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Dennis Snyder

Escondido Charter High executive director puts focus on academics

After 30 years as a football coach, Dennis Snyder took the skills and principles found in organized sports to develop the Escondido Charter High School.

"Coach" Snyder said it has been a team effort to get the school where it is today. The founder and executive director said there are currently about 870 students - 335 in the Traditional Classroom Program and the rest in the Individualized Learning Program, which caters to other local high school students on a one-on-one basis.

The school opened in 1996 and has been in its present location at 1868 East Valley Parkway in Escondido for four years. The biggest change for the charter school this year has been carrying out its Phase II construction totaling up $8.5 million in additional space.

The yearlong project opened in the fall, which included an 11,900-square-foot basketball gymnasium and workout facility, 19,000-square-foot American Spirit Theater and 2,100-square-foot warehouse.

The theater venue seats 400 people with programmed lights, sound equipment, broadband access and a 24-foot projector screen for videoconferencing, which can pipe into classrooms.

Snyder said he was involved with the "day-to-day details" of the Phase II construction and conceptualized the facilities' look to give the property a collegiate feel.

"I'm kind of a traditionalist," he said. "I wanted it to look like a college campus with ivy growing on the walls."

Before the facilities were created, the school's pep rallies and assemblies were held outside in the courtyard. Now the academic pep rallies held each semester will take place in the gym, which rewards and recognizes students for their efforts.

"You normally have a pep rally for your football team but for us it's academic," said Snyder of a gym full of teenagers cheering for their classmates. The academic rallies, he added, are part of the charter school's culture.

Since the opening of the facilities, teachers have taken advantage of the space by using them for lectures. The additions will be used by the school, community and outside groups. The first group to rent the theater space is Center Stage Productions. Snyder said the school would use the income for facilities upkeep.

The charter school's goal, said Snyder, is to maintain focus and constantly improve.

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