North Park Elementary school, in many ways, symbolizes the growth and decline of the San Diego Unified School District.

A decade ago, when enrollment projections were healthy, the school opened to relieve overcrowding at North Park’s other campuses, like Garfield Elementary. In 2004, with enrollment in the district declining, the school board voted to close the campus for lack of enrollment, before recanting later.

Next year, North Park will have 165 students — the third fewest in the district — and is among the 19 San Diego schools that will enroll fewer than 300 students.

North Park’s principal, Diana Grijalva-Torres, called me late yesterday and I didn’t have the opportunity to include her in today’s story.

Grijalva-Torres arrived on campus after the debate over school closure. And she will leave next year to head the new Burbank Elementary, even as the school district is expected to begin discussing the fate of its smallest schools.

Grijalva-Torres said being a small campus — she said North Park can’t fit many more than 300 students anyway — has allowed the school to carve out a unique niche. For example, the school tends to have smaller class sizes than other campuses in the area.

“What we are is that we’re a very small-knit, community school in a very large urban district,” she said. “It kind of helps foster that whole community, family feeling that our school is quite good at conveying.”

Grijalva-Torres’ experience also helps demonstrate the extent to which San Diego’s under-enrolled schools have gone in attracting more students. She says she has stood outside of grocery stores, like a Girl Scout cookie saleswoman, trying to attract parents.

“With me, I know I’ll always be fine if I can get parents to the campus,” she said. “Because once parents come to our site, and they see our school, they’ll want their children there.”

However, even those efforts haven’t paid off. In 2005, when district staff again proposed closing the campus, North Park had more students than it does now.

As the school board turns its attention to the smallest schools, it will have to make a decision about the future of North Park.


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