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School climate, closed campuses and valedictorians dominate school board discussion

Sara Patrick, Plumas Unified School District substance abuse and violence prevention coordinator, announces the results of the latest California Healthy Kids Survey at the PUSD board meeting Feb. 8. Photo by Steve Wathen

Sara Patrick, Plumas Unified School District substance abuse and violence prevention coordinator, was happy to announce at the Feb. 8 school board meeting that school climate has increased “exponentially” over the past two years in three of four PUSD junior-senior high schools.

School Climate Index scores are one of the results that come from the California Healthy Kids Survey.

The Healthy Kids Survey measures student health, student safety, adult support for students and the general wellbeing and readiness of students to learn.

As a reference point, the average SCI score for California high schools was 283 in 2014.

Chester High School’s SCI score rose from 228 in 2014 to 361 in 2016 and the school’s score increased in all subcategories.

Greenville High School’s SCI score went from 215 to 348.

Portola High School’s SCI score went from 288 to 318.

Quincy High School’s SCI went down, from 304 to 261.

Overall, the results show that school climate and student support can be improved with focus.

However, Patrick pointed out there are some troubling results that the community needs to work on.

Countywide, more than half of students reported chronic sadness.

Half of the students didn’t feel that all students were treated with respect in their schools.

About a third of students thought about suicide more than once in the past year.

On the positive side, besides the good SCI scores, most students felt safe at their schools and drug and tobacco use has dropped off overall.

Trustee Dwight Pierson reminded everyone that school systems that have worked on improving school climate and on being there for their students have seen their scholastic scores go up.

Students have a hard time learning if they are worried, sad or not feeling supported by adults.

“We don’t have a choice but to address students’ personal and social problems if we want to see improved scholastic scores,” Pierson stated.

The district’s California Healthy Kids Survey Report can be found at chks.wested.org/reports/. A less detailed version can be obtained through the district.

Closed campuses

Portola Jr./Sr. High School came up twice during the school board meeting.

Principal Sara Sheridan is interested in making the school a closed campus, meaning that students are not allowed to leave the campus during the day for lunch or other non-academic or non-sports related reasons.

Trustee Leslie Edlund pointed out that the principal reason for doing this is for the safety of the students.

With a limited time for lunch, this can engender a road race mentality in students — jeopardizing students, pedestrians and other drivers.

One neighbor of the school reported that a car has almost hit him twice in the last year.

Chris Retallack, payroll specialist for the school district, was given the Director’s Recognition Award at the school board’s Jan. 8 meeting. Retallack was recognized for his willingness to go beyond the call of duty for his job. Retallack was also acknowledged for his sense of humor and his involvement in the community outside of work. Photo by Steve Wathen

Students leave and return to the campus in mass, clogging the streets around schools.

Tardiness and truancy also increase as students are late or decide to not go back to school after lunch.

With so many students arriving back on campus at one time, it makes it harder to screen people coming onto campus for security reasons.

Pierson pointed out that discipline problems also go up after lunch.

On the other hand, not allowing students to leave campus for lunch will elicit resistance and resentment in some students.

One of the trustees declared, “My children are going to hate me for this, but I love this idea.”

Businesses who cater to students will be negatively impacted.

The board was open to using Portola High School as a test case to see how closing junior-senior high school campuses plays out.

Edlund said, “We need to see how it impacts student climate and student outcomes.”

The school district met with the Portola Rotary Club and Portola Boosters and they seemed OK with the idea of closing the campus during lunch.

Where’s the warranty?

New boilers were installed in Portola High School only three years ago.

Yet, at the time of the board meeting, the school was limping along with only one boiler working to heat the school and water.

Two of the three boilers were out and the third boiler, being made by the same manufacturer and installed by the same installer, is suspect as well. Yet the district was wary of inspecting it because the third boiler was all that is left to heat the school. Boilers typically last for decades.

The board was clearly upset by this situation. Pierson said, “Someone has to be accountable.”

Trustee Traci Holt added, “We can’t keep paying for other people’s mistakes. The manufacturer needs to bring out replacements.”

Edlund reassured taxpayers: We will be making every effort to be reimbursed.”

The board decided they would call a special meeting, if necessary, to get the matter resolved.


The board discussed the issues involved in acknowledging the best and second-best students in each graduating class.

The formulas involved in selecting the two best students are Byzantine and differ from school to school.

The battle over who becomes valedictorian or salutatorian usually involves only a few students and parents.

Pierson pointed out, “I’ve seen a lot of battles over who gets to be valedictorian and salutatorian and most don’t end well.”

Pierson pointed out that a lot of schools don’t acknowledge valedictorians or salutatorians anymore. They acknowledge many more people, in the arts, music, public service and sports, as well as in academics.

Holt responded: “I agree with Dwight, we need to broaden our graduation ceremonies to celebrate the accomplishments of more students.”

Another trustee pointed out that being acknowledged as valedictorian or salutatorian isn’t used as much by colleges as an indicator of academic achievement as it used to be.

California Healthy Kids Survey

The California Healthy Kids Survey asks students about school safety, student health and how much adult support students are getting.

The survey has questions about:

– Nutrition

– Physical health

– Feelings of connectedness to school

– Truancy

– Self-reported grades

Example of School Climate Index (SCI) scores from Chester High School. The upper bar of each pair displays SCI scores from 2014, the lower bar displays SCI scores for 2016. Figure courtesy of Plumas Unified School District.

– Support from adults

– Alcohol, tobacco and other drug use

– School safety, bullying and violence

– Sexual behavior*

– Suicidal thoughts*

– Gang involvement*

*The latter three questions are asked only of high school students.

The California Healthy Kids Survey is given to students in the seventh, ninth and 11th grades.

Parents and staff are surveyed as well as students. Answers are voluntary and anonymous.

The California Healthy Kids Survey was initiated in 2010. Schools use the results of the surveys to track progress toward improving school climate and the support given to students so that more students can both stay in and do well in school.

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