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I did everything I could to change their minds. I sulked in my bedroom, listening to Screeching Weasel’s “I was a High School Psychopath” on repeat for days. I made it a point to bomb my final semester of eighth grade in the hopes that I would be deemed academically challenged. During family meals, I launched into earnest speeches on the merits of public school and the elitism of private education. Nothing worked. It was hopeless. My parents remained firm in their decision.

I placed the blame on my older sister’s shoulders. Michelle was a chronic overachiever — she even walked at eight months. She’s the one who, at age 12, planted the Nazareth seed in our parents’ minds. Mom later described their decision to send Michelle to the school as a way to ensure that she was a “big fish in a small sea.”

“Attending a school like Nazareth is important for my future,” Michelle whined in eighth grade. “Their small student body will give me an academic advantage.” She was already picturing what her college applications would look like — a cumulative 4.5 grade point average paired with extracurricular activities and a lengthy list of volunteer work. Her ultimate goal was simple: to be a filthy-rich adult. In her version of a bright future, she saw an Ivy League school, a high-paying career, a BMW, and children who wore sweater vests.

Dad loved the idea. He was a Catholic married to an atheist, and he jumped at the opportunity to undo Mom’s “hippie proselytizing.” Dad even took side jobs to cover the cost of Michelle’s tuition.

Meanwhile, I thought Michelle was a complete idiot. Thankful I didn’t inherit the gene that gave her that insatiable drive toward perfection, I was looking forward to attending the same high school my older brother had graduated from, a place free from dress codes and nuns, where students in pottery classes subtly shaped clay into bongs.

Instead, I ended up at Nazareth alongside Michelle.

On my first day of high school, students were allowed to be out of uniform. In place of the itchy plaid skirt, crisp white button-down blouse, and navy-blue V-necked sweater, I wore jet-black thigh-high tights, a short circle skirt, and a crocheted blouse paired with combat boots. I was going for an Angela Chase meets Liz Phair look, edgy with a hint of grunge.

While I was searching for my algebra class, a sweaty junior with a skinny peach-fuzz mustache took one look at me and snickered to his friends. He pointed in my direction and said, “Go home and listen to some Smashing Pumpkins, loser. We don’t do freaks at this school.”

I hated Smashing Pumpkins, but not as much as I hated Nazareth Academy.

Where Everyone Grew Up to Be Well-Adjusted Adults

When our son Andrew started kindergarten, he barely spoke, the result of numerous ear infections he had as a baby that had left him with hearing loss. My husband and I thought about holding him back an extra year, but his speech therapist assured us he was ready to start school. He attended Flying Hills, in the Fletcher Hills community of El Cajon. We loved the school, and he did great there for his two years.

When he was in second grade, we moved to Tierrasanta, and Andrew attended a new school in the San Diego Unified School District. I volunteered in his classroom, and I was alarmed at the way the children were treated like cattle. The teacher spent most of the day barking at her students in frustration. It wasn’t the right environment for my child. He was getting lost in the shuffle. I wanted more for Andrew.

My husband and I decided to look into other schools.

I found a charter school across the street from Balboa Park that seemed promising. It was artsy and had good academics. The day I visited, a handful of picketers stood outside with posters of aborted fetuses.

“There’s an abortion clinic nearby,” the school’s director explained. “We find it best not to engage them.”

After visiting a dozen more schools with no luck, we considered a small private school in Clairemont called Reformation Lutheran.

The school secretary had a thick Midwestern accent. She gave us a tour; the last stop was the second-grade classroom. The teacher, petite with a bob haircut, sat on a round rug, hands in her lap, crisscross applesauce, her students at her feet. She held the classroom pet, a mesmerizing African millipede, in her hands. The seven kids in her combined first- and second-grade room, watched as the arthropod’s legs slithered across the teacher’s palm.

She smiled up at us and introduced the students to Andrew. When the class broke for recess, a messy-haired kid sporting a mouthful of missing teeth invited Andrew to play on the playground. Within minutes he was clambering up the jungle gym and laughing with the other kids. It seemed unreal, as if we were on the set of a family movie, where everyone grew up to be a well-adjusted adult.

