By Collin Breaux
Alicia Baillie has been an educator for about 17 years and is bringing that experience to her role as the new principal at Orange County Academy of Science and Arts (OCASA) College Prep, a charter school in San Juan Capistrano.
Baillie started Aug. 1 and looks forward to guiding the school’s faculty and students. OCASA College Prep opened in August 2020.
“We’re still young. One of the things I want to continue that’s already here is the focus on personalized learning,” Baillie said. “So often, a school develops what it’s going to offer and the kids can only choose from what that is. The families kind of have to mold what their interests are based upon what’s available to them.”
Proponents of charter schools often cite the wider variety of curriculum and learning options for students, as opposed to traditional public schools. OCASA students have a mentoring session with teachers every two weeks.
“Honestly, if I knew how quickly I could get things done at a charter school, I probably would have moved sooner,” Baillie said. “I love the district schools I’ve been in. I’m proud to have been a part of the districts I’ve been a leader in but there’s just layers of bureaucracy that slow down doing what we know is the best things for kids.”
“This is what we get to do,” she continued. “We get to dream big and do it here.”
Prior to her current role, Baillie was an English teacher in Cerritos and worked in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District as the director of assessment, research and evaluation.
“I missed kids. I missed the action of being in a school and I started looking for some positions where I could get back into schools more,” Baillie said. “I saw this position and as I read more about the school, if I could design my own school, this is what I would have designed.”
She cited OCASA’s focus on personalized learning and “joy-filled classrooms” as to why she wanted to work on campus.
“My expertise is in curriculum design and I really focus on creating organizations that are both efficient and effective but have just a spirit of fun and joy,” Baillie said. “That’s what attracted me to this school. That’s why I’m here.”
She intends to keep OCASA’s focus on “mastery learning,” which means students are encouraged to master content instead of merely doing homework or worksheets. That approach involves field trips with a purpose—or “field studies,” as Baillie calls them.
“I really believe that if we can get students out into the world, experiencing what real life is like in the work world, then they’ll understand why we’re trying to get them to learn things now,” Baillie said. “Yes, algebra’s really useful for solving problem. Yes, U.S. history is really critical to understand the current political situations. Once we’re getting them out there and exposed, we’re going to expand horizons and they’re going to come back and be more motivated to do the homework.”
That hands-on exposure could involve taking leadership students to an Los Angeles Angels game where they would talk to someone from the Angels office team about possible careers.
“They actually have a scavenger hunt to look at how are they running an event and how are they keeping people entertained and active and involved in positive ways,” Baillie said.
OCASA College Prep is also looking to build up an athletics program.
“We may not have a championship football team but we’ll have basketball and volleyball and track,” she said.
Since becoming the principal in August, Baillie said the transition has been “fast.”
“I’m used to small schools but this is the smallest,” she said. “Just enjoying being with (students) and seeing the world through their eyes again is just delightful. It’s just fun.”
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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