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.
Yeparoo October 11, 2012 at 07:02 AM
Impressive initiative. Will be interested to see how this develops. I have a question. To ensure the integrity of the advanced instruction, will tenure issues be set aside? I think a campus closest to the center of the district would be the best place to locate a magnet school.
Yeparoo October 11, 2012 at 07:04 AM
Since when did STEM become STEAM? Wouldn't the "A" be better placed at SOCSOA?
Penny Arévalo (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 02:01 PM
That wasn't addressed. They did say that teachers would need a specific skill set. I suppose the district would have to define that in a way that would make it possible for the best qualified teachers to get the job (for example, a teacher with her B-CLAD to teach Chinese jumps over others with more tenure to get a job in the Mandarin immersion program). They're also looking at possibly having the kids wear uniforms. Dr. Farley mentioned lab coats! It was a cute moment.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 02:04 PM
The A is there to spur creativity, get students thinking outside of the box. There will be more stories, I'm sure, as the concept gets more defined. There are a few techy-oriented schools (one they mentioned at UCLA). Seems a collaboration with a university and the business world is an important component.
Tom Bottorf October 11, 2012 at 05:34 PM
What an EXCELLENT addition to the district! Now THIS is the type of change we need to improve education!
Karen Rubin October 11, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Just curious, who is behind this MAGNET school? I heard it mentioned at an OPA parent info meeting but did not catch if they are the founders. Anyone?
just a parent October 11, 2012 at 06:47 PM
The push to change "STEM" into "STEAM" has been ongoing for the past few years. In fact, its interesting to note that in addition to traditional STEM programs, Boeing is a champion of arts education in Southern California. “We know that employers are looking for new recruits who are creative problem solvers, innovative thinkers, confident communicators and collaborators. The arts provide all of that and more.” —Sarah Murr, Boeing's Global Corporate Citizenship community investor responsible for corporate giving to the arts in Southern California.
just a parent October 11, 2012 at 06:50 PM
At the board meeting, they credited Trustee Lynn Hatton as the originator of this idea.
concerned parent October 11, 2012 at 07:29 PM
I think this kind of initiative is great too (though part of me wonders whether an emphasis on STEAM means there's less emphasis on literacy--arguably the most important skill that elementary students can develop.) But maybe I'm missing something. Apparently there's no actual curriculum or staff in place despite a proposed September opening, and NO LOCATION! If a new charter school were going to be opening in less than a year and no site had been identified, can you imagine the outcry? And the rumors of takeovers of public schools? What am I missing here?
Capo Parent October 11, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Lynn Hatton didn't create this idea. She heard about and pushed it forward as her won. Interesting that it is being tested in CUSD even though the CUSD board never voted to do so. While STEAM appears "neat" it is simple a repackaging of what we call "education." Education as we currently know it entails science (biology, chemistry, etc.), technology (computer labs), English, arts (art class, ceramics class,) and math (geometry, algebra, etc.) As I see it, STEAM is really about getting a health majority of our students college proficient in math & English. Look at how many seniors in CUSD who did not score well enough on the EAP were unilaterally placed by CUSD in a new English course this year designed to emphasis and improve writing skills. (Of course this begs the questions, were has CUSD been?).
Capo Parent October 11, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Nothing except for an obvious double standard.
Karly October 11, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Charter schools ARE public schools. I wish the Saddleback District would approve some Charter schools instead of putting them through so much red tape.
Karly October 11, 2012 at 08:08 PM
I wish I there was a LIKE button, I would hit it for Capo Parent "Double Standard" comment. SO true.
Steve Lortech October 11, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Quick question(s): Is this going to be a CUSD school or a Charter school? If it is a CUSD school would they then hire existing CUSD teachers that are the most qualified to transfer from their current school to go to the new magnet?
Penny Arévalo (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 11:05 PM
NOT a charter. A CUSD school. They have not discussed location, other than to say Aliso Viejo may be a good area. Someone mentioned hiring teachers with specific skills. That would probably have to be worked out with the union (regarding new hires). I'm sure there will be a procedure where existing teachers could apply for a transfer.
Jane Lambson October 11, 2012 at 11:38 PM
AV City Council candidate Ross Chun is vested in this concept as well. Not sure if he and his Eco-stride company are trying to get consulting fees out of it. But he does seem to have a very cozy relationship with Hatton and Pritchard.
