From public to private, peninsula boasts top school options

With a variety of secondary schooling options available for residents of the Monterey Peninsula, parents may wonder which high school to send their child to. Whether public or private, large or small, each high-performing school on the Monterey Peninsula holds its own advantages and differentiating characteristics.

One of the most obvious upsides to attending a public school is the affordability and ease of being admitted into the school. However, families must still meet certain criteria to send their children to select public schools within the peninsula. Carmel High School and Pacific Grove High School are two of the highest-ranked public schools in the state, Carmel at #25 and P.G. at #124, according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2016 California state rankings. Because of the ways in which they are funded, primarily from property taxes, these schools require families to live within district boundaries in order to attend.

Private schools, on the other hand, allow students to attend no matter their residence; however, they come with a price.

At Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, the comprehensive fee for the 2017-2018 school year is $39,300 for day students, and $64,900 for boarding students. Santa Catalina School’s tuition is slightly less, with day students paying $34,000 and boarding students paying $52,000. Even less in cost is York High School, where domestic students pay $32,400 and international students pay $36,000.

For some students and their families, the cost of tuition does not outweigh the benefits of attending the school. Stevenson School senior Alex Eales, for example, describes the ways in which he feels closely connected to his school: “Stevenson is a close-knit community that I’ve been a part of for 13 years. Although it is very expensive, I feel like it has really prepared me for the outside world and college. The small classes have allowed me to make meaningful connections with my teachers and peers.”

As Eales points out, Stevenson’s class sizes are relatively small, as its average student-to-teacher ratio is 10:1. Catalina’s is similar with a ratio of 8:1, and York’s is even less with an average of 7:1 students per teacher. Public schools generally have larger ratios, as Carmel has a student-to-teacher ratio of 17:1 and Pacific Grove has 18:1.

These variations in student-to-teacher ratios are often directly related to the high school’s enrollment numbers. According to the California Department of Education, the average high school in the state of California enrolls approximately 1,400 students. With just under 900 students, CHS would then be considered a smaller high school in terms of enrollment. When compared to other high-performing schools on the Monterey Peninsula, however, CHS is large.

PGHS and Stevenson are each home to about 600 students, Santa Catalina School has a little under 500, and York School has slightly more than 200.

CHS junior Kevin Cook, who transferred from Stevenson after his sophomore year, prefers the greater enrollment at Carmel.

“I found that I didn’t really fit into the small school atmosphere at Stevenson,” Cook says. “The bigger size of Carmel made it easy to find the things I was interested in and the people who shared my interests.”

More students may mean more diversity in a school’s population and more opportunities for students to make connections with their peers. On the contrary, smaller class sizes can allow teachers to give greater attention to individual students and ensure that fewer are left without an understanding of the material.

Equally important to note is the number of students who end up graduating from these schools. The Salinas Californian notes that in 2015, the graduation rate of students within the Monterey County was 84.5 percent, a 4.5 percent increase over the previous three years. This growing graduation rate puts the county above California’s graduation rate of 82 percent. Graduation rates among these particular five high schools prove to be even higher. In 2016, the graduation rate of students at PGHS was 99.2 percent and 99.5 percent at CHS.

The success of high schools in preparing their students for college is another way in which these schools can be examined. Many factors attest to college readiness, such as standardized test scores and access to Advanced Placement level courses. Stevenson School has the highest participation rate of students in AP courses at 90 percent. Stevenson looks to challenge its students academically, and its inclusion of AP courses is a reflection of this.

Students have also gained assistance in continuing their education past high school through Stevenson’s college center. Stevenson School senior William Lansbury attests to the center’s usefulness.

“The college center is the ultimate asset for students taking the next step to find another home after Stevenson,” Lansbury says. “Students meet with college representatives, are assigned a staff member who is their college applications advisor and have the ability to read through binders with information about hundreds of different colleges.”

CHS and PGHS, though public schools, also offer college and career centers with advisers on hand. In addition, the opportunity for students to challenge themselves with higher level courses is available. In 2016, 34.1 percent of students enrolled in at least one AP course at PGHS, while 49 percent did so at CHS.

Carmel’s standardized testing statistics are also slightly higher than PGHS’, as the average ACT score of students in 2016 was a 26.1 at CHS and a 25 at PGHS on the 36-point ACT scale.

Nonetheless, both CHS and PGHS have qualities that make these public schools appealing. Janet Light, a college and career center adviser at Pacific Grove, points out some of PGHS’ desirable traits that stem from its location.

“Pacific Grove High School is the only high school in our small district,” Light says. “The town has the lowest crime rate of any Monterey County city…. It is known for its ‘small town’ friendliness and hospitality.”

Likewise, Darren Johnston, a college and career center counselor at CHS, discusses some of the ways in which CHS is set apart from other public high schools.

“The relationships forged between students and faculty members make Carmel High School pretty unique,” Johnston remarks. “You don’t often find that at public schools, but at CHS it’s commonplace for students to feel connected to teachers, counselors, coaches and so on.”

Whether public or private, each type of school seems to hold its own advantages, allowing certain students who have attended multiple high schools to take away positives from each.

Cook, who attended Stevenson School for two years as a freshman and sophomore before starting his junior year at CHS, noticed similarities between CHS and Stevenson School.

“Both are academically challenging schools with beautiful, open campuses,” Cook says, “and they both offer a plethora of extracurricular activities to get involved in.”

Similar to Cook, 2015 CHS graduate Makena Ehnisz had attended Catalina since pre-kindergarten before transferring to Carmel High as a junior.

“CHS encouraged me to work harder to explore topics I found interesting rather than simply going through the motions,” Ehnisz explains. “I appreciate the basis of academic rigor that I experienced at Catalina, but I think I truly came into my own when given the range of opportunities at Carmel.”

On the contrary, Jack Witt, a senior at York High School, points out that an individual’s achievements may not necessarily be directly related to his choice of school.

“It’s up to the individual whether they succeed or not,” Witt says. “Everyone is given the same information—it’s just the effort you put in that determines success.”

-Jessica DiLullo