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Hart School District aims to make every graduate’s post-secondary dream a reality

Posted: March 31, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 31, 2013 2:00 a.m.

With everything from nationally ranked academic programs to effective career education opportunities and college placement services, Hart district students are afforded every opportunity to excel in an increasingly competitive academic environment.

Since the first school, Hart High School, was founded in 1946, William S. Hart Union High School District has been a main draw of residents and businesses to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Currently, the Hart School District serves nearly 23,000 students in grades 7-12 in 17 junior and senior high schools, Hart @ Home home-school program and adult education through Golden Oak Adult School.

Families have been attracted to the community’s award-winning education system, comprised of four elementary school districts that all feed into the Hart School District. The collection of schools supports the common understanding that strong schools mean a strong community.

With the Saugus, Sulphur Springs, Newhall School District serving students in K-6 and Castaic School District serving K-8, high performing schools throughout the five districts serve students with fully credentialed teachers that are "No Child Left Behind" compliant.

Today, Hart district schools continue to be recognized nationally and statewide for their college readiness and superior achievement in academics, athletics, performing arts and leadership.

Hart District schools have proudly received the U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon award and have been named California Distinguished Schools. Hart High School, Sierra Vista Junior High and Ranch Pico Junior High are all under consideration for awards this year.

Hart High School, West Ranch High School, Academy of the Canyons and Learning Post High medaled in the U.S. News and World Report’s Best High Schools list for 2012. Other high schools in the Hart District have received this national recognition in past years.

According to the Academic Performance Index, a set of scores calculated by the California Department of Education that measures schools’ annual performance and progress, Hart district schools boast high scores well above Los Angeles County and state averages and rank No. 1 in the state compared to Districts of similar size.

With a district score of 838, William S. Hart Union High School District currently holds the title of the highest API for California school districts with more than 15,000 students. Three schools – Rancho Pico Junior High, Rio Norte Junior High and Academy of the Canyons – received scores over the 900 mark, with a highest possible score of 1,000 points.

But it takes more than just 65 years of experience in academics to place students in top postsecondary schools.

Through academics, supplementary programs and career technical education, Hart District schools are able to offer guidance to every student as they pursue their education and begin to consider career choices.

"The district’s goal is that every student will continue on to post-secondary education – whether they choose a four-year university, out-of-state college, in-state college, private school, two-year community college or a technical or certificate program," Gail Pinsker, the district spokeswoman, said.

Preparatory academics

Last year saw increasing numbers of Hart district students enrolling in Advanced Placement courses and exams as a way to better prepare for the demands of higher education and potentially earn college credits while still enrolled in high school.

Advanced Placement classes are offered nationwide and give high school students the opportunity to earn college credit through challenging, college-style classes.

"It’s a college curriculum taught in the high school level, and it really challenges the students and builds in them the experience that they’ll have to deal with at the next level of college," Dave LeBarron, director of curriculum and assessment, said.

Students who take AP Exams are graded on a five-point scale, and many colleges accept a limited number of high AP Exam scores in lieu of lower-division college course work.

At Hart district schools, AP participation rates are high in comparison to schools in the county and state. In 2012, West Ranch High School had a participation rate of 37 percent, and 43 percent of students at William S. Hart Senior High School took the AP challenge.

The numbers are up among the William S. Hart Union High School District’s minority populations that are traditionally underrepresented in AP courses, as well, according to 2012 statistics.

"There really is no reason why a student who is willing to put in the time and hard work can’t take AP classes and tests within the Hart district," LeBarron said.

Hart district teachers have AP training, and a number of teachers are on the national committees for their fields of study to assist with test creation and grading.

In addition to AP classes, Hart district schools offer honors classes, and all classes focus on post-secondary readiness.

New standards reinvigorate

Improving further on current academics, the district will implement curriculum changes in the 2014-2015 school year.

The nationwide effort, known as Common Core State Standards, outlines specific performance benchmarks for students based on grade level. Forty-five states, including California, have accepted the standards.

The new focus will be on English and language arts, mathematics and literacy with particular emphasis on four primary skills: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, Hart district officials said.

This includes a revised approach to teaching literacy with the focus on speech and critical listening skills, according to Vicki Engbrecht, the district’s deputy superintendent.

Much of the emphasis of the new standards is on critical thinking. Rather than memorizing and reciting information, students will be required to critically assess and examine what they are learning, Engbrecht said.

Currently, Hart District administration has implemented a Professional Development program to train teachers on this transition which will change teaching and testing methods and incorporate new approaches considered important to student and future success in the 21st century.

More than academics

Hart district students have many other opportunities for performance-based programs, which are offered at all of the Hart District’s comprehensive high school and junior high school sites, and they include: marching band, dance, speech and debate and choir.

Students have traveled nationally and internationally representing schools at landmarks such as Carnegie Hall and the 2012 Summer Olympics in England.

At Valencia High School, students can not only learn through the award-winning, daily live-television program, VTV, but there are also several different video production and TV production classes available.

The video program has had success entering productions into competitions, such as the Student Television Network and the Santa Clarita Film Festival, and it won top awards at a national convention with 153 competing schools.

In addition to arts programs, all schools offer leadership opportunities through Associated Student Body and officer opportunities within student-run groups and clubs. High School campuses offer at least 40 clubs, including International Club, Equestrian Club, Chess Club, Gay Straight Alliance, Photography Club, "Yes I Can" Club, Astronomy Club, Future Business Leaders of America, Key Club, Anime Club and more.

Additionally, national organizations are firmly established on all campuses, including National Honor Society and California Scholarship Federation.

Drug Free Youth in Town, or DFY-iT started on all eight comprehensive campuses in fall 2012 and has grown leaps and bounds since its launch.

Students in DFY-iT take a pledge to stay drug- and alcohol-free, participating in events and education on and off campus.

"Safety of our students is our #1 priority," Superintendent Rob Challinor, said. "We have enhanced our safety and security at all our schools and continue to engage experts in this field to assist us with our efforts."

Students throughout the District are heavily involved in community service and bring awareness of various causes, such as cancer and other diseases, raising funds for local and regional nonprofit organizations.

Each year, millions of dollars in scholarships are awarded to Hart district graduates, pursuing college and military careers. This year, more than $26 million will be awarded to seniors moving on to post-secondary education.

"The opportunities for scholarships for our students includes students attending Ivy League schools for academic excellence, athletic and military scholarships, as well as for drama, music, fine art, choir and other specialties," Pinsker said.

Career Technical Education programs

Career Technical Education, or CTE, is not a new trend in California.

But today’s CTE includes opportunities in engineering, auto technology, pharmacy and medical, construction, hospitality, video production, drama, and other industries that are in need of qualified professionals.

The State of California recently adopted new technical education standards with learning goals in 59 career pathways organized around 15 industry sectors.

"The new standards build on the previous (technical education) standards and were created with input from more than 300 people from business, industry, labor, postsecondary and secondary education sectors," according to state Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

Offering a chance for students who would like to explore future career goals, the classes, which are available at all eight comprehensive high school sites, offer myriad choices for potential career path exploration.

The Career Pathways program can offer students a chance to explore potential future career options and gain experience for vocational training after high school.

Counseling departments use software to assess student strengths and interests and help determine prospective careers, enabling students to explore then narrow their choices.

In addition to classes at each school site, the Hart district’s Regional Occupational Program provides on-the-job training and career guidance to high school students in the Santa Clarita Valley.


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