Temecula Outpaces State in Preparing Students for College


Corona Centennial High School is known for its monster football program. Riverside Poly is lights out in mock trial competitions. Hemet West Valley is tops in the academic decathlon world.

Temecula high schools? How about getting the most kids ready for college.

Of Temecula’s 2015 high school grads, 67.1 percent completed classes to be eligible for admission to UC or Cal State campuses, so-called “A-G” classes.

Statewide, only 43 percent finished such classes. In Riverside County as a whole, it’s almost 40 percent.

Pushing each student to take the most challenging courses is the key to Temecula’s remarkable success, says Joe Balleweg, district curriculum director.

He uses the phrase “highest rigor.” Whether it’s an Ivy League bound kid or English language learners who might be the first in their family to go to college, Temecula officials want kids to push themselves.

In return, they’ll do what they can to support them, Balleweg says.

Take Algebra II, the end of the road for me personally in math. I got a D in my junior year in high school, but I gave it my best shot and ended up earning a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a teaching credential. I pushed myself and benefit to this day from it.

In Temecula, the goal is to get every kid to try Algebra II. In reality, about 90 percent sign up for it.

“We do have some students where it doesn’t make sense,” Balleweg says.

Temecula’s seventh graders also have a chance to take a field trip to the nearby Cal State San Marcos campus.

“For many, it changes their mentality,” Balleweg says.

This philosophy of challenge seemingly comes together at Chaparral High School, which had a remarkable 71.3 percent of its students pass the A-G requirements this year, tops in the district.

Principal Gil Compton says a few years ago he could have walked into a class and asked, Who’s going to college? Most hands shoot up. What career or major are you planning on? Hardly any hands go up.

ssentially, all talk, no action, from the kids.

“We had to take action,” Compton says.

They instituted a career test for all 10th graders, which prompted them to think what was apparently the unthinkable for many students. All sophomores started taking the PSAT test, which prompted a 5 percent growth in participation in advanced placement classes the past two years.

More than 300 freshmen now take a new college and career readiness curriculum and an academic success class was increased from one section per grade level to 13 sections school wide. Staff members also started an intervention period that allows struggling kids to go to teachers for more help.

All these programs led to an “I can do this,” mindset, Compton says.

Finally, there was the video promoting college requirement classes made four years ago by Chaparral students including Brandon Hammock. The Gangnam style video was a YouTube sensation and Compton, who appears in it, says it’s still shown to Chaparral students.

The idea for the well done video originated with the very hip – and very astute — Chaparral counseling department. Somehow I’m not surprised.

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