The Education Innovator #27
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 July 18, 2005 • Number 27
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What's inside...
Sunnyside High School Doctors Academy, Fresno, California
What's New
Secretary Spellings hails NAEP results at Education Commission of the States forum; Secretary Spellings addresses the National Council of La Raza; and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Reading Rockets develop new content for a Latino-centered website.
Innovations in the News
Three Chicago faith-based organizations plan to submit proposals to open charter schools, plus information about choice and closing the achievement gap.

From the Farmer's Field to the Physician's Table: The Genesis of Sunnyside High School Doctors Academy
The year 1953 proved to be an exciting time for medicine. James D. Watson and Francis Crick determined the chemical structure of DNA, the nucleic acid that carries genetic information, and they published a description of its chain of nucleotides, which they famously termed the "double helix." Hans Adolf Krebs discovered the citric acid cycle in cellular respiration, which now often bears his name, winning him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. And in a largely Hispanic section of Fresno an important, yet less-publicized event took place: a future advocate for disadvantaged youth and the founder of a selective California "doctors academy" program was born.

The story of the Sunnyside High School Doctors Academy, a magnet school program, and its creator, Dr. Katherine A. Flores, begins in Fresno where the school is located. After her mother died when she was an infant, Dr. Flores' grandparents, migrant farm workers who had immigrated to the United States from Mexico, raised her. As a child, picking plums alongside her grandparents and other Hispanic farm workers, Dr. Flores recognized the educational and economic inequities that existed in her local community in comparison to some of the more affluent areas of her city. She understood then what is true now: according to a 2003 report from the Manhattan Institute, only 52 percent of Hispanic students and 51 percent of African-American students graduate from high school. Even fewer minority youth graduate with the necessary skills for the rigors of postsecondary education: 16 percent of Hispanic students and 20 percent of African-American students leave high school college-ready.

At an early age, Dr. Flores decided to work toward improving the lives of youth in under-resourced communities, and, as she matured, she also recognized that these students could fill an important niche in the city's healthcare profession. Of more than 300,000 Hispanics in Fresno County, and nearly 1,500 physicians, only about 120 physicians are of Hispanic descent. Dr. Flores believed that what Fresno lacked was an intensive, challenging academic program with a focus on preparing students for college and for careers in healthcare.

Dr. Flores began her quest to rectify this situation while at Stanford University where she worked with national and state Hispanic organizations aiming to increase the role of Hispanics in healthcare. By working so closely with these groups, Dr. Flores discovered her own desire to become a physician, and after obtaining her undergraduate degree, she entered the University of California, Davis School of Medicine.

Her rich Hispanic culture and its sense of "familia" guided her through her own medical practice so that today she remains in the place of her birth, close to her family, practicing medicine with three other bilingual women while directing multiple medical education programs. These programs include the California Borders Health Education and Training Center (HETC) and the Hispanic Centers of Excellence (HCOE). Dr. Flores also directs the Latino Center for Medical Education and Research (LaCMER), which shares her "valores de fe y familia" by training individuals to become doctors and nurses with the intent that they will return to the San Joaquin Valley, just as she did, to provide medical care to the disadvantaged and underserved. It is here, at the Latino Center, that Dr. Flores conceptualized the Doctors Academy program for students in her hometown.

The Doctors Academy (DA) at Sunnyside High School is a challenging magnet school program within a neighborhood school for students who are interested in health and medicine. Dr. Flores started the program in 1999 through a partnership with the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine's Fresno campus. The DA is open to students from the Fresno Unified School District or from a Fresno county school. The DA attracts students from the Junior Doctors Academy, another LaCMER program also begun by Dr. Flores at Terronez, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Washington Colony middle schools, which feeds into the high school program. Typically, 200 students from the Junior Doctors Academy and other surrounding middle schools apply for 50 open slots each year at Sunnyside.

