La Jolla Cluster Association wraps up 2016 school year


La Jolla Cluster Association held its last meeting of the year May 19 at Murilands Middle School to discuss priorities for next year. The group is comprised of principals, teachers and representatives from La Jolla’s five public schools — La Jolla High, Muirlands Middle, La Jolla Elementary, Bird Rock Elementary and Torrey Pines Elementary.

Focusing on the success of more active collaboration and communication, teachers shared the benefits they’ve seen thus far, and expressed hopes for building on them next year.

“I love the idea of looking at best practices because there are so many amazing things happening at all the sites,” said Muirlands Middle School science teacher Julie Latta. “In these meetings, I hear a lot of what my colleagues are doing and I am always noting and stealing their ideas. But I don’t think all of my colleagues at all grades levels have an opportunity to do that.”

Added Torrey Pines Elementary School teacher Chris Ramirez, “I’ve been in this area for eight years, and for the first six years we weren’t getting together in a formal way. The last two years have been a great experience in working with La Jolla and Bird Rock (elementary schools) … we’re really collaborating and getting ideas to each other.”

In July 2014, an agreement approved by San Diego Unified School District trustees gave governance teams from La Jolla’s five public schools the ability to make decisions and changes for the betterment of students. Last year, the Cluster Association’s goal was to focus on “vertical teaming,” in which teachers in the later years of elementary school and earlier middle school, and teachers of middle school and early high school students met to ensure an easy transition between schools.

“I’d like to see more vertical planning for K-12. I still think we are under-represented as far as the amount of time we spend getting an understanding of what’s happening in the grade levels that come to us and what happens beyond us,” Latta said. “It’s not that we want to mold everyone into the same frame, but I’d like to see more of an awareness of what kids are coming to you with, and actually build on that. I always thought that was one of the fundamental purposes of this group.”

With the planned roll out of Next Generation Science Standards for California Public Schools (NGSS) over the next few years, better communication across grade levels will be key. The new standards, issued by the California Department of Education, call on teachers to integrate new science curriculum as early as next year. However, some teachers in the San Diego area are hoping for flexibility.

“At the elementary school level, the district is asking that in 2016, K-5 teachers roll out the Earth Science strands of NGSS, and then in 2017 add on Physical Science, and in 2018, the Life Sciences, so by the end of 2018-2019, everyone is fully integrated,” Latta explained. “What we heard from elementary school representatives is that they are very slowly trying to align with NGSS, but there seems to be a lack of awareness with what the standards are. They also felt that rolling out six grade levels of new curriculum is overwhelming.”

Planning to rely on each other as the new standards are integrated, teachers in attendance said success would hinge on communication and viewing the change as “grassroots,” with the effort starting at the schools, then to the city-wide Clusters and beyond.

— La Jolla Cluster Association will resume meeting in the fall.