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La Cuesta Principal Kathy Abney Retiring, But Will Return to Work as Volunteer
After 11 years as principal at La Cuesta Continuation High School in Santa Barbara, Kathy Abney refuses to leave the organization leaderless.
She is retiring June 29, a Friday, but will head back to work the following Monday to volunteer as principal for two years while she grooms an assistant principal to take over.
“This is where my heart is; we built a place that’s really great for kids and is also a special place for staff,” she said. “I want to make sure that two years from now, when I really do leave, no one’s going, ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do now?’”
Someone can’t jump into running a continuation school — everything is different, from grading to placing students in classes, according to Abney.
With Abney retiring, the district will bring on Frann Wageneck, currently the assistant principal at Santa Barbara High School, to be the second-in-command at La Cuesta and Alta Vista Alternative High School, the independent study school. For the 2013-14 year, Wageneck will be acting principal and Abney will be her backup support.
“I offered to work for free; you can hardly say no,” Abney said.
Cash ultimately will decide who takes over in 2014, so it’s up to Wageneck to convince him she’s right for the job.
“It’s the only way I could figure out to get an assistant principal, but I would have done it anyway,” Abney said. “There’s a method to my madness.”
The staff has a busy time ahead with the Western Association of Schools & Colleges accreditation process. While the school earned initial accreditation last year, it lasts for only three years, so it has to go through an even tougher evaluation to get a six-year accreditation.
With that WASC stamp of approval, students are eligible for Cal Grants financial aid, and the school’s courses meet subject requirements for applying to the California State University and University of California systems.
Most of the students are eligible for the maximum in Cal Grants — about $5,500 per year — so that’s a huge piece of accreditation, Abney said. School staff members encourage students to pursue education after high school, but many are hit with “sticker shock” for books and class fees, she said.
La Cuesta has changed a lot since Abney came in 2001, when it was spread out among four satellite campuses, and Abney said she wants a smooth transition to keep the school’s momentum going.
“It took me like nine years to move all of those students and teachers to a single site, with the idea that you can’t deliver standards-based instruction in a world where people want bigger and better results from kids in what’s essentially a one-room schoolhouse,” she said.
It’s a model continuation school, on track to get accredited again and had a record 71 graduates this June. Many students are choosing to stay instead of going back to their home high schools.
“You have to love what you do when you work in alternative education,” Abney said. “These are the kids who people didn’t give a chance, assumed couldn’t do anything, but we have some amazing kids.”
At every graduation, the individual attention shown in small classes continues with teachers saying a few things about every student before they receive their diploma.
“In big schools, most kids are cooking along and doing OK, and if you make a difference you don’t see it,” Abney said. “Here, if you make a difference in a kid’s life, it’s like a light bulb goes off and you almost see it in real time.”
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