It's a new elementary school, and yet it's not.

Topaz Elementary School will be closing its doors at the end of the 2008-2009 school year and, when the doors reopen in August 2009, it'll be as the Topaz Preparatory Academy.

At their March 9 meeting, the Hesperia Unified School District school board voted to turn Topaz into the district's next choice school -- a public school with a specific academic focus -- in the new school year.

"Basically, it's a model based on Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," said Topaz principal Karen Prestwood. Covey's self-help book got a kid-friendly spin-off in 2008, The Leader in Me, which Covey says explains how his seven habits can improve education and lead to the raising of "great" kids.

The new Topaz Preparatory Academy will emphasize character development, university preparedness, community service (each grade level will choose a cause for the year as a class project) and partnerships with the community.

"We do not expect every child to go to college," Prestwood said, "But it'll be because they have other opportunities [instead]."

Instead of being a choice school focused on certain interests, like the arts or science, the new Topaz is being aimed at all students in the HUSD.

"We don't expect every child to be 'the' leader, but [want to] maximize their potential," said Prestwood. "They're going to be proactive, they're going to be problem-solvers."

There will be a lot of things that current students at Topaz will find familiar when they return to school next year.

"We are not 'fixing' Topaz," said Prestwood. "Topaz is not broken. We're just taking it to the next level."

The school will still have the same curriculum and pacing plan, although the six weeks of school after state testing will shift to focusing on the next year's curriculum, with state testing being officially acknowledged as the finish line for the current year's curriculum.

It will also feature an "embedded" approach to lessons that work in the school's new focus on leadership. Whereas a history class at Krystal Elementary School -- the Hesperia Unified School District's other new choice school opening in August 2009, with an emphasis on science and technology -- might include discussions of scientists of the day and how science and technology impacted society, the same class at Topaz would include discussions about the choices that had to be made at that point in history, what the various consequences would be and on how the people at that moment in history solved their problems.

There may be one major cosmetic difference, however: It's possible that students at Topaz Preparatory Academy will wear uniforms four days a week. School staff is already working on ways to make the uniforms more affordable for families struggling with finances.

Topaz staff is also staying aware of the HUSD's tight finances. Originally, teachers and staff were going get instruction from trainers from Covey's Utah training center, who would come to Hesperia for the training. Instead, a core group of Topaz staff will get the training -- the school has already received one grant to help -- and then teach the rest of the staff on their return, so that "everyone is speaking the same language," said Prestwood.

"We have not asked for one dollar more from the district. Not one dollar more."

Ultimately, Topaz Preparatory Academy is mostly meant to be a refocusing of an existing elementary school and improving on what works already.

"This is what we want to do for our kids anyway," Prestwood said. "There's truly no downside to this. ... We're setting our kids up for successful lives."

Information sessions about Topaz Preparatory Academy will be held at the school on March 30, April 1 and April 4. For more information, call 244-4622.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.