About Monarch

  • who we are q&a board of directors giving circle school leadership history dollars & sense

    Monarch has served San Diego for over three decades, beginning as a one-room education center and expanding into a K-12 comprehensive school designed to educate homeless youth.

    There are more than 1.2 million homeless students across the country and 23,000 in San Diego County alone. Research shows homelessness contributes to a wide range of challenges including physical and psychological problems, safety fears and academic struggles. The barriers these students face hinder their ability to become contributing, successful members of their families and society and place them at a high risk of becoming tomorrow’s homeless adults.

    At Monarch, we give students the skills and tools they need to overcome these odds.

    Sandra McBrayer founded the school in 1987 recognizing the need to get homeless youth off the streets and in school. She was later named Teacher of the Year by President Bill Clinton for her work. In 1999, the Monarch School Project, a 501 (c)(3), was established by San Diego Rotary to help relocate the school to a new facility. Today, the partnership between the school and the nonprofit continues to make Monarch a recognized leader in the education of homeless youth.

  • q&a

    • Is Monarch a public school?
      Monarch is a public school operated under the San Diego County Office of Education’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools educational program.
    • Whom does Monarch serve?
      Monarch School serves homeless students grades K-12 who live in San Diego County.
    • Who operates the school?
      Monarch is a public-private partnership between the San Diego County Office of Education and the nonprofit Monarch School Project, a 501(c)(3) corporation.
    • How many students does Monarch serve?
      Monarch can serve up to 350 students daily.
    • Where do Monarch students live?
      Our students live in shelters, motels, single room occupancy housing, double- or tripled-up with other families, at camp sites, in cars, or on the streets.
    • How are students referred to Monarch?
      Students are referred to Monarch through shelters and other social service agencies, school districts, and “word of mouth.”
    • How long do students attend Monarch?
      The average student attends Monarch for 11 months. However, many students are enrolled here for years and even attend until graduation.
    • Why Monarch?
      Monarch has developed an innovative approach to learning where students gain the skills they need to improve their lives, develop awareness of their emotions, explore their passions and plan for a life of self-sufficient living.
    • Are there other schools like Monarch?
      Monarch School is the largest and most comprehensive K-12 program of its kind for homeless students in the U.S., and is a model for how a community can successfully educate homeless children to become productive citizens.
    • How do I enroll my student?
      Contact our enrollment office at (619) 652-4102 or enrollment@monarchschools.org.
  • board of directors

    Board Chair
    Ben Moraga
    Vice President
    Sharp HealthCare Foundation

    Fundraising Chair
    Alexis Fowler
    San Diego Padres

    Governance Chair
    Lisa Bicker Martin
    Former President
    CleanTECH San Diego

    Finance Chair
    Christian Gagel
    Tang Capital

    Audit Chair
    Karin Vogel
    Sheppard Mullin

    Rochelle Bold
    Community Volunteer

    Ashley Gosal
    Bosa Development

    James Harris
    University of San Diego

    Nancy Hartigan
    Community Volunteer

    Shannon Kates
    Community Volunteer

    Sally Roush
    San Diego State University

    Caroline Winn
    Chief Operating Officer
    San Diego Gas & Electric

    Denise Whisenhunt
    Vice President of Student Services
    San Diego City College

  • giving circle

    We will be launching a giving circle in 2019 to celebrate those who make a significant contribution to support Monarch School and believe that collectively we can build a better future for our students through the power of education. If you would like more information or are interested in joining, please contact our development team at 619-652-4100.


