Curriculum based on character reaps rewards
April 10, 2014
When Marty Mathiesen was a junior at Chico State University in 1981, he was drafted by the San Francisco Giants as a pitcher for the Major League Baseball team.
More than 30 years later, as principal of Silver Springs High School, Mathiesen has taken his experience as a member of a professional sports team and applied it to his vision of building character at a school that has, in the past, had a negative reputation.
"My vision is that this school would become a school of choice, but traditionally, continuation schools are where the kids who get in trouble get moved," Mathiesen told The Union.
"But we've built a good, solid team of consistency and what I call the 'one offense approach.'"
Mathiesen added, "Our main curriculum here is to build character. We come to build character, and the kids also know that we're one big team. We're here to support each other; we're not here to pick each other apart. We all play different positions on this team, but we all have one common goal."
That common goal began in 2011 when Mathiesen joined the school after transferring from Nevada Union High School, where he was the principal for seven years. In his first year at Silver Springs, Mathiesen recalls, expectations were low. But after Mathiesen says he "healed the soil and planted some seeds," the students' attitudes changed for the better.
"They were saying we were really doing something here, and I said 'What?' and they said, 'Well, kids are actually talking about graduating,'" Mathiesen said. "They used to come here and think, 'Well, I'm not going to graduate,' but now they're talking about it."
Mathiesen says of the more than 160 students at his school, a majority have issues with tobacco or substance abuse, but his staff has recently been able to break the students of these habits.
According to Mathiesen, 50 of the school's 51 seniors graduated last year, and 27 of those students graduated early. All of those students, Mathiesen says, came to the school behind on credits.
"We would take kids who have fallen behind and in trouble and struggling for a multitude of reasons, and most of the time it's not academically driven, it's emotionally driven, or it's living situation driven," he said. "So we pick them up and we mend those kids. But what we found out is, once we mend them, we accelerate them and get them to viable post secondary options."
By accelerating these students, Mathiesen says, they are opened up to the opportunities of college and good-paying jobs — options that they could not fathom beforehand.
Colin Wright, 17, graduated from Silver Springs High School in February and told The Union that the school got him out of trouble and onto the right path.
"I really didn't used to like school, but they set me up with a plan. I got a lot of work experience, and I graduated," Wright said. "I was working for the county, and if the budget goes through, I should be working with them again in May."
Referring to Mathiesen, Wright added, "He was always trying to help all the kids and doing things for us. He's a great principal."
Mathiesen's efforts have not gone without notice. Last month, he was honored with a local and regional award as Secondary High School Principal of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators. Mathiesen won the award over administrators from 10 different counties throughout the state but shied away from personal achievement, crediting the school for what it has accomplished.
"It was about recognizing where we were, where the school was and where we are, and what we've done for kids," Mathiesen said.
Silver Springs' junior Katrina Daniel told The Union that she didn't even know Mathiesen won the award until a teacher told her a couple of days ago.
"I think it was kind of cool that he didn't want to tell anyone about winning the award," Daniel said. "Because it means that he's not all about taking credit for what he's been doing. He's more about helping us, the students and not just himself."
Daniel said that last year Mathiesen helped her get over a situation that was holding her back from succeeding in school.
"There was this girl that I did not get along with, and (Mathiesen) was saying if we got in any argument, we would be sent to separate schools," Daniel said.
"He sat us down and made sure there wouldn't be any arguments when most teachers would sweep it under the rug. Here they actually try to solve the problems, which is really cool."
Mathiesen told The Union that the first step in changing the school's character and culture was to get everyone on the same page. Providing consistency and structure for students became the school's most important goal.
"With the one offense approach, every class would start the same," Mathiesen said. "Every kid in every class, all day, would start class off with a review or preparatory assignment as part of their grade."
Mathiesen said that literacy was an important discipline the school wanted to improve, so they created a Literacy Wednesday program that gives students a weekly lesson plan focusing on improving students' reading levels through the new Common Core curriculum.
"Depth of knowledge and underlining things that are important is what we are trying to get the students to do here," he said. "And you build their self-esteem and confidence; it makes them better all the way around."
Silver Springs' junior Caprisha Goddard transferred to the school from NU a year ago after having a child.
"They help you graduate here, and the staff here helps us out a lot more, and if you're doing good here, you actually get noticed," she said.
Referring to Mathiesen, Goddard added, "He influences the kids to do a lot better, and he really wants the kids to go past your high school and go a lot further. He motivates us."
One way Mathiesen has motivated his students is through field trips to professional sports games like the San Francisco Giants, Oakland A's, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. Mathiesen says that his students earn the privilege to go on these trips.
"The criteria is not that you have a 4.0 GPA," Mathiesen said. "It's you weren't even coming to school and now you're coming, and you're getting your work done, and you're a nice kid, and that's the emphasis."
Mathiesen added, "Going to the games is a motivating experience for my kids, and it's a bonding experience for my kids. It's a once in a lifetime experience for some of them, and especially to do it with their principal and their teachers, to see the city and be a part of it. It opens their eyes to what's possible."
Joseph Beltran, a junior, recently went to a Kings game with his friends and said that Mathiesen not only motivates him as a student, but he cares.
"If he knows you're doing bad, he won't just get you in trouble, he'll try to work with you to help you, it's just great," Beltran said. "All the kids like him because he's friendly. He looks out for you."
A junior at Silver Springs, Jack Douglas, says he is looking forward to going to a Giants game this year and that Mathiesen as an educator is one of a kind.
"He's one of the best principals," Douglas said. "He's not just in his office all day, he's out there talking to kids and making kids laugh. He's really caring, and he's a great principal, I think."
This year, Mathiesen said that 21 students have already graduated early and that he is connecting them to enrollment at Sierra College. Mathiesen said that his school's role is to reduce the anxiety that is built in students' heads about college.
"We bring their counselors over and they help us enroll our kids, and we enroll our whole senior class," Mathiesen said. "That way, they don't have any other apprehensions or stresses to go to school."
Next month, Mathiesen says he will be taking students who are on track for graduation to the Association of Builders and Contractors to give some of them an opportunity to obtain two- to five-year apprenticeships that could pay a minimum of $38 per hour.
"We want to show them they are successful while trying to funnel them into areas that they have an affinity or talent for," Mathiesen said. "We want them to know that there's light at the end of the tunnel."
And at the end of the day, Mathiesen says the work he does for his students is more than worth it.
"I'm proud of my job and the fact that I go home every day and my heart has a big smile on it," he said. "I know I'm doing something that is good for this community and helping kids, and that makes me happy."
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.