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California’s most improved middle school 2012:
Keppel Academy

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By Jessica Kelmon

Changing the school’s culture: everyone has a role

Despite middling scores and grades, Keppel’s students tend to be outliers in a different way: determination. During the interview process, kids need to articulate goals. While Romero emphasizes that it’s not an acceptance/rejection scenario, the AVID way is “looking for signs of wanting to work hard and improve,” Doyle says. “Desire is probably one of the biggest factors [for] success.”

Keppel’s teachers “have to be a jack of all trades,” Principal Romero explains, since the district is unable to afford single-subject-credentialed teachers. To make do, three-teacher teams, called “universities” to reinforce the new college-going culture, teach groups of 100 students. The university structure helps teachers connect with students, work together professionally, and keeps everyone keenly focused on the school’s culture of high expectations.

Romero also adopted a new positive disciplinary policy. Hallways are lined with posters that clearly spell out behavioral expectations, and when teachers catch a student acting out, ‘Hey you!’ has been replaced with, ‘Do you know what’s expected in the hallway?’

While he doesn’t have the crime and punishment metrics yet, he claims the school atmosphere is different. Teachers now give students “Romerits” when they observe exceptional behavior. “It’s the exact opposite of a demerit,” Romero explains. Last winter, Romero attended a two-day conference. “When an administrator is away for a couple of days, usually there’s a pile of behavioral issues to deal with,” he says. “This time when I came back, I had four Romerits to deal with.”

Tough turnaround, stunning success

Since it opened three years ago, Keppel Academy has seen a steady payoff for its turnaround efforts. In the school’s first year, the API scores grew by 127 points — and Keppel jumped from a GreatSchools 3 to a 6. This year, though the California state analysis of API scores is delayed, the GreatSchools analysis shows Keppel once again made substantial progress, leaping to a GreatSchools 8.

Though the turnaround hasn't been easy, Romero credits hardworking teachers, motivated students, and caring parents for Keppel’s stunning success. “It’s been hard, but we took a school and did a complete 180.”

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Principal Ricardo Romero