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Freshman Year 101

Wilson principal gives new ninth-grade parents the low-down on high school


The start of freshman year is a time of profound change in the life of a teenager. This year, Wilson High School is going through a lot of changes, too. To ease the transition to both, on the night before the first day of school Principal Brian Chatard had a chat with the shepherds of those incoming ninth-graders — their parents.

by: CONNECTION PHOTO: DREW DAKESSIAN - Brian Chatard, Wilson High School principal, tells parents of incoming freshman what's in store.

“This is the second year in a row I’ve had this meeting,” said Chatard, addressing parents in the Wilson cafeteria Sept. 3. “This night … is specifically for ninth-grade parents, because I think this transition is probably the most anticipated — maybe other than going off to college — the most anxiety-generating moment for parents, as they put their kids into this really big school and have faith and hope that we’re going to take care of them.”

If what Chatard said is any indication, Wilson’s Class of 2017 is in for a treat.

At the district level, “The wind’s changing,” he said. “The high school system has been given a nice influx of staffing, so that we can actually get through eight classes.”

Chatard noted that Wilson was not able to offer registration two weeks early, “so kids weren’t able to get their locker and try their combination and get their books from the library,” but there was a reason for that: construction this summer interfered with early registration, but now that it has been completed (ahead of schedule) in addition to supplemented programming, Wilson students will be educated under a new roof.

“For our school to get a new roof, as new parents, it isn’t that big a deal — you won’t be able to see the change — but in the wintertime, as it starts pouring rain — ” Chatard said, trailing off amid laughter.

Another change to Wilson for 2013-14 is its bell schedule — a “much more sensible bell schedule that matches what the rest of the world does,” Chatard said. “Monday, most weeks is what is called a skinny day: classes meet 43 minutes … Tuesday, you have periods 1-4, Wednesday, you have 5-8. Those are 90-minute class periods. Thursday you go back to periods 1-4, and Friday periods 5-8, and those are 80-minute class periods. At the end of Thursday, there’s a 40-minute period called tutor time, which isn’t an early release; it is a time where all staff is available for kids to ask questions, go back and clarify things that they may have missed because of an absence.”

Chatard said the school will be open to all students during tutor time, but only mandatory for ninth-graders: “Ninth-graders need to be sort of developing the habits that are going to take place in this high school,” he said. “I want all the ninth-graders here; they have a lot to do.”

On the other hand, Chatard said that while he and his staff will be keeping an eye on ninth-graders, in many ways high school is more laissez-faire than middle school.

When asked about the school’s policy on personal technology, for example, he said that he trusts his staff to work with their students on agreeing on classroom best practices, which might involve using personal technology for academic purposes.

“We have to model for kids what we expect in the classroom,” Chatard said. “We’re not going to make a huge deal about cellphones and start banning them and making them contraband.”

Laptops, too, are welcome on the Wilson campus. “I don’t see why it would be a problem, unless a teacher comes around and it’s Minecraft or something,” Chatard said. “Not that you can’t learn a lot from Minecraft.”

In use of technology and in dress code, “We’re gentle, but we have certain limits,” Chatard said.

Toeing that line can be challenging, Chatard said, but it is well worth it.

“This is a customer service relationship that we have,” he said, “because you’re entrusting us with your children, the most valuable thing you have.”