Creation of career-field pathways marks a major shift in curriculum at LCHS

La Cañada High School Assistant Principal Mary Hazlett, left, speaks with students just before the start of the school year on Wednesday, August 12, 2015.

La Cañada High School Assistant Principal Mary Hazlett, left, speaks with students just before the start of the school year on Wednesday, August 12, 2015.

(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

La Cañada High School students have always had the academic chops to succeed in college and beyond. Now, with the wind of Common Core standards in their sails, local school officials are hoping to polish them into 21st-century workforce gems.

Earlier this week, La Cañada Unified officials announced students in grades 7 through 12 will soon be able to broaden their studies into a number of innovative career fields, thanks to new electives-based pathways rolling out next school year.

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The creation of several sequenced classes designed to inspire, engage and then apply student learning in up-and-coming industry sectors — including engineering and architectural design, video and TV production, hospitality and tourism, transportation, automotive technology and design — marks the first major shift in curriculum at LCHS in more than a decade, according to Associate Principal Jim Cartnal.

“I think we’ve had a recognition of the multiple areas where schools have to be innovated or changed,” Cartnal said of the new state standards that inspired the offerings. “This is an opportunity to provide students with skills and expose them to technologies that they can actually try to get a job with.”

Cartnal, along with La Cañada Unified Supt. Wendy Sinnette, district officials and school administrators, shared the thinking behind the new elective offerings in a parent meeting held Monday night at the high school.

They explained to a crowd of about 250 parents and students the suite of classes will be rolled out over the next three to five years to give the district time to plan and hire staff, order equipment and make the facilities adjustments needed to accommodate the new pathways.

“It’s very detailed and we’re very much still in progress but very excited about bringing these opportunities to you and your 7-12 students,” Sinnette told parents.

To give LCHS 7/8 students enough flexibility in their schedules to accommodate the addition of new electives, the district will create an option next year for students to take physical education classes during a zero period, starting at 6:40 a.m.

This would allow middle school students to participate in an expanded band program, coding class, LCTV (video and communications) course or to take a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) class, currently offered during zero period, during the regular school day.

Students in grades 9 through 12 would be able to enroll in three-year sequenced pathway programs in which coursework in a particular field progresses toward a capstone class that lets students demonstrate what they’ve learned and apply those skills to the best practices of a profession.

Freshmen can also take a healthy living course to help build their study skills and understanding of digital citizenship while navigating complex issues that will face them in coming years.

“We’re really going to focus on the skills and dispositions necessary to be successful in our world,” said LCHS 9-12 Principal Ian McFeat.

Officials acknowledged Monday there will be a period of adjustment as the school transitions to the new framework, but remained hopeful parents and students would appreciate the changes.

Tami Ishida, mother of students in the sixth- and eighth-grades, said she was pleasantly surprised to hear the news and planned to tell her son and daughter about the new options they’ll have next school year. Parent Chris McDonald — who came Monday with seventh-grader Alexa and eighth-grader Kiana — said he, too, approved of the idea.

“I’ve always kind of felt there was a shortage of STEAM programs here, so I’m happy they’re dealing with that,” McDonald said.

Kiana McDonald said she’d be interested in the healthy living class for freshmen.

“That seemed pretty interesting and might actually help me out and give me a head start into the adult world,” she said.


Sara Cardine,

Twitter: @SaraCardine