Rhoades School set to debut new middle-grades campus in Encinitas

Tranquil view from a high point of The Rhoades School's new middle school campus in central Encinitas.
(Charlie Neuman/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Middle school students who attend what’s billed as San Diego County’s only private school dedicated to the educational needs of gifted children will be moving to a new campus early next month.

“This is a school for very bright kids ... they’re strong in academics, but we also want them to develop their social/environmental (skills),” Regina McDuffie, Rhoades’ head of school, said Wednesday, Aug, 21, as she described the appeal of the new, tree-filled middle school campus in central Encinitas.

The public is invited to check out the new campus at a community open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday. Classes begin on Sept. 3.

For some three decades, The Rhoades School has operated a kindergarten through 8th-grade school on the eastern edge of Encinitas near Rancho Santa Fe. It’s an ideal school site, McDuffie said, but the older students are looking forward to having a place of their own away from the smaller children.

Instead of three classrooms dedicated to their needs and some classrooms they share with the younger grades, the 6th, 7th and 8th-grade students will have an entire 2-acre hillside campus of their own. The Rhoades School purchased what used to be Rancho Encinitas Academy property at 910 Encinitas Blvd.

Painter Alder Flores applies finishing touches to an awning at the outdoor amphitheater of the new middle school campus of The Rhoades School in Encinitas. At right is Regina McDuffie, the school’s director.
(Charlie Neuman/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The academy, which closed several years ago after some 20 years in business, was founded by two education specialists who said at the time they wanted to create a school that didn’t feel like a school. The campus consists of a string of cottage-like, classroom buildings with patios, decks, boardwalks and multiple bathrooms. The Rhoades School renovated the property this summer, adding fresh paint, removing some aging trees, spreading fresh mulch and installing new equipment. But the summer camp-like feeling of the property remains.

“We’re opening with 85 students, but we have the capacity for 140,” McDuffie said, as she gave a tour of the soon-to-open campus on Wednesday, Aug. 21.

As she walked about the grounds, middle school teachers were moving into their classrooms, excitedly unpacking new computers, music recording software and lab equipment.

“I love it. It’s amazing,” music teacher Ron Florentine said, when asked what he thought of his new classroom, which includes an area for a recording studio.

Roxanne Hunker, who teaches science, said she likes the campus location because it’s in the center of the city and closer to the beach. Her students will be able to do more field trips to the beach to conduct water quality tests, she said.

Engineering teacher Alicia Trout said she was looking forward to having more space for her students’ robotics projects, but said the shift to the new campus was bittersweet. It’ll be the first year that her son, who’s a 5th-grader, won’t be on the same campus as she is.

However, McDuffie said she expects the older children at what is being renamed The Rhoades School’s Lower Campus will benefit from the departure of the middle school students.

“The fourth- and fifth-graders are going to have more leadership opportunities because they’re not going to be overshadowed by the older kids,” she said.

Tuition at the middle school will be $19,820 for this coming school year, plus an annual registration fee of $1,575. Class sizes typically range from 15 to 20 students. The Rhoades School doesn’t offer a high school program at the moment, though school officials are looking into the idea, McDuffie said. If they add a high school, they would need to obtain another campus because the middle school site wouldn’t be able to house it, she said.

For now, most of the school’s graduating middle school students move on to Canyon Crest Academy, one of the public high schools in the San Dieguito Union High School District. About a third of the school’s students come from Carlsbad, with the next-biggest category being students who live either in Encinitas or Rancho Santa Fe, McDuffie said.

The Rhoades Middle School Campus Open House

When: 2-4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27

Where: 910 Encinitas Blvd., Encinitas


— Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune