Alliance Marc & Eva Stern Math and Science School Once a Titan, Always a Titan

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Principal's Message'

In September 2006, the Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School (Stern MASS) opened to serve about 200 9th grade students from the East Los Angeles community. Stern MASS is a unique public charter high school collaboration between the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools (a charter management organization) and California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA). The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) granted our charter and is responsible for holding our school accountable for its performance.

Stern MASS is designed to prepare students from East Los Angeles to be successful in four-year colleges and to be able to pursue doctoral degrees in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Stern MASS provides a small, personalized learning environment for students that I believe is more effective in preparing students for higher education. Stern MASS uses a mastery learning approach that supports all students to achieve at high levels. Our collaboration with CSULA is advantageous because it provides our students with a college experience while they are still in high school.

As a principal, I strongly support the vision of the Alliance College-Ready Schools and in particular the motto, “every student has the ability, and together, we give them the opportunity.”  This is accomplished by ensuring students have a rigorous academic and extracurricular program that will make them competitive applicants to highly regarded colleges and universities all across the nation.

I began my career at Alliance Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School (Stern MASS) as the founding Assistant Principal in the Fall of 2006.  Together with former Stern MASS principal, Dr. Derrick Chau, we worked to create a school that would provide an environment of both academic excellence and extracurricular opportunities comparable to that of high performing neighboring districts including Alhambra, Monterey Park, South Pasadena, and San Marino.  Students in these communities are primarily White or Asian from upper-middle to upper-class socioeconomic backgrounds with parents who have already earned college degrees.  These students know they are expected to go to college and can afford the academic tutoring and enrichment programs necessary to be competitive in the college application process.  Because Derrick and I wanted our students from East Los Angeles to be equally competitive, we established academic and extracurricular programs to make Stern MASS have a large school feel within a small school environment. This model allows teachers, counselors, and administrators to truly focus on the individualized needs of each student.  Students can participate in a variety of extracurricular activities  that are also found in large comprehensive high schools such as:

 After two years as Assistant Principal, I became the Director of Assessment and Data Analysis Services at the Alliance Home Office in hopes of using that experience to continue to grow as a school leader.  There, I learned the importance of accountability metrics, proper attendance and data reporting procedures, utilizing and analyzing student performance data on high stakes testing to create intervention programs, and analyzing benchmark data to predict progress towards end-of-year proficiency as tested on the California Standards Test (CST), California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), California English Learner Development Test (CELDT), Physical Fitness Test (PFT), and Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT). The experience and knowledge I gained at the Home Office, helped me build a stronger vision of how I was going to help our students become college-ready through the following programs available at Stern MASS:

Mastery Learning:  At the heart of Mastery Learning is the idea that everyone can learn given the right circumstances because learning is about mastering the standards, and aptitude should not be a gatekeeper to that. Mastery Learning is a research-based instructional strategy that motivates students to become accountable for their own learning. Final grades are based on the student’s level of understanding of a concept or demonstration of a skill at the end of a unit or grading period. These include summative assessments, such as tests, quizzes, benchmarks, midterm/final exams, essays, research papers, projects, performances, and presentations. Grades for formative assessments, such as class assignments and homework allow students to practice their understanding or skills and are not usually included in final grades. Students are still required to complete their class assignments and homework because this is an opportunity for them to practice their learning and prepare for summative assessments.

Students may use mastery learning opportunities to re-take summative assessments to improve their scores and demonstrate their learning. For each class students have, they may use their mastery learning opportunities a certain number of times. Grades 9 and 10 have two opportunities per semester whereas grade 11 has one per semester and grade 12 has one per year. In order to use the opportunity, students must do the following: (1) complete and submit the summative assessment by the assigned date and time; (2) initiate and have a teacher-student conference within two days of receiving the grade; (3) make a plan with the teacher describing the steps students will take to independently practice the standard(s), including attending teacher office hours; and (4) retake or resubmit the standards by an agreed upon date and time not to exceed 10 calendar days from the teacher-student conference.

Office Hours:  All teachers and counselors hold office hours once a week for an hour after school to support students.  Office hours are primarily on a drop-in basis, however, teachers do assign mandatory office hours for students receiving a C or lower in their class. 

Classroom Technology:  An important piece of my vision for Stern MASS is to be part of the Blended Learning for Alliance School Transformation (BLAST) within five years of my principalship.  I knew it had to be a gradual transformation because our teachers are strong in the traditional teaching model, and I was hesitant about fully committing Stern MASS to the traditional BLAST model with the three-station rotations.  My first year was about engaging teachers in conversations about increasing technology applications within their classrooms and for students to take ownership in the technology.  In my second year, I introduced Google Drive to teachers because I knew they had to be comfortable with the process in order for them to use it within their classrooms.  Each teacher, counselor, and staff member joined Google Drive, and we began a system of sharing files.  During year three, coinciding with the iPad roll out, students in grades 9 through 11 began using Google Drive to submit assignments in some classes.  I also created a video blog to discuss our iPad expectations which included weekly videos teachers played during Advisory so that a common message was shared across classes and grade levels.  I also created a school-wide online dismissal system that ensures all iPads are returned to advisory teachers at the end of the school day. This year, we have increased the availability of the iPads which has allowed all 620 students to receive a personalized device during the school day.  We will also be piloting Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom with select teachers beginning Spring, 2015 where students will have a @sternmass.org email account and access to Google Drive applications. This will allow students to write essays and also create data tables, graphs,  online presentations, videos, and websites.  Next year, I would like Stern MASS to become a Google School.

