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Panel Considers Plan for Malibu Magnet School : Education: District officials cite the 25-mile commute and traffic risks as reasons to open a new high school. But critics fear the loss of Santa Monica High School’s best students.

COMMUNITY CORRESPONDENT

A committee formed by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is investigating the possibility of opening a magnet high school in Malibu.

Students who live in Malibu face a 25-mile, one-hour commute each day to Santa Monica High, the district’s only high school, and they run the risk of traffic accidents, district officials say.

But several Santa Monica parents and teachers said at a hearing last week that a public high school in Malibu focusing on college preparation could lower the quality of Santa Monica High School by luring away its best and brightest students.

“When you (siphon) off students who are better students, it has a negative impact on the students who are left behind,” Tassie Hadlock-Piltz, a history teacher at Santa Monica High School, told the Malibu High School Study Committee.

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To integrate its student body, the Malibu school would recruit minority students from Santa Monica. Hadlock-Piltz added that if the best minority students transfer, it could leave other minorities without role models.

But committee members said the terms magnet and college prep, which are being applied to the proposed school, are misleading.

“We’re not looking to start an elitist school,” Supt. Eugene Tucker said.

“In California, even average students are able to get into college, if they work hard enough,” he said. The new school, which would be located in existing facilities at Malibu Park School, would have no special academic entrance requirements, he said.

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Because the district wants a racial mix at Santa Monica and Malibu high schools, not every Caucasian student who lives in Santa Monica and wants to transfer to Malibu would be allowed to, Tucker said. The study committee is working on entrance criteria.

The proposed budget for the new school would include funds to hire a recruiter of minority students, Tucker said. He said that average minority students may want to attend Malibu High School for its smaller size, for a change of environment or to get away from gangs.

The 800-student school, if approved, would open in September, 1991.

Committee Chairman Jeffrey D. Jennings said the school is being planned because of increasing traffic congestion on Pacific Coast Highway.

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“In a real sense, Santa Monica High School is getting farther and farther away,” he said. About 350 students travel from Malibu to attend Santa Monica High, which has about 2,600 students.

Rather than having their children commute to Santa Monica, Malibu parents are sending them to private schools in Agoura and elsewhere, district officials and parents said.

Malibu parent David Caplan said an informal survey of his friends found that “less than one in three will send their children to Santa Monica High School . . . because of the drive, the time, the danger.

“The brain drain does not occur when Santa Monica students attend high school in Malibu, it occurs because of Malibu students going to private schools,” he said.

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The study committee is to submit a final report to the Board of Education on June 11.


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