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Revise the House System

June 4, 2009

Dear Editor,

As a '08 graduate of Samohi, and an active member of the education community, I believe the solution to Samohi's budget crunch and administrative structuring is an adapted-synthesis of Mr. Gruber and Ms. Goldman's thoughts. Both individuals make very good points, and I think it would be insightful to evaluate the situation at-hand, from a student's perspective. ("WHAT I SAY -- High Irony Content," June 1, 2009 and LETTERS -- Gruber Cynical and Wrong," June 3, 2009)

Visit Samohi's campus and ask students what would be helpful, and even ask them their own unique ideas. Ask the campus leaders -- ASB, house advisory councils -- but I strongly encourage you to talk to the girls cutting class, and the group of guys causing trouble at lunch; you will never paint a picture of what the ideal structuring system look like until you can hear the two-cents of the student who are not on the right track, and could use an effective counseling and oversight system. 

For while Mr. Gruber may be uninterested in the emails (I probably would take them with a grain of salt, as well), they are very appreciated by many parents and do a lot of good -- such as iHouse dodgeball games, a huge hit with students. Furthermore, Ms. Washington, Ms. Mayoral, Ms. Garrido, and Ms. Valencia do unbelievable work in the iHouse office - I've seen first hand.

Who knows what happens under Ms. Wax-Gellis' watch, but in the iHouse office I have witnessed a system that truly does work. But at the end of the day, advisors like Ms. Garrido and Ms. Valencia end up being inundated with discipline issues (partially why I know office dynamics so well), class/logistical scheduling, and other administrative duties.

Plus, the weight and magnitude of some student problems and realities the advisors have to deal with is surprising, trust me. When they do find time to offer consultation and help (which they do wonders at) they are not just dealing with tardies. Administrative and  support staff need some help and cannot realistically be expected to meet the needs of over 250 students, each.

With this in mind, the questioning of the house system, as it currently stands, should be applauded. Furthermore, while I admire the principles behind Ms. Goldman's complaints - active parent involvement, personal attention for students, and a small-school atmosphere - I believe it is this hasty defensiveness that holds us back from a truly improved Samohi. As I said, I am completely in line with Ms. Goldman's principles (and I would say Mr. Gruber's is too, while he questions the current method), but in my opinion, the house system definitely needs some specific revising, and I think Mr. Gruber's line of questioning is headed down the right track.

The house system does not work, as designed. Hold your horses, small school advocates, I am not attacking the system itself, rather, the reality it is attempting to maintain effectiveness under. The concepts associated with the house system, and the community and connection it produces, are unbelievably beneficial for students and the entire Samohi community - but the reality is, we are a large, public high school in a bankrupt State and are never going have the funding -- or at least not anytime soon -- to provide the number of advisors, counselors, and intervention workers a system like this truly needs to be successful.

I welcome you to read the economic-friendly plan I wrote about a proposed restructuring of the house system -- available at -- and while that may sound like an advertisement, I encourage you to read my proposal as a mere reference point, and then toss-it into the back of your head and get down in the trenches. We can find a practical and ground-breaking solution - we are all, more or less, grounded in the same principles and just need to hold back the initial shout in order to find allow that initial push.

And finally, if all else fails, I encourage engaged parents and community members to stop using their volunteer time to dictate from the "press box", and instead, head down to the house offices, set-up shop, and use their time mentoring teetering students - relieving or eliminating the burden put on a house staff, of five or less, who we are asking to keep personal and engaged small school relationships with over 500 students. Lets please drop the Santa Monica politics that are so clearly intertwined with civic engagement in our community (even to a relative outsider), and get our hands dirty to really help our students.

One more thing -- give the new school board a chance. If we never have faith, we will always fail.

With the utmost respect,

Josh Miller

Samohi, Lincoln, and Franklin/UES Seeds elementary alum

Current Princeton University Student

Founder, Resilient Youth Foundation

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