Pasadena High Principal Joe Saavedra (second from right) with student leaders from various campus organizations: Veronica Sarabla, Christian Sanchez, Sierra Gonzalez, Raymundo Sanchez, Maricarmen Medina, Carlos Castillo, Jackeline Gonzalez, Jonathan Castrejon, Jacqueline Cardenas and Laura Arteaga.
EAGLES SOAR AGAIN AFTER ACCOUNTABILITY PLUNGE
BY AL CARTER
Pasadena ISD Communications Office
Joe Saavedra remembers the label as if it were part of a lesson on "The Scarlet Letter."
In this case, it was a big red "AU" -- for "Academically Unacceptable." In 2007, and again in 2008, Pasadena High was the recipient of that unhappy designation by the Texas Education Agency.
"People saw that label and they came to negative conclusions," says Saavedra, now the school's principal. "We've had to overcome that thinking by emphasizing all the positive things about our school."
Nothing could be more positive than the news Saavedra and other Pasadena ISD officials received earlier this spring concerning the district's flagship high school. Pasadena High, they were informed, has been designated a National Model School for 2011 by the International Center for Leadership in Education.
Officials from the school have been invited to attend the National Model Schools Conference in Nashville this summer to present a full report on Pasadena High's remarkable academic recovery. Saavedra, in his second year as Pasadena principal, can't wait to start sharing the details.
"Being a Model School is a positive thing for everyone -- for the teachers, for the students and even for the parents," Saavedra says.
"All of our parents can now proudly say, 'I'm sending my child to a Model School.'"
Pasadena High is the second district school to earn the designation in the past two years. South Houston Intermediate was named a National Model School in 2009.
The Pasadena ISD, itself, was named a National Model School District in 2008.
"The Pasadena High School staff has worked diligently to make the many positive changes that are benefitting students," said Dr. Kirk Lewis, the Pasadena ISD's superintendent of schools.
"Their excitement and hard work have been contagious as students have grown excited about the possibilities awaiting them. They have met rigorous expectations and aimed toward higher goals for their futures. Being named a National Model School is just the first of many well-deserved awards that Pasadena High-its students and staff-will be celebrating."
Part of the mission of the Model Schools program is to provide recognition to schools that successfully serve at-risk populations and to present those schools as models for other officials at schools in similar situations to emulate.
"Being the oldest school in Pasadena, we had a great tradition of academic achievement," Saavedra says. "This means we have regained that respectability. It doesn't mean that we're a perfect school. But this does recognize that we're going in the right direction and that we are going to reach tremendous goals here at Pasadena High School."
"A model school is one which has implemented the best school-wide practices and has accomplished substantial improvements," says Troy McCarley, a Pasadena ISD associate superintendent for campus development.
"Pasadena High has worked hard to increase the instructional rigor and relevance in all curriculum areas while building positive school climate and school-wide pride."
McCarley was appointed by the district to directly monitor campus performance at Pasadena High for the 2007-08 school year and implement a school improvement plan. The previous year, in 2006-07, Pasadena High was saddled with an Academically Unacceptable rating by the TEA because of a low completion rate. The rating was renewed in 2007-08 because of low scores on the math portions of TAKS tests.
Now, McCarley says, campus improvements at the school "are evident in test scores, in extra-curricular achievements, in teacher retention and in the positive atmosphere you witness when walking the halls."
"We've been through a lot," Saavedra says. "But we have a great team of teachers and staff members who really care about the kids. They made this happen."
One of the many measures of Eagles accomplishments this year was the performance of the school's Academic Decathlon team. Pasadena finished fifth at regional competition and advanced to the state championships in El Paso.
Other Eagles laurels this school year include high ratings for orchestra, choir and other fine arts and visual arts students. Two members of the school's Business Professionals of American chapter qualified for national competition in Washington, D.C. The Eagles' boys soccer team finished third in District 22-5A and made the state playoffs.
"I'm proud of the students and staff for reviving the sense of Eagle Pride that has been part of the tradition of the district's original high school," said DeeAnn Powell, an associate superintendent for campus development. Powell is a 1987 graduate of Pasadena High.
"It is evident that the climate and culture of the campus includes high expectations for all," Powell said. "I look forward to seeing the school's list of accomplishments grow as we continue to build a school community that meets the needs of all stakeholders."
Sheri Dennis came to the campus three ago to serve as dean of instruction and assist with the school's academic recovery. She cites changes in leadership and a greater emphasis on such tools as data assessment, staff development and technology as critical factors in Pasadena High's performance turnaround.
So many faculty and staff members are new, Dennis says, that many of the administrative veterans have been compelled to offer accounts of the "AU" days, just for the sake of perspective.
"We find ourselves having to explain why being a Model School is so important," Dennis says.
Saavedra says one lesson from the experience deserves special emphasis.
"It's never an excuse to just say, 'We have at-risk kids,'" he says.
"We have to perform -- and we are. We're doing things to address the needs of all our kids here at Pasadena."
Reveling in the good news, students and staff alike: teacher Pamela Short, Assistant Principal Aldo Prado, Assistant Principal Ron Coleman, junior Jonathan Castrejon, senior Veronica Sarabla, senior Laura Arteaga, counselor Charlotte Young, counselor Tracey Balusek, lead counselor Claudia Harmon, college tutor Christian Sanchez, Principal Joe Saavedra and teacher Heather Edwards; (middle) junior Kendall Kay Durrenberger, junior Jackeline Gonzalez, Assistant Principal Erika Nations, Assistant Principal Louis Byron; junior Jacqueline Cardenas and senior Raymundo Sanchez; (front) junior Maricarmen Medina, junior Carlos Castillo and junior Sierra Gonzalez.