La Jolla Schools: Cluster 'social intelligence' committee meets, outlines goals

The La Jolla Cluster Association’s social intelligence committee had its first meeting, following the regular Cluster Association meeting Oct. 18 at Muirlands Middle School. The result was determining the early goal of having the elementary schools working together to create a consistent system and language that could be across all schools — and up to middle and high school — and have the students be the leaders in this effort.

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. 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.

“My goal would be to come up with social-emotional language regarding diversity, inclusivity that all sites use so when students go from school to school the students know what we’re talking about,” said Cluster social intelligence committee chair Fran Shimp. “We want to change the culture of our community so everyone stands up for each other and treats everyone with respect and says something if they see something wrong.”

During the first meeting, representatives from each school shared what is already being done at their respective sites to encourage social intelligence.

For example, at Bird Rock Elementary School, there is a counselor on site one day a week who implements the San Diego Unified School District-recommended Second Steps for empathy, problem solving and anger management. La Jolla Elementary has a counselor one day a week and every other Wednesday, who used to implement Second Steps, but principal Donna Tripi said the program became “dated” so it was stopped, and now teachers facilitate character-building programs. Torrey Pines Elementary has a counselor that visits each classroom nine times a year to teach social-emotional skills.

In hearing this, several parents suggested representatives from each of the elementary schools get together to determine what worked, what programs (or components of programs) could be implemented to create a consistent curriculum that is age-appropriate.

La Jolla High School student Elizabeth Heller also recommended introducing language at the elementary school level that is being used at the middle and high school level, so when students make their way to the upper grades, they are familiar with the terms.

One of which is “hype team,” based on a program at La Jolla High. Hype team members cheer classmates in times of need. Another is “upstander,” which is someone who stands up and intervenes, tells an adult or supports the victim after an altercation, rather than just being a bystander.

Building from there, a group of Muirlands Middle School students, parents and principal Geof Martin recently attended the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” conference, and has already implemented initiatives such as Project Wisdom, which teaches life lessons; and Allied Action, which is intended to create a culture of upstanders.

At La Jolla High, there is a club called Agents of Change in which students peer-counsel each other. Shimp explained the program involves upperclassmen meeting with freshmen during orientation to set the cultural tone as one of inclusivity and acceptance. The students train those in grades below them to keep the model sustainable.

To best bridge these programs, Muirlands parent Christy Littlemore suggested having the high school students reach out to middle school students, and make most of the programming student-led.

“When the students lead these activities, it’s contagious. That’s the direction to go. Our middle-schoolers are not engaged by adults, they are engaged by high school students,” she said.

At the next meeting, again following the next Cluster meeting, Heller will return with a list of traits she and her fellow Agents of Change would like to see addressed at the various grade levels, and representatives from the elementary schools will meet and report back.

Help Wanted: TPES principal

The ongoing search for a new Torrey Pines Elementary School principal is in the midst of one more round of candidate interviews. If a principal is not selected during this session, the search will be suspended until the spring.

“Hopefully, we find a good match. If we don’t, we have made a commitment to find another way to support the school and re-post in the spring because it doesn’t make sense (to keep going on this path),” said Area Superintendent Mitzi Merino.

“It’s not like the candidate pool is getting stronger as the year goes on. The teachers would rather keep looking rather than settle.”

Chris Hargrave is serving as interim TPES principal, but if a principal is not chosen, a retired administrator would likely step into the interim principal position until a permanent one is found.

La Jolla Cluster Association next meets 4:15 p.m. Thursday Nov. 29, at Muirlands Middle School, 1056 Nautilus St. lajollacluster.org

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