Canyon Crest waitlist blues, Rancho Santa Fe stipends granted

By Marsha Sutton

Success has its price. The increasing popularity of Canyon Crest Academy as a school of choice has resulted this year in more lottery applications for incoming ninth grade than any other year since the school opened in 2004.

Because it’s public school, those accepted are not obligated to attend. There is no deposit required, no financial risk at stake, no sign-on-the-dotted-line agreement.

Typically a certain percentage of students accepted by lottery at a school of choice decides later to attend a different high school, usually their boundary school which in the southern portion of the San Dieguito Union High School District is Torrey Pines.

So the district has learned to overbook, just like airlines do, and admit more kids over the allowable enrollment, expecting a certain number to opt out. Then kids are accepted from the waitlist as space opens up.

Historically, “there’s a certain level of attrition” when the district admits students in ninth grade to CCA, said Rick Ayala, San Dieguito’s director of pupil services and alternative programs, who oversees the lottery process at CCA.

Ayala, who is also the principal of San Dieguito’s Sunset and North Coast alternative high schools, said the district received 747 applications for CCA’s ninth grade for the fall of 2013, the most ever. He said 610 were admitted, and 137 were waitlisted.

With seats for 450 to 480 students per grade level (about 1,800 total for all four grades at CCA), the district admitted about 33 percent more incoming ninth-grade students than available seats.

But this year, more students accepted enrollment at CCA than expected. “There was hardly any attrition this year, not like in years past,” Ayala said.

To accept students from the waitlist, more than 150 students would have had to decline. And that did not happen. In fact, of the 610 admitted, a whopping 556 enrolled.

Ayala called this “the biggest class ever” at CCA. So the district was forced to turn away all waitlisted students.

The minutes from SDUHSD’s May 16 board meeting stated that “all high school choice students on the waitlist were scheduled to be notified that there will be no one moved off the waitlist.”

Ayala said no exceptions were made for any student, contrary to rumors that kids excelling in certain sports were allowed in ahead of others.

Posted on the district’s Facebook page May 21 was the following message:

“This year, as in years past, we had more students select CCA and SDA [San Dieguito Academy] than there is space available so a lottery was conducted to determine admittance priority. Based upon many years of experience with this high school selection process, we know that after the high school selection process ends, we will have students who were initially admitted to either CCA or SDA who never end up enrolling. In anticipation of this attrition, during our initial acceptance process we over-enroll both schools. Some years the subsequent attrition is significant enough to allow us to invite students from the wait lists to attend either CCA or SDA and in some years there is not sufficient attrition to allow for further enrollment from the wait lists because the school is already at or above capacity. This year the enrollment attrition at CCA and SDA was not sufficient enough at either school to allow for further enrollment from the wait list. Both schools are at or above capacity for the 2013-14 school year and therefore, even with any further attrition, there will be no further students admitted to either CCA or SDA for the 2013-14 school year.”

After everyone on the ninth-grade waitlist was notified of this decision, there was quite an uproar among parents whose kids really, really wanted Canyon Crest. Some comments from the Facebook page:

•“Most kids are now putting CCA as their first choice, even if they don’t feel strongly about that school, since they know TP is a ‘safety school’ for them. This strategy dilutes the pool for people who really want to go to CCA for a specific reason (arts, for example).”

•“Our neighbor’s son didn’t really want to go to CCA but put down the lottery just so he could decide later. Well, once he got accepted and decided he did not want to attend, he went back to Torrey Pines counselors only to find out that most of the electives were now full. So he could not get any electives he wanted. So, he just decided, what the heck, I am just going to stay at CCA. I have to say, the current system encourages this type of poor decision-making. And it shortchanges those kids who are making good decisions and have specific reasons they want to go to one school over another (like the film program or the conservatory, etc.). The system clearly needs to be revamped.”

•“What gets me is that both principals at CCA and TPHS made a point of telling parents and students that everyone gets in to their choice by the end of the summer. I have one very sad daughter right now.”

•“There has to be a better way to do this. … What a shame that this year’s group of kids aren’t being afforded the same opportunity, especially since expectations were set by making a waitlist in the first place.”

•“The email sent out Friday night (after hours when no one can call) was lame and gives no rationale. … My son is very upset about this as he wanted to go to CCA.”

•“From what I understand, in years past, kids that were waitlisted usually got in even if it was at the last minute. Hoping for all the kids that are waitlisted (including my own) that the district will realize an error has been made and retract their statement in order to fill the open spots I am certain exist.”

Parent Eric Wesson offered his speculations: “I think this issue is entirely within SDUHSD’s hands, and I think not only have they bungled it, they have been heavy-handed in their public comments. It does not make sense that they would admit no waitlist students in 2011, all in 2012, and then none in 2013. I would like to see their handling of it brought to light.”

Although accepting one-third more kids than available seats seems risky, it worked out last year when the numbers gave administrators guidance on how to proceed this year.

According to data provided by the district, for the 2012-2013 CCA school year for incoming ninth-graders, 599 students were accepted, 457 actually enrolled, and all waitlisted students were accepted.

Going by the previous year, the district admitted about the same number this year – 610. But because of interest that was strong than expected, it didn’t work out as neatly as before.

The school with something for everyone

Is it surprising that Canyon Crest didn’t get as many rejections as before, with its increasingly stellar academic reputation and growing demand from students interested in technology and the arts?