  • Erin Spiewak Chief Executive Officer
    Erin Spiewak Chief Executive Officer

    Erin Spiewak began as a volunteer and mentor at Monarch School in 2003 and was awarded Monarch’s Volunteer of the Year award in 2004. Ms. Spiewak returned to Monarch in January 2012 to lead the nonprofit’s strategic development and community partnerships. Previously, Ms.Spiewak worked with several foundations including the Gary and Mary West Foundation, WebMD Health Foundation and the Rose Foundation. Ms. Spiewak received a BA in Sociology from San Diego State University and her MBA from Webster University. She currently serves on the United Way Education Advisory Committee and as a member of Women Give, San Diego. Ms. Spiewak is a fellow of the Aspen Institute’s Sector Skills Academy and a graduate of the LEAD San Diego INFLUENCE leadership program.

  • Michael Paredes Principal
    Michael Paredes Principal

    Michael Paredes has been an educator for more than 19 years. His student-first approach and philosophy in his working in education is best captured through a quote from Coach Tony Dungy that reads, "Do what we do. Whatever it takes. No excuses, no explanations." Throughout his career, Mr. Paredes has been dedicated to working in schools throughout San Diego and improving outcomes for all students. He has served in many capacities beginning as an ambassador for the Teacher Diversity Project at Sonoma State University. He went on to serve a special education teacher, history teacher, coach, ASB advisor, Dean of Students, and Vice Principal. He has participated in the Educational Leadership Development Academy at the University of San Diego and the Aspiring Principals Academy through San Diego Unified School District. Mr. Paredes holds an undergraduate degree in history from Sonoma State University, a Master’s Degree in education from Ashford University, and earned an Administrative Credential at Point Loma Nazarene University.

  • Marisol Alvarado Senior Director of Student Services
    Marisol Alvarado Senior Director of Student Services

  • Aliza Cruz High School Head Teacher
    Aliza Cruz High School Head Teacher

  • Katherine Field Senior Director of External Relations
    Katherine Field Senior Director of External Relations

  • Stephen Keiley Middle School Head Teacher
    Stephen Keiley Middle School Head Teacher

  • Kathleen Loyd Elementary School Head Teacher
    Kathleen Loyd Elementary School Head Teacher

Our History

Hope and dedication isn’t accomplished overnight.

  • 1987

    The outlook is grim for homeless children needing help in San Diego County. Recognizing a desperate situation, the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) funds a drop-in center in downtown San Diego. Named The P.L.A.C.E. (Progressive Learning Alternative Center for Education), it is staffed with a single teacher, Sandra McBrayer, and offers an opportunity for homeless children to get off the streets and pursue an education.

  • 1990

    Needing a larger facility but lacking funds, The P.L.A.C.E. relocates to a low-income neighborhood in downtown. Despite challenges, the program continues to flourish.


    Students rename The P.L.A.C.E., and Monarch School is born.

  • 1998

    Students rename the school to Monarch School in honor of the butterfly’s transformation, which symbolizes their current struggle as well as the success they hope to achieve.


    Monarch School Project is formed as a California nonprofit corporation.

  •  2001

    The school moves to a new building on Cedar Street in Little Italy. SDCOE agrees to fund a 15-year lease, and Monarch School Project raises over $1 million to fund renovations, furniture and fixtures in the school. The new 10,000-square-foot facility opens with 48 students and includes a computer lab, three classrooms, a small health clinic, library and conference room, kitchen, laundry room and shower.

  • 2002

    Monarch School reaches its capacity of 150 students in May, four years ahead of growth projections.


    Building modifications are made in order to add a kindergarten and first-grade classroom. Monarch School is now able to serve children impacted by homelessness from grades K through 12.

  • 2013

    Monarch School Nat & Flora Bosa Campus opens. The 51,000-square-foot school on 2.2 acres in Barrio Logan is fully equipped with a gymnasium, single subject classrooms, a library, science lab, tutoring center, and many other features that are essentials to a modern, effective learning environment.

  • dollars & sense

    Monarch School is committed to fiscal responsibility and faithful stewardship of the funds entrusted to us by our generous donors.

    It is our responsibility to ensure donated funds are kept safe and used only to carry out Monarch School’s mission of educating students impacted by homelessness.

    IRS 990

    Audited Financial Statement