To save money, small high schools in San Diego Unified were told they’d have to share principals next year. But now that two schools are keeping principals of their own, some students are protesting, claiming that the district is unfairly favoring a school with a higher percentage of wealthy and white kids.

The costs of running the small high schools have preoccupied the school district for years. Because each school has its own principal, they cost more to run than large comprehensive ones.

San Diego High has six small high schools on its campus, each with its own theme. The original plan was that the six schools would split three principals’ time.

But earlier this week, Superintendent Bill Kowba and other school district leaders decided that four of the schools will share two principals; two others will each get a principal of their own. School board President Richard Barrera said the money would come from other, as-yet-undecided campus cuts.

What bothered students is that one of the chosen schools, the School of International Studies, has a lower poverty rate and more white students than the other schools. Roughly half of the students there are poor enough to get free lunches, compared to 90 percent or more at the other schools.

“If they deserve one principal, so do we,” said Shanique Davis, a junior at the School of Science and Technology on the same campus. “It’s not fair. We knew we’d be merging soon. But the I.S. parents were trying to say they didn’t need to merge like everybody else, like they’re better than us.”

Roughly 100 students, most from the School of Science and Technology, walked out of classes at the downtown schools Friday and marched to the school district headquarters on Normal Street to protest, district spokeswoman Linda Zintz said. Some mistakenly believed their school was going to close. They met with Area Superintendent Hector Montenegro in the auditorium. No students were arrested.

Montenegro said they decided to keep a whole principal for International Studies, which has been celebrated for its high test scores and rigorous International Baccalaureate program, because it is the largest school and has the longest waiting list.

The other school that will get its own principal is the School of the Arts, which was earlier slated to share a principal with International Studies. Montenegro said the school district is interested in expanding the two schools and will seek a federal grant to help improve the School of the Arts.

But while Arts could get a federal grant, so could the School of Science and Technology, which makes it unclear why the Arts was chosen over it. Montenegro said they just didn’t have enough funding to give it its own principal too.

School board President Richard Barrera said he understands why students are frustrated. The school district didn’t explain its decision well to students and parents, he said. But Barrera argues that giving International Studies its own principal is the first step to expanding it and diversifying the lauded school.

“Plenty of kids on the San Diego High campus would do great in the program,” Barrera said. “Restricting their opportunities to get in the program because we’ve got a waiting list is silly.” He added that he personally believed that the School of Science and Technology should also have its own principal.

Montenegro added that the plans could still change, depending on what funding schools get when the governor issues his revised budget. The school board won’t finalize its budget until late June.

“Anything could happen between now and then,” Montenegro said.

This isn’t the first time that someone has called foul over which small schools get more principals. The four small schools on the Crawford High campus were originally supposed to share a single principal; school volunteer Becky Breedlove protested earlier this year and eventually won a promise that the Crawford schools would share two principals, just like the others.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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