What’s new at Rancho this year? Nine teachers, a new bell schedule, a student senate, a tutorial model, more professional days, yoga, more CTE, and ninth grade academies ready to roll.
Nine teachers have been hired. Adrienne Borders teaches social studies. Sophia Corbett replaces retired dance and physical education teacher Debbie Brooks; she will not only teach dance but adds yoga to the curriculum. Cassie Ellis will participate in the special education department as a case manager who will also provide direct instruction. Dustin Friel, a Rancho Cotate graduate, replaces Tim Decker as the Band Director. Tasha Gianiacomo will serve special day needs in the special education department. Scott Lowe adds to the physical education staff. Jenae Moreno will teach social studies, and Erica Olvera will work in the math department.
Elizabeth Valverde, the new chemistry teacher, sets off on her teaching career. Last year she was a student teacher at Santa Rosa High School teaching chemistry. She also helped in math and Spanish. Valverde went to Terra Linda High School and Petaluma High School. She earned a Bachelors of Science in Biochemistry from Sonoma State University.
Valverde is excited about Rancho Cotate as she has gotten to know some of the staff and faculty. She exclaims, “I love that everyone is so friendly and that they are all working to establish school wide norms and classroom norms for the students. Everyone cares about the students a lot.”
Valverde has prepared herself for teaching in other ways. She worked for the YMCA for an after-school program. She also tutored college students, and she was a teacher’s assistant for a few semesters.
She has a positive message for prospective students as she says, “Embracing failure is the key to learning and growing as a student, learner and person.”
Valverde has developed her own philosophy about education. She asserts, “Every student has the capability to learn and should have the opportunity to reach their success in a classroom that supports individual student’s goals. Sometimes students just need different tools and strategies to succeed.”
Along with having some new blood and new ideas in the teaching force, Rancho has a new bell schedule. On Mondays, the schedule looks like the traditional one that served Rancho for fifty years. There will be seven class periods, all fifty minutes long except for fifth period that is fifty-five minutes in length. Lunch will be forty minutes long as usual. Teachers have five classes and that means two preparation periods on Monday.
Block schedule happens Tuesday through Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday, designated “A Day,” students go to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd periods for 90 and 95-minute classes. Teachers will meet from 8:10 to 8:55 to work together on various planning and learning activities. And each teacher will hold Silent Sustained Work (SSW) sections for students for 45 minutes. SSW might resemble what was known eons ago as study hall and later as tutorial. The idea is that students have time to work on assignments and also have accessibility to teachers for help.
“B Day” occurs on Wednesdays and Fridays and has four periods of instruction or class meetings, each lasting 90 minutes. As always, students and parents and teachers will find good and bad things about a new schedule. Most telling will be how all rate the new schedule after it has been used for a semester.
New also at the Ranch, teachers begin to work two extra days. These days are designated “Professional Days” which means that some form of training will be offered to add to the teachers’ offerings for students. On Aug. 8 and 9, the entire Rancho staff met to be trained an AVID (Advanced Via Independent Determination) regional trainer, Lisa Faith.
According to AVID, “Teachers learn how to use strategies they experience and practice during training to engage students in daily instruction. They are able to build a classroom culture where rigorous academic instruction combines with social and emotional support to accelerate learning and close the achievement gap.” In other words, students are paying attention and learning because teachers use certain strategies to engage them. Many old school methods, always effective when used consistently, will work even better when the students experience uniformity in instruction, delivery and expectations.
The Student Senate will be another new addition to Rancho Cotate. This form of representation, beginning in September, will be a meeting of one member from each of the sixty-five homerooms. The meetings, coordinated by the principal and executives of the Associated Student Body, will focus on identifying important issues and forming subcommittees to deal with these problems.
Career Technical Education (CTE), not new to the Ranch, is expanded and has added new choices. CTE “provides students of all ages with the academic and technical skills, knowledge and training necessary to succeed in future careers and to become lifelong learners.” In other words, the CTE curriculum is spread over the years and provides a combination of academic and technical skills within a career pathway. Some of the courses include 3D Animation, Graphic Design, Digital Media, Digital Photo, Film Making, Computer Science, Sports Management, Hospitality, Sewing, Woodwork, and Drafting. CTE needs a more complete discussion.
Needless to say, these many new people, activities, schedules, trainings and tutorials reinvigorate a high school that has always had solid offerings for students.