Samohi is rolling forward fast. You can feel it. Good things happen on campus every day.
On March 16, you could sit in Santa Monica High Schools’ Barnum Hall and listen to one of America’s top-ten school orchestras rehearse and perform.
This week, Samohi Orchestra is in New York performing at Juilliard, and it is not the first time they have performed at such a prestigious venue. Two weeks ago they delighted a Disney Hall audience.
Speaking of Disney: Famed architect Frank Gehry was in Barnum Thursday, speaking at a fundraiser and discussing his design challenges for Disney.
As the orchestra played Disney, in Fresno, the Samohi Girls basketball team, the school’s first-ever CIF champions, fought and lost a match in the state championship. The Boys basketball also made it to the CIF finals, emerged runners up and then lost in the second round of their state Championships to the eventual Champions.
Recently, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, a Samohi alumnus, arrived at Samohi to talk science and space. For several hours, he held 3000 students quiet, focused and intent during his presentations. Bresnik wanted to give something back to his former school, so he insisted on talking about dreaming big.
Another Samohi alum, David Robertson, conductor of the St. Louis Orchestra, will be on campus and working with Samohi musicians in a couple of weeks.
Samohi’s list of excellence goes on and on: The Cheer squad is nationally ranked; Rent, the spring musical, was a huge success; A traditional organ was newly installed and has just begun service in Barnum; The choir and symphony united for a brilliant Mozart’s Requiem Mass recently; and kids are being selected into elite honor bands, choirs and orchestras nationally.
Samohi Makes Dreams Happen. Still, just like Rodney Dangerfield used to complain, Samohi is getting no respect.
This great school educates 80 percent of all our School District’s students. Almost every child in Santa Monica comes through Samohi. It’s the heart of our community and city.
Kids graduate from Samohi with eight Advanced Placement courses when only one or two of those courses is enough to respect a student. SAT scores are commonly higher than 2300. There are 24 kids in contention to be valedictorian this year – that’s nothing but straight A’s for four years – when 10 to 15 would be incredible for a school to have. And the school holds hundreds of first-generation college students who will graduate this year.
The school has eight percent of the graduating class heading to Berkeley or UCLA. Every college campus in America including Harvard, MIT and Stanford, boasts a Samohi connection.
Yes, there are kids who struggle. Samohi reflects the City in all its diversity and demographics. But each year, the school has been doing a better and better job of finding and helping kids who need help. Test scores in key demographics are rising. Samohi’s not where we want it academically yet. It’s not producing enough for every student yet. But its way better than alternatives and rivals everywhere else.
Maybe we think of Samohi the wrong way. It’s not just a run-of-the-mill local school. It’s big and urban in a suburban setting. And maybe it’s time we take exceptional care of it.
Samohi is the flagship of the Santa Monica Malibu School District. When it’s strong, it adds luster to the whole network of schools in Santa Monica and to the City. If it’s in the spotlight, the glory is reflected across the whole district.
If that glory is diminished in any way and questions are asked, answers and solutions are demanded. Samohi parents are accustomed to solving problems about academics, social interaction, or more relevantly, about buildings.
One reason the school doesn’t get respect could be the degenerating physical conditions of the school’s buidlings. Samohi shows shameful generations of neglect. School buildings and grounds are disgraceful. Nothing has been built for forty years. Shabby, it sits on its site like a bad prison. It doesn’t look like the premiere school it is. How does good work come out of the decay?
Samohi holds down 27 prime acres in the center of this city. It straddles the major access points to the 10 Freeway across the road from City Hall and the Rand Corporation. Yet somehow it’s invisible. You could hear and see students all over the City, but not understand where they attended school. Hidden in plain sight.
Here is an idea. This election year, ask every candidate for City office and School Board if they unequivocally support making Santa Monica High the great centerpiece of our City and community. Ask if they will commit to a ten or twenty year plan to make it great.
Santa Monica is not going to have a gleaming new mall, but a crummy school? Are we going to have a glossy Promenade, but crumbling education facilities? Are we going to leave our future in substandard buildings and expect the exceptional results?
Just travel through the Midwest, the East Coast, the South and see the huge signs in every mid-sized town that points lovingly to their schools. Community after community, billboards read “Home of the Braves” or “Home of the District Champions” and other appreciative chants. Are we prepared to live and die by our public high school.
Not yet, but we should be.
Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com