MHUSD board gives approval to explore transformation to focus the school

Published in the June 22 – July 5, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Ramsey,Daryton-webMorgan Hill over the last few years has seen a trend in transforming many of its public schools into “focus academies.” It started with Jackson Academy of Math and Music in 2012. Two years later, P.A. Walsh became an elementary STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) academy and San Martin/Gwinn became an environmental science academy. In the coming school year, Paradise Valley Elementary School will become an engineering academy.

Add to that list possibly in the near future El Toro Elementary School which is now being considered to be turned into an academy focused on the health sciences. At its June 7 public meeting the Morgan Hill Unified School District Board of Education approved a proposal to allow El Toro to begin exploring this change in our school.

The idea of El Toro Health Science Academy has received input from our students, parents and educators. Specifically, teachers Debbie Tawney, Lisa Miceli, Debbie Baker, Vicki Medaxian, Kathy Corcoran and parent home and school club member Amanda Vandercoevering presented a thoughtful plan focused on accomplishing the El Toro mission of “Educating, Inspiring and Empowering each El Toro Scholar.” They presented to the board their design to provide measured details and insights to the plan, goals and other important aspects of the focus academy.

With the other focus academies in the MHUSD, we’ve seen that this theme-based school model provides students with distinct and particular learning experiences in a culturally diverse, equity oriented and results driven environment. The El Toro focus academy will be centered on health science as its theme. There are many benefits to the students and our community. The change will enable students to develop academic and behavioral aptitudes focused toward 21st century skills of communication, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and citizenship.
Each student at the proposed health science academy will have equal access to an engaging, rigorous and integrated curriculum resulting in a high level of learning. It will also increase community engagement, excitement and continue creating a climate of academic excellence, community and school collaboration and college/career readiness at our school.

The initial interest group of parents and staff have taken actions in an effort to learn about focus academies. They have conducted six interest committee meetings as well as an El Toro parent meeting. They have also conducted a model school visit to Dr. Sammy Lee Medical and Health Science Academy School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The parents and staff also have researched different school models of academies and magnet schools. They have reviewed and discussed current research centered on student engagement, student achievement and impact of focused curriculum priorities.

Some of the potential community, county and other organization partners that will be sought out to support the health science-themed focus academy include Kaiser Permanente, the Santa Clara County Office of Education, and local professionals, community organizations and health agencies. We’ll also look at the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the Health Careers Resource Consortium, and California Career Pathways Consortia

What are some of the next steps for the exploratory committee now that the school board has approved it? It will formally establish a community/staff exploratory committee and begin research foundational aspects of curriculum, assessment and instruction and the implication for student high level learning. El Toro will also research and build a repository of different health science focused curriculum.

The school will also begin contacting and formally identifying and establishing community partnerships and begin planning discussions focused toward building a three-year implementation plan.

This is an exciting time for our students, parents and staff as we continue to drive toward accomplishing our mission of Educating, Inspiring and Empowering each of our El Toro scholars. We believe with this school model we will not only accomplish our mission, but also expand and exceed all expectations for high level learning for all students involved. It is our moral purpose that undergirds this effort and all of our efforts and ensures we continue to deliver on our educational promise to each and every El Toro Scholar.

El Toro Elementary School Principal Daryton Ramsey wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life. He is leaving the MHUSD this month for a new job in Ventura and we wish him the best.