La Jolla public schools have 97% attendance rate, higher than SDUSD average

Torrey Pines Elementary School
Torrey Pines Elementary School Principal Nona Richard says all students have access to the same “rigorous curriculum.”
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Cluster Association also hears district’s plans for a ‘digital academy’ for online students next school year and its summer program ‘for anybody.’


The five San Diego Unified School District schools that make up the La Jolla Cluster are reporting attendance rates higher than the district average, according to SDUSD Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino.

The district attendance rate is 93 percent; La Jolla Cluster attendance is at 97 percent for both hybrid in-person/online instruction and online-only learning, Merino said at the La Jolla Cluster Association’s May 20 meeting.

Merino said she attributed the high attendance rate to “the quality of instruction, the welcoming environments in our classrooms and the parents who are making sure that our students are either heading to school or logging on.”

Other cluster news

Fall enrollment and “digital academy”: Enrollment numbers for the fall are still unknown, said Andrew Sharp, chief public information officer for SDUSD, but many students who unenrolled during the COVID-19 pandemic are beginning to return.

Also unclear is how many students will enroll for “full-time, five days [a week] normal school,” which the district will offer when the new school year starts Monday, Aug. 30, Sharp said.

SDUSD also will offer a concurrent “digital academy for students that want to do online learning,” Sharp said.

Monica Spydell never would have thought to enroll her second-grade daughter in online classes before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t frankly know the percentage of people that are going to feel uncomfortable coming back in person in the fall,” Sharp said. “Our expectation is that’s a relatively small percentage of our population.”

Those who opt for online will not be instructed by the same teachers who are teaching in person.

Sharp said he didn’t know if those who choose online learning will still be counted in their school’s enrollment numbers.

Sharp said a parent survey asking for online or in-person preference would go out within the next week so “we can do a little bit more detailed planning.”

2021-22 budget: Sharp said the district is “headed toward a good-news budget” for next school year and that “these next couple of weeks are really critical for us in terms of planning.”

Addressing concerns that a drop in student enrollment could lead to budget cuts — since school funding is tied to attendance and enrollment — Sharp said “this year, the state decided to hold districts harmless because they recognize the once-in-a-lifetime nature of this pandemic.”

Summer program: Summer program enrollment is now open, Sharp said.

“We’re calling it the ‘summer of learning and joy’ — the first time in about 40 years that the district has made a commitment to provide summer school for anybody who wants it,” he said.

With the San Diego Unified School District — including its five public schools that make up the La Jolla Cluster — having returned to campuses last week for onsite/online hybrid instruction, district staff is eyeing the summer and beyond.

The program, titled “Level Up SD,” offers onsite and online experiences, with academic and enrichment components, for all grades at various sites — the La Jolla Cluster elementary site is Bird Rock Elementary — and is not intended for “just [credit] recovery,” Sharp said. “I really want to be clear that … the summer experience is kind of stigma-free for anybody.”

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Math framework update: A recently proposed update to the California Department of Education’s Mathematics Framework, which SDUSD instructional coordinator for math Aly Martinez said “is aligned to our vision for [what] San Diego enhanced math looks like,” has some parents concerned about a possible reduction in accelerated learning programs.

La Jolla Cluster parent Eren Efe said “this is actually a very concerning framework, and based on certain parts of it, it would take away advanced and accelerated math. … It would actually put all our children at a significant disadvantage when they come toward the end of high school when they are trying to apply to college and ... are competing against students from private schools.”

Martinez said: “I don’t think there’s a movement to take acceleration away. In fact … it’s really talking about increased access and opportunity. … No educator would ever say that differentiation is off the table.”

Martinez said the district is continuing to work with the California Mathematics Council and other education organizations to provide input before the document is finalized in November.

Torrey Pines Elementary School Principal Nona Richard said that at TPES, “our focus as a school is really aligning to make sure that no matter who the student has as the teacher, everyone has access to the same very rigorous curriculum. … We’re going to expand that work and really solidify the things that we’re doing to make sure all our kids have full potential, full capacity, full opportunity to learn and grow.”

Representatives of the La Jolla Cluster Association, which contains the five La Jolla campuses in the San Diego Unified School District, heard details about the district’s adoption of restorative justice practices at the association’s May 20 meeting, the final one this school year.

Bird Rock Elementary Principal Andi Frost said GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) students at her school are grouped diversely.

“We believe strongly in the heterogeneous approach,” she said. “Research strongly supports that it makes a difference for students — all students of all academic proficiency levels.”

Next meeting: The La Jolla Cluster Association will resume monthly meetings at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16. Learn more at