Access to Honors and Advanced Placement:  All students have access to honors or AP classes if they are interested in challenging themselves academically.  Each spring, students complete a course request and discuss their next year’s classes with their counselor and current teachers.  Students receive summer assignments to complete so they understand the rigor required to be successful in these classes. We begin offering honors and AP level courses in grade 10 because many middle schools do not have an honors accelerated curriculum. We believe all ninth graders should have the same academic foundation to prepare them for our expectations for high school success. We currently offer two honors classes in grade 10 and eleven AP classes in grades 10-12.

Access to College Courses:  Stern MASS has partnerships with East Los Angeles Community College (ELAC) and California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) where students are enrolled as college students and earn college and high school credit.  ELAC professors within the Engineering and Technologies Department hold an introductory engineering or robotics class each semester on Saturday mornings. This is open to all students and there are no pre-requisite requirements.  Each year, a group of 25 seniors have the opportunity to enroll in Conceptual Physics and/or Psychology at CSULA. These students must have a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0, at least a “B” in all math and science courses, and completed AP Biology or AP Environmental Science during their junior year..  These students apply and are admitted as CSULA students, the courses are taught by CSULA professors, and include both Stern MASS and CSULA students.  This opportunity allows Stern MASS students to experience college courses to help them prepare for the level of rigor and expectations needed for college success.

Stern’s Concerns:  Each semester, the Student Leadership Board hosts Stern’s Concerns, which is a forum where students have an opportunity to become self-advocates, creating a culture where students have a voice within their school.  In a style very similar to local city council meetings, the SLB President facilitates a dialogue where student class presidents propose initiatives they would like the Principal to consider. In the past, student initiatives have included proposals for a school mascot, having certain restrooms designated as changing areas for PE, and allowing electronic device usage during nutrition and lunch.  The audience is then allowed to ask the Principal and Assistant Principals general questions and receive immediate feedback. 

Exhibition Night:  For the past two years, on the last Wednesday of the school year we have invited parents and the community to experience Exhibition Night, a culmination event which includes a Math Fair, Chemistry Fair, Senior Community Activism Campaign Awareness, and English Gallery of student best work. 

Alliance Mentoring Program (AMP):  The Alliance Mentoring Program was originally started at Stern MASS as an opportunity to ensure our graduates were matriculating and receiving the guidance and support needed to navigate their first year of higher education.  Our alumni serve as mentors to seniors accepted to local colleges, including CSULA, CSU Northridge, ELAC, and Pasadena City College.  Mentors meet with their mentees on a monthly basis and return to Stern MASS at least once a year to share their experiences.

Freshmen College Tour:  To introduce students to college, our counselors plan an annual tour to colleges our students are most likely to attend.  Last year, students toured UC Irvine and CSU Fullerton.  The year before, they toured UC Riverside, Cal Baptist, and California Polytechnic University at Pomona.

Community Partnerships:  In an effort to develop our teacher, counselor, and administrator leaders, several staff members are also involved in outside partnerships.  Two teachers were selected to be part of Teach Plus.  Three teachers were mentor teachers for year-long teacher residents with CSULA and the Los Angeles Urban Teacher Residency Program. Three teachers served as visiting committee members through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). I served as a mentor principal in a year-long principal residency program for two teachers through CSULA and the Los Angeles Principal Residency Network.  I currently volunteer as a WASC Visiting Committee Chair and am assigned to lead the visiting committee to randomly assigned schools at least once a year.  I also serve on several committees through CSULA Charter College of Education as their Community Representative for the Assessment Committee, Steering Committee, and School As a Whole.  Stern MASS hosts CSULA undergraduate math majors, masters degree students, and teacher credentialing students through the Moebius Scholars Program where students have to complete 100 observation hours of effective math teachers.  Stern MASS is also a site for future teachers to complete their student teaching assignment if enrolled at CSULA and USC. 

It was an honor to be awarded the Ares-Lappin Principal of the Year 2013-2014 award and still remain in disbelief it was bestowed upon me.  I accept this award on behalf of the hard work and dedication of our teachers, counselors, staff, and students.  I am here because I believe in the potential of our students and thankfully donate the $20,000 incentive to our Stern MASS’ scholarship fund to help current and future students be recognized for their academic performance and college pursuits.