In accordance with its mission to strengthen the educational opportunities of under-represented populations, the DA magnet program primarily targets students of Hispanic descent and students who come from other economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The academy's population consists of Hispanic, Southeast Asian, African-American, East Indian, and disadvantaged Caucasian students.

In order to apply to the DA magnet program, prospective students must submit a formal application, available on the academy's website, along with standardized test scores, letters of recommendation from former teachers, and a writing sample. Applications are accepted each year from October through December. Additionally, students must have demonstrated success and perseverance in their middle schools by earning a grade point average of 2.8 or higher. Finalists participate in a personal interview with school administrators before they are admitted to the program. In keeping with Dr. Flores' vision of an intimate, familial atmosphere for learning, the DA attempts to keep its enrollment at around 160 students.

DA students take their education seriously, especially since many of them are the first in their families to have strong prospects of attending college. They commit their time, including weekends and summers, to the rigorous demands of the academy's "four-year study plan." This plan outlines a schedule of suggested courses, summer activities, volunteer opportunities, conferences, workshops, and college preparatory tests. According to the plan, which was devised by school faculty with the guidance of Dr. Flores, every student must maintain a 2.8 grade point average. Most of the courses offered at the DA are at an "honors level" or are Advanced Placement (AP). By the time they graduate from the program, most students will have taken up to seven AP classes.

Saturday academies and study trips are also a mandatory part of the study plan. Students have traveled to the University of California's Berkeley, Davis, and Los Angeles campuses to learn alongside college students in medical programs. Each year, DA students participate in activities sponsored by Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), a national group whose mission is to promote career opportunities in healthcare and to improve the delivery of medical services across the country. Last year, DA students worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, raising money through various fundraisers to send a young Fresno girl who suffers from Muscular Dystrophy to Disneyland with her family. Students also regularly engage in conferences and workshops during the school year, including the AAUW Girls' Math & Science Conference, the Chicano/Latino Leadership Conference, and the California State University, Fresno Pre-Health Conference.

During the summer, DA students enroll in enrichment seminars. The "Pre-Ninth" seminar satisfies the program's sociology requirement with classes in leadership and introduces students to research methodologies, while the "Pre-Tenth" seminar focuses on world history or mathematics. Internships make up both the "Pre-Eleventh" and "Pre-Twelfth" seminars. These internships form the basis of the students' education in medicine: the first is a University Medical Center internship with multiple health professional mentors; the second is a research methodology and clinical site internship. Pre-med candidates at California State University's (CSU) Fresno campus lead DA students in weekly tutorials where students reflect on the lessons they learn during their internships, study trips, and weekend activities. These pre-med candidates also provide mentoring and advice for DA participants. As an added bonus, after they graduate, DA students can receive special consideration for scholarships at CSU Fresno or an opportunity for early admission to the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

To date, about 120 students have graduated from the DA magnet school program. On May 17, 2005 the Doctors Academy graduated its third class. Every DA graduate was accepted into college, and eight students will continue their education at University of California campuses this fall. Although the performing arts theater at Sunnyside High School was filled with beaming families and students on that May evening, one of the proudest people in the room was not a parent, grandparent, or sibling of a Doctors Academy graduate. It was a woman who made her way from the farmer's field to the physician's table. In her remarks that night, Katherine Flores iterated the mission of the school she created by paying tribute to the students in whose image she sees herself, "Doctor's Academy graduates are outstanding students who have worked hard and can now recognize the next phase of their education. I look forward to their eventual return to work within our community."

Sunnyside High School met all of its 22 AYP criteria in 2004. The Fresno Unified School District received a 2004 Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant from OII, enabling programs like the Doctors Academy to operate. In 2001, the Doctor's Academy received a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association. The award honors exemplary K-12 programs throughout the state. The DA is funded in part by the California Endowment, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the University of California, among other organizations.

Resources: Note: The featured program is innovative and interesting; however, it does not yet have evidence of effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation.


