TAKING A RISK: a coach's dream to build an innovative educational option for North County families began with a credit card and a newspaper ad.

Escondido, 1996. After decades working as a coach and educator in the Escondido Unified School District, Dennis “Coach” Snyder felt it was necessary to offer the Escondido community a “back-to-basics” high school that offered a unique educational option for parents. There was significant risk in chasing after this vision.

At the time, charter schools were a totally new concept in education, and funding models were nonexistent. Escondido families would have to be sold on a product they had never seen before. Despite the challenges, Coach Snyder rolled up his sleeves, assembled a team of like-minded innovators, placed an ad in the North County Times to alert the community of his plans, and used his personal credit card to cover initial expenses.

GETTING STARTED: building a community

Before long, Coach Snyder assembled a full staff of passionate educators and businessmen who remained dedicated to fulfilling the original motto of the school: “education is our business.” In the beginning, ECHS occupied a few rooms in a modest office complex located on the current site of Heritage Elementary School on East Valley Parkway.

Coach Snyder partitioned the school into two programs. The Traditional Program (TRAD) allowed students to be at school with different instructors, six periods a day, five days a week. The Independent Study Program (IS) gave students a flexible schedule where schoolwork was completed primarily at home, and instruction was provided at a weekly in-person meeting between teacher and student.

The original coordinators of each program managed a total of about twenty instructors who mentored close to one hundred students, including thirty-five TRAD freshmen. As a team, the high school staff worked tirelessly to establish a culture of high academic standards and positive character development.

THE EARLY YEARS: growth and accreditation

The early years of ECHS met many successes. Word spread throughout North County about the school’s achievements, and the school began to grow. By the fall of 1998, ECHS expanded to occupy most of the three-building complex where it originated, doubled its staff size, and the student population grew to almost seven hundred TRAD and IS students.

During this time, the changing of state charter school laws made it necessary for all charter school teachers in California to be credentialed. The willingness of ECHS staff members to undergo this one-year commitment, in addition to their eight-hour workdays and after-hour grading schedules, was a testament to the staff’s dedication.

In 1999, the school achieved its first landmark accomplishment since its founding – the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) officially accredited the high school, making ECHS an official college-prep institution.

THE NEW MILLENNIUM: expansion and success

In 2000, Coach Snyder announced the ECHS Board of Director’s decision to move ahead with “Phase One,” the first of a two-part endeavor to construct a new high school campus. The new campus would be located directly across the street from the original campus, occupying a plot of land where an old Edwards Cinema previously stood.

Phase One was completed in the spring of 2003, making the Class of 2004 its inaugural graduates. Phase Two, the school’s gym and theater, was completed just three years later.

MEETING EDUCATIONAL NEEDS: finding ways to serve every age and learning style

The high school’s move across the street allowed leadership to proceed with another major project. The old campus became home to the organization’s first elementary school, Heritage K-8 Charter School, which opened its doors in the fall of 2003. At that time, TRAD was rebranded as the Traditional Classroom Program (TCP) and IS was rebranded as the Individualized Learning Program (ILP). In 2016, Heritage K-8 Charter School added a Flex Learning Program - Heritage Flex Academy.

Also in 2016, Escondido Charter High School started the Flex Learning Program which utilizes new and innovative instructional techniques to help students develop their talents and prepare for college. In 2016, the Midway building, adjacent to the main high school campus, was acquired and the Flex Learning Program moved into its permanent home.

In 2017, Heritage K-8 Charter School was expanded, opening Heritage Junior High School in the Escondido Community Center complex, serving grades 7 and 8, while Heritage Elementary School remained on the original campus as a true K-6 elementary school.

THE TRAIL AHEAD: a turning point into the future

What started as one small high school had grown into four schools with various educational pathways serving close to 2,500 students: Heritage Elementary School, Heritage Flex Academy, Heritage Junior High School, and Escondido Charter High School.

In 2016, Coach Snyder moved into the role of President of the American Heritage Education Foundation. Mr. Shawn Roner, a long-time history teacher and principal at Escondido Charter High School, became the executive director of the American Heritage Charter Schools. As AHCS moves into the future, its focus is to ensure that every school accomplishes its purpose: to develop the hearts and minds of our students through a rigorous core curriculum, with a perspective that cherishes timeless virtues and the American Spirit.

The future for AHCS is one that current leadership, staff and parents are incredibly excited about. The AHCS family of schools is eager to continue impacting the lives of students in our community and preparing them for success in the future.