Yeparoo October 11, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Jane, you don't get how this works. First you need to anonymously post your comment in the form of an accusation over on the Orange Julius Blog. Then you call the DA and have them start an investigation based on the blog post. This seems to be a terrific idea. Even inner city type districts around the country have established STEM type schools and they are excellent. Have wondered for a long time why not CUSD. If Ross Chun/Eco-stride want to contribute to launch a school, more power to them. Heck, why not start a foundation and get plenty of interested parties to contribute. A STEAM K-8 or HS should be geographically located in the middle of the district to be fair to all district families. A daily trek from San Clemente or Coto to Aliso would be prohibitive.
Jane Lambson October 12, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Yep: I am not posting anonymously nor am I accusing anybody of any illegal acts. All I am saying somewhat cynically is that a candidate for local office is trying to attach his name to it as well, and I openly question if could land his company a contract. But I do question what seems to be only a clever marketing tool of what a school district's curriculum looks like already. I believe it was Capo parent that also pointed this out. Of the five subjects, only engineering is not widely taught at the middle school level. All other subjects are. What makes these classes different? Are they more advanced? And if it focuses on the STEAM subjects, are they going to go lite on the grammar and social studies because they are not as necessary as the STEAM subjects? Do we get PhD’s in the respective fields to be teachers? I am all for advancing education and getting more out of our kids that may need an additional challenge in the coursework. But there seems to be a lot of holes that need filling in. And considering that our district is crying poverty, it would seem that we would need a lot of outside funding and cooperation from the people who want to keep the district status quo.
mommeee October 12, 2012 at 10:46 AM
Newhart used to have FSEA (Future Science & Engineers of America). Take some of the GATE money back and restart it. My daugher used to come home from FSEA meetings amped about structural engineering & applied math. (I think that is what UCI is trying to do here...get the kids excited about the possibilities.) The district could also help the engineering clubs at the high school level...they are always strapped for cash to get material & equipment. Capo already has ATMS (STEM, STEAM or whatever you want to call it) ...for those that think it is totally tech skewed you are misinformed...they have ATMS Accel English too. Whatever is done at K-8 should dovetail with the high school ATMS.
Capo Parent October 12, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Mommeee Thanks for the reminder, I forgot about the FSEA at Newhart even though I had kids in the program. I assume from your post that FSEA is no longer offered at Newhart. If that's true, what a shame. Question, is STEM or STEAM really different from FSEA or is it just a repackaging of FSEA? Candidly, I don't know what the differences, if any, are.
Capo Parent October 12, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Yeparoo While STEM or STEAM maybe a great program (candidly, I don't know) where is CUSD going to find the money to implement the program? Thanks to our current leadership, CUSD is facing a $31 million (if Moonbeam's taxes pass) to $51 million deficit (if Moonbeam's taxes don't pass) along with a continuing decline in enrollment. CUSD has $51 million in retiree health benefits that it has done nothing to address, with the number getting larger each year. Remember the Chinese immersion program (that I'llpay takes credit for - what a blowhard politician - next thing he'll claim is that he invented the Internet, with Al Gore) only came into being because of the efforts of a number of number of motivated and dedicated parents who engaged in serious fund raising. Though I maybe wrong, my understanding is that CUSD kicked in $15,000 for the program and the parents fund raised the rest, roughly $140,000 to $160,000. Maybe Penny can clarify these numbers.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) October 12, 2012 at 04:40 PM
$15,000 from the school district was for the basic curriculum, but the parents wanted more (mostly in technology and instructional aides). I think they're about two-thirds of the way to their goal. See thermometer here: http://www.friendsofmip.com/
mommeee October 12, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Capo parent They canceled the Newhart FSEA 3 years ago. It was such a disappointment. From what I understand, for several years the district has been taking ALL the money that is slated for GATE and putting it back into the general fund. I understand trying to make ends meet, but if they are planning on starting a whole new program...shouldn't they restart the ones that were economical & really worked first?
mommeee October 12, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Capo Parent, FSEA is an afterschool program. ATMS (it already exists at CVHS...look at the capo home page on the academics tab) is the academic program. I think that STEM, STEAM is the same thing as ATMS.
Melemel October 17, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Will this be an invite, lottery or student achievement based enrollment school?
Penny Arévalo (Editor) 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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