Superintendent Sandra Thorstenson recently was honored as one of this year’s Boy Scouts of America “Good Scouts” for the cities of Whittier and Santa Fe Springs.
“This recognition is deserved by every staff member across Whittier Union as they have demonstrated that they believe in our students and believe in their ability to make a difference in their students’ lives,” Thorstenson said. “Our teachers and staff members never give up on their students."
Thorstenson also praised the cities of Whittier and Santa Fe Springs for their support of Whittier Union’s students.
“The cities of Whittier and Santa Fe Springs have made significant contributions to the success of our students through our ongoing partnership,” Thorstenson said. “The symbiotic relationships that we have with the communities that we serve have been vital to our accomplishments.”
Raised in Whittier, Thorstenson is serving her 11th year as Superintendent of the Whittier Union High School District, having spent her entire 35 year career in Whittier Union. Prior to becoming Superintendent, Thorstenson served as Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services, High School Principal, Assistant Principal and Teacher. She graduated from Whittier High School and her daughter graduated three years ago from the school district as well.
Under her leadership, Thorstenson has spearheaded Whittier Union’s transformation into a high-achieving district with five comprehensive high schools serving 13,500 mostly Hispanic students. Seventy percent of the district’s students come from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
And yet, at the same time that the District has seen dramatic increases in the percentage of its students living in poverty, its achievement levels have climbed steadily upward. The District has demonstrated remarkable gains in student achievement at every school, in multiple indicators and over time.
Recent data show that nearly 100 percent of all Whittier Union seniors meet the California High School State Exit Exam (CAHSEE) requirement. More than 93 percent of the 13,000 students from the District’s five comprehensive high schools are graduating. Also, 52% of seniors are completing all courses required for entrance into four-year universities and 95% of seniors enroll in post-secondary education.
“This recognition is a testament to Sandy Thorstenson’s exceptional leadership abilities and to the dedication, commitment and caring with which she does her job each day,” said Tim Schneider, President of the Whittier Union High School District Board of Trustees. “She truly exemplifies what it means to be a ‘Good Scout.’ ”
The District’s commitment to do “whatever it takes” to ensure student achievement for all students has resulted in state and national recognition. Most importantly, Whittier Union has narrowed the achievement gap from 35% to 9% and has proven on behalf of their students that demographics do not determine destiny.
“As a native of Whittier, raising student achievement while narrowing the achievement gap has been extremely close to my heart.” Thorstenson said. “Thanks to our faculty, staff and Board of Trustees, Whittier Union provides high expectations within a caring learning environment which gives students the ability to flourish.”
Whittier Union’s impressive gains have garnered the attention and accolades of local, state and national leaders in education. The District’s success most recently was chronicled in Leading Change in Your School, by Dr. Doug Reeves; and in Raising the Bar, Closing the Gap, by Dr. Rick DuFour. Both books discuss the District’s focused efforts to help students reach higher levels of academic achievement through its “Whatever It Takes” initiative. Through this initiative, high-functioning professional learning communities implement common assessments for the purpose of improving instructional practice and a Pyramid of Interventions provides targeted student support.
“The more I learned as I studied the district for the book I was writing, the more I came to regard Sandy as the model of an exemplary superintendent,” DuFour has said of Thorstenson. “Her mantra ‘Whatever It Takes’ has been brought to life in every school in the district as she has transformed traditional schools into model professional learning communities.”
Thorstenson has also actively advocated for quality and equity in public education at a local, state and national level as a member of many professional and community organizations.
The Association of California School Administrators selected Thorstenson as California’s 2012 Superintendent of the Year for AASA. She was selected as ACSA’s Region XV Superintendent of the Year for 2007. Thorstenson is the president of ACSA’s Superintendency Council, past president of California City Superintendents’ Association, and is a member of Southern California Superintendents’ Association and Urban Dialogue. She also serves on the board for Pivot Learning Partners and is a member of the Soroptimist International of Whittier.