Jessica Cejnar / Monday, March 16 @ 2:41 p.m.
State Recognizes Sunset's Innovative Approach to Education, Names It A Model Continuation High School
Alex Armstrong couldn’t get to the California Poetry Out Loud finals in Sacramento — due to the COVID-19 outbreak, organizers turned the event into a virtual competition.
With help from his teacher Kelly Troyna, competitor and fellow Sunset High School student Noah Kuntz, Armstrong took advantage of one of the school’s coolest features — the interpretive trail through its second-growth redwood forest.
Alex also gave an impromptu recitation to the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees on Thursday.
“Alex is totally ready,” Troyna told Trustees. “We’re going to see if we can’t take Del Norte to Sacramento.”
Del Norte County’s alternative high school has already impressed state education officials. State Superintendent of Schools included Sunset among 43 statewide recognized as Model Continuation High Schools of 2020. According to Principal Tony Fabricius, Sunset is one of only two model continuation high schools north of Sacramento. The other school is in Red Bluff, he said.
“There’s not a model school in Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity, Shasta, Modoc, Lassen; none of those counties,” Fabricius said. “Mendocino, Lake? No. In Southern California, they have model schools scattered all over the state and in the middle of the state they do, Bay Area, and then us.”
It’s features like the interpretive trail, second-growth redwood forest and school farm that makes Sunset High School stand out from other continuation schools, Fabricius said. This enables students, who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise, to raise a pig or a lamb for fair, guide field trips for 3rd and 5th-graders or cater a luncheon for Crescent City’s Noon Rotary Club.
Through the school’s Sources of Strength program, Sunset High School teens are also mentors for students in grades sixth through eighth at Redwood School and Crescent Elk Middle School, Fabricius said.
“This is something our kids would never have done had they not come to Sunset,” Fabicius said.
Providing a high school diploma program for students 16-18, who are at risk of not completing their education, model continuation high schools are selected based on assessments and data. The process also includes a peer review panel and an on-site visit, according to the California Department of Education. Sunset High School received its on-site visit in October.
Sunset and the 42 other schools recognized as model continuation high schools will retain that status for three years and will be celebrated at the 2020 California Continuation Education Association Conference in San Diego in May, according to the CDE.
Part of the criteria to be a model continuation school is a low student-to-teacher ratio of 15 students to one instructor, Fabricius said. DNUSD enacted a school board policy that the student-to-teacher ratio would be 15-to-1, not to exceed 20-to-1.
In Del Norte County, Fabricius said Sunset High School has had to overcome perceptions of being “that school.” He said he and his staff worked hard to challenge that perception. While his students don’t score high on standardized tests or stand out at Del Norte High School, they come to Sunset and shine in other ways, Fabricius said.
“We get our students involved, participating, and give them opportunities in so many activities and events and ways that they wouldn’t necessarily have gotten at another place,” he said.
Another part of the criteria for being a model school is to show other educators how you do things, Fabricius said. He noted that Sunset is unique for continuation high schools, which are usually small, often consisting of portable classrooms near the comprehensive school.
“We are five miles out of town,” he said. “When you come out here, it is another culture. You’re not just a classroom off the side of Del Norte High School. We’re our own entity out here.”
At Thursday’s school board meeting, after Alex recited John McCrea’s “In Flanders Fields,” he received congratulations from trustees. Board President Frank Magarino, especially, praised Alex and Noah for their academic risk-taking and achievement.