October 10, 2008

New school director sees students as allies

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Some people in the South Bay, including teachers and administrators at the Sweetwater Union High School District, see the MAAC Community Charter School in Chula Vista as the place where you get to send the “problem kids,” the students nobody else wants, the students who are always skipping class and are considered “at-risk.”

Some say it is “a school for drop-outs.”

Terri Lapinsky, new director of MAAC Community Charter School in Chula Vista.

But for the MAAC Community Charter School’s new director, those labels are far from the truth.

“This is a school for students who have very diverse stories and backgrounds, a school for young people who, because of their special circumstances, the educational system has failed them,” said Terri Lapinsky, who became director of the school about a month ago. “Instead of calling them ‘at-risk,’ I prefer to call the ‘at-promise,’ because these students have lots of potential.”

Lapinsky said that she embraces the fact that these students struggle to stay in school and get an education, because that is proof that they want to graduate from high school.

“They’re in school, they’re getting educated,” she said.

Lapinsky comes to the MAAC Community Charter School with extensive experience in the field of international and multi-cultural education. She directed a workers’ rights and labor education program in Brazil before moving to San Diego.

Lapinsky seems like the perfect fit for the MAAC Community Charter School, which was founded in 2001 to provide low-income, “at-risk” students in grades 9-12 through age 24 a high school diploma in an educational environment where they are challenged, excellence is expected and differences are valued. The school opened with 55 students and has increased enrollment to 300 students. Around 90 percent of the students are Latinos and 75 percent are English learners.

With Lapinsky’s background of working in non-traditional education, she was selected from among a pool of more than 30 candidates for the position, said Paul Hernandez, Chief Program Officer at the MAAC Project, the social service agency in charge of the school.

“We’re very pleased, we’re very happy with the selection,” Hernandez said. “She could’ve done anything she wanted and she chose to direct this charter school. She brings decades of experience in education.”

Hernandez added that the mission of the MAAC Community Charter School is to make a difference in the lives of the students and their families, something that, without a doubt, he said, Lapinsky will help to accomplish.

“The school was created to have an impact on the drop-out population in the South Bay,” he said. “Anytime a student drops out of school, families are affected. Drop-outs are not a school problem, they are a community problem. We wanted to engage those students, and encourage them to stay in school.”

As director, Lapinsky is in charge of all the strategic managament of the school. Her position is the equivalent to a principal in traditional schools, Hernandez said.

“I already love this school,’ Lapinsky said. “We have a team of very talented staff and teachers that care about these students’ education and well-being.”

For art teacher Victor Orozco, Lapinsky’s appointment as director represents a new era for the MAAC Community Charter School.

“I’m really excited she’s our director because I feel she really understands the philosophy we as a school are trying to embrace,” he said. “I think she will help us change the perception that the school district has of the school. It’s going to improve our profile.”

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