Early College High partners with colleges

After months of uncertainty, a school designed to give Newport-Mesa students a jump on college is expanding next school year.

Students at Early College High School in Costa Mesa will be able to take extra classes at two local colleges, and in the future might be able to earn guaranteed acceptance into UC Irvine, school officials announced this week.

Since January, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District has searched for a partner to teach college-level classes at the high school. Early College, which opened in 2006, is built on that very concept, but until this month administrators were unable to find a college partner to replace its current provider.

"We were getting somewhat desperate," said Charles Hinman, the assistant superintendent of secondary education responsible for finding a new partner.

Now three institutions have stepped up, he told school board members Tuesday.

UCI, Orange Coast College and Marymount California University — a Catholic college in Rancho Palos Verdes — will provide college-level instruction to the 400 students at the high school.

Newport-Mesa administrators had planned for Early College to move from its Mesa Verde campus to a Newport Beach facility that Coastline Community College opened in January.

Coastline has been providing college-level courses for Early College students, who are recruited for the high school, through a grant.

When administrators decided in September the new campus wouldn't work for high schoolers and grant funding ran dry, Newport-Mesa began paying more than $125,000 a semester for Coastline instruction.

With the Coastline contract expiring in June and strong direction from the school board to continue Early College, the deadline was fast approaching for a new partner.

"I've got to tell you, I was stressed," Hinman said.

It wasn't until March that all the pieces came together.

Marymount agreed to pick up where Coastline left off. It will teach college-level classes at the Mesa Verde campus, Hinman said.

The two other colleges will expand the high school's program beyond that, he said.

Newport-Mesa expects OCC to offer limited spaces for Early College students to attend classes on its campus for free, and UCI will allow qualified students to take classes on campus or online for free.

The university will also provide counseling to students that is specific enough to tell them what grades they need in individual classes to be accepted at UCI, Hinman said.

"UCI is really the giver here," he said. "They are giving to us."

The program wouldn't guarantee admission into UCI, "But I believe that it's in the future," Hinman said.

The assistant superintendent presented all of this information to the school board in a study session Tuesday.

As it stands with the three new partners, the program will operate at no extra cost to the district other than transporting students to and from classes at UCI and OCC, Hinman said.

However, Hinman said he will ask Newport-Mesa to budget $100,000 for the program in the upcoming year in case the district needs to ask Marymount to offer additional courses.

Trustees must still approve agreements with each institution, but they were overwhelmingly positive about the proposition Tuesday.

"This is really exciting," school board Trustee Katrina Foley said.

In fact, some trustees worried about Early College attracting too many students with the expansion.

"We don't really want it to grow to a 1,000-student campus," Trustee Martha Fluor said, noting that that would disrupt the focused learning community intended to be smaller than the district's comprehensive high schools.

A 400-student cap will remain, Hinman said, but he added there will likely be opportunities for the program to grow and improve in the future because of its new partners.

"With UCI coming on board, it's a brave new world," he said.

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