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New Magnet School Proposed for CUSD

The idea has caught the eye of a dean and professor at two local universities, who vow to help launch the school, which would focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

A new K-8 magnet school emphasizing the sciences may open by next September for Capistrano Unified School District students, and university professors are jumping at the chance to be a part of it.

While the plans are just conceptual at this point, the school may feature a year-round schedule, students sticking with the same teacher for two years and be more project-oriented, according to a presentation at Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting.

School officials said Aliso Viejo, with its vibrant tech industry, may be a good place to locate the school.

The school would focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, or STEAM as it is often referred to. 

“Arts will have a unique place in the school,” said President Gary Pritchard, who led the first half of the presentation even though the school and related STEAM initiatives have been routinely championed by Trustee Lynn Hatton.

Pritchard said he envisions partnerships with the business community.

Meanwhile, members of academia are also interested, said Julie Hatchel, assistant superintendent of education services. She played a video Gregory Washington, dean at UC Irvine’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering, made just for the trustees.

In it, he said a growing global population is creating unique challenges, especially in the area of providing utilities, such as power, to the world’s peoples.

“We have a population that exceeds 7 billion. In 10 years will increase by another 1 billion,” he said. “We need new solutions to deal with the influx of the additional people. … A STEAM-based education gives us the skills to do that.”

He closed his video with a vow: “We will work with school board officials and the school to make it a reality.”

Hatchel made sure those in attendance picked up that.

“Did we all hear that?” she asked, and a cheer broke out.

Next up was a professor from Cal State Fullerton, Michelle Vander Veldt, who said she’s willing to take a sabbatical from teaching so she can help launch the school.

“We’re looking at that idea of collaboration, nNot only partnering with the school but the community as well,” Vander Veldt said. “We need to put our heads together and plan this together … at the grassroots we’re coming together.”

Hatton was overwhelmed at the presentation.

“I’ve wanted to cry that this is finally coming to fruition, although I know it’s just the beginning,” she said.

Some ideas the district is considering:

  • Hatton recommended the school be textbook-free, relying on technology instead.
  • Pritchard said he envisions a day when students wouldn’t have to fill in bubbles on a Scantron for standardized testing, but Hatchel said that the new school would still have to comply with state and federal mandates for testing.
  • Trustee Anna Bryson asked that the district consider using Singapore Math, considered the top mathematics curriculum in the world, she said.
Penny Arévalo October 17, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Not all the details have been flushed out yet. I think the lottery only comes into play when there are more interested students than slots for them.
Pipes October 17, 2012 at 10:09 PM
It's about time CUSD has a magnet school that is progressive and an emphasis on science. It is unfortunate that it will not be extended to the HS level. CUSD is in dire need of a few magnet high school options for it's students, instead of the over crowded, unorganized cattle farms they offer, where half the students can't stand being there because the teacher's spend more time practicing classroom management than teaching. Props to Julie Hatchell for her support.
Joanna Clark December 11, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Statistically charter schools don't do any better than public schools. Check out Education Nation. Both have their top performers and below average performers. Hopefully in creating this new school they will adopt some of Finland's methods. All teachers must have a Masters degree and graduate in the upper-third of their class. Three teachers per classroom - one teaches, the other two circulate and provide one-on-one instruction where needed - small class size. Science classes are limited to a maximum of 16 students. All education is free preschool through doctorate. And best yet, they spend less than we do on education.
Joanna Clark December 11, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Jane, hopefully any STEM or STEAM program will teach the students to think outside the box. Here's a sample problem. 1) How many squares on a checker board? Rather than give the answer, let's see how many can figure it out, first.
NYCtoOC December 14, 2012 at 07:37 AM
Just to clarify - CUSD did not kick in anything to the Mandarin Immersion program. It is 100% cost neutral to the district . $15,000 is how much the district wanted the parents to raise in order to start the program. To date the parent group has raised over $115,000 to cover textbooks, instructional aides, technology, etc. If anything the district is saving money because they don't give the program any financial credit for not using the Envision math books... Love the magnet school idea...can't wait to read more about it.

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