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ISSAC charter school debuts in Costa Mesa

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Sol-Ammen Garrido, 5, poses at a photo booth on the first day of school Tuesday at the new International School for Science and Culture charter school in Costa Mesa.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

There was a sense of excitement Tuesday morning as students, parents and teachers stepped into the International School for Science and Culture for the first day of classes at the new public charter school in Costa Mesa.

Parents took photos of their children holding signs in a makeshift photo booth while other parents filled out last-minute paperwork in the campus office. Some teachers mingled with students eating cereal at lunch tables.

The day marked a new chapter for everyone there.

The school is bringing together students from as far away as Rancho Santa Margarita under a curriculum focused on science, technology, reading and writing, engineering, arts and math, or STREAM. A foreign-language program will teach the children Spanish and Mandarin Chinese in addition to English.

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Sujana Setty walks Arjun Selamkoti, 4, to his first day of transitional kindergarten on opening day of the new International School for Science and Culture in Costa Mesa on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The opening also was a victory for campus organizers who won approval in March from the Orange County Board of Education to open the school after a lengthy review process during which the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and some community members lodged objections.

In November, the Newport-Mesa board of trustees denied ISSAC’s petition to operate within district boundaries, saying its qualification requirements for educators were insufficient and that the school didn’t specify the methods it would use to measure student success. The district also said ISSAC’s proposal was a “repackaging” of a separate charter petition for a school called Adrian Hands Academy that was repeatedly denied by the Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

ISSAC then appealed the rejection to the county.

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Following the county’s decision, ISSAC recently got the OK from Newport-Mesa to operate out of the Harper Assessment Center site at Tustin Avenue and East 18th Street rent-free, though the charter school must provide the district with 2% of its revenue. ISSAC also is responsible for its utilities bills and taxes and maintenance.

The charter is enrolling only transitional kindergarten through fifth grade for the first year but hopes to expand through eighth grade.

School administrators have said ISSAC expects a student body of 110 this year, with the majority hailing from the Newport-Mesa area. Out-of-district students largely come from Santa Ana and Irvine. The facility can hold about 350 students, administrators said.

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Legend Ellison, 5, checks out lunch on opening day Tuesday of the new International School for Science and Culture charter school in Costa Mesa. The school is at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s Harper Assessment Center site.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

As several parents congregated at the lunch tables with their children Tuesday, Principal Renee Williams said: “It’s fantastic to see the hard work of teachers come to fruition. The kids are all smiling, and it brings me joy.”

Parents said they heard about the new school through word of mouth and cited smaller class sizes and its focus on the arts as reasons for enrolling their students there. Some also noted that the new campus is near their job, making it easier to drop off their kids on the way to work.

Parent Miriam Gonzalez said in Spanish that she wanted her son, Manuel Hernandez, 10, to receive more attention from teachers and was happy that ISSAC was an option.

Manuel, an incoming fifth-grader, said he was OK with going to a new school because he would be joining his best friend, Dylan Ibarra-Martinez, also 10.

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Dylan, who later joined Manuel on the blacktop, said he was excited to have his best friend by his side and to solve new equations in math class.

At the campus office, Imanoi Hernandez, 9, sat next to his mother as she filled out paperwork. He said he was nervous to start at a new school with new classmates and teachers, but added, “I’m gonna make it work.”

“Is there art class in this place? I’m excited for that,” he said.

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Lorie Leocadio, a transitional-kindergarten teacher, high-fives Dezaray Rabb, 4, during the first day of classes at the new International School for Science and Culture charter school in Costa Mesa on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Some students were uneasy about the new setting.

“I’m going to miss my mom in school,” said incoming kindergartner Lucia Reynoso, 5.

Veronica Tomas, 10, sat next to her father at the lunch tables. She previously attended Newport-Mesa’s Whittier Elementary School but is starting fifth grade at the new charter school.

“I’m kind of nervous because it’s a new school with new stuff and I don’t know many people,” she said.

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Her dad, Gildardo, didn’t recognize any parents. He said he and his wife decided to enroll their daughter at ISSAC after his wife heard about it through word of mouth.

“We just wanted to try something new,” he said.

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