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Great Expectations At Lincoln High

— When Mel Collins took the job as executive principal at Lincoln High School in Southeast San Diego five years ago, he was given a mandate: 85 percent of the graduating class had to be college ready by 2011.

Lincoln Principal Mel Collins making rounds on campus.
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Above: Lincoln Principal Mel Collins making rounds on campus.

It's a goal Lincoln isn't likely to meet. Last year, just 16 percent of Lincoln graduates met the "A-G" requirement for a four-year college.

"The expectations were great from the community because the previous superintendent had convinced everyone that Lincoln High School needed to rise like a phoenix,” Collins said.

The state average of college-ready high school graduates is a little more than one third, according to EdSource, a non-partisan, education-advocacy group.

Some county high schools have much higher rates, such as Westview High in the Poway Unified School District. Last year 78 percent of Westview graduates were eligible to apply for a four-year college.

Collins understands the need for great expectations.

"How can you say no to a community that had been denied for so many years?" he asked.

The new Lincoln High replaced a 50-year-old building that in its final year housed about 300 students. The new $129 million campus was built for 2,700 students. Currently, the enrollment hovers around 2,000.

But Collins said preparing students who come from more than 70 feeder schools -- some of them behind in basic skills -- is a tall order in a short period of time for a school whose population faces many socioeconomic challenges.

More than 80 percent of Lincoln students live at or around the poverty line.

Angeles Morrales and her two daughters are included in that statistic. Morrales' 10th grade daughter was chronically absent and failing nearly every class when the school sent a staff member to family's home.

Through a translator, Morrales described the challenges her daughters faced getting to school, including living out of one bedroom in a shared apartment.

"Sometimes there’s nothing to eat. Sometimes there are problems because there are a lot of people here," Morrales said. "Ten people live here and it's three bedrooms and there are five children and there are just problems; disagreements. (My) daughters are affected by all of that.”

Parent Angeles Morrales breaks down while describing her family's struggle.
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Above: Parent Angeles Morrales breaks down while describing her family's struggle.

Martha Corrales, site operations administrator at Lincoln High, made the home visit to Morrales' apartment. She and Collins spent nearly $500 of personal funds on groceries for the family and have put them in touch with local resources.

But Corrales said she sees many families living in similar conditions. For the first time since the school opened, staff members are identifying the 100 students in 10th grade who are most-often truant and failing. Staff members hope that by making contact with the family they can understand the reasons kids aren't making it to class. Sometimes, it's as basic as a lack of transportation. And so staff buy bus passes, again using personal funds.

Corrales worked for the San Diego Unified School District when the old Lincoln was torn down and the new school was in the planning stage. She said she is sad when she thinks back to the promises the school board made to Lincoln parents -- promises she made, too.

"I think about this all the time. When they (parents) asked, 'is it going to be quality education?' I said, yes it will. And it's not that we don’t have the quality education, it's that many of our students are not prepared for that quality education.”

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