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New Rancho Santa Fe School principal proposes changes

By Karen Billing

R. Roger Rowe Middle School Principal Garrett Corduan has been a great addition to campus in his first year, according to district superintendent Lindy Delaney.  The new leader also brings with him several new ideas to improve the middle school experience moving forward.

Corduan presented his new ideas to the Rancho Santa Fe School board on April 3, including changes to the student council election process, more enrichment classes and a new sixth grade camp destination, possibly extending the camp to include seventh and eighth graders as well.

One of his first changes that will be implemented next month involves moving the student council elections from fall to spring. Traditionally, elections are held in September which means students don’t get into action until October. By holding elections for the following school year in May, he said students will be able to hit the ground running in August.

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“There is a need to get rolling quickly in August because we have plenty of work to do,” Corduan said.

Delaney said the idea has been something she’s talked about in the past. “I think it will be a great year to try it,” she said.

Corduan said with officers already in place in the fall, they can begin the school year off building community and school spirit, planning activities and handling morning announcements. He would also like the council to attend the Disneyland Leadership Conference in September.

“It’s just a really great, rigorous morning for those students,” Corduan said of Disneyland’s program. “The modules they attend are pretty outstanding.”

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With the changes, Corduan will also make student council a year-long enrichment class offered three times a week, making it a more meaningful commitment than its current meetings at lunchtime.

Campaigns will begin on May 12 and rather than present speeches in a school-wide assembly, students will record their speeches to be presented to the various classrooms. The candidates’ videos will be presented and then students will vote that day in their classroom.

One of the changes Corduan will implement for the 2014-15 school year involves the enrichment schedule and offerings.

Middle schoolers have electives year-long and their enrichment courses change every semester. The enrichment block is an hour in the middle of the day, three times a week.

New next year, student council, choir and the Continue Math 180 (math intervention) will be year-long enrichment classes. Dance and foreign language would be moved into trimester enrichment offerings.

Dance is currently only offered during PE, but Corduan would like to make it an enrichment course to promote higher participation and build a stronger dance program.

For foreign language, Corduan would like to partner with local company Lingua Natal. For about $5,000 a year, Lingua Natal would provide an introductory course with a language teacher; a credentialed teacher from the Rowe staff would monitor the course. Lingua Natal gives the school the option to add another language besides Spanish, chosen by the interest level of students.

Enrichment courses would be offered in three categories and students would be required to choose from each category: Science and technology, humanities, and visual and performing arts. Corduan said this method allows students to get a more balanced, well-rounded experience — rather than just selecting courses in one category, for example, enrichment rocketry, dragsters and robotics, they would select from three categories, such as rocketry, ibook authoring and stop motion animation.

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School board member Tyler Seltzer requested they make sure the offerings are broad, so a student who didn’t like art or couldn’t sing would not be forced to take only choir or art.

Corduan said they will create a way to choose, for example, a science-integrated path through arts and humanities for students who are more science-minded, as well as creating different levels to the courses so sixth grade rocketry is different than eighth grade rocketry, and students are able to progress over several years if they desire.

In the fall, Corduan said he hopes the entire middle school will take part in a camp experience.

Corduan would like sixth grade through eighth grade students to attend Pali Institute in Big Bear, a week-long camp that offers learning in outdoor education, science and leadership.

Corduan has reserved camp for Oct. 27-31 this fall.  The week will conflict with Red Ribbon Week and the Halloween Carnival, although Delaney said typically seventh and eighth graders don’t attend the carnival and only about half of sixth graders do.

“It is the camp of all camps,” said Corduan, who attended the Pali Institute with a group of 200 sixth graders last year. “It was an amazing experience, the kids had a wonderful time. The courses they went through were extensive and rigorous, they are constantly learning and working to learn, and I saw the kids create a special bond.”

Students stay in cabins and work with highly qualified counselors and teachers in a customized curriculum. For older campers, activities include high ropes courses and a 700-foot zip line.

Currently, sixth grade attends Camp Marsten which Corduan said is a good camp but he believes the rigor and connections built between students at the Pali Institute creates a better overall experience.

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There is a difference in cost: Camp Marsten is $300 a week for parents and Pali would be $470. The camp provides one scholarship per 25 students and the school would have approximately eight to 10 scholarships to assist families. They could also fundraise to support more students.

School board member Todd Buchner voiced concerns about the cost and said he thought half of the middle school would need help with the fee.

Delaney said there would be the option to opt out of camp and school would still be held for those students. This year, 15 students elected not to go to Camp Marsten.

While the board agreed that Corduan should reserve the week for sixth grade students, they would look into sending seventh and eighth grade students by surveying those parents in the coming weeks.


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