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Evaluating Education


Some of the nation’s top-rated public and private schools are right here in San Diego County, so ensuring your child receives an outstanding education has never been easier — choosing which one to send them to is the hard part.


Featured here is a selection of educators who don’t mean to gush, but are more than eager to share just what makes their learning establishment so special.


“As an independent school with an international reputation and the ability to conduct a national search when filling teaching positions, we have built a world-class faculty whose educational credentials, inspirational powers, and dedication would be the envy of many small colleges,” says Christopher Schuck, head of school at La Jolla Country Day School (LJCDS), a leading private preparatory for nursery through grade 12.


While tuition revenue accounts for 90 percent of the school’s annual income, the remainder of the balance is derived from generous parents and loyal alumni. Such financial independence allows the school to provide dozens of rigorous college-level courses, as well as a blend of fine and performing arts electives and athletics.


Schuck says the school has a remarkable record of accomplishment in helping students gain admission to a preferred college. Roughly 40 percent of the class of 2009 entered the spring of senior year with early admission to one of their top choices — including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Middlebury, Vanderbilt, UCSB, and USC.


LJCDS alumni are scholars, artists, and athletes of character. They can be found on university faculties; in research labs, the United States Congress, New York’s Metropolitan Opera; running Street Scene and the Carlsbad Music Festival; playing professional basketball and

tennis — even teaching at their alma mater.  


The school reports that they are happier in life and at work than other members of their age and cohort, tend to read for leisure, exercise regularly, vote, volunteer, and engage in their communities.


“To ensure that a Country Day education is accessible for the finest students in San Diego County, we generally reserve 10-12 percent of our operating budget for tuition assistance,” Schuck says. “In a time of uncertainty, there is reassurance for parents that comes with offering students opportunities to discover their passions, learn the value of hard work, and to think independently, critically, and creatively.”


Torrey Pines High School (TPHS), a three-time National Blue Ribbon public school and California Distinguished School, became entirely self-sufficient in 2009 because of state cutbacks and historically low tax rates for the area. Adding to the challenge was the state’s assumption that Basic Aid districts have money and should contribute their “fair share” of funds typically reserved for struggling and at-risk populations. 


“Now, we have to support these best practices through our general funds,” says Principal Brett A. Killeen. “We have not cut programs or teachers, but it is tight.”


TPHS students attend colleges around the world and have stellar academic records. Above all, they tend to be well-rounded kids who frequently participate in sports, visual and performing arts, and philanthropic clubs. 


“We believe our entire district is a great place to be adequately prepared for the rigors of college,” Killeen says. “Giving our kids the choice of a high school to attend is fantastic. Everyone ends up where they want to be.” 


The school is no longer accepting new inter-district transfers but if property values rise and enrollment figures stabilize, they hope to garner additional per-pupil funding to spend on students.


When it comes to offering a progressive education, Cathedral Catholic High School, a private faith community of learning in Carmel Valley, is at the forefront. In 2009 alone, 14-16 Advanced Placement courses made their way into the curriculum and that number will further increase in 2011. 


The school has 60 teacher-moderated social clubs composed of drama, Make a Wish, Habitat for Humanity, Interact, and Surfcare. The athletic department boasts over 70 competitive teams representing 35 different sports — including equestrian, fencing, rugby, and sailing. Each student participates in Campus Ministry retreats and overseas pilgrimages to Rome and Assisi. 


“We feel strongly that our graduates are empowered with values that inspire personal and spiritual growth,” says Eileen Clifton Benjamin, director of capital campaign. “A student’s experience at Cathedral Catholic High School is an integrative process involving the ‘whole’ person.”


At La Jolla High, a California Distinguished public school and one of Newsweek’s top 100 high schools in America — students are taught to balance their lives by enrolling in challenging AP courses and creative outlets such as wood shop, auto shop, 3D-design, photography, and ceramics. Extracurricular activities are also emphasized.


Some specialized “categorical” money is set aside from state and federal government for gifted and talented programs and second language support, though the school doesn’t receive much.


“In the world of education; the more one succeeds, the less money one receives,” says Principal Dana Shelburne.   JILLIAN RISBERG


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