La Jolla Cluster Association to look at ‘social intelligence’ next school year

La Jolla Elementary principal Donni Tripi, parent Sharon Miller, San Diego Unified School District board member Mike McQuary, Torrey Pines Elementary principal Sarah Orr, Area superintendent Mitzi Merino and La Jolla High principal Charles Podhorsky
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

In its second-to-last meeting before summer break April 19, the La Jolla Cluster Association outlined its goals and priorities for next year. As a collective, the principals and teachers from La Jolla’s public schools decided they would work to encourage “social intelligence,” among their students.

Defined as “the ability to successfully build relationships and navigate social environments,” fully developed social intelligence could join the list of skills taught in La Jolla schools by way of citizenship awards or grades, community service suggestions, kindness-oriented clubs and more.

The idea would be to create a program that would start — and grow — in elementary school and continue through middle and high school. The details of how the project would be implemented will be developed over the next year.

Torrey Pines Elementary School principal Sarah Ott opened: “Parents are really, really concerned about academic achievement, and that is highly motivational for them, but they are not as concerned with these other skills their children need to be successful.

“Academic achievement is just one of maybe five success skills. When you want to get a great job and you are rude or cannot work as a team or make conversation, you’re not going to get hired, whether you went to Harvard or not. Kids can be taught empathy, appreciation of others, and to help if someone is not doing well.”

Parent and Cluster member Sharon Miller suggested: “As a Cluster, we could get the elementary schools, middle school and high school to create a concrete plan with what would be expected of students behaviorally when they enter kindergarten in terms of social intelligence, and a program that progresses when they get to Muirlands and so on.”

The need seems to be arising from principals’ observations that students are experiencing behavioral issues for longer periods of time, and depending more on technology, which is leading to fewer in-person interactions.

The elementary schools currently engage in citizenship activities and learn how to build relationships though strategic activities. However, once these students enter middle school and high school, there is no program to keep that behavior a habit.

Torrey Pines Elementary school counselor Keri Riney observed: “The time students would spend navigating social skills and interactions with peers, they now spend on their devices. Such interactions are not the same, there is no face-to-face time. Social skills are what you want for your child to become a successful, well-rounded person.”

Once the program to implement these skills is developed, principals said parents would be asked to model these behaviors at home to keep the message consistent.

“There will need to be an active parent role, too, because if the school is pushing this … these conversations need to be modeled at dinner tables as well,” said La Jolla High School principal Charles Podhorsky.

In other Cluster news:

Muirlands principal search continues: A new principal for Muirlands Middle School was not found during the initial round of interviews, and the San Diego Unified School District will re-post the job listing May 1.

Area superintendent Mitzi Merino, explained: “We had 14 who applied for the position, but the team didn’t feel the candidates met the criteria stated with strength. We agree this is right next step.”

After the job is posted nationally online, there will be a community panel (parents, teachers, administrative staff and others elected from within the school) interview. The principal would start July 1.

To better refine the candidate pool, Merino said they would rewrite the criteria.

No word on Bird Rock: Merino later told La Jolla Light there was “no new information at this time” regarding the leadership at Bird Rock Elementary School. Principal Amanda Hale has been “taking time off” since February following parent allegations of misconduct. Chris Hargrave has been serving as interim principal, and it is unclear whether Hale will return.

—La Jolla Cluster Association next meets 4:15 p.m. Thursday, May 17 at Muirlands School , 1056 Nautilus St.

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