We enrolled him on the spot.

Six years later, Andrew is now graduating from that school. He is one of four in his graduating class. Two of his classmates will attend California Lutheran High School, a boarding school in Wildomar. The annual tuition, including board, comes to $10,350. Another kid is going to Foothills, a Christian school in El Cajon. He’ll attend class three days a week at a price tag of $5170 a year.

We can’t afford to send Andrew to a private high school. Besides, we still like the idea of public education. But we have concerns.

I worry that we’ve kept Andrew in a bubble too long and wonder if a large high school will be a shock to his system. I’m anxious about sending him to a place where he doesn’t know anyone.

My husband tells me I worry too much. “He’ll be fine,” he insists. “I went to public school, and I turned out okay.”

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nostalgic Sept. 12, 2013 @ 6:10 p.m.

Public school is the real world, but the education is right there to take, but YOU (parent/student) have to reach for it. I advise you to look at the requirements for UC admission right now. You will see the courses that are required. Voice of experience - Sr. in high school is a little too late. Then work with the school. We live across town from Southeast San Diego, but one of our children went to school there (on the bus), and it was a great education. You will be fine (and I'm sure he will be too). Your husband is right. And no, I don't work for the school district, and I was a worried parent too. Good luck!


Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Sept. 13, 2013 @ 5:16 p.m.

Yes, Ms. Braun, your son will be fine at public high school... if you define "fine" as fully indoctrinated in a culture of diminished academic expectations and over-emphasis on athletic prowess and physical beauty; and if he's big/strong/confident enough to stand up to the strong-preying-on-weak bullying culture that exists in most schools.

Also, he must assent to the fact the Harvey Milk is as important a historical figure as George Washington and Martin Luther King, possibly more so. Because... you know... he was gay. Hooray for gay!

And he must realize that the pledge of allegiance is evil, because it mentions God. While we're on the the topic of God, your son must know that I heart Jesus shirts are strictly forbidden. I heart gay sex shirts, on the other hand, are strongly encouraged.

He must never mention the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, John, and Luke. However, he must memorize the Gospels of Global Warming, Evolution, Atheism, and Gay Rights. He must never refer to them as theories or agendas.

He must have some form of sex before he finished 9th grade. Otherwise he's a loser.

He must also assent to the fact that teachers' unions must be recognized as the sole authority on the subject of education. Never mind the dismal state of public education in CA brought about by said unions.

And he must get high test scores... because, after all, test scores are the point... not actual education.

Hooray for public high school!


Yankeedoodle Sept. 14, 2013 @ 10:40 p.m.

Joaquin: Your sarcasm is not particularly amusing or edifying.


Yankeedoodle Sept. 16, 2013 @ 12:54 p.m.

And of course that is your carefully considered and disinterested opinion?


garedawg Sept. 13, 2013 @ 10:19 p.m.

Now I'm curious. Did her sister ever become filthy rich?


Rebeccan Sept. 14, 2013 @ 4:52 p.m.

It's refreshing to read something even remotely critical of the charter movement (or at least an individual charter), as our local news sources do nothing but rah-rah them and gloss over facts. Although it was interesting to read about this family's journey, it was also a little disheartening to see that there was absolutely no thought given to what their role is in the "reform" fiasco. Every time someone sends their child to a charter school while saying they "support" public education, they should at least acknowledge that their choice is helping to bust teachers unions, defund the real public schools (and no, charters are NOT public, several courts have ruled so) and further the privatization agenda. There are some conservatives and corporatists who are just fine with that, but many others do not even seem to have the slightest understanding. They are so focused on finding a "magical school" that they don't think consider how these decisions aid in destabilizing neighborhoods, de-professionalizing teaching, de-funding schools that are barely scraping by -- and helping to re-segregate the system. Their teaching methods are often unproven, their facilities sub-par and not even subject to the Field Act -- and their scores overall are no better and even lower than the public schools the parents are trying to flee. While these decisions are complicated, it would be nice to know that the effect on the community and the participation in the privatization movement were at least part of the decision-making process.


