Good News From West Valley High School: 2021 California Distinguished School

It’s been an especially tough year for West Valley High School, and not just because of the pandemic, or all the ways in which the rural Cottonwood school adapted to the new normal of carrying on with the business of providing students with an education, despite COVID-19.

Rather, the school, its students, faculty and staff suffered the added burden of being in the spotlight because of negative news related to alleged football hazings and abuse upon football players, by football players. The first stories broke in the fall of 2020. And last month media reported news of charges filed related to the alleged incidents tied to the school’s football program.

But the school is about more than football. And those negative stories do not represent the entire school. Throughout all the negative press that overshadowed the school, students kept learning, teachers kept teaching, and West Valley’s administration did everything in its power to ensure that West Valley High School provided the best education possible for all students.

And amid all the bad news, there is the contrast of some very good news; exemplary news, in fact, about West Valley High School: It has received the prestigious California Distinguished School award.

The school’s principal reached out to A News Cafe to tell more about this special honor bestowed upon his school, and accepted the invitation to answer some questions.

Join me today in welcoming West Valley High School Principal Josh Mason. He’s been West Valley’s principal for one year. Before that he served as a teacher at Corning High School for five years, a principal at Colusa High School for one year, and assistant principal at Anderson High School for three years.

West Valley Principal Josh Mason

Josh Mason, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. Congratulations on West Valley High School’s California Distinguished School award. I know you are very proud, and rightly so.

The California Distinguished School program recognizes schools for excellent work in one of two categories: closing the achievement gap, and achieving exceptional student performance. Do you know which of those categories West Valley was recognized? How was that achieved?

JM: The CDE didn’t indicate which category we were selected this year, however, our school has worked diligently to close the achievement gap and achieve exceptional student performance the past few years. If you look at the criteria for Closing the Achievement Gap and Exceptional Student Performance on the link below, we met the criteria in both categories. Our College and Career Indicator and Graduation Rate are both in the blue category (blue is the highest category a school can achieve).

DC: Can you tell a bit about what makes this award so significant? And is this a first for West Valley High School for this particular award?

JM: We were the only public high school north of Sacramento to receive the award this school year, so that alone shows everyone this is not an easy award to receive. Our school has been recognized as a California Distinguished School before, however, it is the first time in many decades.

DC: What does it mean to you and your staff to receive this recognition, this year, especially considering some of the school’s challenges?

JM: It is fantastic the staff and students received this recognition. A California Distinguished School recognition is one of the highest honors you can receive as a public school. To receive the award during the challenging COVID-19 pandemic is nothing short of amazing.

DC: Can you give some examples of how West Valley sets itself apart from other schools, in terms of educational excellence?

JM: West Valley is an early college high school, which means we offer a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for post-secondary education. The early college high school initiative allows students to receive a high school diploma and an associate degree, or up to two years of college credit, by taking a mixture of high school and college classes. We offer dual enrollment, articulated, and facilitated college courses, along with traditional high school courses on our campus.

I’ve included some statistical data that details why graduates of early college high schools are more successful than traditional high school graduates:

92% of early college students graduate from high school, versus the national rate of 69 percent.

86% of graduates enroll in college the next semester after high school graduation.

91% of early college graduates earn transferable college credit.

44% of graduates at early college schools open for four years earn at least one year of college credit.

24% of graduates at early college schools open for four years earn two years of college credit or an associate degree.

*We are also the only early college high school in our area and have been recognized as an early college school for two years. We expect our student success rate to increase within the next few years as we continue to add additional dual enrollment, articulated, and facilitated course offerings to our students. We had one student graduate with 62 college credits this school year and we expect more students will graduate with 60 units or more in the next few years.

DC: Wow. Sixty-two college credits. That is impressive.

Josh, I know this has been a tough year, morale wise, for a few reasons, such as COVID-19, but especially because of the negative ways in which West Valley’s football program and allegations of hazing have put the entire school and everyone affiliated with it under scrutiny. Has receiving this award helped mitigate the negative experiences?

JM: Receiving this award validates that we are a great school. We have amazing academic, co-curricular and extra-curricular programs at our school. We have a staff that truly cares about the success of our students and believe we can offer any student a great high school experience.

DC: Even so, I’d say this award’s timing is especially appreciated.

Where will the award be placed?

JM: We have already received numerous awards for this recognition (flags, pins, banners, etc.) that are on display throughout our school. However, students in one of our welding course already created a metal California Distinguished School symbol that will be on display in the front of our school in August.

DC: What a great way for students to start the new year. What else would you like us to know?

JM: Thank you for writing this story!

DC: You are most welcome, Josh. Best wishes to the excellent people at West Valley High School. Have a wonderful summer, and I wish you a successful, productive school year.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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