February 19, 2013

As opening looms, principal gets ready

There are times when there are more things to do than there are hours in the day, Anthony Johnson believes.

Johnson is the principal of El Capitan High School, which will open Aug. 19 to about 750 freshmen and sophomore students. The $90 million campus on North G Street near Bellevue Road is 82 percent complete, with construction to be finished in mid-June.

"There are so many details," Johnson said. "Busy would be the word. Everybody has been supportive in making sure the campus is being done correctly. When I talk to parents with high expectations or students excited about going to the school, it motivates me and gives me a second wind."

Eighty-five percent of the El Capitan High staff has been hired, Johnson said. After student registration, coaches and a few more teachers will be hired.

The school will have about 25 teachers and eight to 10 support staff members. There will be a seven-period day with electives and career-technical education courses offered.

Christy Lobao, currently an assistant principal at Golden Valley High School, will be the new assistant principal at El Capitan. Lou Souza, a longtime coach at Merced High School, will be athletic director, and Enrriqueta Flores will be Johnson's administrative assistant.

"We have a great team," Johnson said, "a mix of great instructors and awesome coaches. It's been really fun. We're committed to giving the community the school they deserve."

The most difficult thing in planning a new school? Johnson said transitioning to a 21st century learning environment has been toughest, as well as collectively changing mindsets on what future education should be like and how it should work.

El Capitan High won't have textbooks. All students will have electronic devices. For the most part El Capitan teachers will use the digital textbook version of state-adopted curriculum. There will be no lockers.

Lobao said she is very honored to have been chosen for the assistant principal role and said there are many great possibilities.

People hired so far or those expressing interest in working at El Capitan are very intelligent, progressive and enthusiastic about what lies ahead, she said.

"These people are on the cutting edge of education," Lobao said. "We can use so many instructional resources that will be beneficial to students."

Lobao said planning of curriculum is going well and El Capitan is far ahead of any other schools at this stage in the planning process.

For the last couple months, Johnson has been holding "coffee with a principal" sessions at local coffee shops. He estimates he has met with 60 parents and their children in the 7 a.m. weekly sessions, and the parents have given wonderful suggestions and ideas for the new campus.

El Capitan High is drawing upon students who have attended Tenaya and Cruickshank middle schools. Its general boundaries are north of Yosemite Avenue to Snelling and east of Highway 59.

Johnson stressed that El Capitan will get all its athletics programs in its first year. Juniors will be added to the campus in fall 2014, and seniors the following year. The school will have three baseball fields, three softball fields, two football fields, two soccer fields and eight tennis courts.

An Aug. 13 grand opening ceremony is being considered, but the exact time has yet to be determined. When the contractors are finished, tours will be offered in June.

Johnson said they are ordering furniture and equipment, and planning professional development for teachers covering subjects such as organizing digital curriculum, enhancing education using technology, and refining the assessment procedure.

Student and parent steering committees will be formed Feb. 25, designing ribbon-cutting activities, athletics, student incentives, student and parental involvement, and the school's leadership team meets frequently. Teacher leaders are visiting schools with a digital initiative to identify best practices, Johnson said.

He expects a team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges to pay an accreditation visit to the new campus in September or October.

"We are in the process of continuing to build the El Cap website and we have an active Twitter account where parents can get up-to-date information as it becomes available," Johnson said. There are about 40 Twitter followers so far.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at

(209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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