Camarillo School For At-Risk Kids Lauded in New Book

  • 10/30/2014 7:12:00 AM

Gateway Community School in Camarillo, which serves some of Ventura County’s most troubled kids, is receiving recognition for major reforms that have made it a model for schools across the country. 

It’s About Time: Planning Interventions and Extensions in Secondary School, edited by Mike Mattos and Austin Buffum, dedicates a full chapter to the changes Gateway has undergone since it began implementing reforms in 2010. In the chapter titled “From a Last Resort to a Model School of Choice,” the book describes Gateway’s transformation from a troubled, underperforming school to an example of success. The chapter was authored by Dr. Jane Wagmeister, the Executive Director of the Curriculum and Instruction Department at the Ventura County Office of Education. 

Students are sent to Gateway Community School from their home districts due to repeated suspensions, expellable offenses, severe substance abuse and gang involvement. Prior to the reforms, Gateway suffered from low attendance and frequent disciplinary problems, with only 30 percent of students passing the state high school exit exam."

To address these issues, the Ventura County Office of Education, which operates the school, began a complete restructuring that included the hiring of James Koenig as the new Principal. After a careful assessment of the reasons for the school’s troubles, an extensive series of reforms were put in place. These included improved training of teachers and staff, an updated curriculum, adjustments to the school schedule and separating the middle school from the high school. Perhaps the most important change was shifting the school culture to one that gives students positive feedback, emotional support and a clear understanding of expectations. 

The results were dramatic: the daily attendance rate at Gateway increased from 75 percent to 88 percent, the number of eleventh and twelfth graders passing the high school exit exam rose from two to 15, and the number of suspensions due to physical altercations decreased from 451 to 14. 

Another positive outcome is that Gateway students have a newfound respect for service to the community. They are working at giving back by organizing blood drives, serving as volunteers at the local animal shelter and collecting donations for the homeless in Ventura County. 

"We are extremely proud of the achievements of the staff and students at Gateway Community School,” said Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Stan Mantooth. “Gateway now provides an environment that gives students the tools they need for success in school and beyond. It has truly become a destination of choice as opposed to a last resort. 

Dr. Roger Rice, VCOE’s Deputy Superintendent, Student Services added, “It’s a real honor for Gateway Community School to be recognized as a national model for other schools that serve at-risk student populations.”