Liberty Charter High School Finds New Home at Palm Middle School

Charter school moves from La Mesa to Lemon Grove to expand student population and academic programs.

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 being 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.”


City Votes Against Its Own Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative

A competing ballot measure to the citizen driven medical marijuana initiative will not appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

In a narrow 3-2 vote, the Imperial Beach City Council abandoned its attempt to put a counter initiative on the ballot in November to compete with the Safe Access Ordinance of Imperial Beach.

Last month council approved placing the Safe Access Ordinance on the ballot after supporters gathered enough signatures from Imperial Beach voters.

Mayor Jim Janney said that the counter initiative had many flaws, like the Safe Access Ordinance, and that he could not support the time city staff and legal counsel would need to invest to get the counter initiative on the ballot in time.

In order to appear on the November ballot, the initiative would need to be handed over to the County of San Diego Registrar of Voters by Aug. 10.

Had the city authored competing measure received enough votes from council Wednesday, a special meeting would have been necessary to grant final approval.

Janney said he was not in favor of a competing initiative when there are enough problems with the Safe Acces Ordinance. A decent opposition statement from councilmembers and citizens against the initiative would clarify things for voters, he said.

“I am not going to be able to support putting a separate one on there just because somebody put something else out there that we don’t like,” he said. “I believe in what we did the first time,” he said, referring to a restrictive medical marijuana ordinance passed in July 2011.

Janney said he is concerned about the amount of time the city is spending on something that is not going to make Imperial Beach a better place to live.

“If people read the arguments, and that is what they believe in, they will vote the right way,” he said.

The city’s ordinance was put together in less than two weeks by staff, City Attorney Jennifer Lyons and Councilmembers Edward Spriggs and Brian Bilbray.

Lyons said the language of the initiative was largely derived from the County of San Diego’s ordinance that regulates collectives, with some elements borrowed from the city’s current ordinance that regulates adult entertainment bookstores.

Bilbray and King both voted in favor of the city’s competing measure “that fixes a lot of the problems that the citizen’s initiative doesn’t touch,” Bilbray said.

The Safe Access Ordinance has it flaws, Bilbray said, but he believes that it received enough signatures that it will likely pass in November.

Among concerns expressed by Imperial Beach City Council about the Safe Access Ordinance:

– not allowed to deny business licenses

– smoking allowed at dispensaries

– the number of dispensaries that may be established under Safe Access Ordinance

Since the Safe Access Ordinance was put on the ballot by voters, the ordiance’s language cannot be amended by city council.

During the public comment period of the meeting, a half dozen people spoke both for and against the city’s initiative.

Tracy Rivera said her concern is what happens if the city does shut down safe access to its citizens.

“You are sending them to places that are illegal and putting patients in danger,” she said. “Stand up. What are you afraid of? The people want this change.”

Marcus Boyd said he appreciated the work Spriggs and Bilbray did to write the counter ordinance but said the full language of the ordinance was not released until Tuesday and that’s not enough time for anyone to give it a thorough review.

He said that in the short time he had to go over the initiative he found provisions that actually created a ban against safe access and in ways was more restrictive than the current ordinances adopted by council.


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