“We change from the inside out.”
After months of public comments at school board meetings, Facebook postings, online petitions, and protest gatherings, alumni of the 50-year-old Sunset Continuation High School in Encinitas celebrated on February 27. A proposed name change of their alma mater failed in a 1 to 4 vote.
Last June, the school’s principal, Richard Ayala, floated the idea of a campus name change to the San Dieguito Union High School District’s board. Other than three-minute open public comment times, the idea had been officially on the agenda only once. Yet former students and staff kept showing up at board meetings to express their displeasure with the idea.
Ayala believed Sunset High had a stigma in the community as a last-chance continuation school. A name change might benefit the program on the soon-to-be rebuilt campus on Requeza Drive, as an alternative option to traditional high school curriculum.
“It was a second-chance high for me, not a last chance,” said former student and 70s skateboard star, John Hughes. “It saved me and hundred of other students,” he said of the campus founded in 1970, named by the first graduating class.
Name-change opposition leader, Wendy Woodard, had presented the board with an online petition signed by 882 former students, parents, and school staff.
80-year-old Roy Riesner, a former longtime principal of Sunset, and according to his former students, much loved and respected, spoke out to the school board against the name change.
Ayala never held the promised community forums to survey the idea.
As a last chance effort, knowing they could count only on a minority of two board members voting in their favor, on February 21, former students and faculty held a protest at the Cardiff Kook statue, to the supportive honks of motorists passing by on Coast Highway 101.
On an old school Encinitas Facebook page, which had been the focal point for opposing the name change, Krista Yamada posted, “Sunset has been a savior for so many kids in our community. Changing the name would be disrespectful to Encinitas’ children who have benefited from this school.”
Board member Mo Muir was opposed to the name change. “A student spoke at a meeting and asked if Ayala had ever ask a troubled teen to change their name? It was a poignant question,” she said, pointing to the juxtaposition. “We change from the inside out,” added Muir.
Only board president Beth Hergesheimer voted for the name change. A 20-year member of the school board, she stated she was satisfied with the outcome.
The word “continuation” will be formally dropped from the campus’ name, and now become a school of choice, along with the district’s other four campuses. Sunset High School, now to be labeled an “alternative” school will be part of other programs offered by the district at the new Request Education Center to open in the fall.
Disclaimer: One of the writer’s children attended Sunset for a semester.