CARLSBAD — Relief for the overcrowded Carlsbad High School will be prolonged after the district staff and board members decided to open the new Sage Creek High School with fewer students.At its March 6 meeting, CUSD (Carlsbad Unified School District) board members supported staff’s recommendation to open Sage Creek High School with only a ninth grade class for the 2013-14 school year after enrollment for tenth grade fell considerably short of student targets.
As a result, Carlsbad High School will provide for all of next year’s tenth grade students at its already congested campus.
“Carlsbad High School is an impacted school as is. There is a critical mass of students there. It’s crowded,” said Dr. Robert Nye, CUSD assistant superintendent instructional services. “Our (CUSD staff) intent was hopefully to alleviate some of that with next year.”
CUSD staff had initially hoped to enroll 400 ninth graders and 300 tenth graders at Sage Creek for the brand new school’s founding year.
Yet only 305 current eighth graders and 110 of Carlsbad High School’s current ninth graders registered to attend Sage Creek High School as ninth and tenth graders next year.
“I think for Carlsbad High School it will just continue on for business as usual. Instead of 700 students less next year, they will have 300 students less…It’ll stay a little bit larger for an extra year,” said CUSD Superintendent Dr. Suzette Lovely.
To accommodate for all of its students next year, Carlsbad High School will continue to hold classes in the portable classrooms on campus despite the district’s original plans to remove most of them by the fall, according to Lovely.
CUSD staff ultimately recommended not to open a tenth grade class at Sage Creek High School because, with only about 100 students, the school would be unable to offer a full range of necessary courses.
“One of the most compelling reasons in supporting the staff recommendation was Principal César Morales’ concerns that the curriculum offerings, extra-curricular program and athletic program for this small tenth grade cohort might be compromised as they moved through the grade levels, inadvertently placing these students at a disadvantage when applying to college or entering the workforce,” said CUSD Board of Trustees President Elisa Williamson.
“I was disappointed by the low enrollment numbers but as far as it being unusual when you open a new school, that wasn’t necessarily a surprise,” said Lovely.
Nye said that while the district hoped to offer current ninth graders the opportunity to attend a new school, CUSD staff was not surprised that the students did not want to leave after attending Carlsbad High School for a year.
“It’s always a challenge to pull those students away from their current school,” he said.
Sage Creek High School Principal César Morales’ letter to CUSD parents about eliminating tenth grade expressed “great regret” and stated that the low enrollment was “unexpected.”
For the incoming ninth graders, Sage Creek High School will still be able to offer a wide range of classes, extracurricular activities and sports teams, according to CUSD staff.
The CUSD initially strove to offer tenth grade students the opportunity to attend Sage Creek because the opening of the school was delayed for a year due to building issues, said CUSD Deputy Superintendent Business Services Suzanne O’Connell.
With the official student numbers, Sage Creek High School staff must now design a master schedule and determine the school’s teacher and support staff needs, according to Nye.
CUSD does not anticipate that opening Sage Creek High School with only 305 ninth grade students will increase the cost of running the facility since the district never intended to open all of the campus’ classrooms in the first place, O’Connell said. If anything, having fewer students might decrease the campus’ operating costs.
“There are certain costs associated with running a school that enrollment doesn’t play a significant role in,” said O’Connell.
Over the next four years, CUSD hopes to have 1,500 students at Sage Creek High School when the school accommodates all four grades, leaving 2,400 students at Carlsbad High School, said Lovely.
CUSD intends to become a “district of choice,” meaning that students can choose which high school they would like to attend without any residential boundaries.