The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District school board adopted a new English department course at its meeting Thursday, May 17th, for Santa Monica High School, called California Literature English 12 (P). Classes will start in the fall.

The course, created in consultation with Professor Blake Almendinger of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), will follow two major perspectives about California that have evolved throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, said district superintendent Dianne Talarico.

One of those perspectives focuses on California as a “tropical paradise, the end point of Manifest DestinyÖ where people reinvent themselves.” The other views California “as a dystopia, a site of earthquakesÖ environmental pollutionÖ poor public educationÖ popular fads,” according to a sample course syllabus.

These contrasting views will be examined primarily in the field of literature, but also in other areas, including history, geography, art, advertising and film.

Students will analyze regional works of literature, write “intensively,” and will also read articles from The Los Angeles Times, specifically from the “California” section, according to the sample syllabus.

At the meeting, board member Jose Escarce said he thought the class looked “terrific,” but was surprised to see a new English course coming before the board for approval, particularly at this point, when there have been recent discussions and concerns about “some very small class sections at Santa Monica High School,” he said.

Escarce pointed out that the high school already has many 12th grade English elective classes.

“I don’t know what the implications are for the offering of this course,” Escarce said. “I’m concerned about the impact of approving this new elective on section sizes at a time when we have actually talked about really small sections being a problem because what happens then is our core courses end up having larger class sizes. I would like some explanation of that.”

Board president Kathy Wisnicki echoed Escarce’s concerns but said she was confident staff would be cautious with this matter.

Chiung-Sally Chou, the district’s chief academic officer, said there had been a specific interest in this particular class and that the number of sections of the course offered would definitely depend on the enrollment.

“We will have to trust the school and let them figure out their master schedule,” Chou said.

Talarico said she was happy for Escarce’s questions and concerns on small class sections at Santa Monica High School.

“It’s an excellent question for you to be asking us,” Talarico said. “I think we need to talk to our high school principals. It’s an important caution for you to bring to the table.”

School board vice president Oscar de la Torre said he heard the concerns, thought they were valid and would pay attention to them.

“On the other side, I’m balancing the opportunity that this course provides,” he said, as he liked the idea of diversifying the English courses at the high school. “I appreciate the focus on California history. I appreciate the initiative that this faculty member has taken to develop this type of course. I’m very sensitive to that and support this type of initiative.

“Any time that we can diversify the curriculum, I think it’s a very positive step to take, so I’m very supportive of this.”

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