National Blue Ribbon School has a Brandman connection
Stephanie Herrera, a second-year doctoral student at Brandman University, learned this week that the school where she is vice principal is a National Blue Ribbon School.
Students On Academic Rise (SOAR) High School is a partnership between Antelope Valley Union High School District and Antelope Valley College. Students, particularly low-income and minority students, experience a rigorous high school and college education. Many finish high school and earn an associate degree at the same time.
Herrera, who has been at the school for three years, has responsibility for day-to-day management, curriculum development, master scheduling and facilities and manages all the student organizations.
“With a small school you wear a lot of hats,” said Herrera who works closely with Principal Chris Grado, who oversees three other campuses.
Only 15 schools nationwide in the Exemplary High Performing Title I Schools category received the National Blue Ribbon, announced earlier this week by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“We’re a smaller learning community with an invested staff, high expectations, college-going culture and students plugged into activities. We do a lot of support and outreach with families to get them to understand how important school is,” said Herrera.
“That’s where Brandman has just been amazing for me. The leadership model I’m learning has been applicable every single day. Everything in the course work is used throughout the day here at school,” she said.
Herrera learned about Brandman through one of her colleagues and then was encouraged by the district superintendent who served as a cohort mentor for another class of Brandman Ed.D. students.
“Honestly, I think it’s one of the best programs around. I’m so energized by the design of the program and by the support I get from my cohort. All the faculty are willing to go way above and beyond what you would expect,” she said. Herrera’s cohort meets at the Antelope Valley campus of Brandman.
Herrera is using her Ed.D. transformational change project to work on student wellness at SOAR finding ways to reduce stress for the 400 students, some of whom travel an hour by public transportation to attend school there.
“Students were coming back from spring break feeling completely exhausted (from assigned school work) and had the perception that teachers weren’t coordinating. So we made a huge change in the master schedule to build in collaboration time for teachers,” said Herrera. The school has 14 teachers sharing nine classrooms so until they reworked the schedule, some teachers never saw each other.
“Now all the teachers are on campus at the same time. They realize how they can plan across the curriculum,” she said. Students are seeing less homework repetition and better scheduling of due dates for big projects and tests.
Herrera said the Ed.D. program came at the perfect time for her. “There’s so much change in education and any time you go through change it’s difficult in general. The tools that I have in my tool box have just empowered me to be better,” she said. Coursework helped her understand team and group dynamics and generational differences.
Teamwork will be on display Monday morning when SOAR celebrates receiving the National Blue Ribbon. Congressman Steve Knight and Assemblyman Tom Lackey will be on hand to congratulate the school for its achievement along with the entire school, representatives from the school district and Antelope Valley College.
“Antelope Valley College is our partner and we could not do it without them,” said Herrera. “Principal Chris Grado has a lot to do with my success and is very supportive. It’s not one person. We all work really hard every day. I just wish we could give this experience to more students.”
As for her own future, Herrera has no definite plans other than to get her dissertation completed. “I just want to continue to approve and be open to opportunities, but I love being here. We really are a family.”
Ultimately she would like to get into motivational speaking, possibly returning to Spain where she met her husband and taking what she’s learned to an international level.
“My overall goal is to help people improve their lives and empower them to strive for excellence.”
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