Santa Barbara Independent, 5/26/05
THE 'Adams Family' Solution
By Nick Welsh
There was something old and something very new in La Cumbre Junior High School principal Jo Ann Caines' blueprint to transform one of the saddest schools in the Santa Barbara district into one of the more successful. At Tuesday night's school board meeting, Caines outlined her plans to divide La Cumbre into four separate learning communities where teachers could really focus on the academic needs of relatively small groups of students. One of the proposed "communities" would include GATE and pre-advanced placement students; another would be designated as liberal arts/college prep; a third branch Caines described as "core knowledge," or a back-to-basics curriculum; and the fourth, she said, would be a "newcomers-intensive English language community."
The idea behind "newcomers" is to provide new arrivals to the United States intensive language instruction - a program Caines used to good effect during the nine-plus years she was principal at Adams Elementary. During her tenure at Adams - which like La Cumbre serves a large number of low-income and Hispanic students - Caines raised school spirit and community pride as test scores increased steadily. Her success at Adams, and her strong relationships with teachers, parents, and former students, is already helping La Cumbre stop its enrollment decline. Caines said that, of the more than 100 Adams students moving on to junior high next year, all but 11 will attend La Cumbre - a dramatic shift from years past, when La Cumbre was the poster child for white flight. And though the school has been found to be "out of compliance" two years in a row according to the terms of No Child Left Behind act - which Caines suggested would be more accurately called "every child left behind" - La Cumbre has recently posted significant gains in test scores and has always boasted some of the highest algebra scores in the district.
Santa Barbara Junior High has experienced similar compliance issues, and as a result La Colina's enrollments have swollen to nearly 1,200 - far above that school's comfort zone. "I see our smallness as a plus," said Caines. She said many seventh graders reported feeling uncomfortable transferring from class to class. By creating four smaller and geographically separate sub-campuses, Caines believes La Cumbre teachers can better draw students into a learning purpose. In addition, she promised that La Cumbre would offer the same complement of elective classes as any other junior high school, even if they lacked the requisite numbers. "We don't have 25 kids who are going to take Latin, but we're offering Latin anyway," she said. She said she expected some parents to take a "wait and see" attitude, adding that another enrollment factor was students wanting to go where their friends are. In the meantime, she's working overtime to win over parents and teachers at feeder schools such as Washington and Monroe. And she's confident that once her former students from Adams show up, they'll jumpstart La Cumbre's transformation. "We're going to be a whole new school," Caines said. "We already are."