Grossmont must drop its attacks on East County charter schools

0
305
Avitar.jpg

As Principal of Diego Valley Charter School, I witness every day the way our unique charter program turns around the lives of East County high school dropouts, helping them get back on track and graduate with a high school diploma. We’ve developed a successful personalized learning model that helps at-risk students change their story, and yet the Grossmont Union High School District wants to shut us down. 

As Principal of Diego Valley Charter School, I witness every day the way our unique charter program turns around the lives of East County high school dropouts, helping them get back on track and graduate with a high school diploma. We’ve developed a successful personalized learning model that helps at-risk students change their story, and yet the Grossmont Union High School District wants to shut us down. 

Why would a school district want to shut down a successful charter school? The Governing Board is focused on money, not student success. 

Facing declining enrollment and a nasty legal battle with a group of Alpine residents, Grossmont superintendent Ralf Swenson and his board members have agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to downtown lawyers in an attempt to close five charter schools in East County. The board is convinced that by closing these charter schools, they can return students — and the valuable state education dollars that come with them — to the Grossmont district.

Unfortunately, the board’s strategy to boost enrollment is deeply misguided. It’s a waste of precious taxpayer dollars, and you only have to look at whom Diego Valley serves to understand why. 

Diego Valley is a free, fully accredited public charter school that operates a satellite resource center for students in El Cajon. Our nearly 600 students come from all over the county. Traditional education has not worked for them. They have either dropped out of a traditional high school or are so far behind in credits that they are at risk of dropping out. They’re now at a crossroads in life, and without help, many of these students would become just another statistic — another tick in the dropout rate, possibly even another young adult behind bars. 

Many of our students are teen parents, recent immigrants, teenagers who have to work to support their families, students who have been bullied, students with special medical needs. Regardless of why they need our help, we develop a personalized program that fits their needs and turns them into high school graduates with a future beyond just a diploma.

Diego Valley and the other schools the district is targeting do not operate on the traditional model that you’d see at Valhalla High School or El Capitan High School. Instead of sitting in a classroom five days a week, Diego Valley students do most of their learning independently. Students come in to our resource center a couple times a week to meet with the supervising teacher with whom they have developed a customized curriculum and academic action plan. While they are at our resource center, students review homework, ask questions, take tests and get tutoring when they need it.

Our intention has never been to take students who are doing well in Grossmont district schools, and many of our students who can return to Grossmont schools eventually do. After recovering credits and catching up on their learning at Diego Valley, more than one third of our students re-enroll at a traditional Grossmont district high school. Most of those who do not return to Grossmont schools are ineligible because of their age; 60 percent of our students are over the age of 18. 

Additionally, Diego Valley has won numerous government grants that have allowed us to form special partnerships with outstanding local nonprofit organizations, such as Metro United Methodist Urban Ministry and ACCESS, Inc. These organizations offer specialized tutoring, career training, life skills, technical education and paid internships. 

The results should speak for themselves. From being dropouts or near-dropouts, 86 percent of our students’ graduate high school, and 40 percent of our graduates go on to college. They graduate with a new sense of self-confidence and a jump-start on brighter futures.

Ideally, we would work closely with the Grossmont district to share best practices and help the students who need it the most. In fact, using site visits and consultations, we had already begun building this relationship with the superintendent and other Grossmont administrators before the lawsuit was filed last summer.

I continue to urge Superintendent Swenson and the Board of Trustees to drop their attacks on these students and to come together to find a better solution. If students are truly the top priority, then we’re all in this together.

 

Craig Beswick

Diego Valley Charter School

Principal

Grossmont must drop its attacks on East County charter schools