San Dieguito school board talks college prep

The San Dieguito board met at SDA on June 23.
(Karen Billing)

Board considers best way to help students navigate challenging admissions climate


The San Dieguito Union High School District board was divided over expanding its partnership with the Kaplan Educational Group, which has provided free services this year to support students in college and career prep as a supplement to the district’s existing offerings.

At the June 23 meeting, the board was spilt both philosophically and physically—during the discussion, SDUHSD Trustees Julie Bronstein and Katrina Young left the table in frustration forcing a break close to 10 p.m., about six hours into that afternoon’s session.

SDUHSD President Mo Muir has frequently stated her priority on the school board is ensuring that all San Dieguito students get into college. She pursued the partnership with Kaplan this year and was looking to build on it for next year, after hearing from parents whose disappointed kids didn’t get into their choice college, particularly in the University of California (UC) system.

“To me that’s unacceptable,” Muir said. “We want our kids here if that’s where they want to go.”

Greg Kaplan, the Torrey Pines High School alum who runs the Kaplan Educational Group, said his program offers “realistic guidance” on the challenging, competitive and expensive college application process.

“This just isn’t the same process that board members, teachers, staff or parents have gone through,” said Kaplan of the dramatic differences in college acceptance rates from the time he graduated high school in 2005.

All but one of the UC campuses now reject more students than they accept, with acceptance rates close to those of Stanford or Harvard. This year UCLA had a 10% acceptance rate, Berkeley was at 14.5% and UCSD came in at 34.3% admitted.

Kaplan said the process has become frustratingly challenging for many well-qualified applicants. With acceptance rates being as they are, it requires students to have a plan to stand out, to engage in experiences that help them grow as students and to increase the odds of admission and find a school that would be a great fit.

This year, his free workshops were viewed by 963 seniors and so far had 950 views by juniors, the class of 2023.

SDUHSD Vice President Michael Allman said he was impressed by what Kaplan was able to do and was interested in expanding the offering to every kid in the district who wants to go to college. He requested that they bring back a contract on the July board agenda.

Trustee Bronstein said while she was grateful for Kaplan’s help, she didn’t support heading in that direction.

“I do not think it is appropriate for us to expend taxpayer dollars to pay for private-sector services which are already being provided for by our counselors. If anything we should enhance what we are already offering,” said Bronstein who advocated for the district to add an additional counselor to each high school in the 2022-23 budget.

Muir said she was looking to develop a strategy for the district’s college prep program—she said their counselors are doing a great job but they play a lot of other roles, more than just college admissions.

“It’s too much for the parent and the child, it’s very stressful and the only thing that relieves stress is if you’re prepared,” Muir said. “Is it a bad thing to give more support to our students? How can that be a bad thing? I think we have to do everything we can.”

In her comments, Trustee Young thanked Kaplan for the generous support but raised concerns about officially partnering with them, as well as showcasing and elevating their work above the district’s own counseling staff.

“I think to do so would be privatizing our public school system, outsourcing positions that we already have in place without fully understanding what we hope to accomplish,” she said, noting that district has students who are successfully heading off on various pathways: to prestigious universities such as Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford and West Point; going into the workforce; taking gap years and opting for the community college route.

Like Bronstein, Young said she would like to focus attention and resources on the in-house counseling staff and develop the best ways to support all students, such as adding college prep workshops in languages such as Spanish and Mandarin.

Bronstein said she is equally as passionate about ensuring students have college or trade opportunities and asked to have a presentation on a future agenda from the district’s college and career readiness counselors. SDUHSD Deputy Superintendent Mark Miller said that would be possible on the August agenda.

Muir still wanted board feedback on what they wanted to do with the Kaplan program— if there was any board interest to keep the free offerings or consider adding more.

“I think it’s not productive to talk about this anymore,” Allman said. “I’m hearing: we have counselors so that’s their job, don’t evaluate any other program, assume they’re the best, don’t look at outside options, don’t look at other programs, keep the money in-house.”

“We didn’t say don’t evaluate them, Mike,” Bronstein countered. “We’re a public school and we shouldn’t be contracting out one of our major services, which is counseling for our students. It’s important that we enhance and maybe even improve what we’re already offering.”

Allman then asked Young if she would be interested in seeing a proposal brought forward from Kaplan.

“If it involves money then, unfortunately, no,” Young said. “ I appreciate all the pro bono work they’ve done for us.”

“This is a perfect example of why this November is going to be very important,” Allman said. “If we get board trustees who would not be so adamant about: ‘no, if it’s spending money outside we’re not going to do it.’ I think that’s a mistake. We have to put students first.”

At that point, Young asked for a recess for the board to calm down and accused Allman and Muir of summarizing things that she said that weren’t true. When the recess wasn’t granted, she stated she was taking one and left the table, followed by Bronstein.

Allman wanted to keep pushing through on the agenda but as they only had two board members, they were without a quorum. Muir then called for a five-minute recess and when they returned, they moved on from the topic.

That night the board also split 2-2, making no decision, on a resolution regarding the county’s trustee map selection and on hiring an independent facilitator to conduct a board governance workshop.

While Allman and Muir were ready to move forward with a facilitator for a governance workshop, Young and Bronstein said they preferred to wait until the fall after the elections when they would have a full board. Three seats are up for election this November.