By Joe Tash
School district officials stressed Thursday, June 19, that no guarantees or promises were being made to students on the wait-list for the San Dieguito High School Academy regarding attendance at the school this fall.
But they did pledge to explore options for taking in more students for the upcoming school year, while also forming a task force to seek long-term solutions to the problem of too many students seeking too few seats at two of the San Dieguito Union High School District’s four high school campuses.
“It’s top of the page. We’re on it,” said Superintendent Rick Schmitt, addressing parents whose children were denied admittance to San Dieguito Academy this fall due to lack of space.
The issue arose earlier this month, when parents of some of the 65 students wait-listed at San Dieguito for this fall turned out to voice their objections at a school board meeting. A community meeting with parents and district officials was held on Monday, June 16, to discuss the issue, and the topic was also placed on the agenda for Thursday’s school board meeting.
Currently, two of the district’s high schools, La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines, are called boundary schools, meaning that geographic boundaries determine which students go to each of the schools. The other two schools, San Dieguito and Canyon Crest academies, are called choice schools, because students can apply to attend them no matter where they live in the district.
However, because more students applied to San Dieguito and Canyon Crest than could be accommodated for this fall, a lottery was held to admit applicants. Sixty-five students were put on the wait-list for San Dieguito, and 100 for Canyon Crest, according to discussion at Thursday’s board meeting, and officials said they didn’t expect seats to open for those on the wait-list.
Some of the parents who attended Thursday’s board meeting live within a few houses of San Dieguito, but said they will be forced to pay to bus their children to La Costa Canyon, about six miles away.
“Flat out, the district has failed these people,” said James Bush, whose child is one of the 65 on the San Dieguito wait-list.
Jennifer Lessley, who said she lives seven doors from San Dieguito Academy, described how her daughter was devastated by the email informing her of being wait-listed, because most of her friends from middle school will be attending the academy, while she will have to walk to the bus stop at San Dieguito Academy and catch the bus to La Costa Canyon.
“I’m asking you, the board, right now, please help us,” Lessley said.
Her daughter, Taylor, a 9th-grader, then tearfully addressed the board.
“When I start school in August, I will be alone,” the girl said, voice quavering. “I know I will be miserable and not reach my full potential as a person and as a student.”
Chris Schwartz, another district parent, said school officials were missing the point. Rather than establishing a task force, he said, they simply need to increase capacity at San Dieguito.
“In effect, what we need are two more classrooms at San Dieguito Academy,” Schwartz said.
At least one board member, John Salazar, agreed. Following public testimony, he said it was “ridiculous” that students should have to win a lottery to attend their neighborhood school.
“These are taxpayers. They deserve a neighborhood school. We can fix this instantly,” said Salazar, triggering applause from the audience.
However, Schmitt and other board members said the issue is not so simple, because the entire school district population, comprised of more than 12,000 families, must be informed and have a chance to voice its opinion before significant changes are made to enrollment policies.
“I wish we could fix it tonight but we need the input of the whole community,” said board vice president Amy Herman.
The task force, to be convened by this fall and include parents, students, teachers, administrators and school board members, will examine broad issues such as whether the district should continue to have a mix of boundary and choice schools, or move to a boundary-only system.
In the meantime, officials said, they will look for ways to expand capacity at the two academies with an eye toward accommodating more students this fall.
One suggestion was to add programs to La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines to draw more students to those campuses. La Costa Canyon was built to hold 2,700 students but now has 1,950.
“Whatever you can do to recruit more students to La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines would be terrific,” said parent Julie Union.
After the meeting, Lessley said she and other parents felt rushed at the June 5 board meeting, and that officials weren’t really listening. That attitude had changed by Thursday’s board meeting, she said.
“Tonight I felt they understood there are a lot of parents with a lot of concerns,” she said. “It sounds like they’re going to work on it and take our concerns to heart.”