The evolving vision of Canyon Crest Academy

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

The first project at Canyon Crest Academy using newly-approved bond money will take place this summer, to pay for athletic fields and stadium work. Over the next two years, more field and stadium work will be done, costing $20 million.

For a school that opened in 2004 with a stated focus on the arts and technology, spending a huge chunk of money to relocate and renovate sports fields seems an odd way to begin spending the district’s $449 million in bond funds.

Yet the district says this expenditure is consistent with both the community’s wishes and appropriate use of public funding.

I freely admit my bias against the over-emphasis on athletics, when taxpayer money could be used to better conditions in the classroom. I also acknowledge that this position is not altogether popular.

When CCA first opened, I was cheered by the thought that at last there was a school with proper perspective on the athletics-academics dichotomy.

In a column published in this newspaper Dec. 12, 2003, eight months before CCA opened, Rick Schmitt, now San Dieguito Union High School District’s deputy superintendent, said, “The new school is for someone who really loves the arts and technology” and that CCA’s “mission to provide a focus on arts and technology is an integral part of its overall curriculum.”

Schmitt was principal at Torrey Pines High School in 2003 when it was suffering from serious overcrowding. He and CCA founding principal David Jaffe worked together the year before CCA opened to help parents and students differentiate between the two schools.

Canyon Crest began as a school with less emphasis on athletics than Torrey Pines. And like San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas, there would be no football or cheerleading – a basic, and most welcome, tenet.

“If you’re a football player, you don’t want Canyon Crest,” Jaffe said back in 2003, to my silent applause.

Athletics were a part of the school certainly, but more minimally at first. The attraction for many CCA students was that they could play the sport of their choice without stressful tryouts and the intense competition from super-jocks.

But Jaffe soon found that many parents and students wanted their sports, and athletics moved up in importance.

“The question I get asked most often is whether a certain sport will be available,” Jaffe said later, to my silent groaning.

“When Canyon Crest opened, athletics almost was an afterthought,” Schmitt said in 2010. “Families wanted sports and so they grew sports.”

So athletic offerings gradually increased. By 2010, nearly 700 CCA students participated in athletic programs, according to current CCA principal Brian Kohn.

In a dispiriting demonstration of support for athletes over scholars, that same year the school’s 8:15 a.m. start time was moved to 8 a.m. to accommodate students playing sports in the afternoon. A dismissal at 3 instead of 3:15 allowed student athletes to miss less of their fourth-period classes when traveling for games.

Later start times, which allow exhausted teenagers to get more sleep, have been proven without a doubt through extensive research to improve not just academics but emotional health and social well-being also.

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