La Jolla school cluster gains momentum; real power may be elusive

By Marsha Sutton

Contributor

Editor's note: A condensed version of this story appears in the Light's print edition.

A cluster in science or astrophysics is a small group of atoms or molecules, or groups of stars gravitationally bound. In the world of education, a cluster means something similar. Picture a high school as a gravitational center around which orbit the middle and the elementary schools that feed into it.

The restructuring of the San Diego Unified School District on July 1 into nine separate areas, each with its own area superintendent, places importance on the creation of these high school clusters, which have been compared to community planning groups that advise and make recommendations to the city council.

In Area 6, headed by Area Superintendent Mike Price, cluster groups are being formed for La Jolla and University City and are in varying stages of development. The La Jolla Cluster Association, which held its first official meeting in September and is hosting a candidate forum at 6 p.m. Oct. 27 at Torrey Pines Elementary School, began the process of formation about eight months ago. The group has submitted paperwork to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The La Jolla cluster (www.lajollacluster.com) has made rapid progress, Price said.

The five La Jolla schools that make up the La Jolla cluster are La Jolla High, Muirlands Middle, and Bird Rock, La Jolla and Torrey Pines Elementary schools. Each school has five representatives on the governing board: two parents, two teachers and the principal, for a total of 25.

Parents and teachers have worked enthusiastically to create the structure for the La Jolla cluster, which founders believe can unite the community behind a common set of goals and priorities for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. They believe the cluster will also allow school communities to share ideas and resources, coordinate fundraising, determine spending priorities, create bridges between schools to ease transitions, and speak to the district with a unified voice, according to the cluster’s Web site.

“A voice together, all of us, is a lot stronger than just one parent,” said Missy Coleman, a parent representative from Torrey Pines Elementary School.

Coleman said the cluster effort was spearheaded by parents Lisa Bonebrake of Bird Rock Elementary, Fran Shimp of La Jolla Elementary and Alison Lee of Muirlands. The group now has bylaws, a mission statement and a nominating process for the governing board.

Committees have also been established, Coleman said, which include technology, special education, safety, public relations, curriculum, finance, incorporation and parent education.

Suzanne Serafin, a Muirlands Middle School physical education teacher who sits on the cluster board, said, “Committees are moving forward and hitting the ground running, and it’s been wonderful.”

The teachers familiar with the cluster and its mission are enthused, Serafin said, but noted that many teachers are still unaware of the cluster’s existence. “Slowly teachers are figuring out that this isn’t just another committee that’s going to talk forever and not get anything done,” she said.

One primary goal is better communication between the elementary schools and the middle school, and the middle school and the high school. “The communication goes both ways,” Serafin said.

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