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High-Tech High School Is 'Debut of a New Era' : Education: New O.C. school's state-of-art computers will link students to a vast information network.

September 06, 1993|ANNA CEKOLA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ALISO VIEJO — Orange County's first new high school in four years cost $25 million, but there isn't a stick of chalk or blackboard in sight.

Instead, each classroom at Aliso Niguel High School features an Apple Macintosh computer and a remote control linking a 27-inch television monitor, via fiber-optic cable, to a library nerve center filled with racks of laser disk players, CD-ROM machines and other state-of-the-art gadgets.

At the stroke of a computer key, another information network will let students browse through the data banks of the Library of Congress, or look up documents at the United Nations in New York or Geneva.

Welcome to what educators call perhaps the most technically advanced high school in California, and what Aliso Niguel Principal Denise Danne declares "the debut of a new era."

This school symbolizes the future of education, according to state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach).

"It's a tremendous opportunity for the parents and the students to really take part in a very historic event as far as the advent of education reform," said Bergeson, whose district includes parts of South Orange County. "I think the entire state will be looking."

Aliso Niguel High School opens Thursday for about 1,600 students in grades 9-11. It is the first new high school in Orange County since the 1989 opening of Century High School in Santa Ana.

The high school, which will reach a capacity of about 2,000 pupils next year when seniors are added, is the first since 1972 for the fast-growing Capistrano Unified School District, which has 30,000 students.

About half of the campus, including classrooms and science labs, will be ready Thursday. Construction, held up by heavy rains last winter, continues on the campus stadium, gyms, aquatics center and athletic fields, as well as a food court, 375-seat theater and student center.

The school's innovative data systems, including the fiber-optic video information network created by Indiana-based Dynacom, go on-line next month. Aliso Niguel is the first high school in California and the first high school on the West Coast to feature the Dynacom system.

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Students, who selected teal, black and white as their school colors in April, will be greeted Thursday by balloons, food and music. One banner will proclaim, "Yes, there are Wolverines in Orange County," a subtle poke at those who have suggested that students should have picked an indigenous animal as their mascot.

Students are excited about the high-tech school.

"They say it's a model school," said Ashley Antal, a freshman from Mission Viejo. "That will push us to be better. We want to be the best."

Technology isn't the only novelty here.

To combat graffiti, theft and contraband items, there will be no lockers, except in the two campus gyms. Instead, students will be given two sets of textbooks, one to keep at home and the other to remain in class.

The school will have a fast-food lunch court with such restaurants as Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, similar to the facility that opened at Capistrano Valley High School last year.

As for curriculum, career skills will be emphasized through schools within the school, including a Culinary Arts Academy where students will learn about the food service industry and nutrition.

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Still, the school's computerized information systems are causing the most buzz.

"People are calling from all over the country wanting to know about this new high school," Tom Anthony, director of secondary education for the Capistrano Unified School District, said.

The school PTSA, which has so far attracted more than 100 members, has trained volunteers to conduct tours of the school for the educators and business people that are expected to visit.

The district is spending about $900,000 on technology-related items. Half the money for the school came from the state, while the rest was generated through Mello-Roos taxes, a special assessment paid by homeowners in some newer communities to finance schools, roads and other public facilities.

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With ever-shrinking budgets, district officials acknowledge that they couldn't have built the school without the $14 to $70 in Mello-Roos taxes paid each month since 1987 by homeowners in Aliso Viejo and parts of Mission Viejo.

The main high-tech feature in all 77 campus classrooms and labs will be the Dynacom video information network, which Danne describes as a "superhighway."

Indeed, the system works through a powerful highway of television cable and fiber-optics, which are bundles of thin glass tubes that carry light--rather than electrical impulses--at extremely high speeds.

By pressing a key on a small remote control, teachers and students can gain access via their classroom television monitors or computers to materials on satellite, cable television or from pre-loaded laser disk players, compact disk interactive machines and other equipment in the library.

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