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By Ed Sibby

On January 9, 2023, Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Culture Dr. Moore held a meeting with staff and association leadership to discuss procedures for closing the district’s remaining learning centers. Dr. Moore prefaced the meeting by stating “…the learning centers are successful, and the learning centers are graduating kids” and did not dispute the data presented that showed the success of the Learning Centers in meeting non-traditional student needs.

Counselors and educators across Sweetwater are united in opposition to the shuttering of the district’s Learning Center Program, which has been a fixture and force for thousands of aspiring students looking for an alternative path to a successful future. Sweetwater Guidance and Counseling Association (SGCA) President Michelle Beale fears that vulnerable students’ needs are being disregarded.

“Since their inception, the learning centers have graduated thousands of at-risk students. These are students, who despite many efforts and supports, were simply not successful on a comprehensive site, but when placed at the learning center found a connection with teachers and counselors that ultimately led to them thriving and being successful. The closure of these facilities would be detrimental to this population of students and would ultimately lead to significant number of students dropping out. As educators, we all know that education is not a one-model-fits-all proposition and that alternative education programs like the learning centers exist for a reason. The unanswered and most important question remains, ‘if the program is working, why shut it down?’”

– Michelle Beale, President, Sweetwater Guidance and Counseling Association

Educators and counselors serving in SUHSD are invested with parents in the success of every student and want to ensure the best learning environment to achieve it. Not every student is a good fit for the traditional school environment. Educators and counselors in the district have borne witness to the success of the learning center model that formerly existed on 12 campuses. They describe it as a lifeline–meeting the needs of the most vulnerable students who thrive in this less structured format. Currently, only three Learning Centers remain: Chula Vista High, Sweetwater High, and San Ysidro High.

Dinnah Donato-Palmore, a Sweetwater counselor for 30 years, has been puzzled by the district’s decision; “The Learning Center programs have been a staple of SUHSD for the past 40 years and have successfully graduated thousands of students. These are students who might have otherwise dropped out of high school. While the profile of the student being referred to the Learning Center has changed, the need for the Learning Centers has only increased. My question is why does the School Board continue making decisions that do not serve the needs, nor provide equity for the district’s most vulnerable students?”

Counselors and educators across SUHSD are also concerned about the loss of students after the closures and the economic impact of that enrollment loss as they leave the district for schools that offer similar programs. A loss of enrollment is a loss of revenue for the district and could put SUHSD back into economic uncertainty of the 2019-2020.

SGCA and Sweetwater Education Association members stand together in their opposition to these closures and are urging students, parents and concerned community members to contact school district board members to express their support for the remaining learning centers and request the board retain and fund them.

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