EDITORIAL: Sunset High School in Encinitas deserves better than fluff

North Coast Current

For decades, students have been helped along their life paths thanks to Sunset High School, a continuation campus in the San Dieguito Union High School District. Teens at the Encinitas school didn’t necessarily expect any fluff treatment, nor did educators expect to give it.

Fluff treatment is what the school is getting, however, with its administration’s call for a new name, saying the move will clear poor “perceptions” of the school. If anything, the administration is in danger of actually solidifying those perceptions by acknowledging them in this way.

District trustees are set to vote on any name change for the campus and its programs on Feb. 27.

The “perceptions” have nothing to do with any media reports about mistreatment of students and/or faculty. No scandals have broken, to the North Coast Current’s knowledge.

So what are these vague “perceptions?” They are rooted in kids’ ideas that Sunset is the place where the weak students or bad actors go, the ones who don’t fit in to the traditional high school model for any number of valid reasons. If anything, that stigma has to do with teens’ own perceptions of themselves and each other as they navigate their social circles and enter adulthood, not any scandal or tragedy that the administration needs to clean up.

The administration rightly asserts that the stigma has persisted, unfair as it is. Its move, though, gives the impression there’s embarrassment about its own history — and that does nothing to foster confidence in the community, nor does it support the countless families, and current and former staff members, who have moved through the campus over the years. What was wrong with the school when they were there that it warrants a name change for better branding now?

Sunset’s population has changed over time, Principal Rick Ayala said in a recent Encinitas Advocate article. Some of that change has occurred as the San Dieguito district has adopted academy models at some of its campuses in the past 20 years.

“Unfortunately, there’s a negative perception with the Sunset name and that has prevented students from enrolling at our fine school,” Ayala said in the Encinitas Advocate story. “We’re very proud of the work we do and we know the negative perception doesn’t match the work we do. It’s an undeniable reality. We see it and hear it all the time.”

Are the proposed replacement names any real improvement?

Consider “Coastal Oaks” and “Pacific Oaks,” those put forth by the school’s naming committee. How would these names represent the school any better? With a quick look at the history of the community and the district, one could argue that the names, nice as they sound, don’t represent anything new or fresh.

The district’s Oak Crest Middle School — barely 2 miles away from the Sunset campus — was so-named in 1957 because the native oaks of this area still actually existed. In addition to the potential name blurring, “Coastal Oaks” and “Pacific Oaks” are better suited for the housing developments that replaced the trees.

Criticism aside, there is no question the Sunset administration has good intentions. The principal and staff desire a campus that students and families will want to be a part of, especially since the school has a new campus under construction.

Promoting a school’s fresh vision doesn’t require wiping away the institution’s history, however. Vague, often unfounded, perceptions are not a strong enough reason to rename Sunset High School.

Of the proposals on the table, a multi-name approach might be the best idea. It would recognize the consistency and history of Sunset while giving new names to the school’s programs — the continuation school and adult transition program. Under Sunset Educational Center, both branches could then take their own identities. Combined, they would all represent the new campus that will soon house them, a fresh start that avoids the fluff.

Editorials solely represent the opinions of North Coast Current ownership. The Current welcomes letters to the editor and longer commentaries sharing opposing points of view.

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