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San Diego County Board of Education Honors Founding Fathers of San Pasqual Academy

San Diego County Board of Education Honors Founding Fathers of San Pasqual Academy

Three retired public servants were celebrated as “founding fathers” of San Pasqual Academy by the San Diego County Board of Education Wednesday night. Retired Superior Court Judge James Milliken and former County Supervisors Greg Cox and Ron Roberts were honored with a resolution adopted by the board acknowledging how instrumental the trio was in creating the first-in-the-nation residential educational foster academy, which opened its doors in 2001.  

“Youth in the foster care system are a vulnerable population whose experience of abuse, abandonment, and neglect are transformed into hope and a sense of belonging at San Pasqual Academy,” said Board President Rick Shea. “These gentlemen are to be commended for their leadership, innovation, and commitment to our county.” 

In 1998, presiding judge of the San Diego Superior Court Juvenile Division James Milliken had great concerns about the state of the foster care system. He convened a panel of current and former foster youth to share their lived experience with the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The three-hour panel discussion was transformational for Supervisors Cox and Roberts and became a pivotal moment that led to the creation of something new and special. Three years later, in 2001, San Pasqual Academy opened its doors and has since served more than 1,500 youth in foster care with a graduation rate nearly double the national average for foster youth. 

To mark the 10-year anniversary of San Pasqual Academy, a 2011 episode of Turning Point documented how Cox, Milliken, and Roberts provided hope to youth in the San Diego County foster care system through their innovative boarding school. One of the foster teens on the panel featured in the documentary, Rita Naranjo, was 17 years old in 1998. After being placed in foster care at the age of 4 and moving around a lot throughout her youth, Naranjo became very active in advocacy to raise attention for the plight of foster youth. Twenty-five years later, and now a professor in the Sociology Department at MiraCosta College, Naranjo attended the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night. 

“I am honored to be remembered and to be here to recognize these gentlemen; it makes me feel like all that vulnerability and opening up really did matter,” Naranjo said. “The foster care system should be proud of the quality of protection that has been provided to children. They’re changing lives for the better, and investing in us in a way that we otherwise wouldn’t be invested in.”  

“Youth in foster care have historically attended an average of five different high schools by the end of their sophomore year, and many of these teens experience their first stable home at San Pasqual Academy,” said Dr. Paul Gothold, San Diego County superintendent of schools. “The gentlemen being recognized tonight have dedicated their careers to public service. It’s an honor to celebrate them and the innovative idea they had to create San Pasqual Academy.” 

In their retirement, Cox, Milliken, and Roberts continue to advocate for foster youth and show dedication to both San Pasqual Academy and the non-profit Friends of San Pasqual Academy that provides a safe, stable, and caring environment for deserving foster students and alumni. For additional photos, please visit our Facebook page.  

Dr. Gothold, Greg Cox, Ron Roberts, Rita Naranjo, James Milliken, Rick Shea

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