Saturday, May 08, 2010


By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | Daily News (from Contra Costa Times)

Mauricio Regalado is one of the new breed of teachers at Sylmar High School. A group of teachers and their students at Sylmar High School are fostering a new way of learning that is separate from the traditional high school campus. The new course of study is called Humanitas. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

8 May 2010 -- SYLMAR — Energized by recent reforms at Los Angeles Unified, a group of teachers at Sylmar High School want to create their own school for teens in this working-class neighborhood.

The proposed Humanitas Academy would start on the campus of Sylmar High this fall, but if all goes well, it would move to its own location by the start of the 2011-12 school year.

The academy plans to have 17 teachers and room for about 500 9th-12th-graders.

Today, the teachers will explain their plans at a town hall meeting with parents, students and community members at Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar.

Mario Ceballos takes a test in Mr. Navarro's class. A group of teachers and their students at Sylmar High School are fostering a new way of learning that is separate from the traditional high school campus. The new course of study is called Humanitas. Sylmar, CA 5/05/2010. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

"We want to give parents and our community a school that we would all be proud to send our own kids to," said Mauricio Regalado, a Sylmar High math teacher who is leading the charge for the new school along with history teacher Jose Navarro.

Both men have taught at the school for at least a decade. Regalado was named Mexican-American teacher of the year in 2008 and Navarro was named California Teacher of the Year in 2009.

They say Humanitas Academy will give students one-on-one mentoring, daily targeted intervention and college and career counseling.

The school will also operate under the district's humanities model, which connects all subjects under one central theme. For example, students studying the 1920s would read about the Roaring `20s in history, study "The Great Gatsby" in English and learn about the Harlem Renaissance in art.

A few years ago, LAUSD teachers hoping to create their own school would have had to open an independent charter school or private school.

But over the past year, under pressure to improve academic standards and boost graduation rates, LAUSD officials have begun approving reform plans that empowered educators to operate district schools.

The plans are especially encouraged when they are designed to improve student achievement at schools that have been failing for years.

Sylmar High has been labeled a low-performing school, based on state and federal scores and benchmarks, for the past 12 years. In 2009 only half of the school's students graduated in four years.

After Sylmar's teachers proposed launching a new small school geared toward turning around these dismal statistics, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines approved the plans for the Humanitas Academy this year.

Teachers have control

While the school won't have its own budget this year, its teachers will be able to hire their own staff and create their own curriculum and schedule.

By next year, Regalado and Navarro hope to make Humanitas Academy a fully independent "pilot" school - free of many district rules and run by teachers and administrators - and permanently house it on the site of a new LAUSD campus set to open in fall 2011 in the city of San Fernando.

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines approved the academy's trial run in February. They are one of several groups of teachers proposing to open and run small schools.

The group has already received strong support from LAUSD school board member Nury Martinez, representing the east portion of the San Fernando Valley.

"These are amazing, elegant teachers who know their students and put a lot of personal time to ensure that they meet their needs," Martinez said.

Naturally, the idea of two schools operating on a single campus has created some misgivings among staff. Sylmar Principal Jan Lyons said some staff were concerned about how housing a second school at Sylmar would impact already scarce resources.

Over the past few weeks, however, Lyons said tensions over the plan have subsided, and while she admits that she's not thrilled with losing the teachers, she is excited to see them pursue their vision.

`Attack the common enemy'

Navarro said the idea of the school emerged from casual conversations with colleagues.

"We were thinking about how to attack the common enemy: the achievement gap," Navarro said, referring to the lower student performance low-income and minority students often have in comparison to white and Asian peers.

"No matter how good a teacher I am, I cannot impact all of my 250 students," Navarro said.

"But a team of teachers, working together towards the same goal and moving in the same direction ... we can do better and eventually close the achievement gap."

But before that happens they'll have to get through the next school year.

Teachers are busy right now finalizing curriculum decisions, recruiting students and making last-minute hires. The academy is still looking for three teachers, for chemistry, physics and math.

"The only requirement is they be revolutionaries," Regalado said. "We don't need teachers ... we need revolutionaries."

Want to go?

What: Organizers of the proposed Humanitas Academy on the campus of Sylmar High are hosting a town hall meeting tonight to discuss their plans.

When: Saturday night at 6.

Where: Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural and Bookstore

13197-A Gladstone Ave. Sylmar, CA 91342

For more information, go to


13197 - A Gladstone Ave. Sylmar, CA

Teacher panel to include:

Jose L. Navarro  - Co-lead teacher, 2009 CA Teacher of the Year, National Board Certified Teacher

Mauricio Regalado - Co-lead teacher, 2008 Mexican American Teacher of the Year

Jeff Austin - National Board Certified Teacher

Pablo Olivares - 2009 Mexican American Teacher of the Year

Samantha Siegeler -Masters Degree- Teacher Leadership Urban Education

Saturday May 8, 2010 at 6:00 p.m.

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