Given the school’s popularity and well-deserved acclaim, it’s likely that next year’s “overbooking” rate will be lowered to avoid giving waitlisted students false hope that they might actually have a chance.

Kids who really want CCA as their clear first choice because they are attracted passionately to the arts and technology belong at CCA. Those specialized programs are unique among not just San Dieguito schools but perhaps all other high schools in the county.

But because CCA is not just an arts/tech focus school but, by demand, has also now morphed into a top-tiered sports school (which is where Torrey Pines used to have its special niche), CCA fits everyone’s needs. And that’s not good for the arts/tech kids.

If CCA got back to its founding roots and de-emphasized sports (which were formerly for fun, recreational and not highly competitive), then the students who want high academics and intensely competitive sports programs will once again be attracted to Torrey. The kids interested primarily in outstanding academics combined with innovative arts and technology (and some recreational non-competitive sports thrown in), will find CCA the best fit. And everything sorts itself out just fine.

As it is now, why wouldn’t every student prefer CCA over Torrey? They are both high-achieving schools, and both offer great athletic programs. Unless you want football or cheerleading, CCA offers all sports plus the arts and technology. Another difference is that CCA has that fast-paced 4x4 schedule, but that attracts as many students as it repels.

CCA is a victim of its own success by becoming “the school that has it all.” So dial back athletics at CCA, create true choices in high school focus, and make schools distinct in their appeal.

When you create a school “of choice” that offers the highest level of everything for everyone, what happened this year can’t come as a great surprise. It’s just a huge disappointment for many arts/tech kids locked out of a high school experience that can be life-changing.

Stipends in Rancho Santa Fe give employees a bit extra

In other news, the Rancho Santa Fe School District’s Board of Education authorized $36,000 in stipends to nine employees at its June 6 meeting. The stipends were approved on the Consent agenda, so there was no discussion.

District superintendent Lindy Delaney, in an email, said, “Many of these stipends are for long-standing standard programs we offer. They are not considered a bonus but rather stipends for work to be performed next year.”

In a phone interview, Delaney explained that this money is a combination of dollars from the district’s general fund and its private education foundation. She said these stipends are for work employees would not do during normal school hours.

“If they can get it done during their working hours, that wouldn’t constitute a stipend,” she said. It’s like a coach’s stipend, “but it’s related to a program.”

Although teachers often work outside of school hours to prepare lessons or grade papers, that’s not considered stipend work. “I expect all the teachers to prepare for their core classes that they teach,” Delaney said.

Stipends, she said, are given for “extra responsibility,” and the district, she said, is clear “about what we pay for and what we don’t pay for.”

Stipends like these have been given out for the past 21 years as part of the general budget, Delaney said, but this year she received legal advice to list them on the monthly agenda.

The largest of these, $10,000 from the district’s general fund, was approved for assistant superintendent Cindy Schaub, for her work to implement state-mandated Common Core academic standards.

Schaub works 85 percent full-time and is leading the district’s transition to Common Core which needs to be implemented statewide by 2014.

Delaney said she recently learned the district is expecting about $108,000 from the state to help fund Common Core implementation. She plans to use the money over the next two years, on labor, time, materials, professional development and other resources.

According to School Services of California, a financial and advocacy resource center for education in California, Sacramento will provide districts with about $170 per student based on average daily attendance to help fund instructional materials, professional development and technology necessary to implement the national Common Core academic content standards adopted by the state Board of Education.

The current trailer bill language, as proposed, further states that “these funds must be expended pursuant to a plan adopted by the respective LEA [local educational agency] governing boards following the adoption of the plan in a public hearing.”

Delaney said Schaub’s $10,000 stipend and all future related stipends for Common Core work will be reimbursed to the general fund once the state money becomes available.

Other employees who received stipends for the coming year, in amounts “not to exceed,” are:

•Steve Rossier, athletic director, $6,000 from general fund and foundation [“We have an extensive athletic program with 16 team sports offered each year and a ‘no cut’ policy in place,” Delaney said.]

•Paul Coco and Maureen Cassarino, Student Council advisors, $1,500 each from general fund

•Paul Coco, Mathematics Chair, $2,000 from general fund

•Maureen Cassarino, Literacy Lending Library Coordinator and staff development for English & language arts, $3,000 from general fund

•Elena Colvin, Science Discovery Day, $1,000 from foundation

•John Galipault, Science Discovery Day, $500 from foundation

•John Galipault, robotics team, $4,000 from general fund and foundation

•Dave Warner, robotics team, $4,000 from general fund and foundation

•Kelly Stine, Science Chair, $2,000 from general fund

•Michele Schnyder, Patriotic Week Coordinator, $500 from foundation

Delaney did not know the exact split between funding from the general fund and the foundation. “The stipend probably comes more out of the district than the education foundation, but the foundation provides [and] pays for most of the programs,” she said.

To illustrate, the foundation might provide $10,000 for Science Discovery Day. If $8,500 is spent, then the extra money can be used on stipends, she said. But if the entire foundation amount is spent, then the district’s general fund covers the stipends.

Using science as an example, she said, “We spend far more on science teachers than they [the foundation] give us, but what they give us helps offset the cost of the science teachers.”

Delaney said she provides the foundation with a budget for literacy support, teachers, small class sizes, science, math and special programs.

— Marsha Sutton can be reached at