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Our concerns about San Joaquin County’s Excel Academy

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Posted: Saturday, September 1, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:44 am, Sat Sep 1, 2012.

We admit it. We felt a certain skepticism building as we read sportswriter Ed Yevelev’s recent examination of the new Excel Academy, created by the San Joaquin Office of Education.

Located in south Stockton, the academy just opened and serves students from all over the county. It is billed as a “collegiate sports and health science preparatory high school.”

The emphasis at the academy, a public charter school, is clearly sports, both on the field and in the classroom.

But really, do we need more emphasis on sports among our youth? Is this new experiment just a way of pandering to sports-nutty parents? Is it just a faster track to a sports scholarship?

Will it become a talent-draining powerhouse?

Then we talked to Mick Founts, county superintendent of schools, and we calmed down.

Founts makes a solid case for the Excel Academy as just one of many alternatives for young people who might boost their chances at academic and life success.

Excel “is no different than our ag academy or our science academy … welding and robotics (taught at other specialty schools) are just hooks,” he said.

Founts believes all of these specialized schools give students two things they can’t get at a large high school: 1) an intimate setting where teachers and students share an enthusiasm; 2) an academic setting where that enthusiasm can be integrated into the classroom.

A sports setting will naturally enhance the relevance of sciences such as kinesiology and physiology, says Founts.

History and social studies can become relevant by placing an emphasis on the role of sports in ancient and modern societies.

The Excel Academy might just  give a few student-athletes some extra motivation to graduate high school, go to college and become better citizens.

Founts and the academy faculty have to be careful, though, not to violate California Interscholastic Federation rules banning transfers motivated purely by athletic opportunity.

So let’s give Founts and others behind the academy some credit. They’ve worked hard creating a school that is clearly innovative. The academy might very well attract and retain students who may otherwise lack motivation.

Founts says the academy should be judged by drop-out rates, graduation rates and college acceptance rates over time.

As initial skeptics, we are willing to agree.

Let’s see what this team can do on the field.

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