The Coast News Group
Sage Creek High School Principal Cesar Morales (center with his arms open) leads a small group of parents and Carlsbad Unified School District employees around the site for the new campus. The small building in front will be Sage Creek’s counseling center, the larger buildings will become classrooms. Photo by Rachel Stine

New high school makes Carlsbad a ‘district of choice’

CARLSBAD — Gearing up for the student enrollment period, Principal César Morales has a way of making Carlsbad’s new Sage Creek High School sound like part rigorous academic institute and part luxury country club. 

At the Nov. 29 information night, Morales highlighted the specifics of the school’s academic aspirations, explaining their trimester system and S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subject focus.

After his presentation, he addressed about 450 parents as they peppered him with questions about students’ chances of being accepted into Ivy League schools and the specific hours for a library that has not yet been built.

On Dec. 4 Morales chatted about plans to give the library a “Starbucks-y feel” and developing the “cafeteria experience” while ushering Carlsbad parents and district employees around the school’s construction site.

For the first time, parents and students within the CUSD (Carlsbad Unified School District) will have a choice of high schools to attend when Sage Creek opens for the fall 2013-14 school year.

With the opening of Sage Creek, CUSD will become a district of choice, meaning that there will not be any school boundaries and students within the district can apply to either school.

CUSD looked into building a second high school as Carlsbad High’s student population continued to grow beyond the campus’ means.

Carlsbad High was originally built in 1957 for 1,600 students.

With about 3,200 students enrolled this year, the high school has installed numerous portable classrooms over the years to handle the overflows.

During the November 2006 election, residents passed a $198 million bond to fund the new high school and district-wide repairs.

So far, the school campus at Cannon Road and College Boulevard includes three large, five-story classroom buildings, a counseling center, a gymnasium, football stadium, basketball courts, and several other sports fields.

The campus also has room to spare for additional buildings that administrators anticipate building when the state eventually provides matching funds from the bond.

“As a parent I’d like to know where this bond is going since we’re going to be paying for it for the next 40 years,” said Becky Walker while taking a tour of the property.

Her son is a senior at Carlsbad High and her daughter Genevieve is an eighth grader in the district.

“(Genevieve) kind of has her heart set on going to Carlsbad High because that’s what she is familiar with,” said Walker. “But we’re trying to keep our options open.”

As the Jan. 7 to Feb. 8 enrollment window approaches, Morales has been working to attract Sage Creek’s target of 400 freshmen and 300 sophomore students for the school’s first year.

Sage Creek will run on an accelerated trimester system, allowing students to earn up to 300 credits over four years.

Each trimester will be 12 weeks long, and students will have five classes each day.

The school’s trimester system will enable students to surpass the 230 credits the district requires for high school graduation, and the 240 credits students can earn during the semester system at Carlsbad High.

The additional credit opportunities will allow students to take extra electives courses or drop a class period without missing graduation requirements.

To emphasize its S.T.E.M. focus, Sage Creek will offer elective pathways that consist of four specialized courses, one of which is internship-based.

The school will offer a biomedical science pathway this fall and an engineering pathway next year.

Though Morales is quick to note that Sage Creek will not offer S.T.E.M. programs exclusively.

In its first year, the school will offer 18 sports including basketball, soccer, golf and lacrosse.

Sage Creek also has the capacity to offer visual and performing arts classes including dance, drama, band and painting; though the school won’t have a performing arts facility until a subsequent building phase.

The school also won’t be able to offer a full range of academic courses, electives and sports during its first few years because of the small student population.

Classes and extracurricular activities offered will be based on student interests and teacher qualifications, according to Morales. As a result, inaugural students won’t know which classes and programs are offered until after the students enroll.

Many parents have expressed concerns that the school’s limited courses will restrict which classes their children will be able to take, possibly affecting students’ chances of college admissions.

Addressing these concerns, Morales said that colleges would not look negatively upon students from a newer, smaller school. “Just because we are starting small doesn’t mean your child will be penalized,” he said.

At Carlsbad High, the students will continue to be offered a wide range of well-established academic, arts and sports programs, just with a smaller student population.

Carlsbad High is known for its broadcast program, and also offers electives including journalism, Tech Theater and web design. The school has 26 sports teams, including its dance team, which frequently wins national titles.

With the opening of Sage Creek, it’s expected that the student population will decrease significantly at Carlsbad High, but both schools will share a 38.5:1 student to teacher ratio.

Sage Creek aims to cap enrollment around 1,500 students total, which will leave Carlabad High still the larger school. If too many students apply, Sage Creek will use a lottery system to select students at random for enrollment.

Students and parents in the district face “tough decisions with great opportunities” when selecting a high school, said Morales.