Jefferson hopes to boost image, safety

Students at Jefferson High School’s campus could have an extra set of eyes watching them this year.

Fighting the influence of Mission Street and a reputation for troublesome students, the Jefferson Union High School District wants to bring in a third full-time campus security guard to Jefferson High this year to help boost a “stronger perception of school safety” and attract and retain teachers, according to district officials.

Westmoor High School, the largest campus in the district with 1,850 students, has three security guards, while the rest have two per campus. The move would give Jefferson, which has more than 1200 students, as many guards as Westmoor.

During the 1990s, as popularity of a so-called gang lifestyle rose, Jefferson earned a reputation as a tough school. Parents, teachers and the district said Jefferson is now a safe campus that suffers from a stale reputation. They said questions about campus safety were unwarranted.

The Jefferson Union High School District School Board will decide whether to approve the funding for a third guard at the board meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m.

Jefferson’s campus presents unique challenges to those watching out for the students because of the campus’s multiple buildings and its statusas one of the most urban district campuses, said Superintendent Michael Crilly.

“We want to create a stronger perception of school safety,” Crilly said. “For people coming from the outside, if they are influenced by inaccurate reputations of the school, if they know safety is a high item on the priority list, then we can attract them,” he added.

The $39,000 salary for the position would be funded through two separate grants — $32,246 coming in from the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Program.

The supervisor would begin at lunch and work through the afternoon until roughly 6 p.m., when after-school programs end, Crilly said.

Michael Nemeth, the teachers union president for the district, said he knew of no teachers who had left because they felt unsafe, but sometimes situations did “spill over” from Mission Street onto campus. Recently, thieves made off with 3,000 feet in copper wire taken from the football field lights.

Erika Olson, an English teacher at Jefferson, said she has never felt unsafe during her tenure at the school but added that another pair of eyes on the students would be beneficial for the entire campus.

“The more caring adults that you have on campus, the better it is for everybody,” Olson said.

Small groups may lead to gains

If the Jefferson High School freshman class looks small this year, it could be due to the students’ surroundings.

Today marks the opening day of the high school’s Small Learning Communities program, a $2.8 million, five-year effort funded by state and federal grants that will divide the Class of 2011 into three communities, creating schools within the school.

The new academic structure creates smaller class sizes — a 20-to-1 student-teacher ratio — and pays greater attention to individual academic needs.

The new structure will grow over the next five years with each incoming class. With the structure in place the school is expected to spend $1,600 more per student over his or her high school tenure.

Nadine Samorano, the PTA president for Jefferson, called the move “awesome,” saying the “opportunity to have a 20-to-1 ratio in the small learning communities is great for the freshmen.”

Other Peninsula high schools, such as Hillsdale High School in the San Mateo Union High School District, take part in the Small Learning Communities program and tout the benefits of smaller class sizes and the additional attention students receive.

Using the money to build its Small Learning Communities program, the school hopes to combine that with the recently passed Measure N — $136.9 million in bonds for facilities upgrades in the district — to completely transform the school.

Erika Olson, an English teacher at Jefferson who helped put together the plan for the small communities, said teachers have worked hard to make the transition from a traditional academic structure to the new program.

Achieving consensus on how to transition into the new program has been difficult, Olson said, but teachers have put in lots of energy and gained momentum heading into the school year.

dsmith@examiner.com


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