Next school year bell to ring at 8:35 a.m.: La Jolla High, Muirlands leaders win later start time

The April 18 La Jolla Cluster Association meeting was buzzing with excitement, smiles and toasts — not just because the end of the school year is near — but because the long-fought battle for a later school start time (aka “healthy start”) was won.

The day before the meeting, Muirlands Middle School principal Geof Martin and La Jolla High School principal Charles Podhorsky jointly announced to parents that effective Aug. 29, 2019, both schools will start at 8:35 a.m. The Muirlands day will end at 3:15 p.m. and La Jolla High’s at 3:16 p.m.

Previously, La Jolla started at 7:25 a.m., and Muirlands at 7:30 a.m. The later start is part of a pilot program, but if all goes well, it will continue in the coming years.

“We strongly believe that this will have a substantial positive impact on all aspects of our students’ lives,” the principals’ letter stated. “Over the next several months, our staff (administrative, academic and athletic) will be working on ensuring that this transition will be a seamless one for our students and community. We know that major changes require adjustments on all our parts, so we hope over the next five months everyone will have enough time to make proper preparations at home to ensure that the introduction of Healthy Start goes smoothly.”

A “Healthy Start FAQ” page will be also added to both schools’ websites to answer questions.

“Nothing is more important than the health and welfare of our student body and we are confident that introducing a Healthy Start will have a positive impact on all,” the letter continued. “We would like to extend our heartfelt thank you to the Muirlands and La Jolla High community, staff and students who have all worked so diligently and tirelessly to ensure that we can provide the most effective and healthy learning environment for our students.”

When the topic of “start time” was read from the agenda at the Cluster Association meeting, applause broke out.

Cluster president John May said: “The attempt to move start times goes back at least 16 years at the Cluster, before it was even called a Cluster. … This has been such a long-standing issue and struggle, and we have spent hours and hours and hours working on this, reviewing literature, having meetings. But we got our Healthy Start.”

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) board member Mike McQuary added: “The effort that you have made and the work you have done has really paid off. I know it was a back-and-forth situation, but that is how we move forward.”

Earlier this year, the schools drafted a pilot program to start La Jolla High at 8:30 a.m., and Muirlands Middle around that same time. The School’s Site Governance Team (SGT) — comprised of teachers, parents and administrators — approved the pilot program and submitted it to the SDUSD for approval.

However, a private notice went out shortly after stating SDUSD had determined the pilot program was not “cost neutral” and could not be implemented.

In seeking a compromise, SGT members met with SDUSD reps, and settled on a start time of 8:35 a.m.

However, as a word of caution, parent Fran Shimp added there would be some difficult adjustments ahead. “Just so parents know, there are a lot of things that have to be worked out. Be patient and don’t get mad, just realize it’s going to be a work-in-progress and this year might not be as smooth as we would like it to be — especially with sports and afterschool activities, so try to remember the bigger picture. The bottom line is: this is what’s best for the kids. We can make everything else work.”

When it comes to traffic changes, May confirmed there will be a “dramatic change to the traffic patterns,” especially along Nautilus Street, which serves as a drop-off and pick-up street for both schools. And with the start time being that much closer to daily commutes, some parents are concerned.

One parent contacted La Jolla Light earlier this year to oppose the later start time.

“As a working parent, I do not have the ‘privilege’ to simply delay the start of my day,” she said. “It takes a lot of energy to organize the life of our children. Both of them do competitive (sports) and they simply can’t afford to finish school after 3 p.m.”

But, citing health and wellness, The American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine support a later start time.

There are only three SDUSD campuses participating in the pilot program. In addition to La Jolla and Muirlands, the School of Creative & Performing Arts will start later.

Also at the Cluster meeting

Social Emotional Goals: Torrey Pines Elementary School counselor Keri Riney announced that counselors from the three Cluster elementarys had met in early April to come up with five topics that would be “helpful for all the students to receive direct instruction on.”

They are: self-regulation (recognizing one’s emotions and coping with them positively); effective communication (how to speak up for yourself); integrity (including personal responsibility, honor, trustworthiness, fairness and sincerity); empathy; and appreciating diversity and inclusivity.

She also said the schools would host parent workshops. “We’re really excited about this, it feels like a good beginning for us and we’ll see how it goes,” Riney said.

La Jolla Elementary principal search: Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino reported: “We had our community panel interviews earlier this week, and we moved up the performance interview (where candidates walk through classrooms and school building and demonstrate their ability to think about instruction and instructional improvement) to today because we thought it was really important to see if we couldn’t get a candidate named and get that to the board. We expect the superintendent to make a decision and if a candidate is announced, it will be at the School Board meeting (April 23).”

Attention to Art: Since the April meeting is the second-to-last for the year, Cluster president May reminded those in attendance to start thinking about what the Cluster’s goals should be for next year. An early suggestion is to focus on the art aspect of STEAM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math), as recommended by a Muirlands art teacher.

— La Jolla Cluster Association next meets 4:15 p.m. Thursday, May 16 at Muirlands Middle School, 1056 Nautilus St.