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District looking into specialized courses

Newport-Mesa quizzes students on what subjects interest them the most as it aims toward an unusual elementary-to-graduation path of study.

April 12, 2013|By Jeremiah Dobruck

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District is a step closer to creating flagship programs under which students could specialize in a subject from elementary school to graduation.

School officials recently completed a far-reaching survey asking students and parents what specialized paths they would like to see.

Broadly, Costa Mesa schools want more technical education and Newport Beach campuses see a need for more life skills, according to the data released Tuesday in a 98-page report.

Since November, school officials convened in-person meetings and amassed online responses, ultimately hearing from 1,652 students and parents in the 21,000-student district.

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The survey grew from an idea to create flagship subjects that could in essence turn a student's education into a 12-year magnet program.

Each of the four school zones in Newport-Mesa would have a different specialization for students to follow through their educational careers. District officials would have to figure out how enrollment would work and whether students in one zone could participate in the offerings of another zone.

During 33 meetings at Newport-Mesa campuses and an online survey, district employees tested the waters, asking what subjects each zone wants.

"We went to each school. We found each one to be a little different than one another," said Jane Garland, district director of community services and support.

But the data showed some trends districtwide. The highest demand overall was for math and science fields. Twenty-one percent of respondents asked for a focus in one of three categories related to science, technology, engineering or math.

"Together [they] were overwhelming," Garland said.

The intent of the survey, though, was to focus on the district's four schools zones. Each one — Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Estancia and Newport Harbor — shares a name with the high school it surrounds. By gauging interest from students and parents, administrators hope to distill two subjects each zone would claim as flagships.

At Costa Mesa schools, the science, technology, engineering and math focus held strong, gaining support of 21% of respondents in that zone. Close behind was theater, music or dance, which 19% of respondents requested. Life skills and sports came in third and fourth.

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