LMAAC Working Group From Left: Ginger Radenheimer, Beth Thomas, Mark Arapostathis and Jon Hayman.

New Performing Arts Magnet Approved

LA MESA -- La Mesa just picked up a new acronym. It is LMAAC.
The La Mesa-Spring Valley School District Board of Education Tuesday listened to a pitch from a team of teachers and administrators and agreed to go forward with establishing a new arts magnet school to be located at La Mesa Middle School.
The La Mesa Arts Academy -- LMAAC, as it is to be known -- would open in August of 2014 with about 300 students mixing traditional and arts-based classes.
The board also voted to direct Superintendent Brian Marshall to form a separate task force to study alternative educational approaches that might be applied to the district's other schools.
The board made it clear it was taking these steps to help the district's schools continue to compete for students in an increasingly competitive educational environment.
"Let's be clear that's why we are doing this,'' Board member Emma Turner said after the unanimous vote.

The board had heard a 20 minute pitch from a team of four teachers and administrators who had been tasked to consider establishing an arts based magnet school in the district. That committee included a principal, Beth Thomas, and Mark Arapostathis, a second-grade teacher, who, for more than three decades, has helped lead the independent Peter Pan Jr. Theater and C-Hook Theater, which has been an unofficial standard-bearer for arts education in La Mesa.

Arapostathis, who is also a La Mesa City Council member, led the board through a vision in which students from grades four through eight attend a "school within a school" located on the campus of what is now La Mesa Middle School. Students would study the state mandated core subjects while mixing in a variety of arts-based electives, including visual, performing, industrial and culinary arts.

The LMAAC Team -- they already have a logo designed with that acronym -- has been meeting with community arts and business leaders as well as the educational leaders of Helix Charter High and Grossmont College in gauging how an arts-based curriculum could be sustained and linked to other local institutions.

Arapostathis pointed to what he said were "synergies" with the new performing arts center at Helix Charter High nearby and the culinary program at Grossmont College as well as the $9-million Boys and Girls Club which is being planned also for the La Mesa Middle School campus.

"This could change the face of West La Mesa,'' Arapostathis said of all these new initiatives focusing in on what has been a struggling part of La Mesa closest to the San Diego city line.

This new magnet school, located so close to City of San Diego neighborhoods, might, in fact, attract applicants from those city neighborhoods. That would not be an unwanted phenomenon in a time when district's are competing with home schoolers, charter schools and religious and private schools to keep students and the state funding that comes with them.

The La Mesa-Spring Valley Board's vote Tuesday changed the LMAAC team from a working group to a managing group, essentially putting them in place to expand their team and start the detailed planning for classes and admission processes.

Marshall directed the LMAAC Team to report back with a more detailed plan by late September with the intention of bringing final details to the board by November and to begin recruiting students to the new program in January of 2014 with the programs beginning operation in August of that year.

Board member Bill Baber, a long-time advocate for this sort of initiative, made the motion to move ahead with LMAAC, but described it as just the first step in a longer process of re-imagining the district's schools.

Baber said the state's improving economy and the hope that Proposition 30 will bring more funding to education, give the board hope that it can execute changes like the one's proposed for the LMAAC program.

Baber said the flexibility and energies of the school staffs will be key in meeting all the state mandates of the core curriculum while finding innovative ways to inject these visual and performing arts elements.

After what felt like an historic vote of the board -- which came with applause from a large audience -- the architects of the LMAAC project so far were already busy in the lobby discussing "next steps.'' There was talk of special uniforms for this school and an earlier starting time to create a separate sense of identity within the "school within a school.'' There are a total of about 650 students at La Mesa Middle, but LMAAC students would represent under half of that number.

Those and many other details will be worked on between now and the next LMAAC report in late September.

 In other business at last night's meeting, the board listened to the annual presentation of an award Recognizing Outstanding Service To Education. This year's recipient was Lori Ferrigno (holding plaque in photo below).





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