San Dieguito breaks ground on Sunset campus, no decision made on proposed name change

The San Dieguito Union High School District held a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Sunset campus on Sept. 9.

On Sept. 9, the San Dieguito Union High School District celebrated the groundbreaking for the new Sunset High School campus in Encinitas set to open in fall 2020.

For nearly 40 years, the campus included all temporary buildings, which were demolished at the beginning of the summer. The $18.6 million campus rising in its place will bring several resources the school has never had such as a multi-purpose room, a state-of-the-art science classroom, space for art and culinary classes and outdoor gathering spaces, including a learning garden four times as large as the existing one.

The campus on Requeza Street will also be the new home of the district’s Adult Transition Program, which supports special needs students ages 18 to 22 and helps prepare them for independence and adult life. After being in portables for two decades, the ATP program will finally have the space it deserves with its own classrooms and access to a kitchen classroom, an outdoor area for fitness and an auditorium.

“I gotta say while I was sad to see the old campus go, none of us miss the old buildings, spiders and skunks,” said Sarah Trigg, Sunset student board representative.

Trigg said Sunset students have made a smooth transition to their temporary home for the year on the San Dieguito High School Academy campus. “We are so grateful for being welcomed so kindly by SDA,” she said.

At the Sept. 19 SDUHSD board meeting, Vice President Mo Muir addressed that there has been some “consternation” in the community over a proposed name change for the school.

In June, Principal Rick Ayala came before the board to present Sunset staff’s idea to open the school with a new name as a way to address negative perceptions and stereotypes with the Sunset brand. Sunset is technically a continuation school but it is considered an alternative to the four comprehensive high schools in the district.

An online petition, “Save Sunset High School,” has gathered 575 signatures for those who oppose the name change.

The continuation school opened in 1965 and in 1972 was given the name Sunset by that year’s graduating class, “They take ownership of the name,” wrote Sheila Mitra-Sarkar in a letter to the board. “Sunset has many wonderful metaphors and those who live, study and work in Encinitas are well aware of the beautiful sunsets here.”

“For over five decades the school has been an asset to the local communities,” wrote the petition’s founder Diana De Rosa of the school that moved to its current site in 1981. “Changing the name will not actually result in eliminating the negative stereotyping in the long run. This stereotype is perpetuated by individuals within the school district who will not change their behavior because of a new name.

Outside of the local community, no one even recognizes the name.”

The online petition is filled with comments from Sunset alumni who oppose the name change, writing about their life-changing and even life-saving experiences at Sunset and their pride in having attended the school.

“I graduated early and finished over 20 classes in one year. The programs, teachers, and overall tight-knit environment is exactly what your students need. I understand re-branding will not take that away from the school, but the name itself is so special to the generations of kids who attended,” wrote former student Jeff Cooper whose parents, brother and cousins attended the school. “Mr. Ayala and all the Sunset staff are the ones who taught so many of us to embrace our differences, stand tall and be proud of your roots. The name Sunset is part of my story.”

According to Superintendent Robert Haley, Principal Ayala has been organizing events for consideration of a name change. So far, he has been meeting with students, parents and staff but he will also have an opportunity for community involvement and plans to meet with Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear as well as board trustees.

“There is no firm deadline for a decision regarding the name but it will be before construction is finished. We are planning on having the board take action to name the overall site, as it will house more than Sunset High School,” said Haley, referencing the permanent home for the ATP program. “(The ATP program) has been involved in the planning and we want to honor them as a separate entity. As a placeholder, we have been referring to the site as Sunset Educational Center, which may end up staying as the permanent name.”