Central Point's three small high schools have the lowest dropout rates in the region and they scored in the top five in overall performance on Oregon's new state report card.
"We call it 'Crater,' " said Superintendent Samantha Steel, speaking of the collective moniker for the three schools, which includes an arts and humanities school dubbed the Crater Renaissance Academy, the Crater Academy of Health and Public Services, which focuses on health and community services, and the Crater School of Business, Innovation and Science, where curriculum is taught through advanced technology and field science.
"Every single District 6 student is enrolled in one of our three high schools," Steele said.
All three schools are considered college preparatory and are based on multiple surveys designed to discern students' interests. Each school is autonomous, with its own state identification number, leadership and schedule. Each school is helping prepare students to succeed in a rapidly changing world, she said.
"In other districts, students who struggle academically are placed in a separate alternative school. This means that their test scores and graduation rates are attributed to that alternative school and not the primary high schools in the district," Steele said.
Why is Crater faring so well in the state assessments? And, more importantly, keeping students not only enrolled, but engaged? It all boils down to relationships and accountability, say the principals.
"I'm a big believer that relationships go a long way," said Bob King, principal of Renaissance Academy. "Those relationships bring about a unique accountability. We serve different kids, from valedictorians to a student who was at risk to be a dropout. We press our top kids and we support the kids who need more (help). Kids come to school here and they're engaged."
The restructuring of Crater High began in 2006 with a $1.1 million grant from the Oregon Small Schools Initiative, bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Meyer Memorial Trust.
Crater had already seen success with an existing schools-within-a-school program, King said. But there was more to be done to ensure there were no "invisible kids" falling through the cracks, he said.
"We have drawn passionate, idealistic teachers to this campus," King said. "We've got a faculty that's pretty amazing, frankly."
King cites an exercise done several years ago in which cards bearing the names of 100 students were pulled randomly and placed on a board. Staff were told to place a yellow dot on the cards for students they felt they could relate to well, and a white dot on the cards for students with whom they felt they had at least a passing knowledge.
"Twelve students had cards with no dots on them," King said, adding the exercise has been repeated since the creation of the new smaller schools.
"All the kids have many dots," King said. "There are no unknown students here. We are helping the kids become well-rounded human beings ready for the world. If you do that important work, the kids will pass a reading and writing test."
Linmei Amaya, 18, is a senior in Crater School of Business, Innovation and Science, and president of the student body.
"I like learning through technology," Amaya said. "I'm not much for the arts. But I really like all three schools."
Amaya's older sister has already graduated from the school and is doing well at the University of Oregon, she said.
"I am applying to Stanford," Amaya said. "Right now I really like psychology. But my passion has always been for politics."
All three schools offer different forms of learning, said Tiffany Slaughter, Amaya's principal. The newest administrator on campus, Slaughter agrees with King that it's the connection between staff and students that creates Crater's success.
"I am a strong believer in the relationship we build with students. I think that's why we hold onto our kids. I think this is home for them," said Slaughter.
Oscar Ramirez, 18, is a senior in the Crater Academy of Health and Public Services. A student with an admittedly rocky past, Ramirez was formerly enrolled in Eagle Point High School and South Medford High School.
"A lot of the teachers were not so nice," Ramirez said.
Ramirez said he fell in with a bad crowd and got in trouble. He came to Crater after hearing "great things" about the school from a friend.
"I seem to function here," Ramirez said, adding he works after school and plans to attend college and study medicine or criminology.
"Before, I never thought about college. But I want to go to college and move up," he said.
Karina Cheuvront, 17, a senior in Crater Academy of Health and Public Services, said her four years at the school have been "an interesting journey."
Cheuvront loves dogs, is serving an internship at the Southern Oregon Humane Society, and has a keen interest in science. But Cheuvront has also struggled personally, and has had to leave school to attend treatment facilities, she said.
"I had to leave school for a while," Cheuvront said, adding staff have refused to let her setbacks derail her graduation or her plans for college.
"The teachers really got me back on track to graduate," she said. "The teachers and the principal really care. We're not just a job to them."
Ramirez's mother left the school weeping happy tears this week after hearing about her son's turnaround, said Julie Howland, principal. Howland's own eyes teared up as she recounted the trials Cheuvront has faced.
"She's an amazing kid," Howland said. "A lot of kids have had a lot of tough stuff."
Chanaye Ballard, 17, is a senior in the Crater Academy of Health and Public Services. As a freshman, Ballard thought she'd become a pediatrician, but last year her interests changed to marine biology after taking an advanced placement class in environmental science.
As a part of the class, Ballard was involved in hands-on water testing of Bear Creek. Seeing the effects humans have had on the creek left Ballard determined to leave a legacy of change at the school for her senior project. She and other students will be creating a water garden at the campus that will redirect water into filters "so it doesn't go straight into the creek," Ballard said.
"We wanted to make a big difference," Ballard said.
Shaundra Cook, 17, a senior in the Crater Renaissance Academy, chose the school because of her interests in dance, theater and the arts.
"But it's not just about the arts," Cook said. "I've had a great experience here, especially with language."
Cook's experiences taking a bilingual set of classes that mixed history and linguistics — with students who were native English speakers and native Spanish speakers — "really advanced my language skills," she said.
Cook's college plans include continuing her passion for dance and becoming a teacher to students who are learning English.
"I love the way the students here are all treated equally — the leaders, the followers. It's a diverse and nurturing environment," Cook said.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email@example.com.