New principal discusses changes for upcoming school year

Jeff James discusses plans Aug. 22 for his first year as Chester High School principal. Photo by Samantha P. Hawthorne
Samantha P. Hawthorne

  Students of Chester High School will be welcomed into the 2013-14 school year by a new principal: Jeff James.

  James has been an educator for 24 years, starting off his career as a history and social studies teacher. Desiring to make more of an impact on his students, he decided to continue his own education and, in 2003, he earned a Master of Science degree in education and administration from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

  The additional degree has allowed James to progress up the administrative ladder and obtain both vice principal and principal positions in several California schools. For the last three years, he served as principal for Cesar Chavez Middle School in Hayward and prior to that he held positions as principal and vice principal for the Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento County. This year, however, will be his first year as a high school principal.

  “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” James said. Recalling his early education, he said, “A lot of my friends had challenges growing up that made things hard. The one constant in our lives was that we could always turn to the school.

  “It was a place that was always safe and accepting, and you knew you could go there when you had a problem. I wanted to be able to provide that same type of service for students and my community, whether it is from an academic or socio-emotional standpoint. The way you can impact the greatest number is by going in education, so that is what I decided to do with my life.”

  James said that when the position opened up at CHS, he thought it was the perfect opportunity for him. He said he always imagined retiring in the mountains, but never imagined being able to work in a community like Chester.

  “I wanted to give my kids the opportunity to grow up in a more pleasant and supportive environment,” said James. He said living in the town of Pleasanton, although it is small in comparison to other cities in the Bay Area, did not offer that type of safety and comfort.

  As for Chester, he said, “I am happy to be here and am looking forward to building a solid relationship with the community.”

View on education

  James has spent the last couple months getting to know the structure of CHS, and how well students have achieved academically over the years. “Chester High School has done an incredible job at meeting academic needs and our children are producing phenomenal results,” he exclaimed.

  Going into detail, he said that CHS is ranked an 8 out of 10 on the Academic Performance Index decile ranking system, which means the school outperforms 80 percent of the schools in the state of California. In addition to that, CHS scored a 10 in comparison to 100 similar schools in California, with only one other school holding a higher score. Due to the excellent standards already being met at CHS, he said he has not yet established a defined set of goals.

  “We are already doing so many things well that I need to find what things we can sharpen. Because we are a comprehensive high school, there are always things that need improvement but until I have had an opportunity to see the school in motion, I cannot start planning where we want to go,” said James.

  He has, however, established a broad set of goals that include learning the culture of the school, making sure every student is getting a 21st-century education, and ensuring all students have their learning needs met. He said that one of his goals may include outranking the one school that scores higher than CHS in the similar school ranks.

  “My job is to provide the environment structure that allows students to get the skills they need to be successful after they leave my school,” James said.

  “For different students, that will have a different meanings: Some will opt to go into the military — that is success; some will leave here and go into college — we need to make certain that they have the skills to leave high school and go into college; some students leave here and get a job to support themselves and start a family — we need to make sure they have the skills to allow them to do that.

  “We are trying to meet a variety of different needs for a wide range of students. That is what is really fun at being in a high school — we get the opportunity to work with such a diverse population and it is very rewarding and satisfying to be able to help so many.”

Changes for this year

  Last year’s budget crisis had many community members wondering what would become of the local schools. Teachers were given pink slips, and classes were at risk of being dropped.

  James said that during a conversation with Plumas Unified School District Superintendent Micheline Miglis and prevention coordinator Bruce Mulligan, he was assured that the cuts they have already made at the district level will help keep the impacts away from the classroom as much as possible.

  To help keep the budget in line, student handbooks are no longer being provided in print but rather are being offered in electronic format through the parent portal at “It is a really small change that could have a great financial impact,” said James.

  The computers and printers in the library will be accessible to parents and students needing them. Hours have not yet been decided. Parents and students who do not yet have access to the portal should request registration information from the office.

  Unlike in previous years, parents are invited to join the first day of school activities. Following the morning assembly, a coffee and donut reception will be held for parents wishing to meet teachers and staff. “This is (the parents’) school too, let’s open up our doors to them as well,” said James.

  Two teachers accepted positions at other schools. Due to a reduction in class sections, those positions will not be fully replaced.

  Special education teacher Karen Lundgren retired after two years with the school. The position has not yet been filled but the school is in the process of rehiring.

  Art teacher Anjanelle Weiher accepted a full-time position at Lassen High School. Paulette Stover, from Tennessee, has been hired to replace her sections in both Greenville and Chester. She had previously retired as a teacher in California and decided it was time to return.

  Dave Tognotti is being welcomed back after resigning last year. His science position was eliminated; however, with the departure of a different teacher he was able to return to fill the vacated position.

  Dave Bradley was rehired after retiring for a year. He will be taking on two periods of science.

  Carol Bernard has been hired to take on additional responsibilities as a half-time counselor. She will maintain one period of English and also be doing three periods of counseling. Barbara Puhl has stepped down from counseling to work solely as the Plumas Academies teacher.

  “Since we are getting fewer onsite classes we have had to add more to the online system. We will have to continue working that way until the economy balances out and we are able to increase our staff again,” said James.

  Some classes have been combined in order to make up for the loss. Fine arts and AP classes are still being provided and the school is still meeting state requirements in order to graduate its students. “Although we shrank sections, we are still able to offer a full selection of classes,” said secretary Cheryl Henry.

  Enrollment has remained steady and so far 190 to 200 students are registered.

  Senior students who are on track to graduate this year will now be given the option to take only five periods of class per day, rather than the customary seven. Those who are behind on units will still be required to take the full seven periods.

  This not only helps with administration efficiency but also allows students to take up employment or get a head start on college classes, and provides less work for those enrolled in extracurricular activities. “It’s a win/win for both the students and the staff,” said Nicole Peterson, registrar/attendance clerk.

  James said, “With the leadership of our superintendent and support of our school board, we are working to make certain that all children receive the education that they both need and deserve.”

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