11 Days ’Til School Starts


Schools across San Diego Unified School District — including La Jolla’s public schools — will start a week earlier than usual this year, welcoming students on Monday, Aug. 29.

But that’s not all that’s new for La Jolla Elementary, Bird Rock Elementary, Torrey Pines Elementary, Muirlands Middle and La Jolla High schools, each is bringing something novel to their campuses this year, including new faculty and staff, building improvements and/or the roll out of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

As part of a national shift in science education, the Next Generation standards are being rolled out over the next few years to change America’s public schools’ science curriculum. Using “strands” of different science emphases, NGSS are aimed at giving all students a science education that prepares them for college and career. Starting in 2016, K-5 schools will integrate the Earth Sciences strand, followed by the Physical Sciences strand in 2017 and Life Sciences strand in 2018. La Jolla’s schools are following suit.

La Jolla Elementary School

Principal Donna Tripi said as part of the school’s effort to integrate Next Generation Science Standards, the school will add more engineering aspects to its curriculum. “This is the first year of three-year phase-in,” Tripi said. “Plus, we’re adding robotics enrichment programs in Grades 3-5.”

Using a $10,000 grant from the Microbials Discovery Team located at the Monsanto San Diego Facility, which they received in July, the Friends of La Jolla Elementary purchased robots and building materials to better engage students in engineering. (See story, B5.)

Further, LJES will adjust its “character strengths” programming. “We’re helping kids understand what their strengths are and teaching them to advocate for themselves to become more resilient students,” Tripi said. The school will focus on the strengths that lead to academic success and about 20 others, including humor, integrity, curiosity, kindness, social intelligence and gratitude.

“Instead of doing a 30-minute block once a week (like we’ve done in previous years), we will now focus on a few strengths per month,” she said. “Our teachers are developing lessons that incorporate character strength programming and how to see it, how to nurture it, and get the students to ask themselves ‘if I don’t have it, how do I bring it out?’ ”

Torrey Pines Elementary School

For its roll-out of NGSS, Torrey Pines Elementary School (TPES) will use the its campus garden. Principal Sarah Ott explained, “We got a new greenhouse that is going in as we speak, and we’re looking at using it with our garden to support the NGSS implementation. Hopefully, with the two, we can embark on new science experiments, like soil studies, as part of the Earth Sciences component.”

She added that the school has already implemented a farm-to-table program, where produce like lettuce is grown in the school garden and served in the cafeteria. “The kids love it,” she said.

TPES will also expand its music program, which has only been a choral group. “Once a week, students will have the option of learning about different types of dance and/or theater,” Ott said. “The dance teacher wants to teach hip hop, jazz and more. The theater instructor will present details on her program in the coming weeks. Toward the end of the year, the students will perform what they’ve learned.”

Adding to school spirit and pride, when TPES students return to campus, they will have a mascot: the red tailed hawk. “We previously just had a school symbol, the Torrey Pine,” Ott explained. “But at the end of last year, the governance team voted to have a mascot. We researched what was unique to this area and decided on the hawk. Go hawks!”

Bird Rock Elementary School

After a “rocky year” of three temporary principals following the departure of Sally Viavada in mid-2015, Bird Rock Elementary (BRE) welcomes new principal Amanda Hale. With 10 years’ experience as a principal, Hale has worked in the Fullerton and Anaheim City school districts. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Redlands, master’s degree from Claremont Graduate University and Doctorate of Education from the University of Southern California. Her administrative credential is from Claremont Graduate University.

One of her firsts act as principal will be to assist teachers in their efforts to have BRE identified as a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) school, starting with the hiring of science teacher Roger Ashworth. “He will help teachers take our science lessons and rewrite them … enriching them in a STEAM direction. We’ve always had a strong science program … the new programming will be more integrated, in that science will be woven through other subjects like literacy and PE,” explained teacher Lorene LaCava. “It’s very exciting.”

Hale added, via e-mail, “We want to cultivate our children’s intellectual curiosity, cooperative learning, ability to express their new learnings creatively, and allow our children to thrive in the 21st century. … We recognize how technology has impacted the way we communicate, collaborate and provides our children the freedom to think outside the box. We will be actively seeking community partnerships to add to the richness of our learning community.”

Muirlands Middle School

Due to an increase in students and some transferred teachers, Muirlands Middle School (MMS) brought on five who will start this year.

