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Sunnyside High School focus of visit by state officials

A focused learning community for freshmen students earned high marks for Sunnyside High School, while concerns were expressed about a lack of diversity awareness-including recognition of gays and lesbians.

Those were some of the results from a site visit conducted by the state last month.

The visit, Oct. 16-20, involved interviews of students and staff conducted by a state educational audit team to help staff develop or revise school improvement plans.

Calling the visit a "snapshot" of the high school, Principal Brian Hart presented the results of the visit to the school board last night during a work session.

"Ongoing collaboration of staff," was one of the praises visitors noted in terms of the freshmen program.

The school also received praise in areas such as the availability of extra-curricular activities for students and increases in student achievement.

Results of the visit also showed areas where the team felt SHS needed improvement.

Areas of concerns expressed by the state included limited student involvement in school decision making and "limited parent engagement in the educational process."

It was also observed that there was a general lack of consistency in applying school regulations.

One concern repeatedly noted by the state team was a lack of cultural awareness.

In one comment the audit team pointed out that Sunnyside High School is "insensitive" to diversity and other cultures.

"Cultural awareness has come up in other discussions," Board member Lorenzo Garza Jr. said in response to the comments. "We need to pursue that."

The audit team recommended high school staff visit other districts with similar demographics and "implement culturally responsive practices" that respond to all marginalized and under-performing groups.

As noted in the audit team's report, responding to diversity is more than recognizing the area's Hispanic heritage.

"Staff and students acknowledge that gay, lesbian and transgender students do attend Sunnyside High School," the review said. It quoted one teacher as saying, "There is a real insensitivity to homosexuals at this school."

The audit team expressed concern that no club or support group exists for gay or lesbian students. The audit team further noted it "did not observe a single poster or placard indicating acceptance or tolerance for alternative lifestyles."

Speaking shortly after the audit report was first filed last month, Hart said he had no recommendation to go before the school board with a gay and lesbian club proposal.

"It was just a tentative discussion," Hart said of the club topic, one of 50 subjects addressed during the visit. "Some of the students were interested."

Other recommendations include adopting a comprehensive mathematics curriculum, implementing a clear, collaborative decision making process, as well as emphasizing a higher level of mathematics, science, literacy and problem solving skills.

The high school staff now has until next spring to address each of the recommendations made by the audit team.

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