Dropout rates could figure in San Diego Unified’s decision on whether to continue operating its small high schools as funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation peters out.

The smaller schools were created by dividing three large high schools, Crawford, Kearny and San Diego High, into clusters of smaller schools with their own principals that share a campus. Lincoln High was opened under a similar model in 2007.

School board members reviewed dropout rates, test scores and other data today in a workshop that covered a range of topics, including small high schools.

The data reveal that many of the small high schools have the highest dropout rates in the school district: Crawford School of Law and Business reported a 42.5 percent dropout rate over a four-year period, followed by San Diego School of Media, Visual and Performing Arts, where 41.9 percent of students dropped out, and San Diego School of Business, where 38.4 percent dropped out.

Those rates outstrip large high schools such as Morse and Hoover, which both have a 29.6 percent dropout rate. Yet other small high schools reported dramatically lower dropouts: Kearny’s Stanley E. Foster Construction Tech Academy, for example, has a 3.9 percent dropout rate.

And it is unclear whether dropout rates have risen or dropped at the small high schools since their formation from the larger schools, because California recently changed the way it calculated the rates.

Nonetheless, the double-digit rates worried trustee Mitz Lee, who said that reducing dropouts was one of the key reasons that San Diego Unified decided to try dividing up Crawford, Kearny and San Diego High. And other members seemed worried as well.

“Are we wedded to the idea of keeping the small schools that are not succeeding as small schools?” trustee Luis Acle asked.

“I’m not wedded to keeping anything that’s not working,” Superintendent Terry Grier replied.


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