Opinion: Save 9th Grade History at La Jolla High School


Opinion / Guest Commentary / Our Readers Write:

Academic standards, strong curriculum and sustained enrollment at La Jolla High School are endangered and eroding.

Last month, I read a small notice in the flood of La Jolla High’s online school bulletins announcing that 9th Grade World History would not be offered next fall.

I was alarmed! Three years of History is required for graduation from La Jolla High School and 9th Grade World History is the first step. I also know that what gets dropped from a San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) curriculum is usually gone forever.

Most important, I think it’s essential for students to learn what’s happened in the past in order to inform their present and shape their futures. Always important, but especially now.

I attended the LJHS Governance Team meeting on March 4 to inquire further and to express dismay at this possibility. It’s true! The school plans to drop 9th Grade World History next fall.

Hand-wringing and regret were expressed about “the system” by involved parents, faculty and even Principal Chuck Podhorsky. But there was no resolve to change this path, to acknowledge that something important is being lost, to organize or push back to salvage this essential part of the high school curriculum.

Going along to get along will not forestall the slide that is now obvious. I hope the community will change things it cannot accept and express its will to keep 9th Grade World History at LJHS.

We must make a fuss to get what’s needed for our children from an unresponsive bureaucracy. It’s happened before and can happen again — think Coggan Pool, the formation of the La Jolla Cluster Association, parent participation in principal selection, the Farmers Market.

Dropping 9th Grade World History? History is a strong department at LJHS — an important part of the school’s identity as a classic college preparatory institution.

Much has been lost from the curriculum over time. LJHS has eliminated French, German, Japanese and American Sign Language. Only Spanish and Latin remain. The Latin instructor is shared with Muirlands.

Librarians have been eliminated, but library technicians keep the doors open at Muirlands and LJHS, including at lunchtime. Foundations help with private funds, but they are a limited resource.

How could the principal decide to drop 9th Grade World History? How could LJHS Governance, teachers and parents go along with this? These are school-site decisions ... they can do better.

I would argue that keeping World History matters far more than the distracting debate over “early start times.” World History is more substantive and valuable than many other credit-generating electives remaining on the roster for next Fall.

Among those is a “career-path” invention called “Bio-Medical Science” whose explanatory video shows students doing CPR on a dummy; “ASB” student government where, per the video, young politicians “plan fundraisers and work on school spirit”; even “Video Production” itself, in which students produce haphazard video clips for other students which are broadcast irregularly and without discernible quality control.

Removing World History from the curriculum is anti-intellectual and unacceptable. But it’s being linked to a predicted decline in enrollment at LJHS next year.

According to SDUSD policy, a projected decrease in 2019-2020 enrollment at LJHS means that five teachers will be laid off, possibly including one counselor. Notices of possible teacher layoffs for next year are required to be sent this month.

Enrollment is reportedly down at Muirlands Middle School, too, so there may be layoffs there as well.

SDUSD class size is set by contract at 35 students per classroom. When that near-highest in the nation 35-student class size cannot be sustained because enrollment drops, teacher layoffs are set in motion. Classes smaller than 35 are treated as a liability. And when teacher layoffs happen, it’s last-hired, first-fired: no consideration is given to quality or qualifications. Longevity rules.

LJHS and Muirlands enrollments are dropping, in my view, because new District policy redirects VEEP and CHOICE students away from La Jolla and back to their own or other neighborhood schools. Consequently socio-economic and racial integration at LJHS and Muirlands suffers.

LJHS enrollment is falling because families refuse to let their students get stuck with an entrenched inadequate teacher who cannot deliver as an educator and yet is retained year after year, despite parent complaints, student appeals and collegial opprobrium.

When La Jolla secondary students select classes in February and March for next September, they worry when a school bulletin warns, as happened last month: “Due to our projected low enrollment, it will be very difficult, potentially not even possible, to switch classes once the school year begins.”

Or, even more inhospitably: “Counselors will be conducting articulation for the next few weeks and will not easily be available for other issues.” (“Articulation” is the complicated task of assigning students to their classes. “Other issues” would be counseling.)

Finally, enrollment declines when college-bound students see the curriculum being shredded, as in eliminating World History.

What disappears seldom comes back — kids or courses.

What can be done?

For starters, World History should be restored to the curriculum list of electives offered.

Since there are dire staffing consequences to declining enrollments, the La Jolla Cluster should survey the community to determine why families are leaving our public schools. Local realtors and many others will want to know.

The community can then rally to fix what’s gone haywire.

Frances O’Neill Zimmerman has lived in La Jolla for almost 50 years. Her daughters went to La Jolla schools and she is grandmother to four kids who now attend La Jolla High, Muirlands Middle and Torrey Pines Elementary. Zimmerman served on the San Diego Unified Board of Education for eight years from 1996 to 2004.