Hands-on visit for top education chief

By ESTHER AVILA eavila@portervillerecorder.com
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson visits HMA
STRATHMORE — Impressive. An A-plus accommodation. Talented students and great instructors. That from Tom Torlakson, California’s State Superintendent of Instruction, who had nothing but nice things to say about Harmony Magnet Academy (HMA) following a visit to the school Friday.
Torlakson toured several classrooms at HMA, which has approximately 500 students in two academies — the Academy of Engineering (AOE) and the Academy of Performing Arts (APA).
Leading Torlakson on the tour were Vivianna Gomez and Fred Alcantar.
Stops along the way included visits to a musical theater, and piano, chemistry, French, computerized integrated manufacturing, algebra and engineering classes.
In computerized integrated manufacturing, Torlakson looked at several of the students’ ongoing projects.
“Interesting things you can buy,” he said as he examined several items, including what looked like a pot with a special lid that keeps hot grease from splashing out. He praised the students’ work. “It’s problem-solving, critical-thinking process.”
In another class, Torlakson took part in aiming and shooting a suction dart using a student-built projectile project toward a target, before heading back to the school library for some final comments.
Gomez, a senior in AOE, and Alcantar said they were honored to have the privilege of showing Torlakson around campus.
“They were fantastic tour guides,” Torlakson said.
Torlakson visited the school to meet with students, school administrators and community partners showcasing the career technical education program. He praised the administration, Tulare County Superintendent Jim Vidak and the HMA students.
“They are learning with a purpose and connecting to the real world. It fits right in with Common Core,” Torlakson said. “You’re a ray of hope. I look at the future and you’re really it — right here.”
The state superintendent said he was thrilled with the number of applications and the number of grants awarded under California’s $250 million Career Pathways Trust program — one designed to keep students in a hands-on learning experience.
“It was one of the biggest given out,” he said, referring to the number of grants before returning to talking about the consortium award. “I believe this collaboration will be one of the best in the state — a shining example.”
Porterville Unified is the lead district which received the grant to spread Linked Learning Pathways throughout Tulare and Kings counties.
Torlakson, who said he once lived in a small town similar to Strathmore, praised both academies.
“The Academy of Engineering shows the integration of math, science, civics, through the aid of technology,” Torlakson said, and praised the performing arts academy’s modern equipment. “I’ve been to schools where music and drama programs have been cut. You have a fabulous piano bar.”
He mentioned his own family’s involvement with the arts and music, and asked about the district’s history.
“Harmony Magnet Academy, you’re right at the very top,” Torlakson said to the students, administrators and others who gathered following the classroom visits.
He talked about Linked Learning being the way of the future, of the success of Pathway academies and increased graduation rates, and he announced that another $250 million for Career Pathways has been inserted in pending legislation.
“That’s half a billion dollars invested in these programs,” he said.
He talked about teamwork at school, in the workplace and in the global economy, and ended by accepting a few gifts — a polo shirt, drinking glass and a wooden-carving of the State of California — from the students.
“It’s quite an honor for Harmony to be able to host this event,” HMA Principal Jeff Brown said. “When the state superintendent comes to your site to see your program, it’s exciting for the students and a morale booster for faculty because they see the importance of their work.”
Contact Reporter Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.
8/25 Correction: Story reflects correction. Vivianna Gomez is a senior in the Academy of Engineering at Harmony Magnet Academy.