La Palma Council gets briefing on AI in local schools

Supt. Mike Matsuda

Students at Kennedy High School in La Palma are now at the forefront of the nation’s artificial intelligence technology revolution, its city council was told this week.

The assertion was made during a presentation made to La Palma city officials at their meeting Monday, as Mayor Michelle Steggell introduced Mike Matsuda, the superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District.

“We are a major leader in the development of artificial intelligence,” he told the Council, adding that the AUHSD program has quickly become a leader across the USA.

Before becoming Superintendent of AUHSD in 2014, Matsuda said he was employed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he witnessed the early development of AI while working on the Mars Rover project.

Artificial intelligence evolved as scientists determined that the sheer distance between Earth and Mars would prevent effective radio communications between the Rover and flight command.

“At JPL, the scientists were explained to me that [Rover] has got to have their own intelligence because you can’t send radio, you can’t do it remotely because it takes too long,” said Matsuda. “By the time you send the message, it has already fallen into a hole, and you’ve lost it,” he said.

“I was blown away,” he said.

The experience was obviously not lost on the AUHSD superintendent because fast forward to 2022 and the school district he leads has become a leader in offering real-time, hands-on instruction on artificial intelligence.

Matsuda said he rekindled his interest after walking in on “this amazing teacher,” Jack Gupton, teaching robotics at Walker Junior High eight years ago.

Gupton, together with STEAM campus coordinator Paula Rosenberg, manages the program, said Matsuda, which is now coordinated between Walker Junior High and Kennedy.

Gupton said the AI program has now grown to include a growing list of technology partners in Orange County and four universities, including the local Cypress College.

Gupton said the program is a six-year program, starting as early as 7th grade, through 12th grade, as students not only learn coding and work with real data, but also can eventually earn college credit while still in the high school system.

Gupton said students now have multiple pathways to participate, including the traditional engineering path and now, also along a computer science path. Gupton said the engineering path has grown exponentially, from him being the only teacher seven years ago to now seven or eight teachers, “it’s hard to keep up with it.”

The program also offers dual enrollment so that as early as their freshman year, they can begin earning college credit, Gupton said. Actually, said Gupton, students can have “a good chunk of a computer science degree checked off” before ever enrolling in college.

“We’re most proud that this is a student-centered program,” said Gupton, noting that “the kids tell us what they want to do.” In the classroom, he said, “students can actually build almost anything they can imagine.”

“We are super proud of them” said Gupton.

Paola Rosenberg, the STEAM site coordinator at John F. Kennedy High School, said the AUHSD is “the first and only high school district in the United States that gets to offer Google technology certificates.”

She said the program is “wide and diverse,” offering everything from data analytics to biological sciences, cybersecurity with coding and IT support.

Rosenberg said students also have access to a speaker series that includes actual programmers, working coding engineers and other experts in the field. “Students can hear their stories and see themselves in the future,” she said.

“It is very exciting,” Rosenberg added.

“It is apparent that a lot of work and planning has gone into this and I think this is incredible,” said Council member Marshall Goodman.

In other action, the La Palma Council:
• Heard long-time resident Keith Nelson ask the city to step up their upkeep of city parks and public medians. Nelson said he’s lived in La Palma for three decades and that “fellow residents have maintained their property and showed pride in their homeownership.” While he lauded the Council for obtaining a federal grant, he said the city should not wait to begin staffing up and taking better care of the parks and medians.
• Voted to allow city manager Conal McNamara to move forward with a plan to study the feasibility of developing a ballot measure to raise the city’s transient occupancy tax to 12 percent, from its current level of 10 percent. The move came only after Mayor Pro-tem Debbie Baker asked the city manager to explain why he thought certain items, including a poll of local residents, would be necessary to putting the item on the ballot.
• Declared Jan. 13 as Korean American Day in the city to celebrate achievements and the city’s overall diversity.