Education Matters: No boundaries for neighborhood school

At a board workshop that attracted nearly 200 people on Monday, San Dieguito Union High School District staff was directed by a divided board to make no changes to its current high school boundary and enrollment policy.

This is a bitter defeat for the communities in Cardiff and Encinitas who desperately wanted the right for their children to have geographic priority to attend San Dieguito Academy, their neighborhood high school.

By drawing tight boundaries around SDA, and leaving Canyon Crest Academy’s boundaries alone for the present, since that’s not currently where the problem exists, the district had the chance to satisfy both groups of parents — those in the north who deserve the right to attend their neighborhood school, and those in the south worried about limiting options for access to CCA.

But the SDA constituents were denied.

After a tedious two-hour presentation by staff that summarized thoroughly but not very succinctly the meetings, surveys, community presentations, legal constraints, history of the district, and boundary options, the public was at last allowed to speak.

Twenty-five speaker slips were received, and passions ran high on both sides.

Three former SDUHSD board members were present, two of whom — Linda Friedman and Sue Hartley — spoke in favor of making no change. The third former trustee, Dee Rich, was present but did not speak, telling me later that she too did not support any change to the current system.

“Choice” seemed to be the operative word: those wanting a small boundary around SDA as well as those advocating for no change used the word to make their respective cases.

But choice for some limits choice for others.

SDUHSD trustee Joyce Dalessandro said she saw “no evidence presented that’s a compelling enough reason to change the current system,” which she said has been “working almost flawlessly since its inception.”

Trustee Amy Herman also supported no change, saying it has worked well over the years. She expressed gratitude to longtime board member Dalessandro for providing history and expertise on the issue.

Trustee Mo Muir, who didn’t state a firm position on the question, advocated for parity among the schools “so there’s not a lottery.”

Board president Beth Hergesheimer supported the current policy, but said she didn’t see her position as in favor of “no change” because she expected the two boundary schools — La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines — to make adjustments and modifications to their programs to attract more students and ease demand for the two academies.

Only board member John Salazar seemed to sympathize with the neighborhood school advocates, saying, “It makes logical sense to create small boundaries” around SDA to give priority to those who live nearby.

“The current system is broken,” he said.

Taking direction from the board (there was no formal vote), SDUHSD Superintendent Rick Schmitt said, “We will carry on as we have for the past 19 years” — with some fine-tuning along the way.

And thus concludes that year-long exercise.

Lack of math class for advanced students

When I heard that a number of eighth-grade students in the district’s middle schools who are advanced in math had no classes offered at their schools at their level, and were advised to either go to their nearest high school for the appropriate math class or pay to take a class online, I asked the district for an explanation.

According to SDUHSD Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services Jason Viloria, the district has five eighth-grade students at Earl Warren, six or seven at Diegueño, six or seven at Oak Crest, two at the newly opened Pacific Trials, and nine at Carmel Valley Middle School, whose schools offer no appropriate option for a math class at their advanced levels.

He said it’s not economically possible to offer a math class for such a small number of students at each school. And the district cannot afford to pay their fees for online classes.

Combining the 30 students into one large group for a math class in one middle school presents the same transportation obstacles and resistance from parents as sending them to their nearest high school.

So the options for the parents of these students are to pay for the online class, drive their eighth-graders to and from their nearest high schools in the middle of the day for their math class, or delay for one year taking math.

Viloria said he’s “spent hours and hours” trying to solve this problem, with no success.

Late start highs and lows

Finally at long last, the overwhelming consensus by respected researchers and experts that early school start times for teens are detrimental to their health and well-being has convinced the district to adjust bell schedules accordingly and provide students with start-time flexibility.

At Earl Warren Middle School, the previous school start time of 7:20 a.m. (completely ridiculous) has been moved later one hour, to 8:20 a.m. Students still have the option of taking a zero period that starts at 7:20, but first period for all others now begins at a sane time.

There’s only one glitch: The Earl Warren bus schedule is still matched to the zero period schedule. So pick-up is at 6:45, with drop-off at school at 7:05.

Viloria said budget constraints dictate a shared bus for Earl Warren and Carmel Valley Middle School.

So in the morning, the bus picks up EWMS kids early and the CVMS kids on time. In the afternoon, the kids from EWMS will be picked up on time and the CVMS kids will need to wait about one hour past the end of school to get picked up by the bus.

As one reader wrote to me, “This is crazy.”

When the bus schedules don’t support the new bell schedules, it rather defeats the whole purpose of offering a later school start time if kids have to get up and out and be at school over an hour before their first period class.

“The bus routes were not able to be changed to have drop-off for all students at all schools at the same time,” Viloria explained, saying there were not enough buses in the fleet.

Students riding the a.m. bus to Oak Crest Middle School in Encinitas and Earl Warren in Solana Beach will be dropped off prior to the start of zero period. Those buses then return to run the routes for CVMS and Diegueño Middle School in Encinitas to drop off there in time for first period.

In the afternoons, Viloria said, this flips and “the OCMS and EWMS students leave right after the bell rings, whereas the CVMS and DNO students have about a 45 to 50 minute wait for the bus to pick them up.”

The district is providing additional staff to supervise students who arrive early or must wait after school for the bus.

Viloria said of the approximately 600 Earl Warren students, about 25 percent (125-130) take zero period. But fewer than 30 of those ride the bus to school.

Of the 1,350 CVMS students, about 400 are taking zero period, he said.

In an effort to support families, Viloria said the district is now offering one-way bus passes, so parents can purchase just a.m. or p.m. passes. This approach has been well-received, he said.

Nevertheless, the bus schedule is inconsistent with the implementation of a much-needed later start time, although I suppose parents should be grateful they have the bus option at all.

Viloria said the district does not have the money to offer more bus routes, noting that busing continues to encroach on the budget, even after charging for passes.

Every year, the school board considers whether to discontinue busing, but has once again decided to offer it for another year.

“I think the board is proud of the fact that [the district is] trying to offer busing,” even though it’s a large expense for the district, Viloria said.

The idea of flipping the a.m./p.m. schedule every year is being considered, he said. This would give students at the two-year middle schools one year each of alternate arrival and departure times.

A final note: Thanks to all the parents and community members who write to me about their concerns. From the trivial to the potentially explosive, all feedback is always welcome and enlightening.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at