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Magnet School May Postpone Its 11th Grade

February 10, 1996|JOANNA M. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SIMI VALLEY — A new magnet school has attracted more applications than expected for the ninth and 10th grades, but interest among 11th-graders is so weak that a junior year program will probably not be offered next year.

Confounding critics who predicted there would be little interest in the performing arts and technology program, the school has received more than 500 applications for the fall semester and now has a waiting list for freshman and sophomore slots.

But with only 40 applications for 11th-grade classes, administrators may not offer the program to 11th-graders until fall 1997, when students who had begun the program as 10th-graders would be going into their junior year.

"We will decide for sure by the end of February," said Judy Cannings, the Simi Valley Unified School District administrator in charge of planning the magnet school. "But 40 students is not enough for a viable class."

Administrators had always planned to wait until the second year the school was open to have a senior class to avoid any potential college admission problems while the school was earning its accreditation. But they had hoped to have enough students to fill an 11th-grade class the first year.

Registration for classes at the school begins Monday at Sequoia Junior High, the campus that will house the magnet school starting in the fall. If at the end of the month, administrators decide not to have a junior year program, 30 students now on the waiting list for freshman and sophomore slots will be accepted and enrollment will be reopened until 660 students are signed up, Cannings said.

The probable elimination of 11th-grade classes the first year does not hurt the magnet school program and could carry a hidden benefit, the magnet's new principal said.

"We will have more time to focus on the ninth- and 10th-grade components, and focus on the 11th-grade program when it is introduced the next year," said Patricia Hauser, now principal of Sinaloa Junior High.

She said the lack of enthusiasm among entering 11th-graders did not surprise her. "They know kids at their schools and they want to finish their high school there," she said.

Parents of some of the 40 rising juniors who applied for the school have launched a calling campaign to enlist the support of other students. But a minimum of about 120 students is needed to make the program viable.

The Simi Valley Unified School District trustees voted last spring to close Sequoia Junior High and convert it to a four-year magnet school. The two existing high schools would be converted to four-year schools.

The vote came over the loud protests of teachers, parents and current students at Sequoia Junior High, as well as critics who say the district is catering to students with special interests at the expense of others.

They contend that the new magnet school, concentrating on technology and the performing arts, would cost more than the district could afford.

"The district is not supporting the programs it has now," said Nan Mostacciuolo, who has two children attending Sequoia, two in high school and one in elementary school. "Every year, my kids are out there selling candy for bands. And we have to give money for their uniforms, their vests, their medals, their trips."

In addition, she said, reconfiguring the schools will only cause more crowding at the high schools.

But Cannings said that each high school would absorb an extra 200 to 400 students through new portable classrooms. She said the operating funds for the school will come from the Average Daily Attendance allowance on which funding for each school is calculated.

From a pool of onetime funds received from the state earlier this year, the board agreed to spend $100,000 for technology for the new school, Cannings said.

Supt. Mary Beth Wolford said funds were not being taken from other programs, though that would certainly be up to the school board's discretion. "If that were the case," she said, "we would have to be sending out layoff notices to teachers by March 1. And we're not doing that."

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