District talks of offering specialty areas of study

Flagship programs, which allow students to specialize in a specific subject from kindergarten through graduation, could be implemented in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District by next school year.

The Costa Mesa, Corona del Mar, Estancia and Newport Harbor high school principals presented their eight respective flagship programs, featuring both art and academic pathways, during a special meeting of the school board Tuesday afternoon.

While the principals hope to begin implementation by the 2014-15 school year, much remains to be figured out, said Chuck Hinman, assistant superintendent of secondary education.

"We don't have a lot of answers for you today. This is conceptual," he said. "It's taken us this long to come up with what a flagship might be."

The district began discussing flagship programs in each of the school zones — named after each high school and made up of elementary, middle and high schools — nearly two years ago.

District officials held meetings at school campuses and conducted an online survey to determine what subject each zone wanted to specialize in with the goal of attracting more students to Newport-Mesa schools, administrators said.

The highest demand overall in the survey was for math and science fields, with 21% of respondents requesting a focus related to science, technology, engineering or math.

Corona del Mar's two proposed flagship programs are an international academy, which would focus on foreign language development and social science courses, and a performing arts and multimedia academy, which would have pathways for art, dance, drama, instrumental and choral, said Principal Kathy Scott.

"We realized that we offer a lot of great courses, but it's not very focused," she said. "This aligns students on a track that gets them to a particular destination."

Estancia's flagship, E-Tech High, would feature an engineering and design academy focused on construction technology, a biomedical academy focused on preparing students for a medical career and an animation academy, which would boast a digital media arts program, said Principal Kirk Bauermeister.

"Students will graduate with a competitive academic resume for admission into nationally and internationally recognized schools," he said.

Costa Mesa and Newport Harbor would incorporate programs they currently offer into their flagships.

Costa Mesa would expand its Delta program, which focuses on math, science and technology. The school's current program is made up of about 300 high-achieving math and science students in seventh through 10th grades, said Principal Phil D'Agostino.

The Delta program would also include a foreign language element.

The school would also continue to develop its Academy of Creative Expression, or ACE program, to give students a conservatory experience in music and performing arts as well as visual arts, he said.

"We're really going to be focusing on expanding into the elementary level," he said. "Delta and ACE are things we already do. We think they're strong, they work and we need to expand."

Newport Harbor administrators plan to expand the school's International Baccalaureate for Academics and Arts program, which is a two-year course of study for juniors and seniors that builds around the theory of knowledge — a college level seminar — a student-designed community service project and a research project. Students in the program also pursue college-level work in English, a second language, history, math, science and an elective.

International Baccalaureate courses often come with college credit or they are used for determining college placement. If approved and certified by the International Baccalaureate foundation, the Newport Harbor zone would have the only International Baccalaureate program in Orange County, said Principal Sean Boulton.

Many trustees expressed excitement about the flagship presentations. However, funding for the programs and training remains uncertain. Cost projections ran as high as millions of dollars.

Trustee Katrina Foley suggested that the flagship idea be brought back to the board as part of budget planning for next year.

"It's very important to some of our communities that we have something that we can implement, not just words on a page," she said.

The board will also need to decide whether it would allow students to transfer to different schools based on which flagship program interests them, said Supt. Fred Navarro.

Currently, students who want to attend a school outside their zone are granted permission by the district through a lottery system. It's unclear whether the process would remain the same.

Navarro envisions the board having another study session in the next several months to discuss the flagships.

Proposed programs

Costa Mesa High School: Students would choose between the Delta program and the Academy of Creative Expression (ACE).

Estancia High School: An engineering and design academy, a bio-medical academy and an animation academy would be offered.

Corona del Mar High School: Students would choose between an international academy and a performing arts and multimedia academy.

Newport Harbor High School: Students would be able to participate in the International Baccalaureate for Academics and Arts program.

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