Drake Direct

Sir Francis Drake High School December Newsletter 2019

Small Learning Communities: Moving in a New Direction!

(This article is part of a longer series of our study and changes to our Small Learning Communities. Please use this LINK to find our SLC Redesign resources and this LINK to the previous Drake Directs with all the SLC articles)

Over the past year and a half, the staff at Drake have been discussing, studying and developing improvements to our current Small Learning Community (SLC) system. For a full understanding of the challenges the SLCs have presented us, please read the Drake Direct article here. It needs to be stated first and foremost, all of our current SLCs have strengths and specialties that many of us deeply appreciate and recognize. The individual programs alone are not why we are moving in a new direction. It is the SLC system, as it has evolved, which presents a number of issues the staff wants to address. We also recognize how change can be difficult and what it means to move towards a new system and leave the existing programs. It is essential to recognize the long traditions and legacy Small Learning Communities play at Drake and the special place ROCK has in this history. While there have been many SLCs after the creation of ROCK in the early 1990s, no other SLC has stayed the course through it all. However, in our study, we have found that in order to move forward with the concept of SLCs, we need to create a new system that is more aligned across all SLCs. In this new system, ROCK, DaVinci, TLC and Outside will all evolve into a new small learning community program.

Our goals for the change: Our main goal is to create an SLC program that aligns across the individual SLCs with common outcomes, curriculum, use of project-based learning, grading agreements, and cultural norms that benefit student learning. The variance in student experiences is an issue we want to address and improve in the current system. We also want to address the process of choice and limited room in SLCs. Currently, ROCK and DaVinci have limited space for incoming ninth graders. Because of the elective options involved, we have in the past asked that students prioritize their SLC choice when they register for classes. This “choice” has prevented access for students into their first and sometimes second place choices. This system is not how we want to welcome students to Drake. We believe that our Small Learning Communities should be supportive communities that provide rigorous and integrated curriculum for all learners and create a strong sense of belonging and community. The impact of the choice process and the denial of students into their academic programs as incoming freshmen needed to change and we are excited about the sense of community we are going to build into the new approach.

New SLC program: Our new SLCs will include teacher teams in English, social studies and science. This three teacher team will be partnered with approximately 48 ninth graders and 48 10th graders to form a Small Learning Community. These three periods will be aligned and integrated with the three classes. Furthermore, the different SLCs will be aligned in their outcomes, curriculum, level of rigor, and cultural traditions to create connections to their SLC. This is the work of the current teachers in our SLC Development Team. These 20+ teachers are working to develop alignment agreements and pulling the best from what is working in our current SLCs to create our new program. Students will not be choosing what SLC they want to participate in. Rather, they will be assigned randomly into an SLC and will continue to choose their elective options.

9th Grade Registration: All our incoming ninth-grade students will be registering for school in the same process we have done in the past. In regards to their elective choice, they will be given the option of choosing their electives for their ninth grade year and every consideration will be made to try and get them into one of their three choices. Students will receive their schedules the week before school and have the opportunity to make necessary changes if there are mistakes in placement, as we have provided for all 9th graders in the past.

10th Grade Transition: We want to state that the well-being of our current 9th graders during this transition is a priority. Our goal is to make it a valuable experience for them. We do recognize that they may not continue with the same teachers, but we hope to give them a role in designing the new programs and having them stay with their peers in their current SLC groups. We will be working with our current 9th graders to provide them options for their 10th-grade year. If they would like to stay with their current SLC, this can be an option. If they would like to move into a different SLC, they will be given this choice and there may be some movement when possible. The teams of teachers have not been decided, so it is not certain who will be their teachers for their 10th-grade year. Once this has been decided, we will communicate this to the students. All current 9th-grade students will act in a mentor role to incoming 9th graders as they move into the 10th grade. This mentorship role is one of the most valuable aspects of our SLCs and we want to maintain this important aspect. Also, the teacher teams (once identified) wish to work with the current 9th graders in the spring to help design some of the cultural elements of the new SLCs based on their input and experience. We believe this leadership and mentorship role will provide them with the ownership to make their 10th-grade year meaningful and full of possibilities.

Change is hard: Few people like change, we recognize this. However, we felt there were multiple problems with the current system that we could no longer support as a school. We recognize the loss that we are going to experience with the change from ROCK-DaVinci- TLC-Outside to a new collection of SLCs. We also embrace the excitement this opportunity provides us, the possibilities to build on the greatness we have in our 29-year journey, and the forward-thinking ideas our teacher team brings to this project. We are not starting from scratch, we are not staring over….we are evolving and building something meaningful and important to serve all our students for 2020 and beyond.


Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in vape related incidents in the past two years on and off campus. What we do know is that youth across America are using vape pens at an alarming rate. We also know that our students are participating. A majority of the situations we have encountered at Drake involve nicotine vape devices known as a JUUL (if you don’t know what a JUUL looks like, click HERE to view an image). We have also found a few instances where students have been in possession of THC based vape pens (click HERE for images of these types of devices).

Since vape devices can be smoked quickly without much trace of smoke, some students exhibited risky behaviors by participating in vaping in our school bathrooms. As a school, we feel obligated to do what is in our power to keep our campus safe. To this point, we have been keeping the doors to our bathrooms open (with the view inside the bathrooms still blocked by the walls) and we have been consistently having staff members enter the bathrooms (every 15 minutes or so) throughout the school day.

With our increased patrol of the bathrooms, we have caught some of our students vaping. For students caught vaping or with a device, our first concern is to address the root causes of why they participate in at risk behaviors and also to try to help with possible addition. To that point, all students involved go through the Just Say Know program through our Wellness department. Just Say Know is a 90-minute workshop created by TUHSD Wellness and Huckleberry Youth Programs that aims to empower teens to make healthier choices by learning accurate information in an interactive way. Students will learn how different drugs (both psychoactive and not psychoactive) affect the brain and a variety of harm reduction strategies that equip students with the knowledge to make safe(r) decisions. Students will also learn the importance of being an “up-stander” in higher-risk situations and how/when to get help for a friend or themselves.

The goal of the program is to help teens take steps to reduce the potential harms of drug and alcohol use. This workshop aims to support students on the full spectrum of use, from abstinence to experimentation to heavy use.

The workshop can be offered to students in lieu of suspension for being in possession and/or under the influence of alcohol or drugs on campus.

Our school, with the help of our Peer Resource and Wellness programs is doing their best to educate our students on the negative effects of vaping. We have work to do, but will continue our efforts! Family discussions are recommended to keep the communication open around substance use. For further information, please contact our Assistant Principals, Nate Severin (nseverin@tamdistrict.org) and Chad Stuart (Cstuart@tamdistrict.org).

Drake Attendance Information

We would like to provide clarity regarding how to communicate when your student will be absent and our attendance policies in general. Please find important attendance key terms and information as well as proper procedures for communicating when your student will be absent. Thank you for helping us help keep our attendance accurate!


Excused Absence: Absences as a result of injury, illness or a medical appointment. All absences must be verified by communicating with our attendance clerk (see procedures below).

Warranted Absence: Absences as a result of an immediate family member's funeral or wedding, college visit, appearance in court, observation of a religious holiday, or other warranted absences deemed justifiable by the school. A Warranted Absence form must be completed and signed by teachers and administration.

Unexcused Absence: Absences such as ditching class, a family vacation, oversleeping, car trouble, DMV appointments, etc. are unexcused per education code.

*NOTE: If an absence is unexcused you will receive an automated call from the school, even if we are aware of the unexcused absence. All unexcused absences, whether the students is ditching class or the family communicated that they will be absent due to a family vacation, will generate an automated message. If you receive an automated message and believe it is a mistake, contact our attendance clerk right away.


My student is ill or injured and not able to come to school.

  • Call the Attendance office at 415-458-3418 and leave a message. Be sure to call on a clear line and say and spell your students first and last name. Let us know why they will not be in school and if it will extend beyond that day. We do not need details on the illness or injury, only that they cannot come to school as a result. If you only indicate they had an “appointment”, it will not be excused. We need verification of they type of appointment (medical, dental, etc.).

My student will be late due to a medical or dental appointment.

  • Write a note that states that your student was late due to a medical or dental appointment (please specify which one because any appointments that are not medical or dental are not excused per California Education Code). DMV appointments are not excused.

  • Call the Attendance office at 415-458-3418 and leave a message clearly saying and spelling your students full name, let us know what type of appointment they had and what time they will arrive back at school. If you only say they had an “appointment”, it will not be excused. We need to know the type.

My student needs to leave school early during a class period.

  • Write a note stating that your student needs to leave early due to a medical or dental appointment (please specify which one because any appointments that are not medical or dental are not excused per California Education Code). Please state what time you need your student to be picked up for the appointment. If you only write they have an “appointment”, we will release them from school, but it will not be excused. Ask your student to bring the note to the main office front desk as early in the day as possible (not during class time) and pick up a pass to leave campus. This allows you to wait for them in the car and not have to come into the office when you pick them up.

  • If you make a medical or dental appointment after your student leaves for school, call the attendance office at 415-458-3418 and request a pass for your student to be excused due to the noted medical or dental appointment. Clearly say and spell their full name, what type of appointment and what time they need to leave campus. We can get a pass to them, but this method should only be used for last minute appointments as it interrupts the teachers during class periods.