Rancho Pico Junior High

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2019 Distinguished School Application » 2019 Distinguished School Application

2019 Distinguished School Application

Relational Leadership:
Growing capacity and self-efficacy
in and out of the classroom.



At Rancho Pico, we are committed to fostering positive and trusting relationships with our students. We are also dedicated to helping our students build relational capacity among each other to ensure that our learning environment is safe and inclusive for all students.

We know the relationship between students and staff has a profound impact on student behavior, motivation, and academic achievement. Research finds positive teacher-student relationships, as evidenced by low conflict and a high degree of closeness, is critical in helping students develop their social skills while supporting resiliency in the classroom. Research also shows that students who are connected to at least one adult at school are less likely to avoid school and are more engaged in their learning. Furthermore, educators who use learner-centered practices, show sensitivity to individual differences among students, include students in the decision-making process, and support the specific needs of each learner are essential for developing resiliency and perseverance.

Additionally, we are invested in helping our students grow in self-confidence by strengthening their interpersonal skills and providing them with the tools they need to build and maintain strong, healthy relationships with their peers. This focus is essential in creating a self-regulating student body who is able to appropriately support one another while understanding when to seek help from an adult.

In working with diverse student populations, we are utilizing strategies to help students believe that they have the ability to not only learn but to accomplish their goals successfully. By strengthening a student’s self-efficacy skills, we are frontloading students with the confidence they’ll need to be academically successful while cultivating the skill set necessary to overcome challenges as they arise.

We have worked diligently to break down barriers, celebrate diversity, and improve our practices to strengthen connectedness to school, for both staff and students. The remainder of this application will focus on our multi-pronged approach to implementing our model program:

  • School within a School - Teaming
  • Social Inclusion - Peer Tutors, Yes I Can, Circle of Friends
  • Student Leadership - Associated Student Body, Safe Schools Ambassadors


Implementation and Monitoring

Rancho Pico was founded on the middle-school philosophy of a school within a school. As such, our school is comprised of six dynamic interdisciplinary teams of highly qualified teachers who work to build strong and trusting relationships with our students and their families. Nurturing these relationships is critical in supporting students through the number of challenges they face during young adolescence. Our interdisciplinary teams influence the climate and culture of Rancho Pico by organizing student and family activities that take place outside of the regular school day. Staff, students, and their families participate in weekend hikes, excursions throughout the greater Los Angeles area, dinners, movie nights, and a variety of other team building events.

With the strong foundation provided by our interdisciplinary teams, we utilize a number of strategies and programs to help our students grow emotionally and socially. With a diverse student population, Rancho Pico is home to two regionalized programs: one for high functioning autistic students and the other a self-contained classroom for students with severe disabilities. In our pursuit to create an inclusive school environment for all students, we have implemented three programs that focus on social inclusion: Yes I Can, Circle of Friends, and Peer Mentoring. All three of these programs pair general and special education students together with the goal of increasing awareness of disability-related challenges, cultivating empathy, and building a stronger sense of community.

Yes I Can is offered as a general education elective course. Yes I Can is a social inclusion program that fosters the development and maintenance of social relationships between students with and without developmental disabilities. Mentors work with their mentees to increase their interpersonal skills to overcome socially inappropriate behaviors through classroom instruction, discussion, and experiential learning. Additionally, mentors work to expand social skills and increase the relational capacity of their mentees by identifying and minimizing barriers to inclusion. The curriculum requires the mentors to serve as role models as they demonstrate appropriate social and emotional responses in a variety of contexts.  Lesson plans also focus on educating students about various disabilities. In turn, students often find that they have more in common with their peers than they thought. For our special education students, these insights go a long way in reducing stigma and building friendships.

Circle of Friends (CoF) is a club that promotes the social inclusion of students with special needs. The primary purpose of the club is to help students with disabilities form friendships with their neurotypical peers. CoF helps promote understanding and acceptance of differences and facilitates the development of genuine friendships among students.  We have implemented CoF at lunchtime to allow for students to meaningfully interact with one another outside of the classroom environment.

Peer Mentoring is offered as an elective course to our general education students who work with special education students enrolled in our self-contained classroom that focuses on daily living skills and functional academics. The peer mentors serve as role models to students who face a number of severe disabilities. Our mentors provide direct and guided academic instruction to their mentees as they work to appropriately engage and support this exceptional population. Mentors also work alongside staff to help their mentees improve their communication and social skills. Our mentors are a key component in providing these students an opportunity to interact with and learn from their general education peers.