Visduh Sept. 16, 2013 @ 7:49 p.m.

The things you point out are not present in all charter schools, but they do tend to describe many or most of them. A few actually have delivered on all the things we were promised in the early 90's when the concept was written into law. There are far too many interests out there that sill think the charter concept is the "great white hope" for school reform. But for every charter success story, there are a number of flops, scandals, and indifferent operations.

The whole notion was a counter to the voucher movement that gained great ground in the early 90's. That concept was smacked down, but at the same time an attempt was made to give the voucher folks half-a-loaf. That half was the charter concept. It was posited that if some schools could be freed from the minute dictates of the huge state education code, and no longer were stifled by a huge district bureaucracy that micromanaged the school, those schools would innovate, reinvent themselves and soar. Sadly, only a few of them did that. More often the chartering district washed its hands of the charter school and allowed the power structure free rein. The small volunteer advisory boards usually had no idea of how to actually run a school. The result was often to either hire the biggest talking phony to run it, or to contract the operation to some company that put most of the state-provided funding into its pocket while delivering little.

For the past thirty years parents have sought that magical school that delivers a wonderful education to a happy kid without any strain on anyone. Sadly, such schools don't exist in this state. Some charters bend the rules flagrantly about accepting all comers, managing to cherry pick the applicants for those who will succeed and make the school look good. The local school, especially the local high school, cannot do anything like that, and makes the best of the clientele it has.

The charter concept could work if everyone from the chartering district on down worked to insure that the promised education was delivered. But too often the schools are captured by a small coterie of parents and activists who want some things that should not be paid for with tax money.


Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Sept. 16, 2013 @ 11:55 a.m.

Rebeccan, test scores are not an accurate reflection of the overall culture of any school.

That said, a quick search of River Valley charter discussed in Ms. Braun's article shows it to have a state academic performance index of 932 (out of 1000) and a 10/10 state rank.

By contrast, the nearest traditional public high school is El Capitan, which has an API of 742, and a state rank of 2/10.

Santana High School, the nearby venue for a famous school shooting, has an API of 842, and a state rank of 8/10.

El Cajon Valley has an API of 707, and a 1/10 ranking from the State.

West Hills, mentioned in the story, has an API of 807 and a state rank of 8/10.

Seems the charter experiment at River Valley is working.

*source: greatschools.org


Rebeccan Sept. 17, 2013 @ 3:38 p.m.

@ Joaquin_de_la_Mesa I agree that they have created an environment/school population that fosters good test scores.


ReaderReader88 Sept. 18, 2013 @ 10:49 p.m.

Interesting how the author makes a joke about "Klantee" and then chooses to send her son to a school with a 1% black student population. I doubt there is a whiter school in all of San Diego. Guess she found what makes her comfortable.


DoingAok Sept. 28, 2013 @ 11:12 a.m.

My oldest daughter graduated from High Tech High International this past June and is now attending the University of Chicago, one of the top ten Universities in the world with an 8 percent acceptance rate. Point is… She was a student in the High Tech system for seven years.

I am completely against standardized testing in any way and wanted her to completely boycott and focus on the amazing colleges that do not require SAT, but she chose to take the SAT just once with zero test preparation. She did well enough to get into UChic with her entire education coming from HT. Not to mention her writing skills, internships from her Junior year and experience from her Senior project.

School is what you make of it just like life. A commendable skill!

For those extra interested in our experience: What I love about my Kids High Tech High Education… Diversity (ethnically, socioeconomically, religious), Vibrant teachers who want to be there, Junior month long internships (turned into a unique job for my daughter), Amazing projects that challenge my kids, Many opportunities to speak in front of large groups of people, Group projects that teach kids how to deal with difficult group members.

I really could go on and on, but I will leave it at that!


mom2boys Sept. 28, 2013 @ 5:32 p.m.

