La Jolla High School committee submits pilot program to start school day later

La Jolla High School, 750 Nautilus St., may participate in a program to start school at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:25 a.m.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

La Jolla High School is one step closer to starting classes at 8:30 a.m. — instead of the current 7:25 a.m. — following a vote by its Site Governance Team (SGT) Jan. 17, to launch a pilot program next year.

Principal Chuck Podhorsky said the pilot program got enough votes to proceed to the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) Board of Directors for approval.

He announced the plan at the La Jolla Cluster Association meeting Jan. 24 at Muirlands Middle School. The Association is comprised of parents, teachers and principals from La Jolla’s five public schools.

The school bell schedules are typically created in the month of February, so SDUSD representatives expect a decision soon.

“This is something the Cluster has been looking at for a long time and we think this is the right time,” Podhorsky reported.

“We were able to muster the support of our staff, parents and teachers and come together for a SGT vote.

“(The SGT) was pretty overwhelmingly in support of it, so we put forward a proposal contingent on an 8:30 a.m. start time,” which now goes to SDUSD departments for further analysis.

La Jolla High School’s SGT was one of only two in the District to approve a start-time change — the other was San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, east of National City. Past efforts to adjust the bell schedule and start school later were not able to garner enough votes at the SGT to proceed.

Also speaking for the Office of School Innovation, Hibbeln said the District is looking at “how we are going to re-engage around mathematics” because “when the principals were doing their strategic plans, many of them chose math as an area of significant need.

Cheryl Hibbeln, executive director of School Innovation, speaks at the La Jolla Cluster Association meeting, Jan. 24 at Muirlands Middle School.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“These two pilot programs would mean a full bell schedule change,” noted Cheryl Hibbeln, executive director of School Innovation, who added that the ball is now in SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten’s court.

“It will be interesting to see how they respond,” she told the Cluster Association. “(From here, SDUSD’s department of) transportation would have to see if there is a cost-neutral way of changing the start time for La Jolla, but they would make a greater effort because it would be a pilot.”

The pilot program would be independent of the so-called Healthy Start initiative, which would require middle schools and high schools, including those operated as charter schools, to begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Senate Bill 328, which codifies the Healthy Start time, made its way through the Senate throughout 2017.

However, it was vetoed by former California Gov. Jerry Brown in late 2018, who noted: “This is a one-size-fits-all approach that is opposed by teachers and school boards. Several schools have already moved to later start times. Others prefer beginning the school day earlier. These are the types of decisions best handled in the local community.”

Hibbeln said there was “a lot of disappointment” when the bill was not signed because “then it would be done.” But, by keeping the pilot program separate, it would not trigger additional approvals and contract negotiations.

Cluster member Aimee Lansky said the bill is being reintroduced and new Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign it, making the later start time a statewide reality.

Should that occur, parents opined that other San Diego schedules would be built around the La Jolla High School schedule, given it had already started a pilot program.

Is Muirlands next?

Muirlands Middle School principal Geof Martin said he was waiting to see how La Jolla High School’s SGT voted before launching a similar later-start pilot program at Muirlands.

“Part of our discussion is we have always been in sync with the high school because our kids walk down the hill (for classes and programs),” Martin explained, noting that he sent out surveys to parents, defining the pilot program, to see if Muirlands could follow suit.

“The research is compelling and the community is pushing for that, so those are two things I’m considering as we try to move forward with this,” he said.

Muirlands would likely start 10 minutes before or 10 minutes after La Jolla High School to avoid traffic conflicts, yet accommodate the students who take classes at the high school.

The Cluster Association has been advocating for a later start time for years, but was faced with the uphill battle of making the new time work for busing schedules and athletics. However, with the pilot program, the overhaul would not need to be addressed quite yet.

As previously reported in the Light, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have conducted research into the benefits of a later school start time.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported it recognizes insufficient sleep in adolescents as “an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success, of our nation’s middle and high school students.”

Addressing the argument that students should just go to bed earlier, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine adds: “During puberty, adolescents become sleepy later at night (around 11 p.m.) and need to sleep later in the morning as a result in shifts in biological rhythms.”

In other Cluster news:

La Jolla Elementary leadership: The search to find a permanent principal for La Jolla Elementary School is underway, and SDUSD will post the job online in the coming weeks. A temporary principal, Stephanie Hasselbrink, was onsite when the school opened after winter break and has agreed to remain until a permanent principal is found.

Math matters:

The goal will be to build a multi-year, multi-tier math teaching and learning pipeline … including writing in mathematics, communicating mathematical reasoning and developing mathematical arguments, TK to 12th grade,” she said.

— La Jolla Cluster Association next meets 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21 at Muirlands Middle School, 1056 Nautilus St.