The Grade Blog

Tuesday, Jun 18 2013 06:29 PM

Administrator looking forward to new challenge at academy

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    Saul Gonzalez, 48, has joined Paramount Academy as the school's executive director.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Saul Gonzalez enjoys a good reputation in education circles.

Until recently, he was the assistant superintendent of the Delano Joint Union High School District, which is known for high state test scores even though most of its students are low-income Hispanics, who often don't score well on standardized exams.

Gonzalez, 48, has been offered several superintendent positions over the years, but declined them in order to continue serving his hometown. He grew up the son of farmworker parents in Delano and McFarland.

When charter school Paramount Academy's Joanna Kendrick-Miranda left to take a Bay Area principal job, however, Gonzalez was finally tempted. He took over as executive director this week.

"I really believe in the concept of charter schools," he said Monday as he settled into his first day on the job. "I think when parents have a choice, it's really empowering."

Paramount Academy also appointed Jamon Peariso to its newly created director of teaching and learning position. He comes from Delano's Robert F. Kennedy High School, which is in the Delano Joint Union High School District.

Both men come to a school in transition. The sixth- through 12th-grade charter school opened with much fanfare four years ago. This month, the school graduated its first senior class.

But despite high expectations, it hasn't successfully closed the achievement gap between upper class whites and low-income Hispanics, one of its stated missions.

Also, in March, the Kern County Board of Education approved a revision to the school's charter to reflect the departure of one of the school's partners.

The charter school opened in Delano in 2009 as a collaborative effort of the Resnick Foundation, the Delano community, Paramount Agricultural Cos. and Bard College.

Bard College's role in the charter school had been to give graduate students an opportunity to earn a master's degree and a teaching credential while working with the school's students.

But Bard was plagued with problems from the start. Its graduate program got in trouble with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing in 2011 when the commission learned the program had been operating for more than a year without state accreditation.

Superintendent Christine Lizardi Frazier said at the time that Bard had not played a significant role in developing the teachers, anyway.

Bard didn't respond to requests for an interview this week.

There also had been talk at one point of Paramount Academy eventually adding grades K-5, but that has been put on hold indefinitely.

"In our first three years, the school struggled to implement an academic model tailored to student needs," said Noemi Donoso, vice president of Paramount Academy's board of directors. "That is why, in March of this year, we officially severed the school's relationship with Bard College.

"At the same time, we doubled down on classroom learning, instituted rigorous standards-based instruction and dedicated thousands of hours to individual student support."

Since then, Paramount Academy has shown "significant improvement" in the California Standards Test, a statewide exam given to all second- through 11th-grade students in the late spring of the school year, as well as the California Academic High School Exit Exam, Donosco said.

But the most closely watched barometer of scholastic success in California is the Academic Performance Index, which at Paramount Academy has been stubbornly stuck in the mid 600s for the last two years.

The state has set 800 as the API target for all schools to meet.

Gonzalez said he is undaunted.

"I have every confidence that every student, given the right environment, experience, preparation and motivation -- in combination with student potential and abilities -- can succeed in any community, regardless of demographics," he said.

"It's no mystery," Gonzalez added. "I know that what we did before is repeatable."

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