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Education Desk: May 22, 2015

New Central Park Elementary: A Blank Canvas

Amid all the talk about new schools on the Northside, Santa Clara Unified has another opportunity for making the future: Central Park Elementary (adjacent to Santa Clara Central Park) which will open in August 2016. While the focus has been on construction plans for renovating the 1956 campus, it will also be an opportunity to create a new school from the bottom up.

The campus was originally Millikin Elementary School, and became Millikin Basics in 1981 when the campus was no longer needed because of declining enrollment. About 10 years ago, a long–term plan was adopted for moving Millikin and opening a new school, Central Park, to relieve anticipated growth at nearby Pomeroy, Sutter and Laurelwood.

When Millikin moved in 2013, the campus was leased to Magnolia charter school for two years with the plan of renovating and modernizing the campus to open in August 2016.

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Last Fall, the district conducted a survey and held a series of meetings to find out what kind of school residents were interested in – a neighborhood or magnet school. Although none of the results of these enquiries has been published, in the coming months the district intends to hire a principal to open the new school, and the discussion at the May 14 SCUSD board meeting revealed some of the ideas under consideration.

One is, predictably, for a STEM focus for the school. Another is for a hybrid school that is both a magnet school and a neighborhood school, where half the students come from “low socio–economic” neighborhoods. A third preference is to call it an “academy;” apparently parents are happier if their children go to an “academy” rather than a “school.”*

Philadelphia has a hybrid 6–12 public school, the application–only Hill–Freedman Academy, with 70 percent of its students enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program – an internationally recognized, progressive curriculum established in the mid–1960s by teachers from the International School of Geneva – and 30 percent in special ed. The school has received $2.6 million from the private non–profit the Philadelphia Schools Partnership.

Whatever the future holds for Central Park, the new principal will play a key role in defining the character and program of the school.

Interim Location for Magnolia Possible

At last week's meeting Superintendent Stan Rose reported that a possible interim location for Magnolia charter school has been identified, but declined to be more specific at this time and said that more information will be forthcoming if the details can be worked out.

In 2013 Magnolia – a county, not district, charter school – signed a two–year lease for the then–vacant Central Park campus. The terms of the contract were explicit that the lease couldn't be renewed, and the district is under no obligation to provide facilities. Since last fall the school has been trying to persuade the district to extend the lease.

Only when the corporate organization replaced its top management (part of a settlement with LA Unified over alleged financial irregularities) did Magnolia actively search for new facilities. The school is likely going to lease some of Santa Clara County's growing inventory of vacant office space.

Recognitions

Wilson High School student Leslie Yadira Quintana, and Santa Clara Adult Education student Farhan Said Naim were recognized for success in the face of formidable difficulties. Quintana started her education in SCUSD's migrant program, and Naim as a non–English speaking refugee from Afghanistan via Uzbekistan. No doubt part of their success was due to students like Westwood Elementary's Kinza Khalid, who was recognized Thursday for her exceptional willingness to help other students.

It's About the Teaching – Not the Spanish

The district is also hiring a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for English Language Learners (ELL) support. Slightly under 30 percent of the district's students aren't fluent in English; speaking some 50 different languages, of which the top five are Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Mandarin and Telugu.

Trustee Christopher Stampolis occupied a quarter of an hour attempting to wordsmith the job description by replacing “bi–lingual preferred” with “bi–lingual required,” and “bi–lingual” with “bi–literate.”

The job is about teaching non–English speakers – not teaching Spanish. The two–page job description lists eight highly specialized requirements for experience in everything from teaching specific subjects to ELL students, to coaching teachers in methods for teaching and assessing ELL students, to experience teaching Common Core standards to ELL students. District staff had to explain the obvious – that no one who couldn't speak Spanish would be considered for the job – several times.

Trustee Noelani Sallings countered Stampolis' identity politics play – in his ongoing rhetorical campaign to court Hispanic voters he's repeatedly accused the district of racism – by pointing out that women are less likely to apply for a job if they're unsure they have 100 percent of the listed qualifications. Thus, she said, by over–specifying the job the district might be subtly discriminating against female applicants.

New Special Ed Director

Former Special Education Director for the San Mateo Dept. of Education, Anna Maria Villa–Lobos, was appointed Director of Special Education.

*The idea that the word “academy” connotes educational superiority is contradicted by New York City's (public) Bronx Science High School, which leads the entire world in the number of Nobel Prize winners among its graduates (as does the NYC public school system as a whole). Other notable Bronx Science graduates include TV celebrity Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson, Samuel R. Delany, Bobby Darin and Stokley Carmichael.

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