La Jolla cluster schools to focus on online learning, engagement, and anti-racism in the coming year

The La Jolla Cluster Association discussed its professional learning focus for 2020-21 at its July 16 meeting.
The La Jolla Cluster Association discussed its professional learning focus for 2020-21 at its July 16 meeting.

In addition to elucidating plans for online instruction, the La Jolla Cluster Association laid out its professional goals for the 2020-21 school year at its July 16 meeting.

The public school cluster, which is comprised of La Jolla Elementary, Bird Rock Elementary, Torrey Pines Elementary, Muirlands Middle and La Jolla High schools, aims to focus its professional learning on three areas, “beyond the obvious need to support online learning,” said San Diego Unified School District Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino, who supervises the La Jolla cluster schools.

“We need to help our schools and teachers [determine] what does meaningful engagement look like,” Merino said, which will partly involve the cluster having to “do some work around some lesson design” to allow for more collaboration among students.

A second goal, Merino said, is a continued focus on supporting subgroups of students with disabilities and helping those classified as English learners be successful.

The third area of focus is “building anti-racist and restorative school communities,” Merino said. The cluster principals will attend a principal institute in August with guest speaker Bettina Love, whose book “We Want to do More than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom” the cluster principals and Merino are currently reading.

“We’re going to work throughout the year to create anti-racist schools,” Merino said. “Whether we’re online or back to our physical building, we have lots of work to do to support our communities.”

In other cluster news:

Social emotional learning programs: Jenn Beverage, a parent representative to the cluster with who co-chairs the social emotional learning subcommittee, reported the group is seeking to align SEL goals throughout the cluster. She said the Project Wisdom program, a character education program involving daily messages and lesson plans implemented at Muirlands the last two years, has been successful, according to Muirlands counselors and teachers.

Beverage said she hopes to expand the curriculum, as it meets the SEL goals for the entire cluster, from elementary through high school. “It trickles down, if we wanted to push it down into the elementary schools, [it can align with] what pushes up into the high school.”

Beverage said the SEL subcommittee would meet with La Jolla counselors and principals if requested, and cluster president Neha Bahadur said the cluster is offering its support, as the continued use of Project Wisdom and possible expansion into the elementary schools.

Christy Littlemore, parent representative to the cluster, presented a different SEL program: the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence RULER program. Citing her years as a teacher in the district and her prior work with children’s mental health issues, Littlemore said the RULER program, which stands for “Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating emotions,” is “fantastic.”

The main benefit, Littlemore said, “is the support it gives to teachers. It really provides what I find a lot of the support that teachers and look for to deal with the climate of their class.”

Bahadur told the Light the cluster SEL committee has not yet discussed this proposal, and that the “ultimate adoption of any curriculum lies with Muirlands administration and Site Governance Committee to approve its implementation.”

The subcommittee will look at the proposal in a meeting the next week, and called on interested parents to participate. Beverage said the SEL subcommittee “would love to have” parents who “want to be engaged in some way.” Interested parents may email

Sixth grade Seminar update: Bahadur said the cluster “is looking at forming a GATE/Seminar committee, just to evaluate the program within our cluster. There’s no specific agenda; we just want to make sure our program is serving the needs of our students” at Muirlands Middle School. Students are identified for GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) through testing in years prior; Seminar students are those identified as highly gifted.

Muirlands principal Jeff Luna said, “I want to assure that with this and any other issue, I am always open for dialogue. Going forward, I will set up a forum to continue those discussions.” Luna said he is also hoping to “bring representatives from each of the elementary feeder schools, get together with our committee, and talk.”

The La Jolla Cluster Association meets third Thursdays monthly during the school year. The next meeting is 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17 online.