As the campus of Sunset High School in Encinitas was scraped to the ground over the summer, the school board of the San Dieguito Union High School District is considering a name change when the new campus reopens in 2020.
“What could possibly be wrong with the name Sunset High School?,” asked former student Jeff Burleson, to my request on an Encinitas Facebook page for comments from alumni. Of the over 100 comments received, only two were in favor of a name change. Many vowed to fight the change with e-mails to school board members and showing up at board meetings.
Some posters suggested the reason for a proposed name change is Sunset has an incorrect stigma as a continuation school for losers, druggies, and students that ditch all the time.
Tina Douglas, assistant school district superintendent, wrote me in an e-mail, “The school has evolved over the years and now functions very differently than in the past. Increasingly it is more of an alternative school. For many students it is a school of choice that supports what they are looking for in a high school experience.”
One of my own sons fell way behind due to a prolonged illness in his senior year. By transferring to Sunset for one quarter, he was able to get caught up in credits and return to his school to graduate with his class.
Dispelling the myth of Sunset being a last-chance school, class of 1990's Joy Johnson posted, “I participated in Sunset's accreditation to certify for direct entry to State University and University CA schools So many of us became very successful adults after our awesome experiences. The name needs to stay the same.”
Douglas says the idea of a name change is coming from school site staff. Over the summer, at two different school board meetings, Sunset staff first spoke of the idea during an information-only portion of the meetings. The board couldn’t take action as the issue wasn’t on the agenda. Two former Sunset students spoke against the idea.
“The school’s principal, Rich Ayala, is surveying current students and families. There is not a rush to do this out of respect for the history of the school,” Douglas advised.
But former student Janet Brown Harmon believe the reason for the name change is, “An ego-driven move by one specific administrator wanting some kind of legacy.”
Currently, according to Douglas, there is no suggested new name. Sunset students now attend classes in portable classrooms on the campus of San Dieguito High School Academy.
A mom of a current student, June Owens, along with several other Facebook posters, blamed the proposed name change on what’s perceived as the over-gentrification of Encinitas by the city council, school boards, and newbies that don’t know the town’s history. “Sunset as a whole has helped so many kids and saved lives,” she added.
Former student David Gallacher posted that Dr. Roy Riesner, the former longtime and popular principal of Sunset High “would roll over in his grave” if he knew what was going on. Fortunately, Dr. Riesner is still around, and turned 80 years old last week. Former students are hoping Dr. Riesner will weigh in on the issue.