“These are mostly new teachers, some are veterans, but all are enthusiastic, energetic and prepared to collaborate and work hard,” said Principal Harlan Klein. “They’re asking how things are done and why things are done, and I’m looking forward to supporting their success, which will in turn supports the success of our students.”

Klein said well ahead of the reporting date, these teachers have come in to set up their classrooms and draft curriculum, showing their enthusiasm for the job.

Teaching eighth-grade GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) Cluster English and academic language development for seventh and eighth grade, Jennifer Littig comes to Muirlands from Atlanta, Georgia. Transferring from San Diego High School, Amy Thomas will teach seventh- and eighth-grade GATE Cluster English.

Concurrent to teaching sixth- and eighth-grade GATE Cluster English, Frances Disney is also pursuing her doctorate in educational leadership at UC San Diego. Matthey Hartje will teach eighth-grade Common Core math. Hartje recently graduated from San Diego State University.

Also operating his first classroom, Gene Murray will teach seventh-grade Common Core math. He has had several long-term assignments at schools like Challenger Middle School.

Klein said the classroom placement was strategic, with new teachers next to veterans instructing the same content areas.

There are also some beautification projects underway at MMS. “With the support of the Foundation and some discretionary funds, we’re improving the Quad area, to put in some new concrete and new tables and umbrellas, so it’s more like a food court or a bistro,” Klein said. “We wanted to provide a nice area for students to congregate, and this is a tremendous improvement.”

La Jolla High School

When the 2016 school year kicks off at La Jolla High, the 27 Vikings sports teams will have a new athletic complex. After just over a year of construction, the $12 million athletic complex includes a more accessible stadium, home and visitor plazas, entry gates, bleachers, a press box, concession buildings, restrooms, weight rooms and tennis plaza.

Principal Chuck Podhorsky said there will be a ribbon-cutting when the complex is complete, at a date to be announced.

Other project additions include replacement of the synthetic turf field; resurfacing the running track, which will reportedly extend the life of the track by another six to eight years at a cost of $169,863; and construction of a new boys locker room and additional storage space.

The safety and long-term effects of synthetic turf has drawn the ire of some parents, but the reported benefits include reducing overall maintenance compared to a natural grass field; less down time for the field due to the elimination of establishment periods typical of a natural turf field; and better drainage capabilities than a natural turf field, reducing the need to reschedule games/events due to poor field conditions after a heavy rain event.

In addition to the athletic complex, eight new Viking teachers join the crew to replace three who retired last year, and one who moved to another school. Departing teachers include Sharon Collins (English), Greg Volger (computer technology), Elsa Santana (English) and Christine Johnson (special education).

Starting at La Jolla High this year are: math teachers Paul Byrne (a transfer from Muirlands Middle School) and Hanna Gordon; English teachers Jamie Lynne Sanders and Samuel Cisneros (another transfer from Muirlands Middle School); drama teacher Stacey Allen; and special education instructors Tyler Gray, Deborah Williams and Michael Ulrich.

Aug. 29: All La Jolla Public Schools

La Jolla Elementary School: 1111 Marine St. (858) 454-7196. Kindergarten Welcome BBQ, 5-7 p.m. Aug. 24. Sign Up Day for new and returning families, 3-6 p.m. Aug. 25.

Torrey Pines Elementary School: 8350 Cliffridge Ave. (858) 453-2323.

Bird Rock Elementary School: 5371 La Jolla Hermosa Ave. (858) 488-0537.

Muirlands Middle School: 1056 Nautilus St. (858) 459-4211. Orientation Day Aug. 23, attend either 8-11 a.m. or 3-4:15 p.m. Principal Klein welcome, school tours, buy PE clothes, learn about afterschool clubs and parent volunteer opportunities.

La Jolla High School: 750 Nautilus St. (858) 454-3081. Senior Class Registration 8 a.m. Aug. 22; Junior Class 8 a.m. Aug. 23; Sophomore Class 8 a.m. Aug. 24; Freshmen Class 8 a.m. Aug. 25.

Aug. 24: The Bishop’s School

Aug. 29: La Jolla Country Day School, Stella Maris Academy, All Hallows Academy

Aug. 30: The Gillispie School

Sept. 7: The Children’s School

Evans School unknown