Yesterday morning, I spent a couple of hours at Valley Region High School #5 in San Fernando. Along with several news trucks, district officials, city officials, and nonprofit groups, 1600 kids started their school year at the brand new school. Sadly, several breaking news stories preempted coverage of what might be the biggest move in LAUSD education, but I won’t let it go unnoticed. Frankly this is the most exciting education news that has happened in the city in the 20 years we’ve lived here, but it sets a trend for all of LAUSD. Just the very fact that I’d spent several years attending meetings from the original scoping meetings to scout a location through the environmental impact report, and even to arguing over the visual appeal of the outside of the school, this school sprouted from the parking lot of a swap meet site, and has begun to symbolize educational hope in the Northeast Valley.

Four separate high school academies are on the campus. Several months ago, the school board approved three teacher-created plans, and a plan from Local District 2. I spent hours reading all nine plans, and attending meetings to hear the applicant teams in person. And I went and voted. The teacher-led plans all proved to me that they were committed to education and to making big changes for the students of the Northeast Valley. The local district led plan’s approval wasn’t a shock to me, but it lacked the passion of the teacher-led groups, and fell behind as they went to staff a hypothetical plan.

Social Justice Humanitas applies a college-ready curriculum to a social justice model by applying the humanities throughout all coursework, Academy of Scientific Exploration boasts a challenging math and science curriculum while stressing the Character Counts! program by the Josephson Institute, the ArTES, offers arts-infused A-G coursework, and the Teacher Prep Academy will prepare students to be teachers through internships.

One look at their individual Facebook pages, and viewers will see excited kids trying to meet before school starts up, eager to share their connection with their academies. They’re also attempting to come up with a name for the high school and a mascot–together.

There will be issues. One of the schools opted for actual uniforms. So while one group is easily identifiable, the other kids blend in. Clearly, a dress code will have to be implemented to encourage the students to dress appropriately. The students all start and finish at different times each day, so that knowing who’s supposed to arrive when, who’s late, and how extra curriculars will function. After all, these four academies will create one football team, one Academic Decathlon team, and produce their theatrical productions together. And there will be rivalries between academies, especially until a clear transfer policy is established for students who want to attend different academies than they were assigned. Students ranked their choices, but clearly, some kids didn’t get their first, second, or even third choice, and they should have a way to get into their academy of choice or change, since what a 13 year year old desires isn’t always what a 15 or 16 year old envisions their life plan to entail. In addition, the schools currently operate in a silo-type approach, and I suspect as time goes by they will have to soften that to allow sharing of resources–and students–to appeal to even more kids who can’t take an all-or-none approach when choosing a path.

We have four years before we have to make a decision, but I’m hopeful at least one of my kids will finally be able to graduate from a school that is within walking distance. Two of the academies really intrigue me, and I have the luxury of waiting to see the test results before we make a decision. But based on the community support–including families that don’t yet have children at the school, the school will be rich with volunteers and support.

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