A School on the Move: White Middle School

Spring 2009 | | May 19, 2009 at 12:38 pm

White MIddle School Leadership Team

(photo caption) James Noble, Principal, with his Leadership Team members: Rebecca Fitzpatrick, Assistant Principal Counseling Services; Shannon Barnes, Counselor/International Baccalaureate Coordinator; and Jesus Nunez, Assistant Principal /GEAR UP Site Contact

Located in city of Carson and part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, White Middle School enrolls 1851 students in grades 6 through 8.   In 2008 the main student ethnicities were 61% Hispanic, 8% African-American, 21% Filipino, 1% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 2% Asian, 4% Pacific Islander and 3% White (not of Hispanic origin). Sixty-seven % of the students participate in the free or reduced price lunch program.    The API scores have increased from the 2006 base of 674 to 729 in 2008, meeting all subgroup growth targets.   James Noble has been principal since 2005.   The GEAR UP site contact is Jesus Nuñez, Assistant Principal.The Regional Coordinator is Robert Van Zant.


An Interview with James Noble, Principal

White Middle School began participation in California GEAR UP in 2006.   Please describe your school community at that time.

In 2006, Stephen White Middle School had 1,961 students enrolled with 1,353 students participating in the free and reduced meal program. Student population consisted of 60% Hispanic, 12% African-American, 18% Filipino, 1% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 2% Asian, 4% Pacific Islander and 4% White (not of Hispanic origin). That year our Academic Performance Index (API) was 674. The growth target for our school was six. Our major challenge was student motivation. Administrative staff, in collaboration with all stakeholders, decided that GEARUP could assist us in developing a college-going culture.

We instituted college shirt day and college jeopardy on the lawn once a month on Fridays. Under the leadership of the principal and assistant principals, Ms. Shannon Barnes and Ms. Anna Silva collaborated to create our current GEARUP and AVID programs. Students regularly attended curricular trips to various colleges and universities in an attempt to alter the neighborhood paradigm that college was only for some not for all. In addition the college elective was instituted to allow students time to explore and make contact with a college or university that would provide the best access to their chosen career pathway.

What are some of the changes the school staff has made and is continuing to make to promote a college-going culture, especially in this past school year, 2008-2009?

In 2008-2009 certain things have become institutionalized for students. The fledgling MESA elective is now an expectation of the community and staff. This elective, which teaches robotics as well as a rudimentary understanding of engineering, was engendered by those first primary efforts in 2006. College shirt day has metamorphosed into college shirt and tie day. Teachers are now naming different rows or tables in their classrooms after various universities or colleges. When we first began this program, a sixth-grade teacher said to me, "Mr. Noble, you don’t know my students. . . they are not going to college. " You can imagine that this is one of the most painful phrases a lifelong educator can hear. This opinion, however, cannot destroy the fact that no other individual is capable of determining the apex of another’s potential. We determine this for ourselves. This is something that has changed at Stephen White Middle School. This is probably the most enduring contribution of our years with GEAR UP.

In general, what is the school faculty attitude toward the GEAR UP program and the Mission Statement, “Academic Excellence and College Access for ALL Students?”

The attitude of the school staff toward GEAR UP and the mission statement of “Academic Excellence and College Access for ALL Students” is reflected in our recent Saturday staff development with the International Baccalaureate Program. This staff development, in conjunction with the Schools to Watch/Principals to Watch Program, reflects the depth through which our teachers have changed. We now have teachers that believe that not only can "those" children go to college but we, as an institution, can also accelerate that process by providing exciting curricula and constant awareness of opportunities.


GEAR UP has asked all Continuing Sustainability Project schools to show continued measurable progress of the 5 GEAR UP sustainability indicators.   How is your school Leadership Team addressing these expected outcomes? 

  • Sustainability of the Leadership Team

While the leadership team has changed over the years since the inception of the program at Stephen White Middle School, our goal and mission have not wavered. When a new administrator arrives at White Middle School, their first few months are spent absorbing and acclimating to the school culture which includes learning about the many innovative programs that GEAR UP has facilitated on this campus. The leadership team considers the impact of each decision on our current instructional emphasis. This is a perfect segue to our next topic.

  • Academic Rigor

Academic Rigor is the cornerstone of achievement. It is our belief that Academic Rigor is found in the intersection between the Cognitive Domains and the Knowledge Dimensions featured in Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. While this work had begun prior to the implementation of GEAR UP, it was the program that changed the teacher paradigm to the point where they were ready to accept that cognition was not innate but rather a function of effort. Teachers began to reflect this paradigm shift and include activities that were dramatically different in both the relevance and pedagogy.

  • Academic Counseling

While counseling staffs of all sorts have worked with students on solidifying potential future academic goals, our staff sought and retained two additional innovative counselors. The addition of those counseling individuals allowed the staff to no longer be relegated to simply the programming function. These counselors actually talk to children about the academic achievement and personal challenges they face in their lives.  

  • College and Financial Aid Information for students and families

Over the years with increasing intensity, students and families have received more and more college and financial aid information. During the conferencing night, counselors engage in a college fair presentation where they talk about financial aid and college going opportunities.  

In addition the administrative staff, in conjunction with the high school, instituted College Night. This is an opportunity for middle school students to find out what is required to attend a college or university of their choice.

  • Regular Involvement of Families

The Family University Day, provided through GEAR UP’s Family Initiatives Project, and Parent Institute for Quality Education sessions are two of the venues in which we have involved families on a regular basis. Once those families become accustomed to arriving at school with the expectation they are there to do what needs to be done to get the children to college, the process of delivering a quality educational product becomes somewhat simpler. The regular involvement of families is part and parcel of the GEAR UP program.

What GEAR UP trainings, tools and resources have been most helpful to your Leadership Team?

While all trainings have provided significant benefit, the initial training, the School Self-

Assessment Rubric (SSAR) and the facilitation pieces are credited with giving my staff the greater opportunity to realize student academic potential is unlimited. The opportunity to collaborate with staff away from the constant demand of school minutia has also made a significant impact on the affected staff members. I want everyone to know that while the enumerated items above provide a framework for evaluating our efforts in the GEAR UP program, it is my teachers and other staff that set Stephen M. White Middle School apart. Those teachers and staff are giants among educators. I am proud to serve with them.

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