Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 4:35 pm | Overcast 64º


La Cuesta Principal Kathy Abney Retiring, But Will Return to Work as Volunteer

She offers to spend the next two years grooming an assistant principal to take over the continuation high school

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.

So, in November, she brought her “crazy scheme” to Superintendent Dave Cash and the Board of Education, and they liked it.

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.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Supporter

Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >