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Overview & Model Programs

Overview & Model Programs

San Jacinto Leadership Academy

Model Programs and Practices

School Information

CDS (County District School) Code: 33 67249 0123844

County: Riverside

District (Local Educational Agency): San Jacinto Unified

School: San Jacinto Leadership Academy


Enrollment: 440 students

Location Description: Suburban

Title I Funded: Yes

Charter: No


San Jacinto Leadership Academy opened in August of 2011 as the third middle school in the San Jacinto Unified School District and serves students in grades six through eight. We are a school of choice, where students apply to attend our program. Our mission is that our school exists to educate, train and inspire its students (cadets) in such a way so that each cadet becomes a recognized leader of character dedicated to the four Core Values of Citizenship, Competency, Character, and Communication.

Our vision is that the San Jacinto Leadership Academy exists to build tomorrow’s leaders today.  We educate with high-quality learning opportunities, build self-discipline through a structured, positive environment, and inspire our cadets through professional, mentoring relationships.  The focus is always on the cadet: preparing them for their future—a journey of excellence in their chosen fields as well as genuine service back to their neighborhoods and beyond.

With these ideals in mind, our school motto is “DUCTUS EXEMPLO!” Translated, this means “Lead by Example.” At our school, we put into practice our core values of Citizenship, Competency, Character, and Communication..  Each staff member understands that they can only take their team as far as they are willing and committed to go themselves. We will lead by example! Our mascot, the lion, has always been a symbol of the leader: the bold, ‘take action person‘. Lions live and travel in teams called ‘Prides’. We want our students, staff and community members to feel like a part of the Pride and to take pride in our school.

Our requirements for application include the following; 1) Grade Point Average: 2.0 Grade Point Average on the most recent, completed grading period with no failing marks in any core subject area.  For 5th grade applicants, this is equivalent to a ‘3’ or above in Reading, Writing, Math, Science and Social Studies. 2) California State Test Results: ‘Meets or ‘Exceeds’ on the most recent year of published results. Less than ‘Meets’ achievement may be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 3) Behavior: No expulsions from any school from any district for any reason, no suspensions within the previous school year and no pattern of disruptive or defiant behavior. Exceptions may be considered on a case-by-case basis. 4) Attendance: An above average attendance record. 5) Motivation: A desire to commit to the instructional and operational philosophies of the Leadership Academy to include the wearing of the school uniform and adherence to all dress and appearance standards.

The unique features of the San Jacinto Leadership Academy include the uniforms that clearly identify our students as members of a team; the gender specific classrooms where we can produce an effective learning environment; and structured daily procedures that help our cadets practice leadership.

Model Program and Practices

Name of Model Program / Practice:  Leadership Education: Growing Team Builders

Length of Model Program / Practice: 5-8 years

Target Area(s): Closing the Achievement Gap

Target Populations: Hispanic or Latino, White, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged, English Learners

Strategies Used: School Climate, Small Learning Communities


The basic features of our model start with defining leadership.  John Maxwell defines leadership as “influence, nothing more and nothing less.” That influence can be categorized into four basic components: Character, Communication, Competence, and Citizenship. That said, this is not an ‘add on’ program.  This IS the program. Growing leaders who can influence teams permeates every procedure, structure, and action. It answers the question ‘why?’ Growing such team builders drives the pursuit of maximizing every instructional minute. It defines the culture of our school.

Therefore, in 2010, San Jacinto Unified determined that there was a compelling need to provide for its constituents a choice in public education without having to leave the District’s boundaries. Charter schools were increasing and to be competitive, the District created the Leadership Academy with the goal of combining exceptional content access in the context of leadership development.

To initiate a public magnet school that is open to all, the space, classrooms, teachers, administrators, text books, and technology support all had to be planned for, procured, and put in place. Open enrollment required an aggressive advertising and recruitment campaign. These priorities were aggressively pursued to produce an opening day in 2011.The San Jacinto Leadership Academy was a reality!

The focus on Leadership as adapted from the JROTC model required unique professional development. It would require much more than teachers adequately trained in content and pedagogy. To insure consistent, high quality access in all content areas, teachers received training in Cognitively Guided Direct Instruction strategies from the Riverside County Office of Education staff.  Borrowing from military traditions meant training in military traditions. Staff members attended training hosted by the California Cadet Corps that included Drill and Ceremony, Dress, Bearing, Customs and Courtesies. SJLA teachers have also received training from the Josephson Institute on the Character Counts curriculum.

