Reedley High School is a comprehensive high school located in the Kings Canyon Unified School District in California’s central valley. The school serves 1,773 students. At 5.6%, Reedley’s chronic absence rate is well below the statewide average and the overall rate for high schools in California.

Principal John Ahlin, who began his career as an Advancement Via Individual Determination (an in-school academic support program for grades seven through twelve), and social studies teacher in the district 19 years ago, is in his sixth year as principal. Ahlin described the pride he has in the school where relationships are positive “among students, certified, and classified staff – we all just care about kids.” Every adult in the school tries to emphasize the concept of teamwork across the entire school community and the notion that everyone has a role to play.

See the key takeaways below.

Drawing students into the community early

Onboarding ninth graders is an important part of how Reedley welcomes students into the school. The process begins during the spring of 8th grade when families and students are invited to campus for “Pirate Preview” night (named after the school mascot). Students and families attend a presentation in the auditorium, followed by opportunities to tour the campus and meet teachers.

Later in the spring, students and families return to campus for “student selection night” when students select their courses for the next year. Academic counselors, transition team members, administrators, teachers and community members (such as police officers, doctors or local business leaders) attend the event which Ahlin characterized as a “community night.” Then, the week before school begins, incoming ninth graders participate in “Pirate Days,” when they can tour the campus, learn more about expectations, and participate in a variety of non-academic, fun activities together.

That energy is carried into the first week of school which is characterized by activities designed to promote excitement among students. During the week faculty members greet students in the front of the school, there’s a school-wide rally and sometimes a guest speaker. “We really try to stay away from the syllabus that first day,” Ahlin said. For the adults at Reedley, it’s about the people first – introducing and getting to know one another before diving into the academic content. They focus on building student connections to the school community and helping students to feel they are part of the Reedley High School family.

Football season helps kick off the start of school, and the school hosts a freshman tailgate party to encourage 9th graders to feel welcome and build that sense of family. “That’s a big concept, the idea of wanting to be here, wanting to be part of something…during our ‘Pirate Preview,’” said Ahlin. ”We emphasize throughout the school year the idea of being a student first, of course, but also being a part of something else.” Reedley offers students a wide range of extracurricular activities and clubs. “There’s a group for everybody – and we [encourage students to] be a part of one of those groups,” Ahlin said. One reason the attendance is high and continues to be high “is because kids want to be here,” he added.

Student voice also plays a role

Once a month, school administrators and the director of student activities meet with a group of students they call “R-voice.” Although the group is open to any student who wants to participate, each school club sends a representative to the meeting. Agendas are posted prior so students know what the focus will be. “It turns out to be a nice little group to get feedback on their understanding of what we’re doing or not doing to ensure that they feel successful in school,” Ahlin said. He also makes a point of visiting the student leadership class once a month to hear their concerns and ideas about what they’d like to see happen at the school.

Smoothing the transition into ninth grade

Nine years ago, Reedley formed what they call a “Transition Team” composed of two directors and two liaisons which is built into their Local Control Accountability Plan. The student outreach begins in 8th grade when transition team members begin to get to know the students. Then, using data to guide their outreach in the early weeks of ninth grade, team members target students who they know have struggled in the past with attendance, grades and behavior to ensure they are successful, feel welcome and are participating in something outside of academics at the school: “I can’t say it enough, make sure that students are involved in some kind of club or sports, whatever their interest is.”

The “transition room” serves as a hub of activity for students throughout the year where tutoring is offered or students can drop in before or after school to check in or just have a cup of hot chocolate. Team members collaborate closely with counselors to monitor student progress, sit in on teachers’ professional learning community meetings, and sometimes accompany students to meet with teachers to help them set goals or ask for additional academic support.

A few teachers from the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports team, an attendance clerk, a School Attendance Review Board administrator and a bilingual community aid comprise the school’s attendance team. Families/caregivers of students who are absent initially receive an automated phone call or text message, but that is followed by personal outreach. This begins with a phone call home, and for students who are severely chronically absent, (missing 20% or more days,) a home visit to learn more about what’s preventing that student from coming to school. Ahlin says that personal contact is what really makes the difference.

Disaggregated data is used to determine which students might require additional support or outreach. Resources are then directed to those students who demonstrate the most need through their Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA).

Schools are required to revisit their SPSAs annually in collaboration with administrators, teachers, parents, community partners and students (for high schools) to determine goals and programs that will help achieve those goals. Ahlin says that the key to success in achieving those goals is knowing who your students are, celebrating students, and connecting them to something beyond academics.

Key Takeaways

  • Reedley provides multiple opportunities for incoming 9th grade students and families to learn about the school and its academic and extracurricular offerings.
  • A four-member Transition Team plays an important role in outreach to eighth graders and then welcoming students to the high school campus, making early connections with those students who struggled in middle school, and providing a warm, welcoming place for students to receive academic or other kinds of support.
  • Administrators collect regular feedback and ideas from students both through monthly “R-voice” meetings and visiting the leadership class each month. R-Voice is open to all students, but always has representation from each of the school’s extracurricular clubs which ensures diverse participation across the student body.
  • Reedley sets the tone for the school culture during the first week of school when students and teachers get to know one another before a serious focus on academic achievement begins. Adults and students carry that excitement and sense of community into the rest of the year which leads to students who want to be at school.

This bright spot story was developed with the support of the Stuart Foundation.