For students at Newport-Mesa Unified School District, flexibility is the way of the future. In a drive to give to its students what it calls "21st century skills," the district has made a flexible high school redesign one of the centerpieces of its new five-year strategic plan. Frederick Navarro, Newport-Mesa's director of secondary curriculum and instruction, says the district is following trends in higher education toward satellite campuses, online opportunities and alternative class schedules.
College in high school: For the past five years, Newport-Mesa has run a Middle College High School on the campus of Orange Coast Community College.
Multi-tasking: High school juniors and seniors can complete their high school work while taking community college classes at the same time.
No bells in college: "They have a separate building by themselves. There are no bells and the school is run just like a college, except that the students have to complete their high school requirements in the morning. Then in the afternoon they can take any community college class they feel qualified to take," says Serene Stokes, president of Newport-Mesa's Board of Education.
Starting earlier: Building on the success of the Middle College program, Newport-Mesa has plans to start an Early College High School next year.
Credit where credit is due: Designed as a five-year program for lower achieving students, the Early College school will enroll ninth-grade students in the hopes that five years later the students will have achieved their high school diploma plus nearly a year of community college credit.
Online Intensity: After experimenting with online classes in the 2004-05 school year by adapting the Florida Virtual School program to California standards, the district expanded its online offerings this year with some assistance from California State University, Fullerton.
Going online: Using Blackboard software, students at three-quarters of Newport-Mesa's high schools now have the opportunity to enroll in online economics and government classes.
Moving faster: "The online kids work faster, get through the curriculum more rapidly and spend more time on modules," says Navarro. "They seem to be pretty intense students."
Better communication: Students in last year's online pilot program reported feeling as though they had more one-on-one interaction with the online instructor than in class.
More interest: That's good news since growing numbers of Newport-Mesa teachers are expressing interest in developing online classes in their subject areas, including foreign languages.
No limitations: Underlying all of the district's moves toward flexibility is a realization that not every student will excel in just one setting. Some students want a traditional high school with a band and a football team, so Newport-Mesa will continue to offer that option.
More progression: Other students are ready to take college classes and learn on a college campus, so Newport-Mesa will provide them with the ability to thrive in that environment.
All online: And some students who are not stimulated by the traditional classroom environment thrive when given the opportunity to learn online.
Acceleration: Kent Williams, who teaches an online economics class, says, "Students who did not excel in mainstream classrooms often excel on the Internet. There are kids who don't ask or won't answer questions in class, but feel comfortable working on the keyboard on the Internet or in group work. They are outstanding."
Aaron Dalton is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.