By Mary-Justine Lanyon
Lisa Mills has come full circle.
Mills grew up on the mountain and attended Lake Arrowhead Elementary School and Mary Putnam Henck Intermediate School. After attending Rim of the World High School, she graduated from Mountain High School.
As of March, Mills is the counselor at Mountain High, guiding students in their quest to complete their credits and graduate themselves. She splits her time between Mountain – where she is on Monday, Wednesday and Friday – and Rim High, where she is in the College and Career Center and the Wellness Center on Tuesday and Thursday.
Most recently Mills worked at Crafton Hills College as the counselor for veterans returning to education. She had also worked with high school students on the brink of entering college.
A friend who works for the Rim district told Mills about this newly created counselor position. “This was a job close to my heart,” Mills said.
Her primary goal?
“I want to work on the reputation of the school. Many people think these are the bad kids. That’s not true. These kids are great. They need some extra support and I want to give it to them,” Mills said.
“I want to provide these students with the opportunity to grow in careers past high school. Many aren’t thinking of what they can do. They feel limited because they went to Mountain High.”
Most of the students at Mountain High, Mills noted, have to contribute to their family’s income. “They are contributing family members, not just kids.”
A student considering attending Mountain High School goes through an intake process, which involves Mills, Principal Marina Amador, the student and the student’s parent or guardian.
“We sit down with the student, go over the credits they have earned, the credits they need to graduate and their expectations,” Mills said. They also go over the school’s expectations of the students, including behavior.
“We have to make sure the student is a good fit for the school,” she added. “We want to make sure they will come here and work. This school isn’t just an easy way out.”
Students can earn credits faster at a continuation school like Mountain than at a traditional school like Rim High. At Rim, a student will earn five credits for a class that takes an entire semester. At Mountain, the credits are based on the number of hours they put in.
Mills pointed to a student who arrived in February. She has already accumulated enough credits to have graduated.
Mountain students graduate throughout the school year, as they accumulate the required 200 credits. Those who have graduated during the 2022-2023 school year are given the option to walk with their class at the June 6 graduation.
The courses at Mountain High meet the California requirements for graduation but don’t meet the requirements for students to enter directly into a UC or Cal State school. “Our students can go to a community college and then transfer to a four-year university,” Mills said.
And, she noted, Mountain High classes are offered on a pass-fail basis, which she said is actually harder than earning letter grades.
On campus at Mountain High students take English, math, science, social studies, history, economics and government. They have a wide variety of electives available online. Those classes had been offered through Odysseyware but the school is now transitioning to Edgenuity.
Online Mountain High students can study a variety of languages and CTE (Career Technical Education) classes like hospitality and tourism, information technology, fire and emergency services, engineering and design, construction careers, principles of business and finance.
“We are starting college and career conversations here,” Mills said. “We never really had that.”
Outside of work, Mills is an avid hiker. Her latest accomplishment was hiking Mt. Whitney in August. She also enjoys photography and travel, something she would like to do more of.
Mills has two daughters, one of whom is graduating from college this year and one from Rim High. Both girls took college classes while at Rim High and completed a year of college before ever setting foot on a university campus.
Currently there are about 50 students in the two grades – 11 and 12 – at Mountain High. Mills has mixed emotions on growing the school.
“We need a higher enrollment to keep our teachers,” she said. “The school needs to be here for the students who need it. They typically come here because they are not thriving elsewhere.
“But,” she said, “we want the students to thrive.” A bigger enrollment would mean there are more students in need of that extra support.
“People who know students at Mountain High realize how good it is, how much it’s needed, that it’s a positive thing,” Mills said. “But some people think a kid got in trouble and is here.
“Our students need the extra support to keep out of trouble. It’s a family-like atmosphere, with small classes.
“We keep our students out of trouble.”