By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
English language development teacher Luis Garcia at Valencia High Shcool in Placentia.
Valencia High School has a population that’s bigger than many small towns. The campus has 2,500 students of varying ethnicities, languages, academic abilities and styles of hair and dress. Despite their differences, most students share the same opinion of the Placentia campus: They believe it’s a good school. When you ask them why, they say it’s mostly because of the teachers.
“We don’t have a good school — we have a great school,” enthuses Patrick Chung, a junior at Valencia. “The teachers are very supportive and very good.”
The school’s unofficial motto “We Are Us” is based on the belief that everyone can thrive, be themselves and fit in at Valencia High School.
“We have a variety of cultures and races here, and that helps make it a good school,” says Brandon Searcy, a sophomore with a hairstyle like Marilyn Manson. “Even special education students don’t get picked on, which I haven’t seen in other places.”
“Our school thrives because of its diversity, not in spite of it,” says teacher Jamie Jauch, an Association of Placentia-Linda Educators (APLE) member. “And the thing that makes our school great is a caring, committed and competent staff.”
The sense of family is what prompted Luis Garcia, a 1994 graduate of the school, to return and teach English learners. “It just felt like the right thing to do,” he says.
The staff, in fact, includes many alumni. Jim Bell, a Valencia teacher for 20 years, is now principal. Teachers say his high expectations and support helped boost student achievement.
Despite budget cuts, Valencia still has vocational education, sports, music and art. It has more AP classes than other district schools, and the school’s AP exam pass rate — 83 percent last year — is higher than the national average. But this has come at the expense of APLE members, who voted to take pay cuts rather than lose valued programs and teachers.
“It was not something we wanted to do,” says Jauch. “But if we were willing to lose programs it meant losing teachers — and the ‘We Are Us’ spirit makes us very protective of one another.”
Teachers collaborate every Monday morning. They share the belief that good teachers can work with every kind of student — and they do. “That way, we aren’t pigeonholed,” says Jauch, who teaches ELD reading courses for English learners as well as English classes in the school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which has a 91 percent student passing rate and is one of the best in Orange County.
The school recently won a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association for HOPE (House Opportunity Program Endeavor), an intervention program that helps struggling ninth- and tenth-graders. The Bridge program helps middle schoolers transition to the high school. A program for emotionally disturbed students, run by teacher Michele Lentz, has been successful in making students feel accepted and part of the campus.
Valencia High School is successful because the staff works hard to meet the needs of all students, says David Chung, who teaches both HOPE and IB classes. “And we have great kids to work with, too.”
Science teacher Brady Bilhartz, also a VHS alumnus, says former students who went on to college and careers attribute their success to Valencia High School for several reasons. “Our pace is fast, but not too fast. Our curriculum includes both breadth and depth. We continually push students so they are inspired to do their best. We treat them with kindness and respect here. That’s why they achieve success.”