Alta Vista Alternative School is trying something entirely new this year with the Quetzal program, which will use a combination of classroom teaching, online courses and in-depth projects.
Four locations will serve students who have been expelled from the Santa Barbara Unified School District, are making the transition back to school from Los Prietos Boys Camp or Juvenile Hall, or are going through the truancy program’s School Attendance Review Board process.
Principal Frann Wageneck, who heads Alta Vista and La Cuesta Continuation School, believes a hybrid model is where education’s headed, and that it’s a way for unsuccessful students to turn that around.
“I envision students will come here and find success in a way they never have,” she told Noozhawk.
Quetzal — named for a colorful bird that symbolizes freedom and liberty — will have junior high and high school students in four different classrooms: the Community Action Commission offices in Old Town Goleta, the Westside Neighborhood Center and Casa de la Raza on Santa Barbara’s Eastside. A special education class will be held at La Colina Junior High School, where Alta Vista is now housed.
Wageneck is working to get a specific career technical program associated with each location and already has one in the works for the Westside Neighborhood Center.
Students will have access to a culinary arts program and will grow their own produce in the center’s garden beds. The Westside Neighborhood Center’s Mark Sherman is trying to set up a pathway to Santa Barbara City College's Culinary Arts and Hotel Management Program.
Another factor in helping students succeed is getting the right people to lead these classrooms, Wageneck said.
Shannon Sadecki, formerly of La Cuesta and the now-closed El Puente Community School, is teaching at the Westside location.
“I’m really excited," she said. "I think it’s going to be really dynamic.
“What I’ve never done before is project-based learning; I think it will just be phenomenal for these students with real life-applicable curriculums that we’ve never been able to do before.”
The best project ideas will be shared and implemented at La Cuesta, and Sadecki said she’s also planning to set up collaborations with nonprofit organizations in the center.
There will be a range of students from seventh to 12th grade and widely different skill levels. There may not be a way to truly prepare for such a diverse class, she said, but she plans to make sure the first week sets a tone of respect and a good classroom environment.
“I’m really excited about the garden out there and the culinary program," Sadecki said. "Those are just skills that these kids are going to get college/career ready, which is the main goal of the Common Core State Standards.
“The rest is just getting caught up on how to be able to do that and gain credits.”
Quetzal was created mainly to replace El Puente Community School, the County Education Office campus that closed in June. The county’s Fred Razo had the idea of community satellite campuses before El Puente shut down, but the idea really got off the ground when the Santa Barbara school district had to find a campus for the displaced students, Wageneck said.
About 75 percent of El Puente’s students were placed in La Cuesta, but Superintendent Dave Cash and Wageneck wanted to create a program for the rest of them and create a transition program for students coming from juvenile justice detention centers.
Wageneck saw the problem when she was assistant principal at Santa Barbara High School. Probation officers would tell students to immediately go back to high school and they would often re-violate within a month and do poorly in school, she said.
“I’ve always felt like we needed somewhere we could transition students and have them be successful, then transition them to La Cuesta, Alta Vista or back to their traditional high school,” she said.
The program starts Monday with every other Santa Barbara Unified School District campus, and each classroom will need 12 to 15 students each to stay out of the red with the way attendance-based funding works, Wageneck said.
Joel Block, formerly of Santa Barbara Charter School, is teaching at the Goleta location and Matt McCaffrey of La Cuesta and Santa Barbara High, is teaching at La Colina’s special education location. The district is still finalizing a hire for the Casa de la Raza location, Wageneck said.
In addition to the four teachers, the staffing is mostly shared with either Alta Vista or La Cuesta. There is an assistant principal supervising the project-based learning piece, a school psychologist and a Fighting Back youth service specialist for Quetzal.
Alta Vista and La Cuesta are training teachers for restorative discipline this year, as well. The staff have been using the techniques — focusing on interventions instead of punishment — but never systemized it, Wageneck said. The pilot program started at Santa Barbara Junior High School last year and is being implemented at every junior high school and Santa Barbara High School for the current year.