Northridge Academy High School-CSUN Partnership
By Dr. Bonnie Ericson, Department of Secondary Education, University Liaison to Northridge Academy High School
A Bit of Background
The idea for the Northridge Academy High School (NAHS)-CSUN partnership originated about fifteen years ago in discussions among a previous LAUSD area superintendent, a San Fernando Valley LAUSD school board member, and a CSUN provost. They believed that a new high school could alleviate overcrowding of several area high schools, while offering learning opportunities for students and faculty at both institutions. The dream began taking shape: in 2002, a Memorandum of Understanding between the school district and university was signed and ground was broken for construction of the school. Valley High School #1 then opened in the fall of 2004, with approximately 600 9th and 10th grade students—after two weeks of summer planning with the newly identified high school teachers and a group of interested CSUN faculty. Today the school enrolls almost 1,100 students in grades 9-12, under the leadership of principal Nidia Castro and assistant principal Thalia Diamantopoulos.
NAHS-CSUN Partnership Activities
Each year, the partnership has seen changes and challenges, and each year has seen worthy accomplishments. A few of the many partnership activities are described below.
CSUN Fieldwork Experiences
NAHS and CSUN are committed to working together to prepare outstanding education professionals. Student teachers in English, mathematics, social studies, science, art, and physical education are regularly assigned to NAHS placements. Similarly, undergraduates in the English and mathematics subject matter BA programs and the undergraduate BA-Credential Four-Year Integrated Single-Subject Credential Program and Junior-Year Entry Integrated Single-Subject Credential Program complete participation-observation experiences in NAHS classrooms, and school counseling interns have also been placed at NAHS. As a result of the partnership, the Single-Subject Credential Program has a core of exceptional cooperating teachers who provide outstanding coaching to student teachers.
These cooperating teachers have reported that they learn new methods from their student teachers, that they benefit from articulating best practices, and that the NAHS students benefit from the attention of two teachers in the classroom.
CSUN's Oviatt Library
All 9th grade NAHS students visit Oviatt Library, where CSUN librarians demonstrate how to use the databases and do research; upper-grade students then complete research projects in their social sciences and English classes using Oviatt Library resources. NAHS students thus have opportunities to develop and practice important research skills that prepare them for their futures.
Sandra DaLie, NAHS English Teacher and Instructional Coach, with 9th grade NAHS students at CSUN's Oviatt Library
CSUN Arts Experiences
Under the leadership of Anthony Cantrell, the Education Director for the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC), all 9th grade students from NAHS attend a music, dance, or theatrical performance at VPAC. Upper-level classes also have opportunities to attend performances at CSUN that are aligned with their curricula. Before students attend a performance, Mr. Cantrell visits NAHS classes to provide background information and activities, and he often brings an actor, musician, or dancer with him to further engage the students. He has also offered his expertise to English teacher Niru Parmar for the Shakespeare Festival she organizes each year. Art teacher Rene Shufelt regularly takes her students to the CSUN Art Gallery. Many NAHS students have not previously had opportunities to experience such arts performances or exhibits.
NAHS English Learners Program
Several years ago, eight NAHS teachers attended a weeklong summer program on English Learners and Literacy offered by the Cal State Northridge Writing Project. With this information and recognizing the need for stronger EL support at the school, the English Learner Program was developed at NAHS with cohorted 9th grade classes of double-block math and English students taught by Jeanie Mortensen and Sandra DaLie. Now in its third year, new 9th grade cohorts have started each fall, and some cohorted scheduling has extended to sophomore and junior year classes. The Program has seen clear success in reclassification of ELs and test scores, and all but one student from the first cohort is on track to graduate next year.
Challenges and Assets
Recent years have been difficult in schools. LAUSD budget cutbacks led to the loss of an administrative position and small learning academy leadership funding at NAHS, as well as increased class sizes and the transfer of several outstanding teachers with less seniority. Still, NAHS educators continue to support and advocate for the partnership. Another asset for the partnership has been the CSUN administrative and resource support. There is funding for a university liaison as well as facilitators from three CSUN colleges—Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication, Michael D. Eisner College of Education, and College of Health and Human Development. The NAHS-CSUN Education Advisory Board meets monthly and, importantly, includes several members in positions of administrative authority at CSUN and LAUSD. An annual workshop brings together CSUN and NAHS partners to strengthen communication and connections. Above all, teachers and staff at both institutions continue to dedicate themselves to making the vision of the partnership a reality.