La Jolla Cluster group reviews later school start time, bus issues


One month into the 2019-2020 academic year — with two La Jolla schools starting an hour later — the La Jolla Cluster Association met to discuss how everyone is settling in, and also set its goals for the year.

Principals, teachers and parents representing La Jolla Elementary, Bird Rock Elementary, Torrey Pines Elementary, Muirlands Middle and La Jolla High schools, convened Sept. 19 at Muirlands. This year, La Jolla High and Muirlands are participating in pilot program to start their days at 8:35 a.m. after more than a decade of Cluster Association effort to get this later start time.

And while the new time has reportedly been well received by students who live in La Jolla, the students who are bused in face a different start to their days. The later departure time puts the buses in more commuter traffic than when school started at 7:25 and 7:15 a.m., and some have been arriving close to the bell.

Resident Joyce Abrams, who lives near the two schools, supervises a youth group primarily full of students who take the bus. “They don’t like the new schedule because they are getting to school after school starts and they miss things,” she said.

Some adjustments were made to remedy the situation in the first few weeks, but Abrams pointed out: “the students are reporting they are getting home quite late, so it is a long tiresome day for them.”

La Jolla High teacher Howard Tenenbaum testified: “Students are doing their level best to get to the bus on time” but are “still getting to my class late.”

La Jolla High principal Charles Podhorsky was not in attendance to discuss the schedule change, but Muirlands principal Geof Martin said the bus to his campus was only late one time so far this year.

An additional issue is students, who both take the bus and qualify for the San Diego Unified School District’s (SDUSD) Free & Reduced Price Meals program, have to choose between getting the school-provided breakfast and getting to class on time. SDUSD serves more than 135,000 meals per day to students in need across the district.

“The first day of school, zero kids got (school provided) breakfast. The next day, one kid did, the next day five, but it has been 7-12 kids that get breakfast out of probably 40 or 50 that qualify for it,” principal Martin said.

La Jolla High teacher Kerry Dill said the school’s Site Governance Team (comprised of teachers, parents and administrators) would be collecting bus data, but “the unfortunate thing is our buses were late pretty frequently last year, too, so this is not new. But now that the dust has settled, we need to figure out which buses are running late and track what time they are dropping the kids off.”

Representing the District, Area Superintendent Mitzi Merino said she communicated with SDUSD’s transportation arm, which has been investigating the issue and is considering an earlier pickup time to compensate for traffic.

Further advocating for the benefits of a later start time, parent Sharon Miller reported the student-portion of the PTSA had a meeting about the new schedule and called it “a total win.” She said all the feedback has been “phenomenal,” and that “the kids in the area have responded really well to it.”

Martin added the school has not conducted any formal survey of students about the later start time, but he has noticed more students on campus when the gates open and fewer students overall who are tardy.

Citing health and wellness of students based on their biological rhythms during adolescence, The American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine support a later start time. Further, a Senate Bill will make its way to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk that prohibits state high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m. and middle schools before 8 a.m. by the 2022-2023 school year.

Cluster Association goals

After focusing on Social Emotional Learning during the 2018-2019 school year, Cluster Association president John May suggested focusing on “vertical teaming” or “math articulation” this year.

“Math articulation is a discussion that always needs to be had because it is important and always a moving target,” he said.

To engage in “vertical teaming,” teachers from the elementary schools meet with middle school teachers and the middle school with the high school, to ensure there is consistency and students are prepared for the next level.

Agreeing that math articulation should be on the list, Muirlands’ math teacher Rob Tindall said La Jolla High recently changed some of its curriculum for integrated courses, “so we’re not sure how our content aligns with theirs right now.”

In the past, the Cluster elementary schools met for horizontal teaming with the goal of having students ready for middle school, and all three elementary school principals expressed willingness to expand that into a vertical program.

“Communication is where the breakdown occurs, so the more opportunity we have to communicate, the better off we are,” Tindall said.

The Cluster will continue its 2018-2019 progress on Social-Emotional Learning, but on the sub-committee level. One parent on the committee said the group was working to codify its mission and come up with common language and a common message to introduce across the schools at various, age-appropriate levels.

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