By Srishti Prabha | OBSERVER Education Reporter
Center Joint Unified School District unveiled the new Rex Fortune Elementary School last week — the first school to open in the district since 2005. This will also be the district’s first elementary school in Roseville, and is the brainchild of former superintendent Rex Fortune.
During his 15-year tenure as the superintendent, Fortune proposed a school focused on science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, for under-resourced students in the district.
And now, 20 years later, the campus bears Fortune’s name to serve as a reminder of the dedication and commitment he had for equity in education. For the more than 70% of Center Joint Unified School District’s students that are English language learners, foster youth or qualify for free lunch, the district hopes the new school is an accelerator to better academic opportunities.
Scott Loehr, the current superintendent of the district, said he hopes to honor Fortune’s legacy with a school that embodies his lofty goals.
“When I met Rex Fortune, one of the things we talked about was science and technology,” said Loehr. “Obviously, the technology has changed in 20 years, but he would be so proud to see what these young students will be able to do from transitional kindergarten all the way up.”
Roseville residents and Black parents Jenine and Robert Jenkins said it is a privilege to enroll their two kids at school with the Fortune name.
“It’s such an honor to be attending a school whose namesake is a member of my fraternity, who is well known in the community,” Robert Jenkins said.
Fortune was well-known for his advocacy around Black student advancement in Sacramento County. He founded the Fortune School of Education in 1989, which was later expanded to encompass the Fortune Charter Schools, led by his daughter Margaret. The schools focus on decreasing the achievement gap for Black students in Sacramento County, which continues to be a persisting issue.
Fortune attended the momentous Roseville school groundbreaking ceremony in April of last year. And though he died in January, his wife, son and daughter were at the opening this week.
“It’s wonderful to celebrate him, celebrate his legacy, to have enduring symbols of his contribution to the field of education right here in the school district where he led,” said his daughter, Margaret Fortune.
The TK to fifth grade campus boasts state-of-the-art classrooms with TVs and floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, along with three science and technology labs equipped with 3D printers.
Eight-year-old Miles Jenkins said he’s excited about the prospect of attending the school, and already has various ideas of how to use the 3D printers.
“I’m going to make models of a pokeball or a Godzilla or the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” he said.
Jenine laughed after hearing her son’s aspirations, but said she’s optimistic about the future of her children at the school.
“Our children will have the opportunity to learn [computer-aided design, or CAD] in elementary school,” she said. “When I learned CAD, I was a freshman in college. And so this program, this beautiful new site, we are wonderfully excited about it.”
All teachers at the site will employ novel math and coding curriculum like Roboblocky and Linkbots as part of the integrated project-based teaching method developed by University of California, Davis called C-stem. The elementary school will be the only school in Northern California to be utilizing these techniques — so far.
Instruction at Rex Fortune Elementary School begins Aug. 7th.
Srishti Prabha is an education reporter and Report For America corps member in collaboration with CapRadio and The Sacramento Observer. Their focus is K-12 education in Sacramento’s Black communities.