Union Mine High School Principal Tony Deville invited west El Dorado County families to the annual back-to-school night on Jan. 24, playing master of ceremonies for a special presentation beforehand that extolled the virtues of the district’s newest and smallest school to incoming freshmen and their parents and hoping to convince them to take advantage of recently softened district transfer policies and attend the underpopulated school.
Deville let his staff and students do most of the talking, interjecting salient commentary throughout a fact-filled presentation.
Assistant Principal Chuck Palmer and Counselor Mike Ziegler explained the school’s 4×4 block schedule, which puts students in four semester-long 90-minute classes daily, resulting in eight courses per year, as opposed to a conventional schedule, which typically has six year-long shorter classes that meet on alternate days.
The 4×4 schedule allows students to get more classes in any given year, thus allowing greater variety of coursework, the ability to take classes over again, add extra courses in an area of interest or even graduate early.
Palmer allayed concerns over the length of the 90-minute classes, explaining that the faculty rarely lectures for 90 minutes straight, and that class time is often dedicated to homework or related activities. Since each student is only taking four classes, students with a 4×4 schedule typically have less homework, he said.
A survey of Union Mine seniors found that 98 percent liked the 4×4 block schedule.
Senior Sean Tow, a Union Mine safe school ambassador who also plays varsity football and basketball, chatted comfortably with fellow ambassadors Tanya Gallagher and Conner Reed, each of which spent a few minutes describing life at Union Mine.
Tow told the parents and wide-eyed eighth graders, “I walk around this campus and feel like I know everyone.”
It was no stretch to imagine the muscle-bound Tow catching a bully in the act and delivering a two fisted response. The future Oregon State running back quashed the notion, however, saying, “I can’t remember the last time there was a fight here.”
Lucy Carluccio, 14 was there with her mother Elizabeth. They live within the Oak Ridge boundaries. Lucy currently attends a Montessori school, and thought a smaller school might be a better fit.
A close friend attends Union Mine, but Lucy didn’t seem entirely sold on the notion until sitting down with Tow.
He touted the merits of the 4×4 block schedule and confirmed that as a senior he’s already completed his core requirements and is taking a light schedule in his last semester before heading to Oregon State on a football scholarship.
The following day Elizabeth Carluccio confirmed that her daughter would attend Union Mine. “She can’t wait to graduate … she’s never been so excited about attending a school.”
Cynnie and Skip Thomas live in the Ponderosa High School boundaries with their granddaughter Cassidy Steele, who attends El Dorado Adventist School. She said she wanted something a little bigger, but not as big as Ponderosa.
Cassidy is a volleyball player. Her face lit up when she learned that the UM girls volleyball team took state in 2011.
Other UM facts in the presentation
The counselor to student ratio is 340 to 1, compared to a 800 to 1 state average.
More than 400 computers are spread out in four different labs.
Overall API is 838, highest of any similar sized school in the four-county region.
43 percent of students go on to a four-year college
45 percent attend community college
More than $70,000 in scholarships are awarded annually
77 percent of AP students pass their AP examination.
Ziegler explained that career and course planning are done on a flexible web-based program that encourages parental involvement.
Each year the school hosts a Cash for College night, which identifies scholarship opportunities, and a career night where more than 100 representatives of various fields explain real world working environments.
Each of the presenters mentioned the benefits of attending a small school. “Fewer students means more opportunity,” said Deville, explaining that lower enrollment not only makes for a friendlier campus, but lowers barriers to participation in sports and extracurricular activities.
Drama teacher Pete Miller has been at Union Mine since it opened in 1999. He emphasized the strong drama, music and dance programs, crediting the block schedule for providing students the extra time to participate in the arts without impacting their critical college prep or career technical courses.
He touted UM as “the smallest school in the district with the largest band.”
Deville closed by telling the assembled parents and students that the district has no bad schools. “You really can’t go wrong. They’re all great schools and they all do great things.”
The next day he added by e-mail that his goals for the evening were modest, just 10 to 15 transfer students. “We wanted to create a clear picture of life at Union Mine and I think we accomplished that.”
The deadline for applying for a transfer to Union Mine or El Dorado High School is Jan. 31. Applications are available at the district website, eduhsd.k12.ca.us, any of the four comprehensive high schools or the district offices.