GRAD Partnership Rural School Spotlight: Burney Falls, CA

This feature is supported by RSC’s Northern California Regional Hub partners at North State Together

December 13, 2022 |

Janelle and 9th Grade Student Focus Group

As part of the national GRAD Partnership for Student Success, Rural Schools Collaborative is pleased to highlight 20 schools who are implementing student success systems as part of a rural and small school cohort project. This feature comes from Burney Falls, CA, and is supported by RSC’s Northern California Regional Hub partners at North State Together. Read more about the project here.

For many people, California connotes tech start-up central, teeming with bustling metropolises like San Francisco. But, there is a beautiful region in Far Northern California that has an incredible sense of connectedness and intentional initiatives for thriving rural communities, despite its geographic remoteness

This is home to the Northern California cohort of RSC’s GRAD Partnership, involving 10 small schools launching Student Success Systems. They are joined by the Black Belt cohort of another 10 schools in Alabama and Mississippi.

Like many of our partners, the trek to visit entails an hour drive to the airport, two legs of flights, and another 2-3 hours in a rental car… but the visit is worth every minute. Our first site visit was to Burney High School in Shasta County, which serves 240 students.

Burney was excited to join the GRAD Partnership cohort to focus on attendance and behavior and make improvements by hearing from their students directly on what is working and what isn’t.

Ed Romero, the Dean of Students at the high school, said he is also looking forward to having a platform to celebrate the good that is happening at their school:

"When [our counselor] Janelle sent me this email about the [GRAD Partnership] opportunity, I’m like ‘woohoo!’ in my office, I was jumping up and down – this project is what I was really envisioning. There's a lot of good things going on at this school and they get overlooked - It's not the way it should be. I want the good things to get recognized."

The whole Student Success planning team at Burney is laser focused on positive mindsets and culture. The school counselor, Janelle, noted that the lasting effects of COVID have brought the issue of chronic absenteeism to the forefront, which makes the timing right for this initiative.

Students in STEM Classroom

Student Voice:

Burney High started the school year with student surveys on behavior and absenteeism, realizing that the project will be the most effective if the students’ voices are at the center. The survey asks questions like: ‘Which of the following behaviors upset you and make you feel uncomfortable at school? What makes you miss school? What would motivate you to behave in class?’

During our site visit, ninth grade students were upfront with us, sharing what they liked and what they didn’t like about their school experience:

Students in the school greenhouse

"I really like how the teachers are kind and the thing that I dislike about sometimes is just how some of the teachers are kind of like non-patient with you, so they just kind of get on you if you make a mistake."

"One thing I like about this school is the electives. And I like how the teachers are communicating, too, I don't really know what I dislike about this school."

"I really, really love the assemblies. How enthusiastic everyone is participating in everything. I just love it."

"I’m in a really cool Ag class."

"I really like how the teachers are kind and the thing that I dislike about sometimes is just how some of the teachers are kind of not patient with you, so they just kind of get on you if you make a mistake."

"Something I think Burney does really well for their school is I think that the teachers really communicate with the students well. I think that they listen and understand the students to where the students can feel free to ask questions."

"But, the grading policy's a little weird because if you have a missed assignment, it affects your grade. It's not like you can turn it in afterwards. If you miss one day it's gonna be marked as zero. So, I think we could work on that."

"One thing I like about the school is the sports that we have here. The thing I dislike is the bullying."

Goats onsite for FFA class

A Positive Approach:

When reviewing their survey responses on attendance and behavior, including why students come to school, the Burney team found that the top three reasons were:

  1. I like to see my friends

  2. My parents / guardians make me

  3. I think that education is important

"There’s that sense of community at the top ‘I like to see my friends’, and well of course your parents and guardians do make you, but the third one of ‘I think education is important’ - I was pleased to see that," said Janelle, BHS Counselor

"Then we ask, ‘What kinds of rewards should they get?’ Praise from teachers, out of school activities, special rewards, prizes or money and certificates... It's nice to reward that, too, and for others to see that positive behavior and be able to follow."

"But what's interesting about this is there's not a lot of agreement about what types of punishments should happen, but when you look at the rewards, there's a lot of agreement <laugh>. So that seems to be, in their minds, a more effective motivator."

Sign made in woodshop class at Burney High School

Real-time, Actionable Data – looking ahead:

In speaking about where they hope the project will go, Janelle said, "We used to do a lot with recognition when we did star testing, but waiting for that data, it's almost like you do it a year later. We are now thinking about some ideas to reward the kid’s mid-year or after the first semester based on their attendance and possibly behavior too."

The principal, Ray Guerrero, added, "We were thinking weekly we’d all just go through ARIES [attendance and behavior data] and then try monthly or semesterly incentives for attendance and tardies, and eventually move to weekly. We feel like if a kid attends or doesn't, then the next week they have an opportunity to try again."

"There's a number of students that come every day and there's a number of students that have never been late, or never been sent out of class, and yet we don't really reward them. So that's kind of what the brainchild was for this project."

Rural Schools and Student Success:

Our student tour guides for our site visit

Rurality remains at the center of many of our conversations with teachers, counselors, and administrators in this project. On the staffing side, the master schedule is tricky to balance every year with the limited number of teachers and subjects they are qualified to teach. And for the students, a common struggle is transportation - with many busing one or two hours each way. Those early morning wake-up times to catch the bus may affect their school work, and if they miss the bus, there isn’t a great way to get to school at all.

But, small schools also have their own unique assets, and Burney High staff were excited to use the results of the survey to also reflect on what’s going well, and what they can build on.

"We have a lot of different career pathways - industrial arts, commercial and residential construction… There's a woodworking cabinetry pathway, an entrepreneurship pathway, a business management pathway, and then we have an agriscience pathway and a floral design pathway, and then obviously our academics ag and AP. I've been really impressed because I've worked at another small rural school. We did not have any of those kinds of opportunities for the kids."

Janelle goes on to share other highlights from the survey, "They like their classes. They like the teachers. And you heard that from these guys here today, too. They know they are getting a good education."

Special thanks to Burney High School for being a part of RSC’s GRAD Partnership for Student Success cohort in Northern California, and to North State Together for their project leadership. Learn more about the GRAD Partnership here.

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