Board votes to keep Sunset High School name

The new Sunset campus under construction.

The Sunset name will not change.

On Feb. 27, the San Dieguito Union High School District board voted to retain the Sunset High School name and to rename the adult transition program as COAST Academy. Both COAST, which stands for Community Opportunities for Adult Students in Transition, and Sunset will be housed on the newly-named Requeza Educational Center campus on Requeza Street.

In January, a naming committee had recommended the names Coastal Oaks or Pacific Oaks High School for the new Sunset campus that is currently under construction and is set to open this fall.

Since the name change was first proposed last year, Sunset alumni and former staff members have been vocal in pushing back against the change. At the board’s direction, San Dieguito Deputy Superintendent Mark Miller conducted a digital survey of current Sunset students over the last month in which the name Sunset High School received 62 percent of the vote.

“I appreciate everyone who participated in this process…At the end of the day, a lot of it came down to the student voice,” said Clerk Melisse Mossy. “I’m looking forward to all the amazing things that are going to happen on this campus.

We love Sunset.”

The vote was not unanimous, with trustee Joyce Dalessandro voting in opposition.

“I think there is enough indication of people’s opinions of what happens at Sunset that is unfortunately very, very different than what actually happens at Sunset,” Dalessandro said. “And if the name is holding it back, if the name is having an influence on the number of kids who are there…I am in favor of rebranding it.”

For both the Sunset and COAST, Requeza Educational Center campus will represent a long-awaited new permanent home for programs that have existed out of portable classrooms for several years.

The new campus will feature a multi-purpose room, a state-of-the-art science classroom, art and culinary classrooms, a learning garden and space for the adult transition program, which provides instructional and work-related activities for special education students ages 18-22. Along with the new digs, COAST is looking to develop more of an identity, complete with school colors and a mascot.

Sunset Principal Rick Ayala first proposed a new name for Sunset last June. With the new name on a new campus, Ayala hoped to dispel negative perceptions surrounding the school—he said families do not take advantage of the school and all it offers for students due to the stigma attached to the Sunset name. In his 12 years at the school, he has worked to chip away at the stigma and he said it is a much different school than it was in the past. Rather than being sent there involuntarily for discipline issues, most students are there now voluntarily. Some pick Sunset to accelerate their progress to graduate early, some to recover credits and others because they’d rather be at a small school.

The current enrollment at Sunset is 103 students, the previous year there were 145.

SDUHSD board member Kristin Gibson said the name of the school is not as important as the district’s upcoming efforts to make it known that Sunset is a high school of choice for more students who could benefit from the program.

“The school is a gem, it’s a magnificent thing,” Gibson said. “I do think it’s in need of some rebranding just so that we let people know that’s an option for perhaps more kids than it was before.”

SDUHSD Vice President Mo Muir said she would like to see the district communicate more about Sunset’s offerings and to build the school community as Sunset does not have a parent teacher association or foundation.

SDUHSD Superintendent Robert Haley said after they get the new facility up and running, he envisions the 2020-21 to be an in-depth planning year as they work to showcase the strength of the program as a true alternative high school.

Muir said she saw the work already beginning at a recent high school information night at Diegueno Middle School where many parents learned about Sunset for the first time and seemed receptive to it.

SDUHSD President Beth Hergsheimer said she had been open to the name change but she wasn’t sold on any of the names that were proposed. Regardless of the name, she agreed that rebranding needs to occur as she has heard from staff that they are losing students to families who will not consider the school.

“I absolutely believe that Principal Ayala came from a place of earnest desire to serve more students in bringing this forward to us,” Hergesheimer said. “And that’s one of my biggest disappointments in not making a change to try and help him in his quest to serve our students better. Hopefully there will be other ways we can find to do that.”