La Jolla Cluster Association forms ‘social intelligence’ committee

The La Jolla Cluster Association had its first meeting of the new school year, Sept. 13 at Muirlands Middle School, to outline priorities for the year, chiefly, a concept known as “vertical integration,” in which there is consistency in the educational concepts students understand as they progress through elementary school to Muirlands Middle to La Jolla High School.

But in addition to focusing on vertical integration in the fields of math, language, music and STEAM-related activities, the board formed a sub-committee to come up with a K-12 curriculum for “social intelligence.”

The Cluster Association is comprised of parents, teachers and principals from La Jolla’s five public schools — Bird Rock Elementary, La Jolla Elementary, Torrey Pines Elementary, Muirlands Middle and La Jolla High. Unique to this year are two new principals, Andrea Frost at Bird Rock and Geof Martin at Muirlands, and an interim principal at Torrey Pines following the departure of Sarah Ott over the summer.

The concept of social intelligence Cluster-wide started last year to give students the ability to understand the concept of emotional well-being for themselves and others. “There are things going on at all three elementary schools, the middle school and the high school; and the trick here is to connect all of them. As the year goes on, we’ll figure out how to create a consistent social intelligence curriculum,” said Cluster president John May.

Parent Fran Shimp, who is spearheading the effort, added: “Our goal is to have every school, starting in kindergarten, have a program wherein the language is all the same — we all know it, the kids know it, and they know what is expected of them, what’s OK and what’s not OK — and have that evolve all the way through high school.”

As of now, the programs in place run independently. For example, at Torrey Pines Elementary, counselors have a social curriculum they use. At La Jolla High, students engage in a training session to become peer counselors and encourage empathy. “These students were able to offer workshops during freshman orientation, where upperclassmen went over all the things that can happen in high school. They talked about being an up-stander (someone who speaks up when they see something), how to handle it if they see something questionable happening, and the difference between empathy and sympathy, etc.,” Shimp explained.

Torrey Pines Elementary School counselor Keri Riney added: “As a Cluster, we might want to consider what our universal goal is and what our mission will be, and what we want for our students as emotionally balanced individuals.”

To accomplish this, the sub-committee will explore various programs that could be implemented across the Cluster schools. Those already reviewed include the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate,” which calls for signing a “resolution of respect,” and anti-bias and bullying prevention programs; and the Sandy Hook Promise program, “It Starts with Hello,” which encourages students to take small actions to promote connectedness and inclusion, and reach out to those experiencing social isolation.

In other Cluster news:

Later start time: SDUSD board member Mike McQuary provided an update on the statewide effort to start the school day a little later to address adolescent sleep concerns identified by medical professionals. He said on Aug. 31, the State Assembly and Senate both passed SB 328, a bill that would require middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by 2021. The bill is waiting for Gov. Jerry Brown’s review and possible signature.

La Jolla High has begun a once-a-week later start time (Tuesdays). “If this legislation passes, every school will have to do it within three years,” Shimp said. “If it does, we will get rocking and rolling. It will become a conversation of ‘how we can implement it?’ rather than ‘should we implement it?’ ”

Torrey Pines principal update: Area Superintendent Mitzi Merino said Torrey Pines Elementary School doesn’t have a permanent principal yet, but Chris Hargrave is in the role until one is found. “We have interviews (the week of Sept. 17) and if those go well, we’ll name our new principal. If the team does not think there’s a match, we’ll go back to the drawing board,” Merino said.

La Jolla Cluster Association next meets, 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18 at Muirlands Middle School, 1056 Nautilus St. lajollacluster.com

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