To Challenge Success, Redefine It

By LCHS Principal, Ian McFeat

I love Volkswagen buses. The interest developed shortly after I bought my first Volkswagen bus for fifty dollars on Craigslist. The bus was a 1974 Riviera, the pop top sort with a full size bed up top, and a camper stove inside. I spent an entire summer sanding off the camouflage paint job to restore it to its original luster. I changed the oil, put on a new filter, degreased the engine, and spent most of my free time reading “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Instructions for the Complete Idiot.” The title fits nicely with my lack of skill, and although I am mostly against any literature that labels me stupid, this book truly aligned with my mechanical skills. Put simply; I had none.
Yet working on engines, the focus and the practicality of it all is something that I still have with me to this day. And I didn’t do that learning alone. A friend of mine took most of that first summer to mentor me and teach me how to continually make mistakes and learn from them. We spent hours cleaning pistons, searching junkyards for missing parts, and unbolting and rebolting the engine. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to do this sort of learning at my high school, I nonetheless recognize now that this learning is just as valuable, if not more so, that most of my core academic subjects.
Which brings me to this year. LCHS had the opportunity this spring to apply for a program designed to help schools think of alternate ways of showcasing, prioritizing, and honoring student voice and skill. The program is Challenge Success, and its power comes from its name; the notion of challenging and redefining what success means for our school community. This program, out of Stanford University, asks that schools examine all of their policies, procedures, course offerings, schedules, most everything about a school, so that it might design a more comprehensive vision for student efficacy. The program asks that we more broadly define success.
At the conference last weekend I thought a lot about our Career Technical Education (CTE) courses at LCHS. Specifically, I thought about how remarkable our programs are, and how, at their core, they help students expand their understanding of success. Our CTE courses help students not only think about career paths, but skills that can last a lifetime. Currently, we have five major areas that students take for CTE at our high school; Culinary Arts, Sports Medicine, Retail Marketing, Photography, and our newest addition, La Canada Television or LCTV. Each of these programs teach students beyond their grades, beyond assignments, and beyond traditional notions of success. In fact, each of these CTE pathways build the sort of character and dispositions required in today’s world. I would argue that each of these programs build and nurture a sense of accomplishment.
Last spring we also applied for and received the Career Technical Education Incentive Grant, (CTEIG), a matching funds grant designed to help support each of our CTE programs. These matching have brought needed resources to bear on our campus. They have allowed us to purchase new cameras for our Photography classes, new materials for Sports Medicine, computer equipment and a classroom upgrade for LCTV, and classroom upgrades for our culinary courses. These resources have also provided real dollars for professional development so that our instructors can be trained on the latest trends and techniques to better inform their instruction. Indeed, it is an exciting time for CTE education at LCHS.
This year marks an important one for LCHS. It is a year in which we have seen unprecedented academic success, scores on the SBAC examination that rank us at the top in Southern California; the National Blue Ribbon Award received in 2015, and an accreditation term that showcases our bright future. Yet, we recognize that most of the accomplishments are only part of the picture, a fraction of what truly matters in the life of our school. As we work this year and in subsequent years to see ourselves anew, my hope is that we recognize all of our programs that deserve recognition because of what they instill in our students beyond the classroom. Our students have shown us that success takes many forms, and that we should redefine success one program at a time. Let us work together towards this shared vision, to building engines in the lives of students that will propel them to meet all of their life aspirations.