Rosemont Honored as One of State's Best Junior Highs

Times Staff Writer

It had been a long day for Marilyn Zimmer, principal of Glendale's Rosemont Junior High School. She had been on campus nearly nine hours and was slumped in her chair, taking care of some last-minute business before leaving for home.

Suddenly, an assistant principal stuck his head into her office, and Zimmer jumped to her feet. It seemed that an eighth-grade student had not put on her uniform for a physical education class, a violation punishable by after-school detention. The girl then failed to report to the detention classroom.

"All right, let's locate her," Zimmer said. "We can't let this go by."

'Preventive Discipline'

The girl was soon found in a hallway, and Zimmer returned to her office and reflected on the incident.

"That happens every once in a while, and we take care of it quickly," Zimmer said. "I like to think that our motto here at Rosemont is 'academic push and personal warmth,' plus a little bit of preventive discipline."

Zimmer and other school officials say Rosemont's tough approach to infractions is one reason the school's students get high academic test scores.

Those scores were one of the main reasons that Rosemont was selected last month as one of 10 junior high schools to represent California in this year's National Secondary Schools Recognition Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.

It is the first time a Glendale school has been nominated for the program, which was established three years ago to identify schools that show high or improved student test scores and that have innovative teaching methods.

'Tough on Students'

"The Rosemont group seemed to be both tough on their students and tough on themselves," said Norma Carolan, a state research analyst who was in charge of selecting the California schools. "We were very pleased."

Zimmer, District Supt. Robert Sanchis and a Rosemont teacher will be honored by state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig in Sacramento next month.

Federal education officials will visit the 10 junior and 10 senior high schools recognized throughout California. Finalists will be announced June 20, Carolan said.

About 150 schools out of nearly 500 nominated nationwide will be given national recognition as exemplary schools.

Rosemont was chosen this year, Carolan said, mainly because its students scored in the top 25% of all junior highs in the state on standardized tests and because of its high enrollment in advanced math and science classes.

In last year's California Assessment Program, Rosemont students scored above the 80th percentile statewide in verbal and math skills, compared to a district average in the junior highs of about the 54th percentile.

High test scores could be attributed, in part, to Rosemont's location in an area of La Crescenta that has few minorities and few residents with limited proficiency in English.

At Rosemont, about 15% of the students do not speak fluent English; at other junior highs the number can be as high as 70%.

"Rosemont is a very good school, but there's no question that part of its success has to do with geographical location," said Donald Empey, district deputy superintendent of instruction. "It's a very stable community, both socially and financially, and that works in its favor."

Assistant Principal Judy White also cited Rosemont's disciplinary procedures, including requiring students to stay after school for offenses ranging from being late to class to misbehaving during lunch hour, for the school's high academic performance.

'Pays Penalty Right Away'

"When a student messes up here, he pays the penalty right away by having to attend after-school study hall. We stick to the rules, as do other junior highs in Glendale," White said.

One of the academic features at Rosemont that caught the eye of state officials is the school's library usage, which has increased dramatically since 1983.

Through various incentive schemes, head librarian Ron Cooper said, students are now checking out twice as many books as they were two years ago, which is "very encouraging from a learning standpoint."

Library circulation has jumped from about 4,000 to more than 8,000 books a year, while enrollment has increased by only about 10% to 800 students in the past two years.

Contests in Library

"What I've been doing is holding a series of contests in the library to lure students in," Cooper said. "When they come in the library, there's a good chance they will check out a book, and that's what we aim for."

For example, about a week before Halloween, Cooper hoisted an 80-pound pumpkin onto a table in the library. Students were asked to guess how much the huge vegetable weighed. The student whose guess was closest to the actual weight got the pumpkin.

Cooper has used similar ploys with large jars of candy.

"We got more than 500 entries just for the pumpkin contest, which means we had 500 curious students likely to check out books," Cooper said. "It's like leading a horse to water. The whole idea is to get the students reading, and I think we're succeeding."

Above all, Zimmer credits her staff for the state award, saying that she would be "hard-pressed to find another group of teachers and administrators like the one we have here."

Acclaim From Students

Such acclaim is echoed by eighth-grader Michelle Oh, Rosemont's student body president.

"The teachers give us a lot of work and they discipline you when you mess up," Michelle said. "They expect you to do the work they assign, but they also make the work fun."

Student Jeff Hall said there are heavy homework assignments, and at the first sign that a student is beginning to fall behind, teachers contact the parents.

"I should know. . . . My parents have been called once or twice," Jeff said, referring to his occasional lapses in history class.

Mary Sambar, who has taught history and English for six years at Rosemont, said that much of the recognition has to go to the community and to the parents of Rosemont's students.

Parents Involved

"The parents in this area really get involved in their kids' education, and that's a huge advantage for us," Sambar said. "The parents know that their participation is welcomed and is not considered a threat."

Empey, the deputy superintendent, said one reason parents participate is that the school works to get them involved.

Parents of incoming students are sent a booklet, titled "Bridging the Gap: The Rosemont Experience," advising them on how to limit children's television viewing, how to instill good study habits and how to spot stress in children.

"All of our junior highs put out information to parents, but with that particular brochure, Rosemont has really taken it a step further," Empey said.

Educating Teachers

At the same time the Rosemont staff is working to educate parents about the transition to junior high school, its teachers are working with sixth-grade teachers to get the students ready for the transition.

Rosemont used staff development funds two years ago in an attempt to clarify some of the misconceptions that sixth-grade instructors have about junior high.

They used the money to pay for substitute instructors so regular sixth-grade teachers could spend a day in the junior high school.

"Sixth-grade students often approach their teacher and say things like, 'I've heard such and such takes place in the halls and after school,' and now we feel the teachers can tell them what actually does and doesn't happen," Zimmer said.

The experiment was very effective, and has become common practice at other junior high schools in Glendale, Empey said.

'Broke New Ground'

"You could say Rosemont really broke new ground with that idea," he said.

The response that district officials have received since Rosemont was named to represent the state has been predictable, Zimmer said.

"It's mainly been parents and other teachers and principals," she said.

But having a school district receive such attention has piqued the interest of some outsiders, who have contacted Zimmer for information about the award and tried to dissuade her from taking down a sign in front of the school proclaiming Rosemont one of the 10 best junior highs in the state.

These people believe that they can benefit from Rosemont's good fortune and are not shy about expressing their concern, Zimmer said.

"Real estate brokers," she said, chuckling. "They think it will help them sell more houses."

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