Uncovering the Reality of San Andreas High School

Miles Anderson

San Andreas High School, the academic institution directly adjacent to Redwood, has harbored many negative stereotypes from students over the years, warranted or not.

But despite longstanding rumors about the school,  San Andreas is presently neither a school where students are systemically shoved onto the collegiate assembly line nor a school where droves of dropouts and druggies congregate according to the administration, but an intimate school that, first and foremost, caters to the individual needs of its students.

San Andreas is categorized as an alternative continuation school, which means that its student body is solely composed of students who are over the age of 16.  Students are able to obtain credits faster, as one class yields two-and-a half credits at San Andreas, allowing for more flexibility in the school’s educational process.

“I think people just need to understand there are lots of different alternative paths to education,” San Andreas Principal Gerald Austin said. ”One size does not fit all.”

In contrast with other schools in the Tamalpais Union High School District, San Andreas is much smaller than Redwood, Tam, or Drake, its three primary feeder schools, enrolling a fluctuating number of students, according to Austin. Although the school currently enrolls 70 students, as counselor Cory DeMars said, it’s often difficult to track student enrollment as new students arrive at the school every six weeks.

Contrary to prior years, these new students are not forced to come to San Andreas. The majority of students who come to San Andreas choose to enroll at the school voluntarily, according to Austin.

Some are forced to attend based on a Student Attendance Review Board at San Andreas, which meets once or twice per month  to recommend students for the school.

Additionally, DeMars, the only counselor in the school’s history, has to convince parents that San Andreas is not a school that devalues education.

Most of that reputation comes from past years, where, admittedly, academic rigor was not present at San Andreas. “There was a time where you could kick a rock across the parking lot of San Andreas and get P.E. and science credit for doing it,” DeMars said.

Likewise, Marilee Rogers, a former teacher at San Andreas, said that San Andreas was drastically different in the past.

“There was a lot of animosity from the kids who went to San Andreas, because they had been in trouble in classes, so they hated the deans, and they hated Redwood,” Rogers said. “Kids were growing [marijuana], there were a couple of kids that were alcoholics.”

But, according to Austin, times have changed.

Shortly after being confirmed as a continuation school, San Andreas added Pathways, an optional program that integrates college courses with work experience outside of high school, either in the form of an internship or a job.

Casey Benz, a San Andreas student, quickly joined Pathways after voluntarily transferring from Redwood last year, during his sophomore year. Benz is already set to graduate this month after completing a couple of courses at College of Marin,  and, most recently, shadowing a professional hairstylist.

DeMars said that most critics of San Andreas don’t understand that the school can provide an academically challenging environment for some students.

“Life has thrown many students at San Andreas a curve ball,” he said. “It has nothing to do with how motivated they are or how good they are at learning. They’re trying to find a school that can accommodate that stress without adding to it.”

The graduation rate at San Andreas is officially 78 percent, while the District’s rate is 96 percent, according to Austin and the Student Accountability Report Card.

The number of students who cross the graduation stage is different from the rate that the State measures primarily because the majority of students are senior transfers.  According to Austin, the State places lesser value on graduates, like those senior transfers, who are not part of the student body from grades 9-12.

Fifteen of the 60 students who graduated last year attended a four-year university, but Austin said that it takes a while for graduating seniors to unlock their true passions.

Former San Andreas teacher Peter Parish, who currently teaches English at Redwood, said that life at San Andreas is a microcosm of any other school’s environment. Parish said that he left San Andreas last year after he was only able to teach part time at the school, but also said that it was a challenge because of some students’ lack of motivation.

“It still baffles me, when you have access to do metalworking, ceramic work, and to have access to anything that you choose to do nothing,” he said.

During his four year tenure at San Andreas, Parish was an art teacher, teaching everything from woodworking courses to drawing and painting courses, but said that the academic options offered at San Andreas were much more diverse than those offered at Drake and Redwood. According to Austin, San Andreas exceeds the recommended instructional time at a continuation by nearly 200 minutes, implementing 365 minutes into their curriculum instead of the required 180.

“San Andreas isn’t able to offer some of the higher-end courses like calculus and chemistry,” Parish said. “We send some students to COM, so there a lot of options. We could tailor a program to what the student wanted to do.”

Wyhat Heth, a senior at San Andreas also finds the lack of homework at San Andreas refreshing.

“Personally, I think homework is a lot of busy work,” Heth said. “It has its purposes, but I don’t think it’s necessarily needed.”

Wyhat Heth, a senior at San Andreas, said that the flexibility a small school provided was the perfect fit for him.“You don’t have any connection with your teachers at big schools, and at San Andreas you really talk to your teachers every day and have lots more interactions with them,” he said.

Benz and Heth both said that they wouldn’t have imagined early graduation as a viable possibility upon transferring to San Andreas, and Benz said that the misconceptions about the school proved to be mostly false.

“The reputation about San Andreas is that they slack off or that they’re deviant kids,” Benz said. “The school’s actually a good school, but it’s just a lot different from a public school like Drake, Redwood, or Tam.”