Saturday, June 16, 2007 | In person, Mel Collins is a ball of energy. Dressed in a T-shirt and shorts one recent morning, with a gold ring in his left ear and a thick gold chain around his neck, he does not look the part of an executive principal at San Diego Unified School District’s newest high school.
Yet, when Collins describes his plans for the new Lincoln High School in Lincoln Park, he is all business. When Lincoln opens in the fall, it will be San Diego’s Unified’s latest iteration of the small school, a new model for public high schools the district has begun to experiment with in recent years. It will be the first district school built specifically around the small-school model — the campus will eventually house five separate high schools geographically distinct with some shared campuswide facilities. Collins is also another district first — the position of executive principal was created to provide a single administrator to oversee all of the schools on the campus.
The idea behind small schools is a simple one: By taking traditional comprehensive high schools, with thousands of students, and breaking it up into smaller self-contained parts, the district hopes to give students a more personal experience that will keep them engaged and performing. San Diego High School, which used to be a large center-city school, for example, is now six separate schools sharing a single “educational complex.”
Lincoln was promised to be the “crown jewel” of Proposition MM, a $1.51 bond measure voters passed in 1998, and Collins said he it will be his job to make sure that is. How confident is he that he will carry out the community’s vision for the school? “Damn” sure, he says.
In a recent interview, Collins described his vision for the new campus, how the small-school model has affected education in San Diego and his perspectives on Superintendent Carl Cohn. Both men came to San Diego from the Long Beach Unified School District.
What exactly is an executive principal, and how is it different from a non-executive kind?