Administrators proud of high school in the Jewel


(This is the first in a series of stories profiling issues of concern to La Jolla high schools.)

Administrators at La Jolla’s high schools - La Jolla High School, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Country Day School and Preuss School - are proud of their school’s traditions, independence and continuing record of academic and athletic achievement.

Asked what the benefits were of attending each school, what the pressures unique to that school were, and how the school is faring in these trying financial times, Dana Shelburne, principal of La Jolla High, Christopher Schuck, head of school at La Jolla Country Day, Alison Fleming, associate head of school at Bishop’s and Scott Barton, acting principal of Preuss on UCSD campus, were forthright in delineating the pluses and minuses of getting an education in the Jewel.

One word came immediately to Dana Shelburne, principal of La Jolla High for 14 years who has one son attending his school and one that just graduated, when asked to describe what makes his public high school distinctive. “You have a mixture of cultures and ethnicities,” he said, pointing out one-quarter of the school’s population comes from outside La Jolla. “It’s a real-world environment. You need to learn how to get along with people from different walks of life, cultural backgrounds, habits, different approaches to life. We value the diversity that we have to offer.”

Another benefit of attending La Jolla High is the breadth of the school’s course offerings. A student can study Japanese or get hands-on experience in wood or auto shop. “It’s a comprehensive high school,” said Shelburne. “We still have theater, band, chorus and fine and practical arts, but with budget cuts, those might be under attack.”

Five years ago, La Jolla High was asked to trim the school’s budget by 7.5 percent, two years later, another 2.5 percent. A new across-the-board state-imposed education budget cut could be in the offing. Said Shelburne: “Before we cut everything we could - paper and supplies, classified staff, an office clerk, a counselor - outside of teaching. This time it means people in the classroom.”

“It’s very frustrating,” said Shelburne, “trying to keep faculty morale up with the very real possibility of position layoffs.”

La Jolla High is noted for the attention the school pays toward educating the entire person. “We’re talking about educating the mind, body and spirit,” said Shelburne. “We’re trying to make healthy, well-rounded, capable individuals who are not going to collapse at the first bump in the road of life.

“We’ve got a long tradition here, having been established in 1922. It’s just great that you have that kind of history to look back on. These kids inherit the tradition of excellence. They feel they’re part of that tradition, and that they’re honor bound to uphold that tradition and pass it on to the next group.”

During his two decades at La Jolla Country Day School at 9490 Genesee Ave., Christopher Schuck has done everything from scrubbing restrooms and driving a bus to teaching and being an assistant administrator. Now head of school, Schuck feels privileged to be guding the nursery through 12th grade private, college-preparatory school which has 1,060 students.

“We have a real potent combination of global outlook and personal engagement,” said Schuck, describing the uniqueness of the 24-acre La Jolla school which draws students from nearby Del Mar and as far away as Alpine and Jamul in East County.

Country Day has ongoing exchange programs and sister-school relationships on five continents. Many of the school’s students visit foreign countries. “La Jolla Country Day was the first, large independent school in the nation to be commended for global awareness,” noted Schuck.

Students and staff work closely together at Country Day. Said Schuck: “We develop real deep and lasting personal relationships.”

There are some problems unique to a K-12 school like Country Day where a quarter of the student population has attended no other school. “One of the pressures Country Day high school students face is all the opportunities, all the resources available to them. Said Schuck: “They can pursue virtually any enthusiasm they have. They have to learn to say no and draw the line so they’re not trying to do too much.”

Country Day is in the throes of a major renovation, having expanded its fine and performing arts programs. Said Schuck, “We’re in the middle of constructing a visual arts and science center where we’ll have state-of-the-art science labs and a visual arts center. Our day-to-day challenges are really working around the construction.”

The Bishop’s School, a private, 7-12th grade Episcopalian institution celebrating its centennial next year, has a singular approach to education embodied in its mission statement which stresses “fostering integrity, imagination, moral responsibility and commitment to serving the larger community.”

What’s distinctive about Bishop’s?

“Outstanding faculty first and foremost,” said Alison Fleming, associate head of school who is also a Bishop’s alum. “When a child graduates from Bishop’s there’s an appreciation for the intellect that stays with them the rest of their life. Graduating responsible citizens is important to us.”

Fleming noted Bishop’s has “an incredible scholarship program.”

Bishop’s is not just a school, said Fleming, it’s a way of life. “We have students here until the late evening,” she said. “They’re in our theater, on our fields, connecting in some sort of way to our school and the faculty. It’s the closest thing to being a boarding school, in terms of committment, the time the kids spend on campus.”

Education at Bishop’s is very personalized. Said Fleming: “There are high expectations, but there’s a safety net to suppport students here. If a student really wants to take calculus, they can come in after school and work with that teacher one-on-one.”

Education at Bishop’s also takes into account the larger picture. “The larger goal here is the needs of the community,” said Fleming. “We’re committed to the bettering of the community.”

There are many challenges at Bishop’s. The school is in transition, as head of school Michael Teitelman will be leaving this year after 25 years. “The hard part is to make sure the school grows in the direction you want,” said Fleming, “being innovative while maintaining your traditions. It’s a tricky balance here for a school that’s been here 100 years. You want to be here 100 years from now. So what’s the connection between your past and your future?”

Preuss is the youngest (9 years) and perhaps the most unique of the four La Jolla high schools. It’s unique by its very nature: It’s a charter school whose express purpose is to provide college-preparatory training to students from underrepresented families who’ve never gone to college. Located on the campus of UCSD, Preuss enjoys decided advantages over other high schools.

“We get hundreds of tutors and interns and mentors from UCSD,” noted Preuss acting principal Scott Barton.

“More than 90 percent of our kids are admitted to four-year university programs,” said Barton.

Preuss also employs some unique educational training. For one, seniors are required to do a “senior exhibition,” wherein they present a “defense” of their graduation to a panel of community members and school staff.

Preuss is also unique in terms of parental involvement. “We get 300 or 400 parents at our Saturday meetings,” said Barton, “and we only have 750 kids.”

There are many challenges for students attending Preuss. A big one is just getting there. Students are bused from as far away as San Ysidro to take advantage of the school’s college-prep programs.

Providing bus transportation is one of the school’s major financial challenges. “We’re paying more than $400,000 per year to bus our students here,” said Barton.

A future challenge at Preuss will be tracking the students who graduate and go on to higher education. “Last year, 96 percent of our students were admitted to four-year colleges,” said Barton. “Our next challenge will be studying those students. Are they staying in college?”