Cultivating leadership within our student body is another critical component of our model practice. Our Associated Student Body (ASB) and Safe School Ambassadors work among their peers to positively impact our school’s culture and learning climate. ASB is offered as an elective course and is comprised of students that represent our diverse student body. Rancho Pico’s ASB is responsible for creating a warm and welcoming school environment that encourages all students to engage and interact with one another. Our ASB plans multiple events each month to promote connectivity at school: brunch and lunch activities, food truck and movie nights, dances, intramural games, clubs, spirit point parties, and student recognition events. This year, our ASB launched a Kindness Campaign to build and strengthen relationships on campus. Through random acts of kindness, notes of encouragement and praise for students, and surprise treats for staff and faculty, our ASB continues to set the bar and lead by example.

Safe School Ambassadors (SSA) is a national program that values not only fostering positive relationships with students but recognizes the critical role students play in establishing a healthy emotional climate at school. Research shows that students are not only influential among their peers but instrumental in setting social norms. In October, over the course of two days, 70 students and 14 staff members trained together on how to notice, act, include, and support others. Family group meetings, led by trained staff, are held twice a month and focus on strategies for remaining actively engaged in the program. These meetings also provide a venue for our ambassadors to ask questions, exchange information, and plan activities that promote positivity and address issues essential to our students. Most importantly, our ambassadors are student leaders within their peer group and use their social capital to positively impact the actions of their peers. They reach out to isolated students, interrupt teasing, welcome new students, help out in the classroom, seek resources to help others, and partner with staff when a student is in crisis or an issue extends beyond their training.



Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP)

The William S. Hart Union High School District is focused on maintaining a safe and positive learning environment for all students. The District is also committed to supporting students socially, emotionally, and academically. Our model program helps address the following goal from our District’s LCAP plan:

  • Goal #4: Cultivate a safe and positive school culture that supports all students’ personal and academic growth and encourages parent engagement.

The intended outcomes of this goal include:

  1. Decreasing chronic absenteeism and truancy rates.
  2. Reducing the number of student suspensions and expulsions.
  3. Increasing student connectivity to school.
  4. Increasing parent involvement and engagement with school and district functions.

We also address the following State priority areas:

  • Priority 3: Parent Engagement
  • Priority 5: Pupil Engagement
  • Priority 6: School Climate

Results and Outcomes

Data-based decision making is a critical component of validating the effectiveness of our efforts. We maintain an average daily attendance rate of 97%. During the 2017 – 2018 school year, our chronic absenteeism rate was 3.9%, a 1.4% decline from the previous year. Over the past three years (2016, 2017 and 2018), we have averaged a 98.5% promotion rate. Student involvement continues to rise as evidenced by an increase of 19% from last school year in ticket sales and participation in ASB sponsored school activities.

We have also made tremendous gains in reducing our suspension rate over the past two school years. In the 2016 – 2017 school year, our suspension rate was 2.3% which decreased in the 2017 – 2018 school year to 1.2%. As of February 4, 2019, we have had a total of three (3) suspensions since the beginning of this school year. Two (2) students were expelled in the 2016 – 2017 school year. No students have been expelled since then.

In March of 2018, students completed a School Climate Survey written by the District. This survey was given in place of the California Healthy Kids Survey. The results of the survey showed:

  • 77% of students reported they feel close to people at school; the District average was 73%.
  • 80% of students reported they are happy to be at school; the District average was 72%.
  • 80% of students reported they feel safe at school; the District average was 70%.
  • 85% of students reported there is a teacher or other adult who cares about them; the District average was 77%.

The following results are from a survey of students in our Circle of Friends program:

  • 75% of students reported bullying on campus has decreased.
  • 84% of students reported participation in extracurricular activities with non-disabled peers has increased.
  • 90% of students reported social inclusion on campus has increased.
  • 95% of students reported understanding and acceptance of differences has increased.
  • 100% of students reported self-confidence has been strengthened.

Ultimately, the most important indicator of our success is tied to student achievement. In reviewing our 2017 – 2018 CAASPP data, 85% of 7th grade students either met or exceeded standards in English Language Arts and 74% of 7th grade students either met or exceeded standards in mathematics. The District average was 69% and 54% respectively. In the 8th grade, 76% of students either met or exceed standards in English Language Arts and 65% of 8th students either met or exceeded standards in mathematics. The District average was 68% and 56% respectively.

Our special education students continue to grow academically and are just 10.3 points below standard in English Language Arts as compared to our District at 54.9 points from standard and the State average of 95.5 points below standard. In mathematics, our special education students are 52.9 points below standard as compared to our District at 120.2 points from standard and the State average which is 125.3 points below standard.

While we are proud of our student achievement data, our journey continues as we strive to grow in our practice. The Rancho Pico staff is committed to increasing our capacity to establish and nurture relationships with one another, our students, and their families as we work towards increasing achievement for all students. To that end, we are ready and focused on implementing new practices, such as Capturing Kids’ Hearts and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, that will provide us with a continued momentum into the future.