So many honors come to Millikan Middle School that school Principal John Plevack says he’s started a log to track it all.
“Good things happen, and then it falls off the radar,” Plevack said.
A recent tally of “good things” includes an upcoming visit to the campus Oct. 24 by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; a Skype appearance on CNN International by Millikan instructor Mark Dohn commenting on the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs and Apple’s impact on education: (http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2011/10/06/bs-dohn-apple-education.cnn?iref=allsearch); a $5,000 grant from the Intel Foundation for its innovative math and science programs, and science teacher Carlos Lauchu being named one of 14 Teachers of the Year by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
It’s all befitting the three-year, School to Watch designation that Millikan earned this year, its third since 2005. The national nonprofit, whose California arm includes California’s Department of Education and other teaching organizations, named only 32 schools out of more than 9,900 public schools statewide to the list.
Although school district cutbacks forced Millikan to let go a half-dozen newer teachers and reshuffle most of the clerical staff, the school is moving forward with a $600,000 update of its outdated, multipurpose assembly room, which doubles as the performing arts theater.
Plevack, who came to the school as principal in 2009, credits Millikan’s success to Dr. Norm Isaacs. A past principal, Dr. Isaacs established Millikan as a performing arts magnet school, one of only three such middle schools among LAUSD’s 1,092 schools. Isaacs also helped establish four academies: performing arts, science, math and civics.
Students from outside Millikan’s boundaries who have high academic achievement or test scores can attend the magnet school or the academies under a competitive application process, Plevack said. About 400 of Millikan’s 2,200 students are enrolled in the magnet school and 800 in the academies. Both help focus the direction of student learning, Plevack said, with special programs within those subject areas.
For example, Millikan has four dance studios equipped with mirrors, ballet barres and wooden floors for performing arts students to take dance classes in lieu of traditional PE. Its four computer labs with 40 computers each help with English, computer science, math and science studies. Plus, civics academy students undertake projects like fundraising for chairs for a nearby library or getting city crews to restripe a nearby street to help ease traffic problems.
It’s that special focus that drew Brigette Riedel to enroll her son in the math academy. On a recent Friday morning, Riedel sat at a desk near the school entrance, signing in campus visitors and answering questions, her typical Friday volunteer task.
“I really like the idea of the academies,” Riedel said. “It’s like a school within a school. Millikan is a big school and I worried about [my son] getting lost in the masses because that’s what happened to me when I was in school.”
Parent volunteers help maintain Millikan’s accomplishments by performing essential tasks, Plevack said. In addition, while many public schools struggle to create a PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association), Millikan has an active group that raised $3,500 to fund the school website and is now raising money to help keep a school nurse on campus five days a week.
Millikan’s 80 instructors also keep the school moving forward, the principal said. Some have begun creating a film academy, a performing arts academy offshoot, while science and math instructors are moving ahead with robotics.
Ultimately, though, it’s students who make a major difference for Millikan, Plevack said.
“We’ve got really good kids and their motivation is very important,” he said. “For a lot of kids, it’s not an accident that they’re at this school.”
Robert A. Millikan Middle School and Performing Arts Magnet (lausd.k12.ca.us/Millikan_MS), 5041 Sunnyslope Ave., Sherman Oaks.