La Jolla Cluster Association: Next school year has ‘a big question mark’

The traditional large in-person graduation ceremony like this at La Jolla High School in 2014 won't happen next month due to the coronavirus. What form the 2020 graduation will take is being determined.

What education will look like in August, when the next school year is scheduled to begin, was still up in the air as the La Jolla Cluster Association met May 14 to talk about the possibilities.

San Diego Unified School District Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino addressed concerns about getting back to school in the wake of campus closures caused by the coronavirus outbreak, saying: “Right now, [the district] is reviewing federal and state guidelines. Our plan is to develop a comprehensive framework. We’re going to prioritize first student and staff safety; second, social and emotional well-being; and third, academics.”

District board member Michael McQuary said San Diego Unified is contemplating three return-to-school models: “distance learning as is, brick and mortar as it was, or a hybrid.”

The cluster, which is made up of principals, teachers and parent representatives from all five La Jolla public schools, asked for an update on choice enrollments for the fall, with cluster President Neha Bahadur saying that “prior to COVID, declining enrollment was probably our biggest issue the cluster was facing.”

Marceline Marques, district operations support officer, said that in the school choice program, which allows students living outside school boundaries to apply for enrollment at district schools of their choice, “we saw an opportunity to slow down the loss of enrollment by prioritizing applications from residents who moved and wanted to stay in the same school. We also enhanced enrollment by giving priority to families with siblings in grade levels across the cluster.”

“I think you will see more families coming to you from charter and private schools,” Marques told the cluster, noting there has already been “an increase in [school] choice seats at La Jolla High and Muirlands [Middle]. Seventy-two seats have been allocated to the high school, 79 seats to middle.”

Bahadur called that “really good news” and said, “We’re excited for what that means for staffing at our schools as well.”

Marques addressed a question about a “parent-paid bus from the Torrey Pines Elementary area to Muirlands,” which was at maximum capacity before schools closed in March.

Transportation is a “big giant question mark,” she said. The bus will continue for the 2020-21 school year, “assuming kids go back to school ... but we’re really not sure what services are going to look like in the fall. We won’t know until we get guidance from our government officials.”

High school graduation

With traditional large in-person graduation ceremonies not happening next month because of the coronavirus, San Diego Unified student leaders told the district board last week that most students would prefer postponing normal commencement ceremonies to late July or early August.

Ila Jade Komasa, a senior at Point Loma High School who is president of San Diego Unified’s Council of Associated Student Body Presidents, shared results of more than 2,600 surveys collected from high school seniors districtwide.

The surveys asked seniors what they want to do for graduation, prom and other senior activities. Students said that if it still isn’t safe to hold normal ceremonies by late summer, they would want pared-down, in-person ceremonies with physical distancing. In that scenario, schools could split graduating seniors into alphabetical groups and hold several smaller ceremonies throughout graduation day. The ceremonies could be livestreamed.

If neither of those options is possible, seniors would settle for virtual-only graduations as a last resort, according to the surveys.

The school board voted to leave it up to individual schools to make their own plans for graduation. But the district will review the plans to make sure they comply with public health guidelines.

La Jolla High School is in the planning stages for a graduation event next month, but Principal Chuck Podhorsky said May 18 that the plan had not been finalized and he declined further comment.

Seniors also want to postpone proms to late July or early August, Komasa said. The events could be held outdoors to allow for physical distancing, students could wear masks and the number of tickets sold could be limited, she said.

If an in-person prom is not possible, students would settle for an online silent disco-style prom, Komasa said.

Other school news

Seminar program: Muirlands Principal Geof Martin said 58 incoming sixth-graders for fall 2020 have filed a letter of intent to enroll in the middle school’s Seminar program for exceptional students.

Muirlands principal search: Merino said interviews for a new Muirlands principal will be conducted via Zoom on Wednesday, May 27, and that “we have three strong candidates for that position.” Martin is retiring in June.

• Social and emotional learning: Noemi Villegas, director of student services for the district, presented information on a program developed with Harvard University to “integrate social and emotional competencies within the classroom.” The program includes activities and resources for educators and families, with district support from Villegas’ departments. Jenn Beverage, a member of the cluster social-emotional team, said she and team member Katie Zanoni will follow up with Villegas, seeking to implement the program.

• Distance learning “success”: All five area principals said they were proud of the teachers’ efforts in last month’s launch of the district’s distance learning programs. Nona Richard, principal of Torrey Pines Elementary, said, “This was a daunting task, and we’re experiencing success. That’s really motivating.”

One cluster member asked to hold a summer meeting (the cluster normally would adjourn until fall) in light of forthcoming communication about possible school reopenings. Richard said she and Bahadur would work together on possible dates to “make it an option.”

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The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.