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Students, parents and staff return to campus at Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad on Wednesday for orientation. The school welcomes its first senior class this year. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Sage Creek, CUSD’s newest ‘jewel,’ continues to shine

CARLSBAD — Parents, students and staff are slowly filling the halls of the city’s schools.

On Tuesday, students, teachers and administrators return for the first day of the 2016-17 year and one welcomes its first-ever senior class.

Sage Creek High School, which opened four years ago, has grown from the plucky start up to a comprehensive learning center for its 1,250 students. The senior class began as a collective of 305 students taking a chance on the newest jewel within the Carlsbad Unified School District.

Principal Cesar Morales was handed the reins five years ago and with his leadership team and staff, has built one of North County’s most budding schools.

“There are multiple levels of excitement,” he said. “To me, the fascinating part is the twinkle in the eye of the students and they see it’s real. They are seeing a springboard. I think it’s the level excitement of, ‘I understand who I am, I’m prepared and … I’m positioned.’”

The school started with an emphasis in science, biomedical, math and technology, but has created a strong performing arts department, along with fielding competitive athletic programs.

Morales said as the talent in dance and performing arts has progressed, so has the need for facilities. A performing arts center with seating for 350 will be completed in December 2017.

Although this year’s seniors will not be able to take center stage, they were the ones, who, through a tireless work ethic and passion for the arts, made the building a reality through productions such as “Guys and Dolls” and “Grease,” Morales said.

The success on the stage and field has flown in the face of what the perception of the school was thought to be when it opened, he added.

“Jillian Porter, who is our theater teacher, has put on these amazing, just phenomenal productions,” he said. “Now, we’re at the point where we can go full throttle.”

The decision, however, was a tough one as Morales had to decide between the arts and a computer science program. In the end, though, he, the staff and students got both.

“I really had to make a decision between to kick off a dance program … or kick off computer science,” Morales said. “We opened our computer science … and that thing really blew up.”

CUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Churchill, meanwhile, said he is ready to fast-forward to graduation day to shake the hands of so many “amazing” students.

Although Churchill recently took over for Dr. Suzette Lovely, who spearheaded the creation of Sage Creek, he said the school is an example of how to build positive educational opportunities for Carlsbad’s youth.

He praised the efforts of the staff and their creation of the Genius Project. The program enlists juniors and seniors to take on a project from an idea to presentation over the course of two years.

Through their English class, the first year is developing the idea and proposal, while the senior year focuses on research and public presenting.

“I think it’s a great example of real world learning,” Churchill said. “That’s one example of something that is really innovative and forward thinking the staff has organized for the kids at Sage Creek.”

Morales, meanwhile, said the success of the school is due to the clear mission developed by the staff and administration before the doors opened. He said creating a unique experience and preparing students for their college and career paths is the top priority.

Morales also praised the students and staff’s grit in paving the way for the school to become an example of how to open a new facility.

“Sage Creek started off … I think it had a false sense of a techy, magnet, 4.0 GPA kid is the only one who belongs,” he added. “One of the things we’ve really worked towards, is this a place for any kid in the Carlsbad community.”

As for the staff, the principal said they are the cornerstones and committed to bringing out the best in their students. He said the competition between teachers, custodians and administrators brings out their best.

“It’s a group of committed professionals,” he added. “That is the essence of the staff. We have expanded, but kept what Sage Creek was intended to be. A school for the Carlsbad community and to prepare kids to thrive in college and career.”

As for the rest of the district, Churchill said the past several days, as well as Monday, centers on teacher training, room prep and registration for students.

The district boasts nearly 11,000 students in its 15 schools.

“I spoke with many teachers (Wednesday), and they are enthusiastic and excited,” Churchill said.