Polytechnic High School has undergone significant changes over the past several years which have led to remarkable results. Poly’s improvement over the course of California’s introduction of the Academic Performance Index (API) has been greater than any other high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 1999, Poly was the lowest performing high school in the San Fernando Valley portion of the LAUSD. Poly’s growth rate of student achievement has put us in the top 3% of all high schools in the state of California during the last 12 years.
Our reform efforts started with the culture changing and innovative leadership promoted by Dr. Janis Fries-Martinez, beginning in 2003, which led to the implementation of the Freshman and 10th Grade Centers and a unique 4x4 block schedule. Gerardo Loera took over in the fall of 2007 and was able to accelerate growth with focused and innovative practices related to program evaluation using data metrics not commonly used at that time.
The question remained for me: How do I follow the inspirational and unquestionably effective leadership that came before me? My answer simply is... from the heart. I have been at Poly since 2000 and have served as principal now for two years. I had the good fortune to witness first hand what the school was like before reform efforts were put into practice and to learn from these two outstanding leaders that preceded me. One thing I’ve noticed through this era of reform and improvement is that we have an outstanding group of staff and community members willing to work together and willing to put the needs of students first.
We have bright, talented, dedicated students in addition to parents and community members committed to supporting our students and school. I will continue to tap into this talent and strengthen our bond that collectively makes each of our contributions that much stronger. There is no doubt that at Poly we have improved educational outcomes for our students; however, we will not rest as we continue to strive for excellence in: curriculum and instruction, differentiated support provided by our Small Learning Communities, club, athletic, or leadership involvement, building positive relationships between all of our stakeholders, and continuously working to improve our capacity to better serve our students. We steadfastly support the district’s goal of 100% proficiency, 100% graduation, 100% attendance, 100% parent engagement, and safe and positive school environments.
Polytechnic High School was the flagship school in a number of reform initiatives including the Freshman and Tenth Grade Center and the 4x4 Block Schedule. We believe and practice the tenants of “Second to None.” Our three career-based Small Learning Communities in the 11th and 12th grades build on the strong foundation from intensive math and English instruction during 9th and 10th grades.
The goal that we will tirelessly work towards is for 100% of our students to achieve college and career ready status. We have more than doubled the percentage of students meeting this metric as tested on the 11th grade CST, but we still have a long way to go until every student at Poly graduates without having to take even one remedial math or English class in college.
Setting the bar for our students is the Poly Math-Science-Technology Magnet. Our Magnet program led by Jayne Couchois serves about 400 students on our campus and has distinguished itself with an API well over 900, which ranks in the top 3% of high schools in California.
Polytechnic High has a very strong partnership with Los Angeles Valley College which has helped us buoy the college-going culture on campus. We presently offer 16-20 college classes on our campus annually. Students have multiple opportunities to enroll in our concurrent college enrollment program which allows them to take courses that provide transferable units to 4 year universities for free on the Poly campus while they continue to make progress on their high school requirements.
In the past several years, Polytechnic High School, through the hard work of our teachers and students, has accomplished some achievements that we are proud of: improved from being among the bottom 10% of schools to the top 10% of schools in California with similar demographics. English learner proficiency rate on the English CAHSEE is among the highest in California and continues to improve. For four out of the last five years, The Academic Decathlon team has made it to the state championship. Poly became one of only three high schools in California to have ever exited Program Improvement Year 5 status in 2008. Our students’ scores on the CAHSEE continue to improve, and last school year, Poly 10th graders had a 87% first time pass rate, the highest of all LAUSD comprehensive high schools.
In the past ten years over 100 high schools have visited Polytechnic High School. Additionally, Poly teachers and administrators are engaged in strengthening the teaching profession by presenting in workshop sessions at several national conferences including the Education Trust Conference in Washington, D.C., Education Trust-West conference in Los Angeles, the Talent Development High Schools Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, as presenters at a Southern California QEIA conference, and even for the Office of Curriculum Instruction and School Support in LAUSD.
Polytechnic High School has also been featured several times in the Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Times, as well as on KIIS-FM radio, KABC Radio, Fox 11 Television News, and KNBC Television News. However, out off all the accomplishments we have to our name, I am most proud of the students and staff who, time and time again, show we are the school with heart. Poly High School students feed hundreds of families at Thanksgiving, donate thousands of pints of blood in drives throughout the year, and have consistently contributed tens of thousands of dollars ($18,500 this year) annually to the Spark of Love Toy Drive sponsored by KABC Television and the Los Angeles Fire Department. This is more than any other public or private organization each year.
Over these years, we have earned a reputation for doing things differently. The staff of Polytechnic High School is committed to being innovative and taking on new challenges in the interest of our students. Poly converted to a single track school during the 2010-2011 school year and led a cohort of three schools that implemented the Balanced Traditional Calendar. This calendar gave us the flexibility to provide 850 of our students credit recovery opportunities during a time when funding for these opportunities simply did not exist for most public school students.
Although Poly was not able to continue on this calendar, we continued to look for innovative opportunities that would benefit our students and stakeholders. One year ago 93% of Poly faculty voted to convert to an LAUSD Pilot School which allows us to have more autonomy. Our first exercise of this autonomy was to implement College Board curriculum known as SpringBoard in English and math schoolwide. Our students now have the most rigorous, and coherent high school curriculum available today to prepare them for college and career.
In addition to outstanding curriculum, we have over 20 teachers who have earned National Board Certification in various content areas including our entire 10th grade English department. Certainly, in part to the commitment of our faculty to improve their practice, Poly is presently recognized as 1 of only 3 schools out of a total of 107 LAUSD high schools to be classified as "Excelling." This indicator includes the instructional value our teachers bring to the classroom every day.
Additionally, Poly was chosen as one of only 100 schools nationally to implement the College Board's Advanced Placement Capstone program in 2014. No other public or private school in Los Angeles will be able to offer this unique and elite opportunity to their students.
We will continue to push forward relentlessly to improve opportunities for our students and support their achievement. It’s simply part of our Poly Pride! I could not be prouder to be the principal of any high school in this great country of ours!
John H. Francis Polytechnic High School