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Majority of Parents Want to Send Children to Magnet School, Report Says : Simi Valley: Most in survey back performing arts and technology facility. Critics say questions were leading.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More than two out of three parents who responded to a survey about a new magnet school in Simi Valley said they wanted their children to attend the high school that emphasizes performing arts and technology.

The survey results, which also determined which subjects and electives parents want at the school, clear the way for the Simi Valley Unified School District to move forward with plans for the school and develop a budget and staff.

Parents asked most often for graphic arts and design, music, software development, animation and dance, but they also were interested in advanced science and computer classes.

“It tells us which areas are most in demand at this point,” said Judy Cannings, an administrator organizing the magnet effort. “We’ll focus on those particular areas and develop those first.

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Cannings said a special magnet development team--consisting of administrators, parents, community members and teachers--would go over the survey results and determine which classes will be offered at the school when it opens next fall.

The team is working with a $100,000 state grant, but plans to add more classes gradually as the school establishes partnerships with nearby businesses and finds other funding sources.

But some parents who criticized the magnet plan attributed the unexpectedly positive results to leading questions on the survey.

In one case, parents were asked to circle “yes,” “maybe” or “no” to a statement reading, “I would like my children to participate in this exciting new magnet school.” Outspoken magnet school critic Nan Mostacciuolo, a mother of five students in the district, said many of her friends were unaware that the district had not found funds to pay for the school.

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“We’re being offered the best money can buy, but the money isn’t there,” Mostacciuolo said.

The school board voted last spring to shut down Sequoia Junior High, convert the city’s two high schools to four-year schools, and open the new four-year magnet school. Board members then requested the survey to gauge interest in the school, which some have criticized because it will cater to students with specific interests.

The district sent out 7,100 surveys to parents of students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Of the 753 parents who returned them, two-thirds indicated an interest in enrolling their children in the magnet school.

Figures released last month show the restructuring--the conversion of two existing high schools to four-year schools and the addition of a third with grades nine through 12--could cost the district $200,000 a year more than it costs now to educate the same number of students.

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That $200,000 does not include the cost of the state-of-the-art equipment required for proposed classes such as computer technology, and a production studio.

Still, district officials said, the number of positive responses shows that school supporters outnumber critics.

Cannings estimates that the school will open to about 600 new students and that classes will grow larger every year. Eventually the school could house about 1,200 students. Applications for the new school will be available in January.

When school begins next fall, entering eighth-grade students will continue at Sequoia for that year only. The new ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade students will join them on campus. But because the school won’t be accredited until after a full first year, 12th-grade students won’t come to Sequoia until the fall of 1997 to avoid any problems with college admissions.

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District officials say the school will provide honors and Advanced Placement classes and other basic core classes meeting state and college requirements, in addition to the performing arts and technology classes. Many of those will be elective courses.

The magnet team has been visiting several performing arts and technology high schools in Southern California and plans to model classes at the Simi magnet after some of what they’ve seen.

“Many of them started out just like we are,” Cannings said.


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