School succeeding with new principal

At only 5 feet tall, Sharon Garaycochea does not seem like a threat to the 150 students attending Baden High School, a continuation school in South City.

But equipped with a walkie-talkie and what she calls a “mom approach,” the newly hired campus supervisor has been successful in pushing students to attend their classes as part of a growing effort by administrators to improve the culture at the school.

Baden, which receives academically underachieving students from other South City high schools, is now led by a new principal, Robert Beauchamp, who stepped in last year.

Last semester, he hired Garaycochea, a full-time counselor and a teacher — one of only four in the school — and launched several counseling and career-development programs to help students transition to life as adults.

“[Beauchamp has] done a tremendous job in moving the school along — it’s a different atmosphere there now,” South San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Barbara Olds said.

The suspension rate has decreased 36 percent this fall and the students are seeing the results of the positive change, administrators said.

“It used to be wild in here — people would roam around,” said 17-year-old Henry Latu, who will graduate in May, one year ahead of his peers. “Now we have a full-time supervisor — she’s small, but her walkie-talkie makes her the master of us all.”

“I’m taking advantage of this because if I was in regular school, I wouldn’t be so focused,” he said.

It wasn’t easy for the new principal to instill order at the school. He said students were used to the lack of stability and were at first resistant to his new policies.

“Two years ago there would be throngs of kids hanging out,” Beauchamp said, as he monitored a herd of students during their five­minute break. “Now, the hallways are clear.”

According to the principal, bringing in a full-time counselor and involving students in programs guided by volunteers from USF, Stanford Medical School and a few local nonprofits made it easier to prevent tensions and prepare students for life after high school.

“A lot of what we do is presenting ideas that they may not have thought about — maybe they are from families who don’t know about college or job training,” said new guidance counselor Juliet Johnson, who used to work with high-risk youths in East Palo Alto. “We are opening up their view of different options for their life.”

But according to Beauchamp, the work is not yet done.

“I feel like there is still a lot we can do for the students,” he said.

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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