When it comes to skipping class at Estrellita High School, Vice Principal Kellie Beck doesn't mess around.
A tall, thin woman with blond hair and Prada eyeglass frames, Beck won't hesitate to show up on her students' doorsteps if she doesn't find them at school.
Usually, the students don't answer the door.
"(But) a half hour later they mysteriously appear at school," Beck said.
Beck's home visits are just one way staff members at Estrellita High show students that they care. That extra attention, Beck said, might just be one of the reasons Estrellita's Academic Performance Index scores rose 187 points - far more than any other Lodi or Galt area school.
The Academic Performance Index, or API, is the state scale, ranging from 200 to 1,000 points. It's used to rank schools and track growth. The ideal score for all schools is 800 points.
This year the score for Estrellita High jumped from 512 to 699 points.
Students at the continuation school often have to overcome special circumstances in order to earn their high school diplomas.
Some are young mothers. Others have criminal records. Others feel that they just don't fit into the typical high school atmosphere.
"The kids that fall through the cracks, they trickle here," Beck said.
As a result staff members make a special effort to recognize students achievements while coaching them through their setbacks.
"Anything that's positive we want to recognize because they don't get a lot of that," said Ann Millet, Estrellita High's school counselor.
On Friday afternoon, Millet still had cupcakes left over from the morning's birthday celebration. Estrellita High's staff celebrates students' birthdays every month.
Friday morning's celebration honored students who had birthday's over the summer.
Three students hugged Millet after the party.
"My birthday was in June," said one student. "But you were the only person that remembered my birthday."
The teachers and staff at Estrellita High have also developed programs and incentives to cajole students to do well on the tests.
This year school administrators offered credits to students whose scores reflected an understanding of the material they were tested on.
Incentives at Estrellita that help students perform:
• Positive recognition at school assemblies for attendance, grades, etc.
• Tutorial classes to help students improve test scores.
• After school tutorials.
• The adopt-a-senior program where staff members pick seniors to check on throughout the year.
• Saturday school for students who miss class. Some weekends Principal Tony Lara fixes breakfast.
- News-Sentinel Staff
Since the students who end up at the school are usually running behind on credits, the offer is not taken lightly.
"That's a big, huge carrot for them," Beck said.
Teachers also got students to care about the test by explaining that the scores are not only a reflection on how well the students are learning, but also how well the teachers are teaching.
Beck wagered that the students, who often hold a special kind of respect for their teachers, realized that tests' outcome affected more than just them.
Senior Geraldine Guzman, 16, earned 10 credits toward graduation by scoring highly on the standardized tests.
Guzman said she was glad to earn the credits, but felt a responsibility to pay back the teachers who had helped her by performing well on the test.
"They're nice. I wouldn't want them to look bad," Guzman said.