Monrovia High School Offers Expanded College Counseling Program

College Counselor, Amanda Ghezzi, meets with a family during the four-week registration period.  – Courtesy Photo

By May S. Ruiz

Kirk McGinnis, principal at Monrovia High School, grew up in this neighborhood.  He is very familiar with the San Gabriel Valley’s reputation as a family-oriented area where parents take pains to send their children to the best schools.

As a high school principal, McGinnis knows only too well that he is responsible for providing all those in his charge with an education that prepares them for college and adulthood.  And he takes that responsibility very seriously.

This past summer, Monrovia High School launched a personalized service for parents and students to meet with their college counselors which begins with rising freshmen.

Says McGinnis, “This year I decided to pay close attention to how we connect with our students and parents.  We want to make sure our family partnership is really strong and the best way to do that is to start the school year with a revised registration process.”

“In the past we had one day for registration and everybody got in this big gigantic line,” McGinnis explains. “And while it was economical it was also impersonal; parents and students were frustrated.  So we created a four-week registration process so each family and their child get to sit down with their counselors to discuss their course selections for the coming year and look at their four-year plan, and even their plans after high school.  We want to ensure that, together, we make the right decisions for that child’s success throughout his or her four years here.”

This year’s expanded registration process began on the 17 of July and ended on the 11 of August, right before the school year started on the 16.  The process is made up of four steps:  parents and student check in and submit the registration paperwork that the high school sent to them to complete during the summer; they meet with their counselor; they proceed to the ASB store to secure their ASB card, pick up their spirit T-shirt and high school swag, P.E. uniform; and lastly, they go to the library to get their books.

“What we have done is eliminate this whole day of standing in line in frustration and created instead a day where it only takes 30 minutes of people’s time out of their day.  What’s more, the families can look at their summer calendar and pick the day and time that’s convenient unlike in the past when the registration day was determined for them,” continues McGinnis.

“It’s not a unique concept, other schools have been doing it,” adds McGinnis.  “So in the last couple of years we did two pilot programs where we met with students during the summer but we didn’t include incoming ninth graders.  Then last year we included ninth graders and we saw the energy from that and realized how important it was.  So we decided to come up with the process for the entire high school.”

MHS Spirit Rally on the first day of the school year. – Courtesy Photo

McGinnis worked with Catherine Real, Monrovia Unified School District’s Director of Counseling, College, and Careers, and the entire district to identify ways to make this happen.  Through their LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan), they were able to obtain the funds to pay their counselors to come in during the summer.

Real states, “This gives parents the knowledge about the college application process – if they don’t know the A-G requirements and which ones their children are taking, there’s no way for them to be able to monitor their children’s progress.  We are trying to be purposeful.  As Mr. McGinnis knows only too well, sometimes the parents don’t see the counselor until there’s a problem with grades or attendance.  This year starts with parents coming to school under the most positive circumstances.  We form a partnership at the get-go and it’s a win-win situation.  Parents are thrilled to have this ‘personal shopper’ experience; counselors are happy because every single parent who has come in has expressed how wonderful this is.  Everyone walks away feeling charged and ready for the year.”

“It was an evolution for me.  We had been planning this all year long and when I brought up the idea to the staff I just went, ‘Trust me, people.  This is going to be a good thing,” McGinnis laughingly recalls.

And indeed it was a good thing.  Real conducted a survey following each family’s registration to assess their experience and she received very positive feedback after the four-week registration period.  This outcome was a confirmation of what McGinnis felt and knew all along.

McGinnis relates, “I explained to our families that they see the teachers all the time but they don’t get to see the counselors all the time.  I want them to realize that the counselors are a great contact to have and this is their opportunity to get to know them before the college application process begins.  It takes that ‘families and counselors relationship’ to a whole new level.”

Connecting with families is a hallmark of McGinnis’ seven-year leadership at MHS.  He has implemented several programs to reach out to the school’s diverse population.  He is very well aware that parents care deeply and are fully invested in their children’s education but sometimes they don’t know how to navigate the system.

Another initiative McGinnis carried out is Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE).  They reached out to their Spanish-speaking parents and offered courses where they learned about FAFSA, the A-G requirements, GPA, SAT; how to have a discussion with their college counselor and what questions to ask.  The nine-week program graduated 100 parents.

Real adds, “Mr. McGinnis also insisted that counselors get business cards with email address and phone numbers printed.  These were handed out to families when they came for the summer registration so parents have a way of communicating.”

Student sign-ups for campus clubs.  – Courtesy Photo

“Our standard operating procedure has changed and that dialogue is open,” asserts McGinnis.  “The next step is for our counselors to maintain the conversation throughout the school year.  We’ll still have the ‘need to meet’ times but the communication link is open – more so now than it had ever been before.”

“This has changed immensely the way parents are connecting with us, which is a huge goal for me,” reveals McGinnis.  “I don’t want our campus to be a spot where kids just come to school.  They spend a lot of time here and this is essentially their home for the next four years.  I want them to feel ownership over the campus and their accomplishment during their stay here.  And I think this goes a long way towards reaching that goal.”

“Our plan for the next couple of years is to continue to increase student success,” McGinnis pronounces.  “We have recently been recognized for the significant jump in our graduation rate – from 94 percent to 96.9 percent, and, most importantly, for closing the gap between student groups.  We have more students meeting the A-G requirements and prepared for college not just mentally but logistically – they have the grades, they know how to complete the college and financial aid application.  We’re finding out too that several of our students are choosing to go to a community college for the first two years and transferring to university, which is a totally appropriate and practical choice.  That model of schooling is a really important option for families to understand.”

McGinnis says in parting, “Our community has a lot of pride in this school with several members of it having grown up here and attended it; some of our school employees are alma maters as well.  Now we have their children and grandchildren coming to the school.  I live in this town and my children go here – it’s a unique place.  As the shepherd of the school, I want to continue that pride.”


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