It's a Principal's Job to Make Equity a Reality

Oct 16, 2017 12:00:00 AM


On the first day of school each year, more than 3,300 teenagers fill the campus here at Rancho Cucamonga High School. They’re a diverse group—more than a third of them come from low-income families, a little under half of them are Latino, and collectively, they speak a total of 27 dialects. In short, they represent and reflect the vibrant community in Rancho Cucamonga. But unlike many of the adults in our community—the majority of whom do not have a four-year college degree—nearly all of our students will graduate high school and are on track to attend college or begin a career. We’re proud that 97 percent of our Rancho Cucamonga High School students graduate, but we’re even prouder that the same percentage of our low-income students graduate. And we’re proud that a recent report from GreatSchools, a national nonprofit that provides school information and parenting guidance, lists Rancho Cucamonga as one of the best schools in California when it comes to helping students of color succeed. How do we do this? We make it our mission to provide all students with a high-quality education, regardless of their background or the challenges they face outside the school walls. Equity, inclusion and a belief in the potential of all students are integral to our school culture, and we enact these values in a few important ways.

We’re aware of and celebrate the diversity of our student population.

As our student population has changed over time, so has our approach to teaching and supporting our students. Our teaching staff pays close attention to students’ backgrounds and works hard to identify and meet each student’s unique needs. We believe that each student should feel celebrated and see aspects of themselves in our school culture. At lunchtime, we even play music that reflects our students’ varied identities and cultural backgrounds.

We use data to ensure that all subgroups of students are receiving the supports they need.

My team and I constantly review our school-level data and data of various groups of students to identify where we need to provide more support. Disaggregated data helps us create a roadmap for taking action to improve our school and better serve our students.

We focus on ensuring each student is on track every single year.

When I came to Rancho Cucamonga four years ago, our school-level data indicated that our freshmen were falling behind. It was clear that they were overwhelmed by the transition to high school, so we created a Freshman Academy that is dedicated to supporting freshmen in their high school transition and encouraging a college-bound culture. We know every single student, and we monitor the progress of each one of them to give them the support they need to stay on track every year on their path to graduation.

We engage parents as partners in helping their children succeed.

Like many parents across the country, our parents at Rancho Cucamonga want their children to have greater opportunities than they have had. During our parent-orientation nights, we tell parents that we expect and encourage them to be engaged in their education, and engaging with us at school is one of the best ways to ensure their children’s success. They’re stepping up: We recently had a parent spend several hours reviewing her son’s transcript with us and together we came up with a plan to help him get on track. Now, the student is determined to go to college, and all of us—including his mother—are supporting him in getting there. These principles may seem simple, but they’re effective. Four years ago, a student entered our school as a freshman, his family moved to Rancho Cucamonga from Africa. The deck was stacked against him in many respects: English was his second language and his family was socioeconomically disadvantaged. But our teaching staff was aware of his challenges and knew how to support him. We kept a close eye on his performance and, with the help of his parents, kept him from slipping off track. And it worked. This fall, he is headed to Princeton on a full scholarship. At Rancho Cucamonga, we’re eager to hear—and create—more success stories like this one. We’re proud to be one of the schools that the GreatSchools report recognizes for providing learning opportunities and high rates of academic success. At the same time, we know that so many more schools in California and around the country are capable of joining us in offering all of their students a great education. Just as our students are excited for the new school year—so excited that their first-day-of-school rally cheers still ring in my ears—we are excited to share our success and inspire other leaders, educators, and parents to focus their energies on giving all students the excellent education they deserve.

Cary Willborn

Cary Willborn is principal at Rancho Cucamonga High School near Los Angeles, California. Mr. Willborn began his career as a special education teacher and a high school athletic director. In 2005, he became assistant principal at Ontario High School and then principal there in 2009. In 2014, he accepted the role as principal at Rancho Cucamonga High School. Mr. Willborn earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences from California State University, San Bernardino and his Master’s in Education and Administration from Azusa Pacific University.

The Feed


  • Why Math Identity Matters

    Lane Wright

    The story you tell yourself about your own math ability tends to become true. This isn’t some Oprah aphorism about attracting what you want from the universe. Well, I guess it kind of is, but...

  • What's an IEP and How to Ensure Your Child's Needs Are Met?

    Ed Post Staff

    If you have a child with disabilities, you’re not alone: According to the latest data, over 7 million American schoolchildren — 14% of all students ages 3-21 — are classified as eligible for special...

  • Seeking Justice for Black and Brown Children? Focus on the Social Determinants of Health

    Laura Waters

    The fight for educational equity has never been just about schools. The real North Star for this work is providing opportunities for each child to thrive into adulthood. This means that our advocacy...