Whittier Union High School District
Whittier Union High School District (WUHSD) spans 42 square miles, serving the cities of Whittier, Santa Fe Springs, Norwalk, La Mirada, and unincorporated LA County areas of West Whittier and South Whittier.
Located 10 miles southeast of the heart of Los Angeles, it serves 11,850 students in five comprehensive high schools, one continuation school, one adult school, and one independent study school. The majority of students, 88 percent, are Latino, followed by 8 percent White, 1 percent Asian, 1 percent Filipino, and 1 percent African American. More than 7 in 10 WUHSD students are low income and almost 1 in 10 are English learners (EL).
On the California School Dashboard, WUHSD is “Blue” for its Graduation Rate and English Learner Progress indicators and “Green” for its Suspension Rate. In 2017, the district had a 97 percent graduation rate, 94 percent of students made progress on the EL Progress Indicator, and 3 percent of students were suspended. About 55 percent of the district’s 12th-grade graduates complete the a-g course sequence required for eligibility to California’s public university systems – 8 percentage points higher than the state average. A-g completion rates for Latino students are almost 15 percentage points higher at WUHSD than for Latino students statewide. (See Figure 1.)
“Demographics Don’t Determine Destiny”
School success is not random in WUHSD. “Demographics don’t determine destiny” is a mantra often repeated by district leaders. They share the philosophy that all kids will have the opportunity to go to college, and they translate this philosophy into practice by intentionally creating systems and structures that eliminate barriers and expand access to college and career readiness courses and programs. Monica Oviedo, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, shared that district leaders believe “every student should have the choice” to go to college and ask themselves: “Who are we to decide that for them when they’re 13?” As a response, they made a-g the default curriculum.
With a-g as default, the district ensures every student is automatically enrolled in the fifteen-course sequence starting in 9th grade. They also centralize their a-g approval process to verify that every course, with a few exceptions, is a-g approved by the University of California Office of the President (UCOP). The district encourages “individual schools/programs to operate how they see fit, and encourage things to continue if they’re working and to stop if they’re not.” As a result, every school in the district has their own bell schedule and college-bound program, such as AVID or Puente, to ensure students have access to embedded supports during the school day and can succeed in rigorous college-preparatory courses.
District and school leaders lean heavily on the power of data to understand which students access and succeed in college and career preparatory coursework. They have built a strong data culture that, as Craig Campbell – principal at Santa Fe High School – explained, allows for “open, honest, transparent conversations about educator and student performance.” Their in-house data system, which they call the “kitchen sink,” enables users to access information about specific student groups in order to answer a variety of questions about college and career readiness, such as “How many English learners are enrolled in a-g courses?” or “How does AP enrollment differ by ethnicity in 11th grade?” Data analyses are carried out by a data lead at each school site, a classroom teacher who also acts as the data guru and monitors the school’s data system. Faculty and staff then use these data to refine and improve policies and practices and align resources to better support student interventions and success.
“Every Student Should Have the Choice to Go to College. Who Are We to Decide That For Them When They’re 13?”
For example, schools have modified their master schedules to reflect students’ needs, academic teams have modified instructional models to best support EL students, and teachers have made the case against the zero grade and developed common grading practices. These shifts ensure “all students, regardless of school, have the same expectations, curriculum, assessments, and opportunities” without the district mandating specific instructional practices.
The district’s mantra is visible in the data culture they’ve built and in their commitment to seeing students graduate college and career ready. Through these efforts, leaders have helped create an environment where educators share a collective vision for success, feel a deep connection to the community, and are deeply committed to students’ academic success.
Figure 1: Percent of 12th Grade Graduates Completing the A-G Course Sequence, by Race/Ethnicity (2016-17)
Source: California Department of Education, 2016-2017. Data not available for subgroups with <11 students.