Do the math
A new charter school pushes ‘hard sciences’ thanks to its principal
Every school morning, Dr. Yavuz Bayam stands outside Pacific Technology School and greets each of his arriving students by name. One by one the school’s 65 students—all sixth- and seventh-graders—shuffle past their smiling principal. And even though the time is just a few minutes before 8 a.m., the kids smile back.
“I don’t see being a principal as work,” said Bayam. “It’s like being with my family.”
The new Orangevale charter school came into existence this fall, just six weeks before the start of the school year. But PTS—with its emphasis on technology, math and science—was really birthed many years ago while its principal was working on his doctorate in nanotechnology at UC Davis.
Bayam, who hails from India, found himself surprised by what he saw as a disproportionate number of foreign students studying the so-called hard sciences. “Why are American students not choosing careers in math, science and technology?” he wondered.
He felt that the country’s standing in the world depended heavily on its future scientists and computer whizzes, and after lengthy discussions with American teachers, Bayam became impassioned about the need to get involved in emphasizing the sciences at early grade levels.
“I may have just been a Ph.D. student with no money,” said Bayam, “but I had to do something.”
That’s when Bayam came across Magnolia Educational & Research Foundation, which had opened its first charter school in Southern California in 1997. He had found his solution: Open a charter middle school focusing on math, science and technology. The charter school concept in the United States started with Minnesota in 1992. California quickly followed suit in 1993.
Darrell Parsons, a consultant with the California Department of Education, said that currently 810 charter schools are active in California, up from 765 last year; approximately 35 charters schools currently operate in Sacramento County. Charter schools “enjoy increased flexibility in exchange for increased accountability,” Parsons explained.
But starting up a charter school can prove more complicated than multivariable calculus.
First, there was a question of the school site. At one point, Bayam was traveling to the Bay Area every weekend for two years hoping to find a spot. He said that he tried for a location in Natomas, but that fell through. Finally, he found an Orangevale elementary school which had been vacant for three years—with a mere six weeks before the start of the school year.
“It really was in terrible shape,” said Bayam. Chairs had to be purchased, walls had to be painted. For P.E., since there’s no locker room, students changed into workout clothes in booths constructed out of PVC pipe and curtains.
Then he had to hire staff.
Many of the teachers at PTS are young, with several of them hired directly out of their credential programs. But Bayam believes the staff’s lack of experience is one of PTS’ strengths.
“They’re very young, very energetic, open to new ideas,” he said.
Math and science courses are scheduled in the mornings, when students are more alert. Typical class sizes hover around 14 students. School lunches are largely made from organic food.
At least twice a year, Bayam, along with a teacher, visits each student’s home to check in with the parents and to better understand the home situation.
Several parents raved about PTS. Sue Feather, mother of seventh-grader Gabriel, said that her son was made to feel stupid at his previous school.
But after attending PTS, “My son has spoken the word ‘college’ for the first time,” Feather said.
Leave it to the kids to voice a complaint. At lunchtime, when asked what they didn’t like about school, the response came like a chorus.