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Kids, School Dream of College

State's superintendent of public instruction visits a special Camarillo campus that hopes to go to Cal State Channel Islands.

October 04, 2003|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Talk about a grass-roots effort.

After years of working to create Ventura County's first four-year public university, state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell turned up at a Camarillo charter school Friday to look in on students preparing for the college experience.

O'Connell made his first visit to the University Preparation School, a learning laboratory launched last year in partnership with nearby Cal State Channel Islands. O'Connell was instrumental in establishing the university campus during two decades in the Legislature.

Now, as the state's top educator, he said he was anxious to see the fledgling charter school fulfill its mission to relocate onto the university campus as soon as possible.

"That would tie a ribbon around the entire package," said O'Connell, who won the statewide office in November. "I'm very impressed by what is taking place here and look forward to the day when this school will be a cornerstone of the university."

Roaming the classrooms and corridors Friday, accompanied by a quartet of student ambassadors, O'Connell saw an elementary school unlike most others in the state.

It is a place where nearly 400 youngsters, drawn from around the county, are divided not by grade level but by age group, a system said to foster better learning. It is a school that has set out to become a leader in professional development and teacher training, a campus where staff members get an hour a day, four days a week, just to work together to solve problems and sharpen curriculum.

"I think he got a snapshot of the wonderful things that are going on here," said Jeanne Adams, founder and developer of the charter school. "We are hoping with some of the innovative things we feel we have the freedom to attempt, that we will become a resource for educators throughout the county and the state."

The school also provides a rare educational environment in which youngsters routinely receive dual-language instruction and specialized lessons in music, art and drama.

"I like this school. It has a lot of things other schools don't have," said fourth-grader Cheyenne Durocher, one of the four student ambassadors who greeted O'Connell and received a high-five from the superintendent.

The school's relationship with the university is mutually beneficial.

Twenty prospective teachers at Cal State Channel Islands are doing their student teaching at the charter school. And charter school youngsters regularly visit the university campus, including an event last month when University Preparation students took center stage during the grand opening of Channel Islands' science building.

"We take every opportunity to connect them with the [Channel Islands] campus, because we do want them never to doubt that they are going to a university and that is the university we have in mind," Adams said.

She said the next step was to make that connection permanent by relocating the school onto the university campus.

Plans are in the works to launch a $15-million capital campaign to build a two-story, K-8 school on a 10-acre site already designated at Channel Islands.

Officials hope to open the school in the fall of 2007.

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