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Schools Chief Promises Angry Parents to ‘Make It Better’ on Boundaries

Second information meeting for parents draws 150 to Parkway Middle School in La Mesa.

Updated at 1:36 p.m. Feb. 9, 2012

Schools Superintendent Ralf Swenson promised Wednesday night that new attendance boundaries approved for the Grossmont district’s nine regular high schools would be revised with community input.

“We want to acknowledge that we fell short in the process by not including you,” he told 150 parents and youngsters at Parkway Middle School in north La Mesa. “We didn’t invite all the right people. We didn’t hear your voices clear enough.”

Swenson later rapped the 14-member Boundary Committee led by Doug Deane, saying: “I’m disappointed in the way the committee didn’t get [it] done in the respect [of parent outreach],” he said.  “I wish it had. Let’s try to make it better.”

With Grossmont Union High School District board members Gary Woods, Priscilla Schreiber and Dick Hoy looking on, Swenson and other district officials explained how an imbalance in school populations led to the first revision in attendance boundaries in 13 years.

“There are no heels dug into the sand” on the approved boundaries, said Swenson, who recalled his 20 years as a high school principal.  “We didn’t just throw darts.”

But as a result of continued enrollment declines—perhaps 750 to 800 in the district next year—Swenson held out hope for parents of incoming high school students in 2012-2013 that they would get their choice of schools in an open enrollment process. Helix Charter and Steele Canyon charter high schools are actively seeking students as well.

“That’s not good news for everybody,” he said of the enrollment decline. “But it increases [school] choice”—perhaps doubling chances of students to attend a school they aren’t assigned to.

All high schools will be “open” for the 2012-2013 enrollment process, said Swenson and a sheet circulated to parents. (See attached.)

An open-enrollment options letter will be mailed Feb. 15, and the district will accept applications between Feb. 27 and March 9.  Parents of incoming high school students will be informed about their fates starting March 23.

The first parent information meeting was Tuesday night at Hillsdale Middle School in El Cajon; other parents came to Parkway on a mild night with a full moon in the east.

But Swenson said members of the Latino and Arabic (including Chaldean) communities have sought another meeting in El Cajon, and that one is in the works.

The majority of Parkway’s meeting was spent in smaller “breakout” groups of parents, some with children, seated in circles to discuss specific concerns.

Six groups were led by district staff and one high school principal—Paul  Dautremont of West Hills in Santee, also a member of the Boundary Committee.

Other group facilitators Wednesday were:

  • Robin Ballarin, director of curriculum for the district.
  • Jodi Sevilla, director of district categorical programs.
  • Lucia Washburn, child welfare and support services director.
  • Jenee Littrell, director of Project Shield.
  • And Cindy Douglas, director of professional development.

The six heard a range of issues—but many complaints dealt with not being informed of the boundary change process. One parent said he first learned of the switch via a “Welcome to Monte Vista High School” letter.

Many appeared to be from the nearby Fletcher Hills area of El Cajon, which is being reassigned from Grossmont to West Hills in Santee.

“I was panic-stricken,” said one father, who noted his son has been attending Parkway with the expectation that it was a feeder school to Grossmont High School. “To see this on the television news the night the [school board] meeting took place. … That’s not good.”

Another father, earlier in the meeting, suggested that the district take into account natural communities—such as Little Leagues, AYSO regions and elementary schools—when drawing attendance lines.

The parent also knocked what he considered the quick change, saying none of the reasons given for the new boundaries “rise to the level of crisis.” 

He said it was “totally inappropriate to rush into something like this when there isn’t a crisis.”

Swenson told Patch that the district’s Boundary Committee will not be revived. Any modifications of the boundaries will come after staff examines the results of the parent meetings.

“We will do the best we can with the information we gather,” he said.

Also attending the meeting were Bob Duff, a member of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District board, and that district’s superintendent, Brian Marshall, who thanked Parkway Middle School Principal Mary Beason for use of the auditorium.

For her part, Beason said parents haven’t been calling her school for more than two weeks about boundary issue—after an early spate of questions following the September 2011* school board vote approving the boundaries.

But she said some Parkway families (about 810 students) has recently attended a Saturday open house at West Hills High School.

“I would visit West Hills and keep an open mind, make an informed decision,” she said as advice to worried parents. “I’m pretty open-minded. I would find out about West Hills.”

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong date for school board approval of the new attendance boundaries.

Jennifer Osborn February 09, 2012 at 07:49 AM
Parkway families are invited to find out more about Helix Charter High School, as well. Helix's attendance area is not affected by the GUHSD realignment, and any students grade 9-12 have the opportunity to attend, regardless of residence. Representatives from Helix will be at Parkway Middle School on Thursday, March 8 at 6:00 pm to answer questions about enrolling at Helix. You are also welcome to attend a one-hour tour and program on Helix's campus to find out more about the educational program and see the facility. (More information here: http://excellence-in-education-tour.helix.groupfusion.net/modules/groups/integrated_home.phtml?gid=2257716&sessionid=213b8233a95bda00eb2d598ebea40438) Helix graduates leave Helix having met the admissions requirements for the UC/CSU systems. The most recent data released indicates that 82% of Helix's 2009 graduates enrolled in a post-secondary education institution within 18 months of graduation. We look forward to the opportunity to tell you more about Helix Charter High School. Jennifer Osborn Community Relations Helix Charter High School
Priscilla Schreiber February 09, 2012 at 05:52 PM
CORRECTION: "—after an early spate of questions following the Jan. 12 school board vote approving the boundaries." CORRECTION: The Board voted on the boundary changes, approving Model 9, at it's Sept. 29th, 2011 meeting. January 12th was the meeting, coming off the Holidays, where the board heard from parents who were outraged that they had never heard about the changes and were not included in the process.
Ralf Swenson February 09, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Clarification Regarding: Swenson later rapped the 14-member Boundary Committee led by Doug Deane, saying: “I’m disappointed in the way the committee didn’t get [it] done in the respect [of parent outreach],” he said. “I wish it had. Let’s try to make it better.” I acknowledge the quote, but I want to be clear that the reference to Doug Deane was made by the reporter, not me. My intent was to communicate that while the committee was doing its work there was not adequate communication with all stakeholders by district staff. Doug Deane's exemplary work as committee chair (which was publicly recognized by myself and our Board) should in no way be diminished by staff's failure to communicate more broadly.
Ken Stone February 09, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Sorry for the date mistake, Priscilla. I've added a correction.
Priscilla Schreiber February 09, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Thanks Ken, P:)
Things I Learned February 10, 2012 at 01:48 AM
A statement expressing disappointment "in the way the committee didn't get [it] done" is really a statement expressing disappointment with district staff's "failure to communicate" and not the commitee members whose work was exemplary.
Caring Citizens February 10, 2012 at 05:16 AM
A committee's job is to make recommendations, the superintendent and school board should study the proposal and communicate with the citizens, way to throw a group of volunteers under the bus. Isn't it the job of the elected officials to be in touch with the constituents? Aside from Schreiber, no one else is. It's an election year, time for some change in GUHSD...board and superintendent.
Ken Stone February 10, 2012 at 06:29 AM
Grossmont HS district board will meet at 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 16, to discuss boundary process options, including halting changes. Site of meeting is still to be determined. Complete details on discussion will be posted early Friday morning.

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