LUCHA, which stands for "Learning in an Urban Community with High Achievement," has been successful in boosting the academic performance of its mostly low income and Latino students. A key part of the school's formula is requiring parents to agree to spend up to 30 volunteer hours a year at the school when they register their children.
It started slow, but after five years students at the San Jose school have exceeded state expectations, and administrators say the turnaround is due partially to the school's unique philosophy of requiring parents to take part. These requirements have increased student success and also "promoted a sense of community," Principal Kristin Henny told the Voice.
"The school was started by a group of parents who wanted more for their children," she said.
Teachers, parents and administrators at Monta Loma hope their school will see the same results next fall when they implement a similar program.
Monta Loma students can currently enroll in Community Enhanced Learning (CEL), a program that encourages involvement from parents and community members in the classroom. Currently only a quarter of the school's students participate in CEL. But since 2006, teachers, parents and administrators have been discussing the need for a program that incorporates the whole campus.
So next year, administrators are expanding CEL throughout the entire school, and asking all parents to volunteer their time. The new program will create more unity and raise test scores, Principal Cathy Baur told Mountain View Whisman trustees at a board meeting last month.
"The research that we have looked at shows that when parents are involved, students are more likely to earn higher grades, enroll in higher-level programs, attend school regularly, and go on to post-secondary education," Baur said in an e-mail to the Voice.
California tracks school performance according to attendance and test scores, using a complex measurement called an Academic Performance Index (API). In 2007-08, white students at Monta Loma had an API of 911 out of 1,000, compared to Latino students' 709. The school's average score was 780, just below the state benchmark of 800.
The same year, Latino students made up 54 percent of the school's population. Fourteen percent of the school's students are white, 6 percent Asian, 5 percent African-American, 4 percent Filipino, 3 percent Pacific Islander and 3 percent counted as multiple ethnicity or no response.
Monta Loma "has a huge variety of students with a huge variety of learning needs," Baur told trustees at a Jan. 15 meeting. "We want to unite together as one vision," she said.
As part of the expanded CEL program, the school will hold teacher office hours, encourage parents to spend more time on campus and host more family events in the evenings.
Trustees said they were concerned about requiring parents to volunteer, especially since students are assigned to Monta Loma rather than parents choosing to send their children there. It may be difficult, Baur said, but she hopes parents can start small by committing to attend just a few school events. The school does not expect any donations.
As they make the transition, local parents and teachers are turning to the LUCHA program for ideas. Most parents at the San Jose school work at least one job, but are able to volunteer for weekend and evening work, such as setting up equipment for gym class or acting as a driver during the school's frequent Saturday trips.
Last year, 90 percent of LUCHA parents completed their volunteer requirements, the school says. Parents could earn volunteer hours by attending the monthly meetings, which Henny said cover topics from bullying to school funding.
"These meetings equip parents with an understanding of how a school budget operates or how school testing breaks down," Henny said. "So our parents are in the know."