San Marcos Hosts Successful Biennial Education Forum

SMHS Schematic LPA July 2010

The leaders of the three major educational institutions in San Marcos — the state university, community college and school district — described a turnaround from years of scaling back at a biennial educational forum Thursday hosted by the City of San Marcos.

Dr. Karen Haynes, president of California State University San Marcos; Robert Deegan, president of Palomar College, and Dr. Kevin Holt, superintendent of the San Marcos Unified School District detailed new initiatives on campus and collaborative programs linked to the City or education partners. Many school board members, trustees, city council members and general public attended the forum, held in the governing board room at Palomar College.

At Palomar College, enrollment is on the upswing, new faculty members are being hired and major building projects are underway, Deegan said.

The state has determined that California State University, San Marcos, will have the largest growth projections of California’s 23 state universities, assuring a priority in funding decisions as it continues adding new buildings and develops an innovative school for end-of-life care, Haynes said.

While it will take years to restore funding levels that were decimated by the California’s long recession, Holt credited voter-approved bond monies for construction of the new San Marco High School that will open in December and urged support for an ambitious college scholarship program for San Marcos students.

All three education leaders and San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond, who spearheaded creation of the forum in 2007, emphasized the importance of collaboration in making San Marcos a North County hub for education and a resource for economic development aimed at keeping well-educated students in the community. The school district, college and state university have a combined enrollment of more than 60,000 students.

“We want to keep these exceptional, educated people here in San Marcos, not just export them to other communities,” Desmond said.

“We transform lives. We transform families. We transform regions. And we do it collaboratively,” Haynes said.

Local voter-approved bonds totaling almost a billion dollars continue to transform the campuses at Palomar College and the San Marcos School District. Education finances at all levels received a boost from statewide approval of the Proposition 30 tax hike in the November 2012 election.

Palomar College is hiring 21 new, full-time faculty members and adding 400 additional classes that will make it easier for students to get the classes they need and to better serve the community, Deegan said in his presentation. “It was a pivotal year for us,” he said after the meeting.

Deegan, who has been president for seven years, said the community college of nearly 30,000 students is being transformed by money from the $694 million bond measure approved in 2006. He noted it “was the largest bond ever passed by a single college in the history of California community college” and has brought about “the changing face of Palomar College.”

Work on the performing arts complex was completed this year and major projects planned for next year are the child development center and new library.

Haynes, who is in her tenth year as president of Cal State San Marcos, said its founding in 1989 makes it a campus “built for the 21st century” with a “futuristic and entrepreneurial sense.” She pointed out that while much of the money raised by Prop 30 went back to students for lower tuition, a guarantee of no tuition increases for the next three years, enrollment targets greater than any other state university and a predictable stream of monies coming in meant “it was a turnaround year for us.”

She noted that students this semester approved a fee of $100 to help pay for expanded services. In addition, a new student union to serve the university’s 12,000 students is near completion.

The new San Marcos High School on San Marcos Boulevard promises to join the district’s other high school, Mission Hills, as educational landmarks, said Holt, who is in his eighth year as superintendent. The money comes from a $287 million bond measure passed in 2010.

“They are two educational facilities that will really become flagships for the City of San Marcos,” he said.

Holt noted that the district has the lowest dropout rate in San Diego County, the second-highest graduation rate and test scores that have increased each year over the past four years. He said the district of 20,000 students is made up of a broad range of minorities and “really looks like the state of California,” a point also made by Haynes in describing enrollment at Cal State San Marcos.

As an example of educational collaboration, Holt drew special attention to the district’s “PACE Promise,” which identifies talented students and promises admission into Cal State San Marcos if they complete the college prep program. The program has an endowment from the Leichtag Family Foundation, created by pharmaceutical entrepreneur Max Leichtag and his wife and dedicated to their daughter, who died in 2007.

Holt urged the community to contribute to the endowment to enrich a scholarship fund and “ensure that any student that goes to the San Marcos School District has the opportunity to go college.”

Holt noted the district is “an innovative and collaborative community,” and as an example of that working together, both he and Mayor Desmond cited creation of Mary Connors Park, located next to the San Marcos Elementary School. Named after an elementary school teacher, the park’s groundbreaking is set for Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 9:30 am.

Desmond also detailed major developments underway close to the university and college campuses that will bring new housing and businesses and continue to interconnect road improvements and SPRINTER transit stations.

“We want to be a friendly, collaborative city that embraces our role as the education hub of North County,” Desmond said.

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