High school transforms learning culture in Bakersfield


QEIA school: West High School

  • District: Kern High School District
  • Success factors: Schedules and incentives
  • API score in 2013: 746
  • Student demographics: 2,200 students; 62 percent Hispanic, 18 percent white, 15 percent African American; about 60 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches; 6 percent English learners.

“We have changed our school culture. Students want to succeed. It used to be not cool to be smart, but now it is cool. The peer pressure now is to be successful in school,” says Trent Combs, business teacher, site rep, and site council chair.

What’s working: West High School teachers in Bakersfield noted students were not showing up for remedial or intervention work during lunch or after school. Now this is mandatory during the school day, an idea borrowed from a QEIA professional development training. Four years ago, two periods were extended from 50 to 85 minutes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, to help students catch up. Remaining periods were shortened. Teachers can “do intervention work, reteaching or labs if they want,” says educator Trent Combs. “Students who are not behind get enrichment instruction.” Another program, “Think Gold,” rewards students who stay on track with an extra five minutes of lunch time, social events, T-shirts, and a chance to be named to the campus academic “Hall of Fame.” These incentives are based on standardized test results, so the tests become more important to students. “The extra five minutes of lunch really motivates the kids, and it costs us nothing to do that,” says Combs.


They’re proud: The whole school culture changed, thanks to the strong support of Principal Dean McGee. School discipline problems and suspensions declined sharply. The graduation rate of nearly 84 percent in 2011-12 was higher than the districtwide rate and the statewide figure. Smaller class sizes and more resources mandated by QEIA also made a difference. “QEIA allows us to do all these things sooner,” Combs says. “It shows you what you can do and accomplish with all of these resources.”