Imagining a different kind of school


The state of education in California is often criticized. But imagine that our own school district would take a bold step and create a school like no other. Imagine that school would focus its curriculum on the high tech future that has made California great. Imagine that they would pull in teaching talent from local tech industries that could teach the students real-world problem solving facing corporate thinkers. Imagine that the students would be held accountable to a high standard of conduct, and that they would have a business attire dress code, rather than being allowed to dress like participants in a rap video. Imagine that the graduating students would have skills that immediately qualify them for high paying jobs.
The school would undoubtedly win state and national education awards. And to top it off, let’s not name it after some dead president or school board lifer, but after a real local hero who achieved greatness right here in the Crescenta Valley.
Imagine no further – it already happened!
For over a decade we’ve had this dream school right under our noses. Anderson W. Clark Magnet High School – “With Emphasis on Science & Technology” (says so right on the side of the building!) is located up near the top of New York Avenue in the old Clark Junior High campus.
Clark Junior High was closed for many years, but was reopened as Clark Magnet in 1998 after a 15 million dollar upgrade. Partnering with the school district are tech firms such as JPL, Compaq Computers, Cisco Systems, Raytheon, and NASA which, besides financial and technological help, also supply human talent. For instance, a scientist at JPL also teaches an engineering course at Clark in which the students are building an underwater robot.
Public-private partnerships like this are the norm at Clark, as is community outreach. A good example is the senior projects judging program. Each senior completes a significant project in their major, which is brought before a panel for presentation and judging, similar to what a candidate for a graduate degree in college might face. The judging panels are made up of a mix of local residents and industry experts. I have in the past, and will again this year, be a senior project judge for senior projects in computer animation, as I am a graphic artist by trade. They welcome volunteers, and if you’d like to be involved, call Clark’s office.
Getting back to my earlier imaginings, the students have a strict dress code that mirrors the large corporation I work for, and slacks and polo shirts are the norm. There is a minimum GPA required for admittance to Clark, and the students must maintain good behavior. The extended 1½ hour class times create meaningful learning sessions.
Spots in the school are in high demand, and applicants number twice the available spots. The total enrollment is just over one thousand, thus ensuring smaller class sizes, and individualized attention. The school is named for a local hero, the Rev. Andy Clark. I’ll tell his story next week.
But the beating heart and soul of this amazing operation is Principal Doug Dall. Dall runs this school like a business, constantly selling its benefits and collaborating with outside businesses and organizations. He’s a fireball of energy and he commands respect. He reminds me of managers I’ve had in the past, and though he’s my age and my neighbor, I still want to call him “Mister Dall”.
While our other local schools grab the headlines with heroin busts, Clark Magnet High wins awards for academic excellence. Clark is currently a National Blue Ribbon school (top 1% in the nation) and a California Distinguished School (top 5% in the state). Clark was also awarded the Title of “Exemplary Career Technical Education School” in 2006, one of 12 schools in the State at the time. This school is a showcase for what’s right with education and kids today, and it’s right in our own backyard.