportunity Program, for grades 7 - 8, has two teachers and a maximum of 40 students.

Most have not been successful at traditional schools; some are expulsion students who have been assigned by the School Board. Students attend class every weekday but can also be assigned to other schools based on academic needs or selection of courses offered.

Next year the program will add an additional 6th period class, the same as other junior high schools in the area. These intervention programs guide students back to regular school and a diploma. A "pacing plan" is developed and students are assessed every six weeks using benchmark tests. Student data is reviewed, progress evaluated and strategies adjusted to meet individual needs.

Principal Herrera encourages active learning through professional training and development for the teaching staff and scheduled collaboration with and by the instructors. He states, "Efforts by the students and dedicated staff are evident. Over the past five years, Robertson's API (Academic Performance Index) score has increased 101 points and last year by 81 points. Increased API, attendance, can all be attributed to the positive things going on in the classroom," adds Herrera.

At the June 22 School Board meeting, Herrera and district staff asked the Board to disband the fourth program that had been offered on the Robertson campus - COURSE. This program was specifically for students in grades 9 - 12, who had been expelled from school. The format adhered to individualized self-paced learning in a classroom for four hours a day but was not sufficiently interactive. "Research tells us that kids who are engaged and interact with others, excel. The way this program was structured, didn't encourage that," said Herrera. "I was looking out for what's best for the kids, giving them a second chance to engage and excel."

Herrera emphasizes the overall professional learning community at Robertson. "The positives are coming out, a guided and directed teaching program, accountability and assistance," he adds. "It takes the right type of teacher to work at this school, one who is patient and firm." He explains, "Staff, office personnel, custodians, teacher aides, and teachers are all building relationships with the kids. Our goal is to have at least one adult a kid can talk to."

According to Principal Herrera, ninety-nine percent of the kids have chosen to come here; only one percent of students are sent because of Board placement. "Once kids and families get here they say, 'wow' they like it here. Many can even graduate early. The traditional school setting didn't work for them but here we can equally prepare them for a next step, that of community college."

Herrera concludes, "We want to be strategic in our approach and how we work with kids by building relationships to be successful here. We're trying to help communicate to the public that this school is another option for students. Not all students learn the same way. I'm glad we have a facility like this that meets the needs of the kids."

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