The very strong connection to the values of this leadership program by SJLA families both in and beyond the district boundaries testifies to the impact of this focus.  As will be detailed in section three, survey data reveals very high satisfaction rates with all stakeholders. Parents especially perceive their child at SJLA being well prepared for College and Career.  Families show their confidence in this program by sending younger siblings to follow their older brothers and sisters at SJLA.

The focus at SJLA is team building. Every student is a uniformed cadet with a place in their squad, platoon, and battalion. Every cadet learns that each one on the team matters. Peer collaboration is prevalent in every classroom and its impact on all student achievement is heightened through the mutual respect exhibited towards one another.

This all-inclusive culture spills over to special needs students and English Learners. While these unique populations are small at SJLA, they are not forgotten. The encouraging, accepting climate creates opportunities for challenged students to excel.  SJLA’s leadership education, with its focus on active respect and esteem towards others fully supports both the social-emotional and academic needs of each student. This is particularly evident in the learning environment where students enjoy the freedom to try without risk of sarcasm, ridicule, or intimidation.  

Our learning activities employ teamwork. Innovative and critical thinking skills are championed, explained and modeled in this accepting and collaborative environment.  Perseverance in problem solving is nurtured. As detailed in section three, these consistent expectations have paid off in very high CAASPP scores.

Our District’s LCAP is a testament to its strong support for SJLA and the quality of the person it produces.  In June 2016, with the decision to expand operations, the current campus gained six additional classrooms by the end of the school year.  While experiencing some short term growing pains, the result doubled our capacity; and also set up SJLA for vertical expansion through grade twelve in the future. To be very specific, the Leadership Education: Growing Team Builders program at SJLA is fully aligned with the vision of the District's Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP): provide a nurturing, innovating, inspiring environment to ensure every student graduates equipped with passion for learning,the motivation to act responsibly and the capacity to be critical thinkers as they successfully navigate their own unique futures. The LCAP supports SJLA’s Leadership Education program in each of its four goals:  provide all students a rigorous, engaging and differentiated 21st century education in order to create future ready learners (State Priorities: implementation of academic content and performance standards, pupil achievement, and pupil outcomes); develop recruitment, induction, and retention plans to ensure our students have access to highly qualified teachers and staff. (State Priority: teachers appropriately assigned and sufficient access to content materials); maintain and improve district facilities in a high state of readiness and capacity to maximize the learning environment. (State Priority: facilities maintained in good repair); 21st Century Communication and Community Partnerships (State Priorities: parent involvement, pupil engagement, and school climate).

The culture that has been generated at SJLA creates a remarkably positive environment where students want to come to school.  Daily attendance averages 98%. SJLA does participate in attendance incentives and conducts approximately two Saturday School opportunities a year. This same environment of inclusion and teamwork has driven the suspension rate for (k) violations to zero for the past three years.

Implementation and Monitoring

From initial recruitment through placement in high school, SJLA parents grow to understand how their child will mature in both academic achievement and the life skills implicit in our leadership development. Teachers and our counselor consider parents as key partners in the current growth and future success of all students.  Parents are proactively kept informed of their students’ academic progress through email, text, and voice communication.

To communicate this team building culture, SJLA constantly updates its school website.  Back to School Night, Open House, and Awards Ceremonies are well attended and provide opportunity to promote core principles of influential leadership.  Across the campus, you will see posters offering encouraging reminders of who they are and who they can be as leaders. Outside the fence, SJLA actively participates in the city’s annual Christmas Parade, places hundreds of flags to honor fallen servicemen on Memorial Day and conducts food drives for the local food pantry.  In fact, last year, cadets put together a ‘Zumbathon’ and raised funds for our community’s homeless shelter.

Parent Surveys are conducted twice each year and student feedback through the CA Healthy Kids Survey is also reviewed to determine the effect of the program.  Informal feedback during large parent gatherings is also considered. Feedback from alumni who are now in high school is a very important indicator as well as that from high school teachers who enjoy SJLA students in their classes.

All staff participate in current District initiatives for Professional Development to include reading complex text strategies, English Language Development strategies, and Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) strategies.  Regarding AVID, we have pursued implementing this program school-wide. Every cadet is placed in an AVID class, every teacher is trained through Summer Institute to teach AVID as an elective, and we are able to train our students in the essentials of leadership through these classes.  It has become an ideal match for us. We expect to be certified as an AVID School later this Spring. A final initiative on our site is our intentional and systematic teacher collaboration. This collaboration is scheduled regularly and facilitates the review of learning standards, student academic and behavior data, and for sharing best practices.  

