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In El Cajon, a new superintendent is rolling out an ambitious plan to improve high schools — one he says is still feasible, despite the fiscal crisis ahead for schools.

Superintendent Robert Collins, who took over Grossmont Union High School District in El Cajon this school year, presented a long list of recommendations to the school board Thursday night. The list included some bedrock ideas — focusing on reading skills, for instance, and expanding programs such as AVID that serve disadvantaged students — and some more unusual plans.

Collins’ list includes:

  • A post-graduation plan for every student, whether they’re planning on college or not. Students would start shaping their plan in ninth grade, listing options such as college, the military, work apprenticeships or career training.
  • Creating more than 30 career preparation programs in fields ranging from agriculture to information technology to tourism, for students to take in addition to their standard classes.
  • Expanding parent resource centers and setting a policy that schools will respond to parent questions within 24 hours.
  • Aggressively bringing dropouts back into schools, to boost attendance — and the state funding that is tied to attendance.
  • Expanding character and values education programs. (Similar efforts are underway in one segment of San Diego Unified schools, where area superintendent Rich Cansdale has made character education a priority.)
  • Getting students in shape with nutrition and anti-obesity programs.
  • Improving facilities for fine arts programs, such as dance studios and theaters.

Collins stated that a new facilities bond is in order, if Grossmont schools are to improve, and that technology and library books could be a key part of that bond. He may seek a bond as early as this November, and asked staffers to start researching its feasibility.

That timetable would be even shorter than the one underway in San Diego Unified, which is also considering a November bond. There, school trustees are due to vote next Tuesday on the first step toward developing a bond measure.

But Grossmont’s budget crisis could overshadow the superintendent’s plan. The high school district is projecting a $14 million cut from a $188 million budget — $12 million due to state cuts, and an additional $2 million due to dropping enrollment, which will cut attendance funds to the school district.

“How can you present a strategic plan in a time of budget crisis? It’s a good question,” Collins told the board. He asserted that the plan would be affordable, paid for by boosting enrollment and redirecting existing funds. In addition, Collins also advocated launching an educational foundation to raise money for “mini-grants” for classroom teachers.

EMILY ALPERT

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