By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers writer
Genevieve F. Didion K-8 School will present an opportunity for locals to learn more about this well established school’s middle school grades through a special open house, which is scheduled to be held in the school’s gymnasium on Jan. 18.
The event, which will begin at 7:30 p.m., will feature speeches about the middle school by Norm Policar, Didon’s principal, and the school’s middle school teachers, followed by a question and answer session at 8:30 p.m.
The speeches will center on the topic of how Didion’s middle school program provides a well-round education that prepares students for high school.
Only 62 slots available
With space for only 62 students in each middle school grade, Didion is presenting this open house in a timely manner in order to allow perspective middle school students and their parents sufficient decision-making time prior to the beginning of the district’s open enrollment period. This period begins on Jan. 30 and continues until Feb. 10.
The event is also beneficial for Didion, which has an overall student body of 630, considering that there are more vacancies in the local middle school programs than there are middle school students. As a result, local middle schools often compete for these children.
With much anticipation toward the open house, Policar sat down last week to discuss this upcoming event, his own background and details about this local school, which opened as a K-6 school at its current and only site of 6490 Harmon Drive in 1980.
Active parent community
During his interview, Policar was quick to give much credit to the parental involvement at the school.
“I’ve got such a supportive parent community that really backs what we do at school and they have high expectations for their kids,” Policar said. “So, I try to make sure that we keep those expectations high at school.”
Policar explained that the middle school itself was established through the involvement of local parents.
“(The) middle school program started (in about 1994) and it’s an outstanding program,” Policar said. “The parents actually got together to make this program happen. I think the feeling at the time was they weren’t entirely satisfied with the choices they had back then of where to send their kids on to a middle school. So, the parents, I’m told, got together and said, ‘Why can’t we make our K-6 school into a K-8 school. We can hopefully attract some good teachers to our middle school program and keep the kids here for a couple more years, give them a good education and hopefully they’ll be set to go to high school.’ And that’s exactly what (the parent group) did. They went to the (Sacramento City Unified School) District and sought permission to expand our program to become a K-8 (school) and the district loved it. And so, we’ve had a K-8 program ever since (that time).”
Policar additionally explained that Didion was fortunate to attract high quality teachers.
“I’ve got a wonderful staff by and large to work with, so it’s just a great mix of factors that makes it a really good place to go to work every day,” said Policar, who began his career as a history teacher.
Policar, a Vallejo native who was hired as the school’s principal on his 40th birthday in 1997, said that he could not have been more fortunate than to have become Didion’s principal.
And with Policar’s love and enthusiasm for Didion school, it was far from a laboring task for him to speak about the positive aspects of this educational institution.
In listening to Policar speak about Didion’s students, it does not take long to comprehend how his caring attitude and enthusiasm can spread to others and lead to positive results in the classroom.
“I really, really enjoy being around young people,” Policar said. “I like to talk with them and work with them and I’ve got such great kids to work with at Didion. I just enjoy working with (the kids). I always have and I feel real good about it.”
Furthermore, Policar, who for the past 12 years has been married to his wife Kristi, a special education teacher at Hubert Bancroft Elementary School, believes that his own experiences as a father have helped him to further his success as a principal.
“(Being a father to his daughter, Lindsey, who is a second grader) opened my eyes up,” Policar said. “There were times when sometimes I would just almost take for granted some of the things that parents went through, the regular struggles. But when it came time for me to be a parent, and I’ve got to sit down with my own daughter in the evenings and work through school problems and homework struggles and things like that, I just have a much better feel now for what parents go through.”
And it is Policar’s connection to parenting and his understanding of the educational system – both administratively and as a teacher – that has helped the school to achieve much of its success.
A consistent faculty is yet another factor to the success of Didion.
Overall, Didion has many longtime teachers, including Dana Flaten, middle school science, Richard Howe, middle school social studies, Elett Ricks-Chambers, music specialist, Wendy Martinez, kindergarten, Martha Hawkins, 2nd grade, Cindy Vanbeek, 2nd and 3rd grades, Helen Nevins, 3rd grade, Mary Andrews, special education, Cindy Granados, 6th grade, and Andrea Noteware, 6th grade and a former librarian at the school.
Fewer electives, but positive results
Policar, who has been working for the school district since 1981, said that with the many advantages that come with operating a small school like Didion, one disadvantage is its students have fewer elective choices.
“My maximum capacity (at the middle school) is 124 kids, so with a program that small, I’m not able to offer the depth of an elective program that a great, big school that has 40 or 50 teachers can offer,” Policar said. “So, I don’t have a band and I don’t have an orchestra, I don’t have a woodshop or maybe some of those kinds of things that kids can get elsewhere. My entire middle school has five teachers. Each of my teachers teach one period of their (academic) subject and then each of them teaches one period of an elective class. So, that’s my elective program. And we have a good elective program, but kids aren’t able to pick from 20 different (electives) like they might be able to do some place else.”
In hopes of filling the available space for middle school students at Didion school, Policar emphasized that local high schools have provided much positive feedback regarding former Didion students who attended their schools.
“High schools really like our kids, because our kids go to them ready to tackle high school work, they go with good study habits and they’re sought after,” Policar said. “So, we try to send that message to our parents.”