I am quite astonished at the inaccuracies in this article. ( Shame on you San Diego Reader.) Clearly, this is a case of sour grapes. The author spent an hour, maybe two, at an introductory meeting. She knows absolutely nothing about our school beyond the basics and is counting some reviews on Great Schools as fact. To say that only 1% is college ready is beyond ridiculous. After all the negative remarks she makes, she ends the article by being in a panic that her son didn't get in? After all the grousing, I am surprised she wanted her son to go to HTHI at all....unless, she didn't really believe what she later wrote in the above article.

Both my children loved HTHI. (BTW, My eldest scored very well on the SAT and is off to college, yes, a 4 year wonderful school, where is is majoring in the sciences. Is college hard? You bet. But, he is working hard, with a heavy load, and getting good grades. From what he tells me ALL the kids are learning how to make transitions in the first year in terms of time management, and balance. He can read, and so textbooks don't seem to be presenting a problem, he has organized study groups, and is involved with a myriad of activities from Student Government to being in a jazz ensemble. He found a love of learning, an ability to relate to his teachers, a keen interest in the world around him, and an amazing, diverse, group of friends at HTHI. He can also get up in front of a group and present with ease. Is HTHI perfect? No, never said it was, however, I don't think I could have asked for more.


Mlcbflew Sept. 28, 2013 @ 8 p.m.

I am also a parent of an HTHI graduate, who is currently attending college as a sophomore at Rhodes College in Memphis. Her 7 years in the High Tech system were an excellent preparation for college. After being a yearbook editor at HTHI, she is now a staff writer for her college newspaper; enjoying a rich college experience as a international studies/ political science major. The exceptional college student she is today is a credit to the incredible opportunities she was exposed to at HTHI. I write this while attending parents weekend; having had the opportunity to meet professors and attend class with her. The ironic part of this story is that she was initially NOT chosen in the middle school lottery, but was put on a waiting list! She transferred from a public middle school only when an unanticipated opening occurred . We were thrilled to accept on her behalf; believing that the project based education presented was best suited to her real world connections as an adult. We continue to count the many blessings of her High Tech Village education.


Juno1 Sept. 29, 2013 @ 3:47 p.m.

I also am a parent of both a graduate and current student at HTHI. While my boys are very different from each other, the school met, and continues to meet, their unique needs. Truly, for my older son the school was life changing, as a matter of fact, his college essay was about how much HTHI helped him evolve into the passionate, engaged, learner that he has become. Certainly, the project based environment, where there is less structure, is not for everyone...but it worked for him. As an example, when he was in the 11th grade he asked if he could sit in on the 12th grade calculus class while he did his art projects. He was welcomed to do it as long as the art got done. He spent the second semester in his junior year sitting at the back of the room on the floor during art class listening to a teacher who inspired him. Turns out that my son’s passion for neuroscience came from this teacher in this less than traditional way. In his senior year he spent his month internship at a world renowned lab where they are doing research on stem cells and Alzheimer’s. What an experience! ( He was, btw asked to come back and intern over the summer, which he did.) Talk about project based learning and real world connection at its best! He is now at a CSU, majoring in Biology, and he is struggling along with the rest of them!! In other words, he is doing just fine.

My other son is driven. His intellect and soul are being fed beautifully at HTHI. In 11th and 12th grade they are offered honors classes and he will be taking the AP test this year in history. In addition, they offer college classes in the 12th grade...visiting professors come in to teach and college credits given. The beauty of a project based environment, the sky is the limit as far as learning goes. This, is a key piece of the puzzle. These kids are expected to own, and be an active participant, in their education. Are there kids that do the absolute minimum and don’t really care? Yes, just like in any school. Although I have seen the HTH system work its magic on my eldest, it is not a magic pill. I think that is what some people expect it to be.

It is our responsibility, as parents, to be on top of things. HTH has always been very open about what gets covered, or not covered, in project based learning. What the kids learn, they learn in depth. But, it is impossible to ‘teach’ 548 pages of textbook information in a semester with project based learning - and so there will be holes. Here’s the thing, we all knew that going in. Anyone, parent or student, who is surprised simply wasn’t listening. If you want to fill in the holes it is up to you to supplement. For my family it is well worth it.


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