By Craig Beswick
Every day as principal of Diego Valley Charter School, I get to witness the way our unique charter program is turning around the lives of 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? Follow the money.
Facing declining enrollment and a nasty legal battle with a group of Alpine residents, Grossmont superintendent Ralf Swenson and the Board of Trustees 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 seems to believe that by closing these charter schools, they can return students — and the valuable state education dollars that come with them — to the Grossmont district.
The Grossmont district’s courtroom strategy is a disturbing waste of precious taxpayer dollars, and you only have to look at who we serve to understand why.
Diego Valley is a free, fully accredited public charter resource center in El Cajon. It serves students from all over East County, including La Mesa. Our nearly 600 students are young people at a crossroads. 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. Without help, these students would become just another statistic, another tick in the dropout rate or even another young person 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; or students with special medical needs. Regardless of why they need our help, we find a way to meet their needs and turn 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 Grossmont High School or Mount Miguel 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 the resource center, students review homework, ask questions, take tests and get tutoring.
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 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.
In an ideal world, 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 is the principal of Diego Valley Charter School in El Cajon.