Parents stage rally for enrollment at San Dieguito Academy


In the sunset of St. Patrick’s Day, a group of Encinitas parents and students rallied to keep San Dieguito High School Academy a community school. The group gathered in front of the high school campus on Santa Fe Drive with posters bearing messages like “Community not lottery,” and “Honk if you support a neighborhood school.”

The honks of passers-by punctuated conversations, leading the group to erupt in cheers.

San Dieguito Union High School District is a mix of boundary and open-boundary schools, with the open boundary “schools of choice” being San Dieguito and Canyon Crest Academy. Concerns sparked last summer when 64 students initially did not get into their choice school of San Dieguito.

The issue was resolved when all freshmen on the wait list at both schools were accepted and an enrollment study group was formed to look into possible reform in the district’s enrollment practices.

The rally was held a day before the district was set to make announcements on the 2015-16 high school enrollment. On Wednesday, March 18, Superintendent Rick Schmitt announced via Twitter that all students in grades 9-12 who legally applied through the district’s high school selection process would be admitted into their first choice school.

The parents at the March 17 rally said that they don’t feel that the district has ignored them — Jennifer Hewitson and Danica Edlebrock both said they feel the district has listened to their concerns and that Michael Grove, associate superintendent of educational services, has been “amazing” and very available to speak with.

“I’m just not sure what the district’s intentions are and how much they’re willing to do,” Edelbrock said.

The district operates under a lottery system when it comes to open boundary schools. If a situation occurs where more students select a school than seats are available, the district decides who gets in through a completely random lottery. No preference is given to proximity.

“I don’t want to change open enrollment, but there should be a reasonable perimeter around the school that would get priority,” Hewitson said.

Edelbrock said she would favor any option that keeps students from being displaced from attending the community’s high school, which is right in the middle of feeder schools like Oak Knoll and Ada Harris.

“A lot of parents with young kids didn’t think this could be a problem. It wasn’t even on their radar. But then they hear that kids who live right across the street might not be able to get in,” Edelbrock said. “It seems silly to ship them off to another school when they can walk. It boggles everybody’s mind.”

Hewitson is herself a San Dieguito graduate and her father was a longtime teacher at the school. From where she stood on the curb on Santa Fe, she pointed to his former classroom building.

Hewitson was anxious for the next day’s lottery, as her son, Johnny, was hoping to get into San Dieguito. She said he is interested in the school for its 4x4 schedule so he can keep his honors classes momentum, but also because this is where his friends will go and it’s close enough to walk.

Since 2008, 98 percent of district students have gotten into their first choice school. In 2011-12, 512 students applied to San Dieguito and 112 were put on the initial wait list. Eventually 80 were accepted, and 32 did not get in.

Canyon Crest also faced an influx in 2011-12 with 781 freshman applicants. Of those, 510 were accepted with an initial wait list of 271, and 221 did not get in. All 559 applicants got into the school in 2012-13, and the next year, CCA had 137 left on the wait list in 2013-14.

Last year, 126 initially waitlisted freshmen were admitted.

“The academies are two different beasts,” Edelbrock said. “Canyon Crest, with all its recognitions, is one of the top schools in San Diego. I feel like people want to go there for totally different reasons than why we want to go to San Dieguito.”

Rally attendee and parent Sarah Gardner, who served on the high school enrollment study group, had a daughter in the lottery this year with her top choice as San Dieguito.

Gardner said she wants to see San Dieguito stay a community high school, allowing students who live close by to walk or ride to school and not contribute to the “early morning mess” of traffic on streets like Santa Fe and Melba Road.

Gardner said she worried about the “quick fix” of letting everyone in, because that solution might not always be possible. She said a boundary around the academy would correct an unfair situation.

“Having set, rational boundaries is more fair,” she said.

The district held four high school enrollment workshops over the past few weeks, at all four district middle schools. The workshops were a way to provide education to the community about the various ways to enroll students, and tasked attendees with weighing the pros and cons of the five options proposed by the high school enrollment study group.

The district also intends to survey parents on the best way to move forward with high school enrollment.

Edelbrock said that since it seems the district does not want to redraw boundaries, her final comment at the Oak Crest workshop was that they should accommodate students at the academies until they enhance programs at Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon.

She heard that only 50 percent of the classrooms at San Dieguito are used 100 percent of the time so teachers can have an entire classroom to prep.

“It seems like there is room for higher enrollment, seeing that at one point the SDA campus held 2,800 compared with the 1,600 capacity now,” Edlebrock said. “Students should be accommodated, not the teachers. Get them a trailer to prep in … Work with what you have and meet the needs of taxpayers and families.”

“If LCC has large capacity and it’s not attracting students, that’s a problem,” Hewitson said. “Something needs to change.”