Santa Ynez High topped its already high academic achievement scores, outranking every other high school in the county. The Academic Performance Index (API), the standard by which all California schools have their achievements measured, came out of 1998 legislation. It sets a goal of 800 for all schools to reach.

Santa Ynez raised its previous score of 816 to 843, a 27 percent jump. Only one school – which receives no Title 1 monies – in San Luis Obispo County scored higher. Title 1 funds are provided to schools who need programs to help students who read below grade level.

“Comparing apples to apples,” says Principal Mark Swanitz, “we’re the best in two counties.” But Swanitz has no intention of stopping there. He plans to continue to redefine excellence. At last week’s Back to School Night, Swanitz told parents that it is no longer possible for schools to know what jobs for which they are preparing their students. With ever-changing technology, there continue to be new types of jobs that never existed before. “For generations, you knew what the jobs were you were preparing your students for,” he said. There were a limited number of possibilities, whereas now those possibilities seem limitless.

“We want to give our students the skills to learn, adapt and grow,” Swanitz said.

He plans to do that by continuing excellence in the basics as well as layering skills on top of content through their strong Regional Occupational Program. ROP used to be primarily limited to agriculture, restaurant occupations and auto mechanics. Now students can take classes ranging from sports medicine to computer technology to entrepreneurship.

“It is our goal to teach our students to know how to learn,” Swanitz says, but he cautions parents: “This is not a job we can do by ourselves. We need a partnership with the community.” Every teacher has his or her own website which is linked to the school’s homepage. He encourages students and parents to make use of those.

But Swanitz isn’t suggesting that students only keep their noses to the grindstone. Whether it be sports or clubs or other activities, he says, “encourage your students be active in what’s happening at school.”