Results and Outcomes

Monitoring and assessment methods include the data review by teachers and office staff including attendance and health clerks, and campus security personnel.  The instructional processes are observed regularly through administrative walkthroughs. District personnel also conduct site visits and provide essential feedback.

Data that is reviewed includes student grades, reading and math diagnostics, benchmark scores, CAASPP results, assertive discipline indicators, attendance rates, and even health office visits.  Our 2018 state test scores showed exceptionally strong performance where Leadership Academy cadets outpace the State and County. CA Dashboard ELA indicators show all of our sub groups are in the ‘green’ band with a total average of 34.9 points above standard.  In comparison, the State average is six points below standard. Of special note, the culture of leadership creates a climate where vertical movement is evident by the very low percentages in the Not Met advancement levels. For example, by the time our cadets finish eighth grade, our cadets in the ‘Not Met’ category in ELA are reduced from 10.32 percent to 1.69 percent.



ela and math






Drilling down a little deeper, the comparison of each grade level test score in comparison to the State percentages of ‘meets and exceeds’ standards demonstrates growth in our structure and philosophy.


ELA: % meet / exceed standards

Math: % meet / exceed standards




















57.63% *

What we do with our data begins with meticulous follow up conducted with students and parents ensuring that they complete assignments on time.  Benchmark scores are analyzed quarterly to guide instruction. Students’ grades are evaluated by comparing them with standardized tests to ensure that the grades provide accurate feedback of each student’s content mastery. This disciplined analysis of multiple data sets and consistent follow up keeps students and staff on track for success.

As for school connectedness, the SJLA attendance rate is consistently above 98%. That is as much as 3% above the district average.  SJLA Chronic Absenteeism is at 2.1% having declined by 0.9% from last year. That is significantly below the State average for Chronic Absenteeism which is at 9.0%.  Clearly, our cadets find our school appealing and want to come every day to experience it. This is substantiated by our most recent California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS).  Comparing State and SJLA CHKS data, SJLA seventh grade students reported significantly higher school connectedness. The same is true regarding academic motivation. This connected and motivated culture drove the perception of being safe or very safe to 72% which is 22% higher than the State.  Additionally, we have further reduced our suspension rate by 0.9% to an unprecedented low of 0.3%. That is less than one tenth of the current State suspension rate of 3.5%


parent survey

Parent surveys provide further evidence of the difference that Leadership Education makes, especially when focusing on Character, Communication, Competence, and Citizenship.  Our Fall 2018 Parent Survey analysis continues to demonstrate exceptionally strong parent satisfaction rates in a variety of areas as shown in the following chart. 98% of parents agree or strongly agree that their child feels safe in our classrooms.  Our combination of content mastery and context mastery earned a 99% average of parents agreeing or strongly agreeing that they are satisfied with their child’s school experience. This strong partnership with parents and connectedness with students was first recognized by the Riverside County Office of Education as a Model School of Academic Excellence in 2013.  For the past four years in a row, SJLA has been named on the Honor Roll of the Campaign for Business and Education Excellence. Through this sustained growth and consistent high performance, SJLA earned Gold Ribbon School status in 2017.


parent survey 2

Rather than stifle creativity, the structure at the Leadership Academy has caused innovation to blossom.  Academically, students are advanced by offering High School accredited classes in Math and Spanish. The music elective is now in its sixth year and is stronger than ever.  To further illustrate the spirit and passion to learn, SJLA cadets have initiated Robotics, Cyber-Security, and Animation Clubs. Having doubled the attendance over the past three years, the sports department has added soccer, cross country, and archery teams for both boys and girls.  SJLA remains the only school in the District with an Archery unit of study. Our cadets have also created two Color Guard squads who officiate at various ceremonies throughout the District and surrounding community. Speaking of the community, our cadets swept all categories in the Elks club annual essay contest this past Fall.  The eighth graders work with the elementary students next door twice a week in a cross-age tutoring program that is raising academic performance and connectedness on the elementary campus. These same eighth graders took on the challenge of “National Novel Writing Month” with many of them creating their own literary work of over 10,000 words each in this nationally recognized program.  Each day, cadets run their own Reveille and Retreat ceremonies and ASB activities that include a weekly news video clip.