How Does La Canada High School Define Success

Photo courtesy La Canada High School 7/8

La Cañada High School (LCHS) is a high performing school, one where hard working students are doing their best to distinguish themselves among a constellation of student stars. In addition to the many academically rigorous courses they take, our Spartans are engaged in a wealth of extra and co-curricular activities. Increasingly, when we ask our students to allocate time across their day, they quickly realize that they have more asked of them than the 24 hours in one day can accomplish.

Growing out of the work that I do in support of counseling services at LCHS, I have shared with several parent and student groups growing concerns that I have regarding student wellness, how they define success, the relative degree to which students feel connected to school, and whether they are able to engage in thriving behaviors that allow them to live balanced lives that give them a sense of confidence, belonging, and purpose.

I continue to see students doing very well by a variety of external measures: GPA, Advanced Placement pass rates, and state testing performance, to name only a few. Yet, success along this road has become rocky and more challenging for a growing number of students, as they report increased stress and anxiety, lack of sleep, limited downtime, and having to make hard choices about being able to continue with free-time activities that they love, since they feel enormous pressure to take certain courses so they can get into college. Instead of engaging in thriving behaviors, we see the negative effects of lack of sleep and the use of adult coping strategies with respect to alcohol and drug use. In short, seeing the effects of this growing sense of stress, anxiety, and concern about a future possibly lost, I want us to challenge our present definitions of success at LCHS.

To this end, I joined a team of sixteen other LCHS staff, parents, and students from grades 7-12 at Stanford University at the end of September where we attended the Challenge Success conference. As the name implies, the program Challenge Success equips schools with tools to examine policies, procedures, and protocols related to core elements of school life. The purpose of this is to challenge our present definition of success. To be sure, we want to continue to support student achievement and academic success, in addition to celebrate the high level instruction of our teachers. Yet, might our present definition of success become overly narrow, perhaps too dependent on GPA calculation and college admissions? What else might we include to expand our definition of success at LCHS that lessens student stress and anxiety?

We are at the beginning of this journey. The two eight-person teams that attended the Challenge Success conference will work with two site-based teams comprised of twelve other students, staff, and parents. The visitation and site-based 7/8 teams will join together and focus on matters that regard the middle school. The visitation team and the site-based team for 9-12 will focus on matters that regard the high school. We will meet across the year to develop our plan, seeking student, staff, and parent input as we move forward.

How do you define success at LCHS? After you have inventoried your own definition, ask your student(s) to define the word “success.” If your student responds like those I have asked, the answers will vary widely. Within the variation, some common themes emerge: good grades, admission into a desired college, and entry onto the road that leads to financial success and security. Student definition of success through extrinsic attributes is not new. Yet, for educators, parents, and a growing number of students within the LCHS community, what is new are the myriad challenges that students face with respect to attaining their definition of success. This is why we are engaging with the Challenge Success program. I hope to share with you, in this venue, the on-going story of our examination of how we define success at LCHS.


Jim Cartnal
Associate Principal
La Canada High School


La Cañada 7/8 High School, 4463 Oak Grove Drive, La Cañada, (818) 952-4293 or or visit





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