Hart district hears report on Saugus High campus culture  

The Saugus High School Theater Department brought home a half-dozen awards in recognition of the students’ performances at the Fullerton College High School Theater Festival. Courtesy photo.
The Saugus High School Theater Department brought home a half-dozen awards in recognition of the students’ performances at the Fullerton College High School Theater Festival. Courtesy photo.
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As part of an 18-month process to improve the school campus and culture, Saugus High School’s principal shared the staff’s progress and information on where there’s still work to do during Wednesday’s William S. Hart Union High School District board meeting. 

The presentation by Principal Genevieve Peterson Henry is one of a number of regular updates the board receives from campuses, with Henry focusing on her staff’s work on wellness, which has been a focus of the district. 

Henry, who became principal of Saugus in July 2021, started by showing a handful of data points the campus collected from the school’s 2,300 students, which influenced the effort. 

A little over half felt the campus nurtured students to care about each other, and about the same amount “frequently” heard slurs and saw discrimination. 

“And that is absolutely too high,” Henry said of the latter statistic. 

Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed felt close to their fellow students, which Henry said was a big jump in a positive direction from the COVID-19 numbers, when students were forced to study remotely. 

About 60% of students surveyed reported that adults frequently or always intervene when they see racism and discrimination. 

“And that’s an OK number,” she said, “but we want to make sure that grows as well.” 

Henry said about a year and a half ago she asked staff to start researching and collecting ways the campus can make things better for students and improve their wellness. 

Family chats, where staff talk to ninth graders about what it means to be a Centurion, are one way, she said. The Blue Hammer Award was created to recognize students who “nail it,” with respect to understanding positive campus culture.  

Teachers also asked for professional development on how to “have the tough conversations with students,” she added. A diversity book club and working on ways to recognize multiculturalism with campus celebrations are also ongoing efforts the campus is undertaking. 

Board member Cherise Moore said she was happy to hear about the efforts being made to help students. 

“Thank you for the work that you’re doing,” Moore told Henry. “It’s exciting to see the theme and then some actions that you’re focused on, to carry it through to fruition.” 

Board member Joe Messina said he was having a “hard time” with some of the numbers, because “when a child or student says they don’t feel safe or they don’t feel like somebody cares about them … that’s an easy box to check, but, ‘Why don’t you (feel like someone cares),’” he asked rhetorically. “Is there a miscommunication, a disconnect, if you would — what’s the reason behind that?” 

Messina also asked if the superintendent could provide a benchmark update for how the schools are doing academically during the campus reports.  

Superintendent Mike Kuhlman acknowledged that was an important component and said the district was very recently notified that the state’s standardized test scores for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, also known as the CAASPP, would be released later next month. 

“And once we have those and can push them out, we will share them with the board,” Kuhlman said.  

The previous year’s scores, according to the California Department of Education’s Dashboard, indicated: the suspension rate was “medium”; the graduation rate was “very high”; the English language arts performance was “very high”; and the math scores were “medium.” 

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