What's New
From the U.S. Department of Education

This week Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings hailed the results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at the Education Commission of the States National Forum on Education Policy. According to the Secretary, the report indicates that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is working, as more than half of the progress in reading for nine-year-olds during the Report Card's over 30-year history has been made in the last five years. The Secretary also noted that the journey to closing the achievement gap has just begun. (July 14)

Secretary Spellings addressed the National Council of La Raza, praising the work that the organization has done to support No Child Left Behind. The Secretary noted that under Raúl Yzaguirre's leadership, La Raza aimed to create 50 new charter schools for underserved children, and ended up establishing a network of almost 100 schools. The Secretary committed to ensuring that all Hispanic children graduate on time and achieve at the highest levels, pointing to the U.S. Department of Education's effort to create a new toolkit to help Hispanic families learn about their options under NCLB. (July 18)

Closing the Achievement Gap

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Reading Rockets have partnered to create a project aimed at reaching English Language Learners (ELLs) in the classroom. The partnership includes the launch of new content in the "For Educators" section of the Reading Rockets' website "¡Colorín Colorado!" The website was created to help Spanish-speaking parents teach their children how to read. The new content on the free site includes resources that teachers can use to address the needs of Latino students. The Reading Rockets website is an educational service of public television station WETA, Washington, DC, and is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. (July 8)


A user-friendly website,, helps educators and other stakeholders at the K-12 level find resources that can benefit students and schools. The website monitors federal, state, private, and corporate websites across the country to find announcements for funding opportunities. New listings are posted each day, and all of the information is free to the public. (July 21)


Innovations in the News

Charter Schools
At least three Chicago faith-based organizations plan to submit formal proposals to open charter schools by the district's August 19 deadline. More religious organizations are interested in opening secular public schools in Chicago due to Mayor Richard Daley's Renaissance 2010 initiative, which aims to open 100 new schools in six years. Under the law, religious organizations can open public schools as long as religious instruction is not a component of their curricula. [More-The Chicago Tribune] (July 15)

The Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recently approved Belle Chasse Academy's charter for an additional two years after a positive evaluation from a state review team. The school opened in 2002 and is located at the Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse, serving children of active and retired military personnel and employees. The school's results on the state LEAP test this spring showed 72 percent of fourth-graders scoring "basic" (fundamental knowledge and skills needed for next level of schooling) and above in English, compared with 64 percent statewide; 70 percent scoring basic and above in math, compared with 61 percent statewide; and 77 percent scoring basic and above in science, compared with 62 percent statewide. Eighth grade students showed similar results. [More-New Orleans Times-Picayune] (July 20)

Students along the North Dakota/South Dakota border will be able to attend schools in either state, due to a new cross-border program for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. According to the South Dakota Department of Education, the enrollment program will allow students who live in a border school district to attend a school in the neighboring state's bordering district. Some students live closer to the state border than to their current school, making this agreement a relief to their families. North Dakota already maintains a similar agreement with Montana and Minnesota. For financial purposes, each state in the new agreement will count the other's students as though they are state residents. The district where the transferring students attend classes will receive state funding for those students, and districts that lose students will not have to negotiate out-of-state tuition rates. [More-The Bismarck Tribune] (July 19)

When many students across the country are still enjoying the last month of their summer vacation, students at a year-round Illinois school are gearing up for a new academic year. Classes began this week at Iroquois Community School in Des Plaines after six weeks of "summer break," a short vacation as compared to the summer leisure time most other students in this country receive. In 1997, Iroquois opened its doors as a K-8 "school of choice " and now serves nearly 450 students. Many parents approve of the school's year-round schedule because they believe the extended time gives students less time to forget what they have learned in class. Teachers have noted that the schedule minimizes review time at the start of each new school year. As of last year, nearly 2.5 million children attended year-round schools across the country. [More-Chicago Daily Herald] (July 19)


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Last Modified: 08/13/2009