A Winning Strategy for Success

What’s the most important lesson being taught at Santa Paula High School this year? The one taught by underdog students who, faced with a daunting schedule of college-prep classes, are coming out on top.

The lesson: Give young people low standards and easy excuses, and they will live down to such dismal expectations. But challenge them to actually use their brainpower, and watch them shine.

So it appears as Santa Paula High’s 1,500 students complete their first school year since the district made the bold--and controversial--decision to eliminate the so-called standard track in mathematics, English, social science and science, and instead require most pupils to work at college-prep level.

Although it is too soon to declare total victory, the strategy seems to be working. The vast majority of youngsters are keeping up with the more rigorous curriculum.


It was hardly a popular plan when district officials announced it last summer. Howls arose instantly: They can’t cut it. They’ll get discouraged and drop out. It will slow down the brightest kids.

But now district officials say that nearly half of the student body is maintaining at least a B average and nearly 80% have a C average or better--about the same as the year before, when classes were easier. New after-school tutoring programs and a Saturday school have helped.

The higher academic standards are just one sign that Santa Paula High School is leaving behind its reputation as one of the county’s laggards.

Also this year, the school launched a magnet program in agriculture and science, enrolling 30 freshmen in a four-year curriculum aimed at earning them admission to the state’s top university agriculture programs.


The school’s new attitude is winning national attention, including an upcoming story in Time magazine.

“We were tired of being at the bottom,” says Principal Tony Gaitan. “You can talk and talk about these things for years, but you’ll find that you won’t have any change. We just went ahead and did it, and it has taken off.”

So congratulations to the leaders, teachers and parents in the Santa Paula Union High School District who had the courage to take a chance and the determination to follow through.

And a high-five to the students of Santa Paula High who are making it work. May your better education open more doors to wider horizons and lives without limits.


Enjoy your success--you’re earning it.