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CUHSD in the News: San Jose's Leigh High School retains probationary accreditation

Original article by Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News.
 
After months of uncertainty about its future, Leigh High School in San Jose will retain probationary accreditation for 2016-17, easing worries that the school might close or lose an educational recognition key to its students' college prospects.

Leigh has remained on probation for two years. The campus will receive another visit from the Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, next spring, to make sure it's on track with promised improvements.

"Leigh High School deviates significantly from the ACS WASC criteria for accreditation in one or more critical areas," the commission's letter, sent last week, read in explaining the decision to keep the school on probation through June 30, 2017.
Leigh High School, San Jose.
Leigh High School, San Jose.

Accreditation indicates a school's capacity to improve, and the WASC stamp of approval is critical for students applying to colleges and jobs, as a reflection of the quality of education they've received. In the West, WASC is the leading accreditation agency for K-12 and other schools. It's unusual for WASC to deny full accreditation, although the East Side Union High School District's Evergreen Valley in 2013 and Mount Pleasant in 2014 ended up on WASC probation.

While the tone of the Leigh letter sounds dire, district officials took it as recognition to stay their course.

Mary Streshly, assistant superintendent of the Campbell Union High School District, said officials had expected the school to keep its accreditation. "We were very confident that we weren't going to get it pulled."
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In 2014, WASC dinged Leigh on leadership, teacher collaboration, communication, support services for students and use of technology, among other things -- all areas that Leigh itself had identified for improvement -- and placed the school on probation. The unusual move came as a shock, especially since Leigh offers outstanding arts programs, competitive sports teams and has the highest test scores among the district's five comprehensive high schools.

That negative report galvanized the school district. It replaced the principal and other school administrators, added time for teachers to work together, integrated students by eliminating honors courses and doubled down on setting goals and measurable ways to achieve them.

In its most recent visit in March, a WASC evaluation team unexpectedly assigned Leigh new tasks, including further working to boost the achievement of disadvantaged students.

Leigh teachers were disappointed that the evaluation team, who are current and retired educators, seemed to focus on the school's weaknesses, ignore its progress and gloss over teacher and student input. That disappointment turned to fury when the WASC evaluators inexplicably missed by more than a month its deadline to deliver its report on Leigh -- thus failing to get on the April agenda of the WASC commission, which determines the status of schools. The commission meets only three times a year.

"It was very difficult for our community to wait," Streshly said. "It caused a lot of stress for families, incoming students."

Earlier, WASC Executive Director Fred Van Leuven acknowledged that the delay in delivering the report was unusual. "It's problematic if the school was expecting to get it," he said.

The commission's decision came at its summer meeting. Heeding the school district's request, WASC will reconstitute the team that will visit Leigh in the spring. The previous committee was chaired by former Palo Alto Unified teacher Norman T. Masuda.

Streshly said officials are confident the school is on track to win back full accreditation, which it expects WASC to determine next spring.
 
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/noguchionk12.