Maze Middle School has made substantial improvements with prior behavior and academic issues, which prompted its removal from a federal designation requiring efforts to cure the problems. 

Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Education listed Maze as a Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) school. Principal Diana Herbst said the Hollister school in February learned it was no longer in CSI status due to gains with such measurables as suspensions and academic performance. 

“It’s a big deal,” Herbst said of the school’s removal from the category. 

When Herbst and Assistant Principal Emma Veltri arrived in their respective leadership roles, they prioritized addressing issues causing the CSI status. They started building relationships with staff, students and parents, Herbst said. 

“Then we had Covid,” the principal went on. “When we came back from Covid, we put a lot of social-emotional pieces in place to support our students.” 

Veltri pointed to the Positive Behavior Intervention System—with an emphasis on addressing social-emotional behavioral issues and interventions intended to help schools offer support for a variety of student situations—as one reason for the improvements. 

“Every day on our announcements, we talk about our expectations,” she said. “We review, what does respect look like in the classroom, in the hallways? We’ve been talking about determination right now.” 

Students with positive behavior are rewarded with points, she said, and they can earn a pajama day, buy items from the student store, or be recognized as Student of the Week. There has been an emphasis on recognizing students and staff as part of the approach with such endeavors as Student of the Week and teacher-student luncheons. For those lunch events, teachers choose a student who may not have the best grades but whose behavior is having a positive impact on the classroom environment. 

“They have a great conversation,” Herbst said. “They enjoy lunch together.” 

This year, Veltri said the focus has been on curriculum and “the rigor we should see in the classroom in order to improve our state scores.” 

With regard to the CSI criteria, Veltri noted how subgroups are examined such as students with disabilities, multilingual learners and economically disadvantaged students. 

“We had major gains with our English language learners,” Veltri said. 

She said improvement with language-learner performance is another reason Maze is now out of CSI status. 

“We have also improved our suspension rate,” she added. “So what it means is, we’re not drowning anymore. Now we’re treading water. We’re headed in the right direction.” 

Veltri emphasized the importance of having targets toward removal from CSI status. 

“We set goals about what we wanted to complete,” Veltri said. “Then we put strategies in place that supported those goals and we monitored those strategies to make sure they were being implemented.” 

Herbst acknowledged the CSI status brought additional funding to address the issues that will go away next year, but that result is a product of developing a system anticipated to have long-lasting impacts going forward.

“When Emma and I first started, we knew we had a lot of work ahead of us,” the principal said. “We really focused on one thing at a time. Look where we are now. We’re an amazing school and we’re out of CSI status.” 

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