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Ridgway High School a model for the state


Since her sixth-grade year, Aryana Ashton has bounced from one school to another across Sonoma County.

Taylor Mountain Elementary, Slater Middle, Santa Rosa Middle, Santa Rosa High, Lewis Opportunity, Elsie Allen, Rancho Cotate -- she's spent time at them all. At each stop, she never fit in, never committed to the curriculum and always left, she said.

That pattern has dropped Ashton woefully behind on credits: She should be a junior but is considered a sophomore because she has fallen so far behind.

"I regret it," she said. "It was time wasted."

But something changed for Ashton when she registered at Ridgway High School in Santa Rosa, a Santa Rosa City Schools continuation campus aimed at getting students lacking credits back on track to graduate high school with the 220 units necessary for a diploma.

Ashton said her academic situation and her look -- dyed hair and multiple piercings -- are accepted at Ridgway, which makes it easier for her to show up every day. And with credits earned for academic work and strong citizenship, she sees herself climbing back up to where she should be.

"Everybody likes me here. I like being here. It's cool," she said.

The school was recently named one of 13 model continuation schools by the state, singled out among California's 504 continuation high schools for its innovative programs to keep kids in school. More than 69,000 students attend a continuation high school in California.

Ridgway's daily advisory program, as well as its incremental credit accumulation structure that allows students to earn credits for academic performance and attendance in three-week blocks, were cited by the state Department of Education and the state Continuation Education Association, which reviewed applications.

Ridgway will be honored April 27 at the association's state conference.

"Any school that is designated a model school knows that they are an exemplary model for the state of California," said Jacie Ragland, an education program consultant for the Department of Education. "Schools that become a model school have gone through a very rigorous process."

The school focuses on helping students recover credits needed to graduate, Principal Bob Hucek said.

That formula can be both a blessing and a curse for teachers, who can see their entire class roster change between three-week segments as students gain necessary credits and move on.

"On Monday, 10 of these guys could transfer out and I might have 10 whole new faces in here. Could be 20, could be four," said history teacher Ramon Ramirez, now in his seventh year at Ridgway.

Allowing students to enroll in a class and exit when they have accrued needed credits is one of the things that makes Ridgway unique: Students know exactly what they need academically to catch up and move on, according to veteran English teacher Nancy Watanabe.

"For every bit of work they put in, they will be given credit, which is a very motivating factor," she said.

Teacher advisers map out what credits students need and what classes to take. Each adviser oversees about 30 students, meeting individually with students for 10 minutes daily to discuss attendence and homework.

"It's a concrete road map," Watanabe said. "We don't want to lose students. We try to get them back on track."

Ridgway, which has been in operation since 1968, has been considered a potential site for the planned Spanish-language dual-immersion program the district plans to open in the fall. The campus, on Ridgway Avenue between Santa Rosa High and the school district offices, also has been floated as a location to house approximately 340 kindergarten through eighth-grade students at Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts when their campus is remodeled and renovated.

Both plans would displace the Ridgway program.

Ridgway teachers expressed pride that their work has been recognized by the state.

"Some of these guys have holes in their education. Some of them sat out their whole eighth-grade year," Ramirez said. "Obviously, these kids have failed with a previous school. If you come at them with a hard line, they'll close you off. You are trying to model a better way."

Teacher Kimberly Jacobs said students can arrive at Ridgway disheartened. But even those students can be inspired to change when their transcript begins to reflect the credits they have earned, she said.

"We are very student-focused," she said. "That's an incredible piece of flexibility in a school that a comprehensive school doesn't have."

Student Ashton said she is inspired by a system that rewards her for changing habits that had led to failure on other campuses.

"I'm hoping to graduate by the beginning of next year," she said.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.