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Robertson High School - a unique learning environment

By Miriam G. Mazliach

Summer school is in session at Robertson High School, as its Principal Salvador Herrera, Jr. sits down to talk about the campus, where he is completing his 4th 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 the students is to help them graduate. Robertson uses all the same textbooks as the other five Fremont high schools, but does not offer Honors or AP classes. Students need to earn 200 units to graduate, due to a lack of some elective courses, compared to 230 at a more traditional high school. Robertson offers 6 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 has 16 teachers. Most students remain there for 2 years. According to Herrera, the school occasionally encounters a “super senior,” meaning a student past the age of 18 who still does not have enough credits to graduate. In that event, the student can remain for an additional year, but after that has the option of going to Adult School for completion. There is an exception for Special Education students, who may remain until the age of 22, if needed. However, 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 the information on the student and then reports to the School Board where the Board makes decisions on where the student needs to go. An individualized plan for success is developed to include the involvement of students, parents and teachers, and to monitor transition and progress.

Besides the high school, the Robertson campus also houses the Vista and Opportunity programs. (The Course program is in the process of being eliminated.)

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, which makes it difficult to attend school on a regular basis. One such example is Olympic Gold medalist, Kristi Yamaguchi who participated in the Vista program.

At a minimum, students meet one-on-one with the teacher at an assigned time for a two hour block during the week, although most attend more often. During that time, the teacher explains the lesson information and gives out the assignment for the week. When the student returns the following week, he/she is given a test to demonstrate that they have learned what they have practiced. 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 and some are expulsion students who have been assigned here 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 are important to get kids back on track in order to get back to regular school and to earn a diploma. Previously, the program used packets, but now there are teachers who engage the kids. They identify what kids need to learn and develop a “pacing plan.” Furthermore, students are assessed every six weeks with benchmark tests given by the teachers. Then student data is reviewed, progress evaluated and strategies pursued.

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 those students in grades 9 – 12, who had been expelled and by attending the COURSE program the students could have their expulsion order suspended.

However, the format adhered to individualized self-paced learning, with students sitting in a room, four hours a day. “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.

So at the June 22 FUSD Board meeting, Herrera and staff asked the Board to eliminate it. A recommendation was made that those COURSE students, who are under 16, should be moved to one of the other comprehensive high schools. (Per the Education code, Robertson High cannot house students who are under the age of 16.) COURSE students age 16 and above would be sent to Robertson High. These students will be followed up with appropriate coordination and monitoring. The FUSD Board approved the motion and will watch to see how these students adapt and hopefully progress. Herrera says, “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, and don’t want to go back to their home school. 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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