Long Beach Polytechnic's Secret of Success Long Beach Polytechnic High School is set in the middle of a high crime neighborhood, in one of the poorest communities in Los Angeles County. Yet it is still considered one of the best schools in the nation. Debra Baer of member station KPCC reports on the school's secret to success.
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Long Beach Polytechnic's Secret of Success

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Long Beach Polytechnic's Secret of Success

Long Beach Polytechnic's Secret of Success

Long Beach Polytechnic's Secret of Success

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Long Beach Polytechnic High School is set in the middle of a high crime neighborhood, in one of the poorest communities in Los Angeles County. Yet it is still considered one of the best schools in the nation. Debra Baer of member station KPCC reports on the school's secret to success.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Long Beach, California, in a neighborhood where crime is plentiful and money is not, Polytechnic High School is one of the most successful and respected public schools in America. Debra Baer reports on a school that has really become what its motto proclaims, the home of scholars and champions.

(Soundbite of students yelling)

Ms. DEBRA BAER (Reporter, KPCC): It's mid-morning break and the quad is thick with teenagers. Poly is huge, 4800 kids and it needs two principles to manage them. Sean Ashley, a Poly Alum is one of them.

Mr. SEAN ASHLEY (Principal, Polytechnic High School): Ok, let's start pushing the class. Ok. Why are we standing around? Didn't I give you a class to go to? Didn't your mother say she wanted you in class today? I'm sure she did.

Ms. BAER: The kids are stunningly diverse. A third African American, a third Southeast Asia and about eight percent white; the rest are Latino, Filipino, and Samoan. More than half qualify for reduced or free lunches, and they're well behaved. Police say the campus is as safe as schools in upscale areas of the city. Attendance is high, 95 percent, and the drop out rate is low. A Harvard study reported Poly's graduation rate is above 90 percent; better than any large urban high school in California. So what's its secret?

Mr. SHAWN ASHLEY (Principal, Long Beach Polytechnic High School): Hello how are you today sweetheart? Good.

BAER: Principal Ashley himself is clearly one factor. He's a dynamo who's involved in every detail of the school's day-to-day life. He says part of Poly's success is that it's organized into eleven learning academies. Two of them are magnet programs; one is called the Program of Additional Curricular Experiences, also known as PACE.

Mr. ASHLEY: PACE is this high octane take-no-prisoners academic program that brings the best and the brightest. It has raised the standards for the entire school.

BAER: Going to college isn't a dream here, it's an expectation; a part of Poly's 110-year tradition. A tradition that now includes an award-winning music program.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ANDY OSMAN (Teacher, Long Beach Polytechnic High School): Millions of people are gonna hear you on the radio right now and they're gonna hear you playing leaning back, fluffing in your chair.

BAER: Teacher Andy Osman directs two of Poly's orchestras. He says he always pushes his students to do better.

Mr. OSMAN: The analogy I use with the kids is the high jump mentality. If you can jump six feet on the high bar, why can't you jump six feet and a quarter inch? So wherever they're at, our job I think is to take them one level beyond that.

(Soundbite of music)

BAER: Football is also a huge part of Poly tradition. Poly has sent more athletes to the NFL than any high school in the country.

Unidentified Woman: We just scored. We got the ball back. I thought we were gonna lose.

BAER: The school keeps its athletes focused by checking their grades every three weeks. Senior Terrance Austin is one of Poly's star football players, a wide receiver for the jackrabbits. As well as being in one of Poly's magnet programs, eleven colleges are wooing him with scholarship offers including Notre Dame and U.C.L.A.

Mr. TERRANCE AUSTIN (Student, Long Beach Polytechnic High School): I still work hard and continue to do all of my schoolwork. And, you know, I'm just one guy that's out there trying to make it.

BAER: Austin always expected to go to Poly, as nearly everyone in his family has for three generations. That's not unusual. Families in the neighborhood consider it a birthright for their children to come here. Parent and alum Danny Lewis(ph) says his stepson Brian(ph) Smith is carrying on the Poly tradition.

Mr. DANNY LEWIS (Parent): Poly is not just sports, it's a way out of the inner city. If they don't succeed in sports, then more than likely they'll succeed in life in other ways.

Unidentified Man: Okay. Who's standing around like they don't have anything to do with their lives?

For NPR News I'm Deborah Baer in Long Beach.

Unidentified Man: If you don't go to class, you're gonna be vacuuming at home; which one you want?

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