A tightly knit neighborhood in East Sacramento will see Kit Carson Middle School come of age this fall with a new name, a facelift and an expanded mission, offering a rigorous International Baccalaureate program serving students in grades 7 through 12.
The transformation has been in the works since former Superintendent Jonathan Raymond urged the Sacramento City Unified School District to pursue innovative remedies to declining enrollment. Parents, community members and education officials helped shape the changes: Caleb Greenwood became the district’s first IB school for primary grades. A.M. Winn Elementary was designated a Waldorf-inspired school.
Kit Carson pursued an IB program that would expand through the high school years. The school won IB authorization in 2015 for grades 7 through 10. And the Diploma program authorization is expected soon for grades 11 and 12, in time for next year’s first high school graduating class of 30 students.
What will that mean for East Sacramento, a neighborhood long without a high school to call its own?
For now, only 57 students out of 455 came to Kit Carson from elementary schools that primarily serve East Sacramento and River Park.
“Certainly part of our vision is to develop a program that is reputable enough to attract those students that have traditionally gone to private school or to San Juan (district),” said Kit Carson Principal Santiago Chapa. “We think with the IB and its international fame and its reputation for a rigorous program, we will attract students from this part of town.”
Kit Carson faces some challenges in trying to attract students away from traditional large high schools. It is not a comprehensive high school and offers no sports programs. Students can apply for sports teams at West Campus, about 10 minutes away, Chapa said.
Sports “is not the focus of our school,” he said.
But Kit Carson administrators say their program could attract those seeking a smaller, close-knit environment during their high school years. At capacity, Kit Carson will have between 750 and 800 students in grades seven through 12. Assistant Principal Rich Haley and Chapa say they know most of the students by name.
And Chapa is betting that families in the district will be enthusiastic about the K-12 IB pathway offered through Greenwood and Carson schools combined. Parents often seek out IB programs because of their reputation for high academic achievement and college placement.
IB programs require advanced study in languages, social and natural sciences, mathematics, history and art. The program’s goal is to guide students to be independent, critical thinkers with a global perspective.
“When they trust that the program is established, when they have confidence in the program, they’re going to come,” Chapa said. “Part of our challenge right now is getting authorized. I can imagine many families would be hesitant until we’re authorized to teach through 12th grade.”
Junior Carrie Vue, 16, said she started at Kit Carson in seventh grade. The student council member said she has wondered if she’s missing out on the social experiences of attendance at a big high school. She and her classmates have talked, for example, about how and when they should organize a dance. The class is small enough that all students take the same classes throughout the day – a rarity for high school.
At capacity, Chapa said, each high school grade is expected to have about 90 students. Seventh- and eighth-grade students are expected to number 200 each.
“I thought about changing schools because it wasn’t what I was hoping my high school experience would be,” Vue said. “But then I think about all the classes I’m taking and about how I’ll be ahead of others who apply to college.”
On Thursday, Vue and other juniors were outside their physics classroom conducting a messy experiment to see how far fresh eggs enveloped in folded paper could fall without cracking. Most cracked at or before two meters, said physics teacher Nina Collins.
Sophomore Anissa Guido, 16, said she began at Kit Carson in the seventh grade and wanted to stay through high school. Teachers are helpful, she said, and she wants to lay the groundwork for attending UCLA.
Her mother, Jessica Guido, said she learned about the IB plans for Kit Carson a few years ago and believes her daughter made the right choice in staying for high school.
“I see the excitement in her,” Guido said. “She comes home and she studies really hard.” The family lives in the Fruitridge area, about 10 minutes from the campus, she said.
A $7 million school remodel is scheduled for fall completion with two new science classrooms, two art classrooms, a small theater for performing arts, IB project rooms and a remodeled multimedia center. The school also received a grant for an audiovisual studio with teleprompter, production lighting and computer.
Most Kit Carson middle school students now attend Hiram Johnson High School, which has more than 1,500 students. But Chapa said others choose West Campus. In some cases, students cross district boundaries to attend Mira Loma High School’s vaunted IB program in the San Juan district.
Erin Hanson, principal at Caleb Greenwood Elementary in nearby River Park, said parents and families at her school are paying close attention to the progress at Kit Carson toward full IB status.
“Parents are definitely aware of it and excited about it,” Hanson said, “especially among our primary students who have had the benefit of experiencing IB from the beginning. The parents are very interested in their children being able to continue their journey.”
Sacramento City Unified School District Trustee Ellen Cochrane, whose district includes Kit Carson, said she’s enthusiastic about the IB program. “It’s solid, well-developed and sophisticated,” Cochrane said. “It’s a wonderful choice for Sacramento.”
Chapa said the school has been working with members of the public on a name change, which will be recommended to trustees later this year. Among the options: Dropping the words “middle school” from the name.