Technological magnetism

NORTHWEST GLENDALE — Hundreds of prospective students who filled the hallways of Clark Magnet High School on Saturday got a lesson in cost-benefit analysis — yes, more stringent academic standards and college preparatory atmosphere would mean sacrifice and hard work, but the payoff could be worth it.

While school administrators said the campus is not better, just different from Glendale Unified’s three other high schools, Clark Magnet’s accolades and high student achievement marks have consistently drawn interest from more students than it can accept.

For some of those students — and their parents — who attended the open house expo Saturday, four years at a National Blue Ribbon and California Distinguished School meant a better shot at a four-year university.

“It’s better for college preparation,” said Jenna Banks, whose son, Vincent Van Hoek, has aspirations in architectural engineering and graphics. “If he can commit to it, so can I.”

Academic commitment is a major part of student life at this high-tech campus, which was established in 1998 to alleviate overcrowding at Glendale, Hoover and Crescenta Valley high schools.

To qualify for the lottery selection, Glendale Unified eighth-graders must have at least a 2.0 grade point average, be able to take algebra, have satisfactory attendance and behavioral record and score above the 36 percentile on state tests, according to the school district.

Once in, freshmen must quickly adjust to life at a magnet school. Students must adhere to a strict dress code, math and science are emphasized over traditional arts programs, technology is king, and forget about those pep rallies — Clark Magnet has no sports program.

Student performance is monitored closely, with those who fall below a C average put on probation and eventually sent back to their “home” high school if grades don’t improve.

But those added pressures are what many students hoping to get one of the 300 open slots said they look forward to as a means to a successful end.

“I’m ready,” said freshman Chris Kiledjian, who chose Clark Magnet over Crescenta Valley High, where he would normally attend.

Last year, Clark Magnet was the only Glendale Unified high school to see all of its seniors graduate, and of those, 98% went on to specialized learning institutions, colleges and four-year universities like MIT or Caltech.

The school has a close relationship — either through sponsorship or educational programs — with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Compaq, NASA and Cisco Systems.

This year, Clark Magnet received a Silver Medal ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best public high schools. Crescenta Valley and Hoover high schools were also awarded the ranking.

But life on this approximately 1,000-student campus — where classmates review laptop PowerPoint slide presentations on exit exams as they pedal exercise bikes — can give students a leg up on their competition and push even the most skeptical first-timers to coalesce around the idea of confidence as preparation, said Associated Student Body president and class senior Julia Song.

“When you come to Clark, you form your own family,” she said.

Since entering Clark Magnet with a goal of being a playwright, Song has moved toward broadcast journalism and other media, she said.

“It’s all about technology now,” she said. “Without it, you’re just not going to make it.”

Principal Doug Dall said administrators typically receive about 600 applicants for the admissions lottery — twice what the school can accept. While he is always careful to caution parents and their students that the school’s curriculum, pace and priorities are not for everyone, he also conceded Saturday as hundreds of potential pupils swarmed his campus that when they click with the system, success can be pronounced.

“If they get it, they really get a lot out of it,” he said.

The application deadline to be included in the admissions lottery is Friday. For more information on the school’s admission policy, visit www.gusd.net.


 JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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