There’s no question that, by many measures, the California Academy of Mathematics and Science (CAMS) has a stellar record. Located on the campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), the academy boasts an API (academic performance index) score of 961. (The scores range from 200 to 1,000.) Principal Christopher Brown also emphasizes his students’ ability to move on to higher education. In an interview Tuesday, he said 98.8 percent of its seniors moved on to a four-year university last year. The remaining students went on to a community college.
He acknowledges that his high-school students are unique because of the academy’s ability to attract students who not only display an aptitude for tough subjects like math and science but also really love the school’s primary emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“When you have students who are interested in something and students who want to be pushed in a certain area,” Brown said, “you can really, really push them hard, and they do very well. They’re very successful.”
It’s a small school with only about 670 students over four grade levels.
“The key difference for us is that we’re focused,” Brown said. “We don’t try to be everything to everyone.”
The school must offer a general comprehensive education to its students that includes classes like English and history, and the principal acknowledges that the school’s small size and limited number of staff can become an issue when it comes to course offerings and providing schedules. He said the students may not be able to take every language or AP class that other bigger schools offer, however the school’s focus allows the students to take a class in robotics or aerospace engineering. Many students also take college-level classes taught by CSUDH professors.
It’s a program that limits the number of students due to its rigorous program and one that school-district officials now want to offer in east Long Beach. At the end of October, the Board of Education of the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) voted in favor of plans to eventually transform Hill Classical Middle School into a specialized high school that focuses on science and math.
The transition allows the current middle-school students to finish the 6th, 7th and 8th grades at Hill. Christopher Steinhauser, who serves as the superintendent of Schools, said in a report to the Board that Hill Classical Middle School had declining enrollment.
Steinhauser described how CAMS has hundreds of prospective school applicants who must be turned away because the school can only accept about 175 students every year.
“We have literally hundreds of students who would love to go to that school that can’t because there’s no space,” Steinhauser told the Board.
The new high school that will eventually take over the site located at 1100 Iroquois Ave. is in a key location in Long Beach. It’s very close to California State University, Long Beach.
Peter Davis, who serves as the assistant superintendent of secondary schools, described how the new specialized high school in Long Beach will emulate the CAMS model which partners with CSUDH.
“The idea is that their curriculums and offerings will be close to the same as possible,” Davis said in a telephone interview last week.
The new campus should not affect any of the operations of the original CAMS program. Brown said that he hoped that the new school will also be “progressive.”
“One of the things with thematic high schools that I see is that you’ve got to be constantly looking at, ‘What are we preparing our students for?’” Brown said. “I think STEM is a good one for us because a lot of the future careers are going to be in science, technology, engineering and math. To just replicate CAMS because it’s worked, I think, would be a mistake.” He explained that it would be better to replicate the parts of CAMS that do work and also look to prepare kids for what may come 10 years from now.
While the curriculums may be very similar, the new high school in east Long Beach may eventually offer one distinct advantage over the original CAMS, which is located in the city of Carson. Davis said that while it is an LBUSD school, CAMS has students representing 10 school districts. He explained that this new school will also be an LBUSD school, but the majority of the students will be Long Beach residents. There will, however, still be some spots available in this new school for students who don’t live in the LBUSD.
The District’s Board of Education unanimously approved the proposal. Board Member Felton Williams, seemed enthusiastic about the change. He is a former administrator of CAMS, and he had fond memories of his days at the academy, where he saw students flourish on its campus.
“We now see that these kids that come from all over the city really ‘gel’ together as a unique group,” Williams said. He described their distinct advantage of being on a college campus.
“They see college kids there who want to be there,” Williams said. “They see college kids doing homework…that environment becomes very rich in terms of what transpires [there].”
Several people who appeared before the Board’s October meeting expressed concerns and opposition to the District proposal to eventually close down Hill Middle School.
Hill teacher Heather Valdespino particularly opposed the plan, arguing that a cap last year on the enrollment number of 6th-graders was responsible for the declining numbers at Hill.
“As a former CAMS student…I do love the model of CAMS,” she said at the Board of Education meeting, “And I was very proud to be a student there, and I believe that’s why I’m here today. But CAMS never had to shut down schools in order for it to exist.”
The District has closed a few schools in the last several years, and the union representing the teachers already has contracts in place that deal with displacement. Virginia Torres, who serves as the president of the Teachers Association of Long Beach, says that the union is prepared to assist teachers through the process.
“Closing a school is never a good thing,” Torres said in a Wednesday phone interview. “But we’ve had some changes in some of the Long Beach schools over the last several years. One thing that is solid and in writing is the contracts, which is good for our members.”
Torres added that credentials, as well as seniority in the district, will be considered.
The proposal for a new CAMS-like school includes facelift changes recommended to transform the campus on Iroquois Avenue. The gym will come down, and two new classrooms will be added, according to Steinhauser. There will also be new parking spaces. Measure K funds will pay for the project, which is estimated to cost about $6.5 million.