Last summer, Lucia Mar school board members set a lofty goal for the South County school district: to become a model district for “21st century learning” nationwide.
To succeed in today’s global economy, district administrators said, students need to be armed with skills beyond the core curriculum — skills that will make them critical thinkers, effective communicators and creative innovators.
This week, school board members unanimously approved two programs — an international baccalaureate/magnet program at Grover Beach Elementary and a New Tech High on the Nipomo High School campus — that aim to promote these skills in students and move the district toward its overall vision.
A separate nonprofit corporation, the Lucia Mar Foundation for Innovation, has also been formed to raise money and support programs that further the development of 21st century skills.
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The timing of these efforts is noteworthy — school districts statewide are slashing millions from their budgets and laying off teachers and other staff in anticipation of state budget cuts. The Lucia Mar Unified School District is no exception.
But at the same time, the school board enthusiastically moved ahead programs that could cost a combined $2 million over the next four years, with funding dependent largely on donations, federal and state grants, and some money that individual school sites can use for specific programs or students. The board in its approval stipulated that staff make every attempt not to use general fund money for the programs.
“At this point, we’re extremely optimistic that we can get both these projects off the ground” by pooling different funding sources, said Andy Stenson, Lucia Mar’s assistant superintendent of curriculum.
When asked what might happen if grant funding does not materialize, he said: “I don’t know if grant funding will be a make or break. I think the community support will help get these programs started.”
Superintendent Jim Hogeboom acknowledged the bleak budget outlook, but added: “Now is the time to view crisis as an opportunity. If we want to be the leader in developing 21st century skills, we need to move forward now.”
Grover Beach Elementary
The program at Grover Beach Elementary would incorporate more technology, fine arts and a second language — Spanish — into students’ curriculum. Teachers will spend the next few years training and rewriting the entire curriculum to make it more challenging and engaging for the school’s 500 students, Principal Juan Olivarria said.
Olivarria described the program as an “inquiry-based approach to learning” in which students work more often in groups and collaborate on projects using technology.
The goal is for Grover Beach Elementary to be authorized as an international baccalaureate program by International Baccalaureate, a nonprofit educational foundation, in the 2014-15 school year. By that time, the entire program should be up and running.
The district did not choose Grover Beach Elementary for the program; rather, school staff learned about it and collectively decided to implement it on campus, Stenson said.
It is estimated to cost $83,000 for the first year and about $1.2 million total. That includes staff development, an upgrade of a 35-seat computer lab in 2013-14, adding a Spanish-language teacher and outfitting four fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms with laptops for every student.
New Tech High
Unlike the Grover Beach Elementary program, which will include the entire school, the New Tech High program would create on the Nipomo High campus a new school that could serve 500 students.
The school is slated to open in fall 2012 with 125 to 135 ninth-grade students and four to six teachers from throughout the Lucia Mar district, Nipomo High Principal Michelle Johnson said.
The Nipomo High campus was chosen because of the extra space it provides and the staff’s enthusiasm for the new school, Stenson said.
The program buzzwords are “project-based learning” — the students each have a computer and they work in groups or on teams on projects that require critical thinking and communication. Students will still learn the core curriculum, but at the new campus. They may continue at first to take physical education at Nipomo High, Stenson said.
“It takes traditional education and turns it upside down,” said Jim Gentilucci, an associate professor of educational leadership at Cal Poly who recently visited the New Technology High in Napa with a group of district staff and local business owners. “They (the students) were engaged because the projects engaged them.”
The next step is for the district to sign an agreement with New Tech Network, founded in 1996 with the opening of the Napa high school. The estimated cost of equipping the classrooms over four years is $802,000, which does not include the costs of the buildings.
That cost is yet to be determined, but some of it may be covered by developer fees the district receives.