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La Jolla Cluster schools report drops in enrollment

La Jolla Elementary School's enrollment is "really taking a big hit," according to Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink.
La Jolla Elementary School’s enrollment is “really taking a big hit” as families search for in-person learning options, according to Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The five La Jolla campuses in the San Diego Unified School District are seeing drops in student enrollment as their principals reported current and projected numbers at the Feb. 18 meeting of the La Jolla Cluster Association. Lowered projections for next school year could affect teacher numbers at some elementary schools.

With school budgeting and funding tied to enrollment, principals “always worry about enrollment numbers,” said Chuck Podhorsky, principal of La Jolla High School.

La Jolla Elementary School Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink said “our enrollment’s really taking a big hit this year. Our original projection for this year was 607 students. We currently have 433 as of today, down 174 students from our original projection.”

Twenty students have been lost since the return from winter break in January, she said.

Hasselbrink said families who unenrolled “acknowledge that everyone is doing a phenomenal job, but they’re really looking for that in-person learning experience for their kids. We hear many of them will be back, but I know it’s been challenging for our families and our entire community.”

Two of the five schools in the San Diego Unified School District that make up the La Jolla Cluster recently opened in-person learning labs to some of their students, and three are preparing to launch theirs.

Schools in San Diego Unified have been closed to regular in-person instruction since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only accepting small groups of at-risk students in Phase 1 of the district’s reopening plan.

Next school year, “our projected enrollment is at 494 students, which allocates us with four fewer teachers than we have this year,” Hasselbrink said.

Andi Frost, principal at Bird Rock Elementary School, said: “We also are down. Our projection for this year was 442 students; we are currently at 373 students. For next year, we are projected to have 410 students.

“Based on our projections for next year, that qualifies us for just 16 teachers. We have historically 18 teachers. One of our teachers retired, so that makes things easier.”

Torrey Pines Elementary isn’t feeling as great an impact, Principal Nona Richard said. “Our projected enrollment for fall is 482 students. Our enrollment in September was 477. Currently, our enrollment is 458.”

“Families love our staff,” she said, “but just need an in-person option. We’re fortunate that we have an allocation for the same number of teachers that we were currently allocated this year. We’re not losing staff members due to enrollment.”

Podhorsky said La Jolla High currently has 1,338 students enrolled, with 1,299 projected for the 2021-22 school year. He said he is confident the decrease is “not going to be impactful of programs. We’re going to continue to offer the full range of [Advanced Placement] supports for our students.”

“As we look at the preliminary master schedule allocations, I think we’re going to be in good shape as long as we can stick close to that 1,299,” Podhorsky said.

Muirlands Middle School Principal Jeff Luna said projected enrollment for next school year is 730, down 22 students from the 752 currently enrolled.

“We’re not sure exactly who is going to show up at the beginning of the year,” he said, “but this is well within our wheelhouse to produce a very effective master schedule.”

The projected numbers come from district demographers, who have “historically … been pretty dead on,” Frost said.

Sharon Miller, La Jolla High School PTSA president, asked, “With the volume of students that are leaving, is there a potential that the elementary schools could be combined?”

“That’s not going to happen,” SDUSD Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino said. “No one at the district level has ever talked about closing any of the schools, combining any of the schools. We know that after COVID, we will have many families return. We know that we have plans to grow our community schools, and this is just a very difficult and different time.”

Merino and Frost indicated that cluster schools would put out surveys to parents in the summer to help clarify enrollment numbers. ◆