Update: Charter School Study Group Presses Ahead at Grossmont High

School district keeps new attendance boundaries but lets incoming students pick old school.

Updated 2:35 p.m. Feb. 19, 2012

Despite school board action Thursday on attendance boundaries, Grossmont High School teachers are continuing their charter-school research, a teacher said Sunday in response to a Patch inquiry.

“The charter exploration study is focused on improving the instructional programs at GHS,” said the teacher involved in the process. “We will continue to seek options to be sure we are providing the very best instructional opportunities for the students in our community and will therefore continue exploring the charter process.”

The teacher’s name is being withheld because “we do not want a single person associated with the charter discussion to be identified.”

Original story from Feb. 17, 2012:

Responding to parent outcry, the Grossmont Union High School District board voted Thursday night to let families opt out of controversial new attendance boundaries.

Families in so-called transition areas—neighborhoods shifted from one high school to another—can now decide whether to send their children to the map’s new high school or the old one, according to Superintendent Ralf Swenson. (See attached PDF for district statement on new policy.)

The 4-1 vote came after more than two hours of public comment and board discussion at the performing arts theater at West Hills High School in Santee. Board members Robert Shield, Gary Woods, Jim Kelly and Dick Hoy voted for the choice option.

As with the original decision on attendance boundaries Nov. 10, board member Priscilla Schreiber cast the dissenting vote, calling the board’s method of redistricting its “dog and pony show,” and saying the entire event had been “one of nonsensical sequences of decisions and processes.”

“I’m not saying that open enrollment in the transition areas isn’t going to satisfy the people, but at some point you have to accept Model 9 is our map,” said Schreiber, who clashed with board president Shield during the meeting.

Board member Kelly had a more positive outlook.

“What we do is not locked in stone,” he told the audience. “You really need to applaud yourselves because you have won. It’s OK; you can be happy.”

A month ago, members signaled to nearly 100 angry parents that the boundaries would stay, and Swenson said: “Those lines have to be drawn somewhere. Inevitably, someone will be happy and someone will be unhappy.”

Despite the apparent good news Thursday, a group of about 150 people—including parents, grandparents, students, concerned residents and other supporters—wasn’t celebrating.

Instead, many voiced distrust of the board throughout and after the meeting, and wondered what information was being left out. A small group created a commotion by loudly walking out of the meeting (see attached video).

“Once a law passes, it’s harder to repeal that law,” said Khamp Thongrivong, who lives near Helix Charter High School.

He said he’d attended many San Diego Unified School District board meetings and was startled by the bickering and unprofessionalism he witnessed from the GUHSD board. He said he’d not seen that behavior at all from SDUSD board members.

“If they’re treating each other this way [on the Grossmont board], how are they going to have the best interest of the community?” he asked.

Under the new guidelines, the district’s guaranteed transfer process begins on Feb. 21, when it will mail out letters to incoming ninth-grade transition-area families asking them to state their high school preference. Families have until March 2 to reply and the process is to be completed by March 5.

Regular open enrollment for the district’s remaining families will then begin and be done by March 30.

“I believe we really need to respect neighborhood integrity,” Swenson said. “This [choice and open enrollment] is not a one-year deal. There is not a sunset on this motion.”

There may be no time limit, but the district plans to closely “monitor the effect of this action” to determine whether natural enrollment trends are following its “five-year, 20 percent per year goal” of rebalancing student populations at its nine traditional high schools (Helix and Steele Canyon are exempted as charter schools).

If not, Swenson said, another redistricting process might be initiated.

One father found that disconcerting.

“My issue is that I have a sixth-grader, so we’re talking 2014,” he said. “Given what transpired here tonight, there was really no reason for me to be here tonight because the decision was already made.”

But Swenson called the solution “a decision that is better than rescission,” which had been the goal of a group of parents led by Gregory Kerrebrock of La Mesa, who filed a petition this month to rescind the boundary action.

Through a PowerPoint presentation, Swenson said 40 percent of the district’s current ninth- through 12th-grade transition-area students were already attending the “new” school.

The slide continued: “There are 1,407 students in grade 8 who live in transition areas and some of those families would have chosen the same option through our Open Enrollment opportunities.”

Schreiber referred to the solution as a “Band-Aid,” and said “the guiding reason that a boundary committee was put in place was to bring in a school in Alpine.”

That would have been the district’s 12th school, and originally was planned to have been built with Proposition U bond money received in 2008 that supplemented Proposition H bond funds.

But Schreiber said plans to enhance things like performing arts instead of limiting funding to multipurpose classrooms is not leaving enough money for  construction of the new school.

“Not that I’m against performing arts, but we’re putting all this money into these schools here so they can never build a school in Alpine for that community,” Schreiber said after the meeting. “So their property values will never increase because they’re funding with their tax dollars on two bonds down here.”

She said the board now finds itself having to “calm the savage beasts” because the boundary committee didn’t act with transparency or engage the community during the redistricting process.

“So we’re using open enrollment that we wanted to tighten, we’re using that as a tool—a Band-Aid—to fix this problem,” Schreiber said.

Despite her protests, Shield seemed to speak for the rest of the members.

“I think this is the best choice under the circumstances,” he said. “Is it the ideal solution that we would have come up with 12 months ago? Probably not. But under the circumstances we’re dealing with tonight, I don’t see any other viable option.”

Concerned Citizen February 17, 2012 at 11:40 PM
As someone who attended the meeting, I feel I must point out a few things this article left unclear. One is Priscilla Schrieber did not necessarily support the 9 school map at all. She wished the district recognized the commitment they'd made to residents of Alpine prior to the bond drive. She wished the district's charter schools were included on the map. She sees them providing in district public school options for families who might otherwise leave the district all together. She also applauded the variety those schools offer East County residents. She is clearly not anti-traditional nor anti-charter schools, she is simply pro community public education, and encouraged the board to consider why they (as a group) have never taken the time to think "outside of the box.". The district might find itself attracting more students to less populated schools by understanding what is happening in feeder districts, establishing relationships with them, and consider academic programs that would draw students to their less attended schools, perhaps in partnership with feeder districts. This is not to say any one high school is bad, but the system has not responded to the reality that many parents seek out educational opportunities. Sometimes this begins prior to even getting to high school.
Things I Learned February 17, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Racist. http://lamesa.patch.com/articles/monte-vista-teacher-thinks-unfair-racial-and-socioeconomic-misperceptions-are-hurting-school-s-attendance


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