Just months after being closed by the school district, Palm Middle School is finding new life as the campus of a recently expanded charter high school. After years of searching for a larger location, Liberty Charter High School is calling Lemon Grove home. It aims to train the leaders of the future.
Making the move from La Mesa, Liberty Charter High School offers grades 9-12, and has about 100-123 students per grade level. Its curriculum prepares students to attend any four-year college with prep, AP and standard courses.
Executive director Debbie Beyer said the school trains students to be leaders, academically prepared and ready to take their place as literate citizens in the community and nation.
"We believe we are training the leaders of tomorrow—21st century learners that must have the skills to function in a very different world than the adults around them grew up in," she said.
Ernie Anastos, superintendent of the Lemon Grove School District, said creating another high school option for students in Lemon Grove is a great benefit to the community. He said about 40 graduates of Palm Middle School will attend Liberty Charter this year.
"It has an excellent track record, both academically and fiscally, and will be a good neighbor," he said.
Beyer said the school has a diverse student population with a high percentage of English learners, including Arabic speaking students.
"We serve a significant Hispanic population, as well as African Americans,” Beyer said. “We have at least eight languages other than English spoken on our campus."
Alongside a rigorous academic program, Beyer said there is a leadership program at each grade level and an internship program for juniors and seniors.
"Leadership, literacy and technology are our three distinctive strands," said Beyer. "We have been approved as a Microsoft IT Academy. Students will leave Liberty with job-ready technical certifications."
The school is operated by Literacy First Charter Schools. Classes begin Aug. 27.
Anastos said the charter school’s arrival is a benefit in light of reduced spending over the past five years due to the state budget crisis. The $300,000 license agreement between the district and Literacy First helped avert the closure of a second school, he said.
With the Lemon Grove Academy for the Sciences and Humanities scheduled to open Sept. 4, the district did not have funds to keep Palm Middle School open and possibly needed to close an additional elementary school.
"Fortunately, Liberty Charter High School was looking for a new location," Anastos said. "We are using the funds we receive from our licensee, Literacy First Charter Schools, to offset operating costs throughout the school district.”
Beyer said the charter school has looked for a permanent location for the high school since it started. She said the hope is to build a partnership with the school district over years.
"As we've grown, we've looked for larger facilities that would meet our needs and ultimately our complete needs as we envision building out the entire high school program 9 through 12," she said.
With a priority for student literacy, its goals include fluency and skilled verbal and written communication, technology, math, science, media, history, arts and contemporary culture. Beyer said the school added a grade each year and consistently grew, with its first senior class last year.
Beyer said Liberty Charter is very pleased with this opportunity to collaborate with Lemon Grove.
"We are eager to be able to develop our programs in a facility that will allow us to build and grow our students and programs," she said. "We anticipate being a positive influence in the community with both our sports teams and our academic programs."