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Defunct Decatur school gets temporary lease on life

There’s a new kid on the block, at least temporarily, at the site of the old Decatur Elementary School on Soledad Mountain Road.

High Tech Middle Media Arts, a charter school being launched by High Tech High Learning, one of five high-tech high schools in the San Diego Unified School District, has signed a short-term lease at the school site for $66,800. The rent is $16,700 per month, the same cost to the previous tenant, Springall Academy.

The charter school moved in Aug. 22 and will be there until the lease expires Dec. 31. The temporary lease agreement was approved Aug. 9 by San Diego City Schools board.

Decatur has been leased out by San Diego Unified School District since 1983, when the school was closed due to declining student enrollment in La Jolla.

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High Tech is scheduled to move into new facilities at the revamped former Naval Training Center in Point Loma, but construction work there was behind schedule forcing them to find temporary quarters elsewhere. Erika Wilgenburg, communications supervisor for San Diego City Schools, said the timing was right for High Tech to move in to Decatur temporarily.

“We had a tenant vacating the Decatur site Aug. 15,” she said.

High Tech’s focus is on technology. The new charter school temporarily operating at the Decatur site emphasizes media arts.

The school board’s decision in granting the new lease was swayed by a letter to San Diego City Schools from its School Site Support Facilities Management Office.

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Nicole Hinostro, the charter school’s director, said High Tech is providing transportation for its students before school at 9:05 a.m. from High Tech Village in Point Loma to the Decatur site in La Jolla, and returning there after school about 4:30 p.m. every weekday. Parents at High Tech are being offered the option of driving their children to the Decatur site directly.

According to Hinostro, there are three design principles distinguishing High Tech charter school.

“One is personalization,” she said. “Our small school has only 324 students, and we visit each student’s home and know each individual child. And they know when they walk in that they’re loved and appreciated.”

According to its charter, the goal of High Tech Middle Media Arts is to offer technologically rich, project-based learning to sixth- through eighth-grade students, as well as to afford a seamless transition to high school.

Students at High Tech Middle Media Arts are selected by a lottery process done by computer from within the San Diego City Schools District. There are no essays or tests in the student selection process.

Hinostro said her school is also distinguished because it teaches students practical skills they can use in the real world.

“Our second design principle is adult world connection,” she said. “We do project-based learning. That means children are involved in authentic, real projects that connect to the world outside of school, everything from an advertising campaign for an environmental non-profit to studying the different types of animals in a wetlands or other environment.”

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Wilgenberg said charter schools like High Tech Middle Media Arts are autonomous from the school district in terms of setting up their own curriculums and running their own day-to-day operations, as well as taking care of their own finances.

“The district grants them their charter to operate just like our other public schools,” she said.

Changes made to Decatur in order for High Tech to move in temporarily were minimal, like doing a little bit of painting.

“We’ve had some classrooms that we changed to offices,” said Hinostro, “but we’ve done nothing structurally to prevent those rooms from being turned back into classrooms.”