La Jolla public schools report ‘high-quality’ instruction onsite and online; parents agree

Muirlands Middle School welcomed most of its students back to campus April 12.
Muirlands Middle School welcomed most of its students back to campus April 12, but Principal Jeff Luna said the school continues “to focus on providing a quality experience for students that are online.”
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The San Diego Unified School District has completed its first week of reopening schools for all students who want to go back, and its Area 5 superintendent, Mitzi Merino, praised La Jolla teachers, school leaders and parents for a “smooth transition” from a year of online learning to a hybrid of online and onsite instruction.

Merino said she’s “just amazed at what’s happening” at the five schools that make up the district’s La Jolla Cluster.

On April 12, each of those schools welcomed a majority of students back to campus after remaining closed to regular in-person instruction for 13 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the reopening, only small numbers of students identified as struggling were invited to appointment-only in-person learning.

After over a year of distance learning and more than seven months into the current school year, La Jolla’s five public schools in the San Diego Unified School District welcomed most of their students back to campus April 12 as the district reopened from closures triggered by COVID-19.

In La Jolla, 2,237 students chose to return to campuses in the hybrid model, Merino said at the April 15 meeting of the La Jolla Cluster Association, which is composed of parent and staff representatives from each cluster school.

The district’s hybrid system offers students two or four days a week of in-person learning, depending on the school.

Instruction is conducted onsite Mondays through Thursdays at Bird Rock Elementary, La Jolla Elementary, Torrey Pines Elementary and Muirlands Middle schools. On Fridays, students are in online learning.

La Jolla High School split returning students into two groups to attend classes in person two days each. One group went to campus Monday and Tuesday, the other on Wednesday and Thursday.

But Principal Chuck Podhorsky said the school will shift to a four-day-a-week model for next week. “We’ll be sending some more information out to our communities,” he said.

He said the change is based on the two-day model going “very, very well.”

In the cluster, 1,085 students opted to stay in online-only instruction, simultaneously learning from the same teachers who are on campus.

Whether onsite or online, La Jolla Cluster schools reported high attendance rates for the week of April 12.

Merino said the attendance rate this week was 98.8 percent for students in the onsite/online hybrid and 98.2 percent in online only.

“In our classrooms and in our schools, we’ve created highly engaged learning communities,” Merino said. She credited “our teachers who are creating those conditions, our leaders who are committed to supporting individual students, and families for motivating and inspiring your children to come to school and give their best every day.”

“Whether your child is experiencing the online model or the hybrid model, we believe that it is really high-quality,” she said. “It’s our commitment to support every student.”

Jeff Luna, principal of Muirlands Middle School, said beyond preparing for students’ return to campus, “we continue to focus on providing a quality experience for students that are online.”

He commended teachers who have endeavored to teach onsite and online simultaneously. “They have been tasked with so much this year, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. It’s unbelievable, the work that they’ve done.”

Maryana Bhak, whose two sons attending La Jolla High School stayed in online-only learning, told the La Jolla Light that the first week of integrating students onsite went “pretty much as before,” with only minor internet issues the first day.

“We appreciate so much” the efforts of LJHS staff to “make it work for everyone,” she said.

Anna De Angelis has an eighth-grader at Muirlands who opted for the hybrid model and a sophomore at LJHS who stayed online. Both are satisfied with their choice, she said.

De Angelis said her older child told her “there was very minimal disruption to her routine.”

Michelle Woodhouse has one child attending Torrey Pines Elementary School and another at Valencia Park Elementary in San Diego (also in SDUSD). Both remained in online-only learning.

She said her children “have adjusted very well to their new schedules. We are grateful that their teachers are working so hard to try to maintain continuity in their learning.”

Eren Efe, who has a third-grader at Torrey Pines Elementary, said the first week of staying in online learning had been positive.

“The online option allows our child to get a solid education without being exposed to COVID risk,” Efe said. “Instead of spending time and energy on commute, preparation and necessary protection protocols, our child can focus her time on studying. The time saved by online learning during the pandemic is significant, and our child can use that time on additional educational activities or play in a safe environment.”

Efe said TPES is “doing an amazing job to provide fair, equitable and quality education to online students.”

For students returning to campus, there are “some complex emotions as they re-engage with friends they haven’t seen in months,” Merino said. “I’ve been talking to lots of students and they tell me they’re all really excited, but I also hear things like, ‘I was anxious. I’m nervous.’”

She said “counselors have been providing ongoing support to help students cope during the online learning, and now they’re continuing to provide the support for our students who are transitioning to onsite.”

Merino reminded parents that “you play a vital role in this transition, and regardless of what grade level, it’s always important for parents to engage with children and talk about school and your child’s experience.”

She invited parents to communicate with their child’s teacher or school if needing support.

“None of us have ever returned from COVID,” Merino said. “This is a different time, and it’s really going to require all of us to really tune in to our students and what they need.” ◆