Westside parents get closer look at advanced kindergarten program

In the latest effort to entice residents to send their children to their neighborhood school, Westside Costa Mesa educators held an information night Wednesday to discuss the Modern Scholars Academy, set to open next year at Adams Elementary School.

Principal Gabe Del Real directed the hourlong session to introduce the academy, which will start at the kindergarten level.

The one-of-a-kind program, in development over the past two years, is designed to identify and challenge gifted students at the earliest stage of formal education, according to Del Real. The academy will roll out in succeeding years to include the school's entire kindergarten through sixth grade student body.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District administrators are trying to dispel a long-standing community perception that Adams is not challenging higher-achieving students.

"Everybody has told me don't send your kids to the Adams school," said Jen Dibble, who attended the meeting with her 17-month-old son. "We literally live within walking distance, so I wanted to see what possibilities and what they're doing to make improvements here to encourage families in the neighborhood to actually send their kids to this school."

Asked why the school had not seemed to meet acceptable standards, parents at the meeting cited low test scores and the perception that non-English-speaking students bused in from surrounding areas may require too much of a teacher's attention, leaving the needs of advanced learners unattended.

"That's currently not the case. It just simply isn't true," countered Del Real, who is in his fifth year as principal at Adams. "We already have very high-achieving students at our school, and we have English learners at our school. We do address the needs of all those students."

He noted the trend in the tidy Mesa Verde neighborhood of parents sending their children to private schools or other districts in Huntington Beach.

"We want people to realize that this is the best option they have and it's right here in their local community," Del Real said.

The Modern Scholars Academy was developed in partnership with the UC Irvine Gifted Students Network, which includes professors from Concordia University, UCLA and UC San Diego. Incoming kindergarten students will be screened for a higher level of readiness in reading, math, science and critical thinking.

"All of our teachers are going to be trained to use these different strategies," said Adams lead kindergarten teacher Domini Possemato, who will be the academy's first instructor. "All the teachers at Adams are equipped to teach and challenge every child. That's what we've already been doing for a long time."

The school offers the GATE advanced learning program for third through sixth grades in addition to accelerated reading and math and a music program featuring a 50-piece string orchestra.

"What we want to do is reinforce and solidify our reputation for academics," said Supt. Fred Navarro, who attended the session Wednesday. "Our goal is to make our neighborhood schools a compelling option for our parents."

Neighborhood parent John Rodriguez came away from the presentation still feeling uncertain.

"We're pretty assured that we're going to come, but not 100%," Rodriguez said. The Davis Magnet School in Costa Mesa is also an option for his son, who is entering kindergarten next year, the dad added.

Still, he was impressed by the effort of the administrators.

"The principal, we've talked to him before, he seems fantastic," Rodriguez said. "They seem to be very involved in addressing all of our concerns."