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The high school portion of the Logan Memorial Educational Campus, built in Logan Heights at the former location of Memorial Preparatory Academy and Logan K-8, opened its doors for the first time this week. The new campus features educational facilities for children from preschool through high school and even on-campus resources for pregnant families. San Diego Unified School District officials believe it’s the first complex of its kind in the state.
The two schools that used to stand there had long struggled with academics and in 2019 were named two of the lowest performing schools in California. But according to data released in 2015, Memorial had the unfortunate distinction of being the San Diego Unified School District school most avoided by parents in the neighborhood. Of the 2,020 middle-school-aged children living in Memorial Prep’s service area during the 2014-2015 school year, only 397 actually went there, despite the school having the capacity for around 800 students. That means more than 80 percent of students went elsewhere.
So, now that the district has dumped $180 million of bond funds into the massive demolition and reconstruction project, it raises the question – did it lure neighborhood middle schoolers back? Short answer: yeah, but not a whole lot more.
District data shows the number of students in grades six through eight jumped from 404 in the 2019-2020 school year to 561 in the 2020-2021 school year, Logan Memorial’s first year of operation, during which classes were delivered virtually. Enrollment rose slightly to 571 in the 2021-2022 school year, the first year of in-person operations.
Of the 1,597 middle-school-age students living in the neighborhood that year, 541 chose to attend Logan Memorial, meaning around 34 percent are now choosing the school. With the school’s new facilities, however, its capacity has risen from 800 students to 1,000. Maureen Magee, communications director at San Diego Unified, noted that school choice is deeply ingrained in San Diego’s school system, however, and that on average only just under 44 percent of students in the district attended their neighborhood school. Of those who didn’t attend Logan Memorial, nearly 11 percent chose another district school in the area cluster, while around 41 percent attended a charter school.
School Board Member Richard Barrera is confident enrollment will increase over the coming years, assuming Logan Memorial delivers on its promise of increased quality.
“We’re in a period where the community is excited, but now we need to deliver,” Barerra said. “I think if the experiences of parents whose first year continues to be positive then I would expect enrollment to, to increase at all grade levels across the across the campus,” he said.
“If we don’t deliver on the programmatic side then … word will get out in the community as well,” Barrera continued. “And, I think we’ll go back to a situation where people say, ‘well, it’s a beautiful set of buildings, but we don’t think our kids are getting what they need there.’”
Logan Heights has long been an underserved area of San Diego, and it showed at Memorial Prep. In the 2014-2015 school year, over 90 percent of Memorial students were taught by highly qualified teachers — meaning credentialed teachers with bachelor’s degrees who demonstrated competence in the subject areas in which they taught. Still, the percentage not taught by highly qualified teachers was more than twice the district’s average.
At the time, test scores were significantly below the district average. Students scored less than half the district average on English tests, less than one-quarter the average on mathematics tests and 20 points below the average on science tests. Though it’s important to note that test scores have been shown to be an unreliable indicator of school quality because of their clear correlation with student poverty. Over 95 percent of students at Memorial Prep that year were socioeconomically disadvantaged.
The school had also struggled with a reputation issue. Barrera said many parents at the time didn’t want to send their children to the school because they didn’t think it was safe. In the mid-90s, Memorial transitioned into a charter school, but parents ended up petitioning the board to open a district-run school, and Memorial Prep opened in 2008.
From the beginning, it had soaring suspension and expulsion rates. In 2009, its suspension rate was more than five times the district average and the expulsion rate was more than two times the district’s average. By the 2014-2015 school year those numbers had decreased significantly – though the school’s expulsion rates were still higher than the district’s – but the number of students enrolled had decreased by over 200.
“Logan has one of the highest concentrations of students any place in the district,” Barrera said. “But the district has underinvested both in terms of the physical facilities, but also just programmatically.”
Barrera said he hopes the massive amount spent to build Logan Memorial — which he believes is the most expensive project the district’s ever undertaken — is reassurance that despite SDUSD’s historic under-investment in the community, the district cares about the children who live there and want them to succeed.
The campus opened virtually last year, but the newly built high school – Logan Heights’ first ever – opened to freshmen on Monday. High schoolers in other grades will be phased in over the next four years. It’s also the first high school cluster created by SDUSD since the Scripps Ranch cluster was launched in 1993.
On the programmatic side, the district chose to implement Montessori curriculum – which emphasizes creativity and student-led teaching – through the fifth grade, but officials say the philosophy will influence teaching at all levels.
Antonio Villar, the principal and designer of learning of the TK – 5th-grade portion of the school, said the decision to go with Montessori curriculum came from a desire by parents and community members for the school to try something different. He described the process as a ground-up approach.
“There were a lot of questions about the instructional program, both from the early childhood to the high school and the community came in and asked if we could really think about doing something different, something that hadn’t been done before, something that would produce different results, but also just really respond to the needs of the community,” Villar said.
This isn’t the beginning of the district’s efforts to improve Memorial. All the way back in 1977, it was one of 23 San Diego schools a Superior Court judge ordered to be desegregated because it was so racially uniform that it deprived Black and Latino students of access to quality education. In 2017, Memorial Prep and Logan K-8 were two of the eight San Diego Unified schools on a list of the most segregated in California.
That uniformity, which is largely tied to the segregated nature of San Diego’s neighborhoods persists to this day. In the 2020-2021 school year, the 810 K-8 students at Logan Memorial were nearly 95 percent Latino. Again, this isn’t necessarily a huge surprise given Logan Heights is an overwhelmingly Latino neighborhood, but even then, only around 86 percent of those who live there are Latino, so there’s still room for the school to diversify. Even if just slightly.