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Class is in session: La Jolla Town Council hears from 11 local schools

The La Jolla Town Council heard from administrators of 11 La Jolla schools during a virtual education forum Oct. 14.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

With the 2021-22 academic year well underway, the La Jolla Town Council was schooled on the history, practices and highlights of 11 local public and private schools during its Oct. 14 virtual meeting.

The forum was moderated by Town Council trustee Christy Littlemore. Administrators from every traditional elementary, middle and high school in La Jolla were invited. All but The Evans School and All Hallows Academy responded, Littlemore said.

For the record:

12:10 p.m. Oct. 22, 2021This article has been updated to correct the opening years of Torrey Pines and Bird Rock elementary schools.

Alternative programs such as homeschool and pod-based learning were not invited.

Private schools

Stella Maris Academy Principal Francie Moss said the Catholic school, which serves 170 students in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade, began 75 years ago as “the only parochial school … north of San Diego and south of L.A.”

It has since grown to occupy buildings on three corners of Herschel Avenue and Kline Street in The Village, she said.

Along with a rigorous curriculum and small class sizes, Moss said the school focuses on religious education and social skills. “We’re looking forward to 75 more years,” she added.

The Bishop’s School’s distinguishing features are its Episcopal tradition, use of the Harkness method — in which students are seated around oval tables for discussions — and rigorous academics, according to Lauren Ghishan, associate director of admissions.

“The core themes that we really focus on are kindness, compassion, humility, service and justice,” she said.

Bishop’s, located in The Village, was founded in 1909 by famed La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. It currently serves 800 students in grades six through 12.

“It’s really important to us that our students are happy, that they are healthy, that they are balanced,” Ghishan said.

Gillispie School, which recently expanded with “The Sandbox,” is continuing a 70-year tradition in The Village.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Gillispie School, also in The Village, serves 300 students from age 2 to sixth grade and focuses on “a project-based constructivist approach,” said Erica Huebner, director of admissions and enrollment.

“We don’t believe that children are just vessels that information has been filtered into. They are actively participating in what they’re doing,” she said.

Gillispie began nearly 70 years ago and recently expanded with “The Sandbox,” a 17,000-square-foot multipurpose extension.

“It’s really important to us that we don’t rush childhood, that we value learning by doing and we strive to develop empathetic and thoughtful citizens of the world,” Huebner said.

La Jolla Country Day School serves 1,146 students from age 3 to 12th grade and prides itself on “a well-rounded experience,” said Geordie Mitchell, assistant head of school for enrollment management and outreach.

Founded in 1926 in The Village, LJCDS moved to its current spot in the University Town Center area in La Jolla in 1961 and loves “the diverse, eclectic student body that we’ve been able to attract,” Mitchell said.

In addition to academic and extracurricular activities, LJCDS has “a very active service learning program that starts from a very young age,” he said.

The Children’s School near Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Parkway serves 260 students from toddlers through eighth grade, said Head of School John Fowler.

Founded in 1972, the school’s “core focus is to create kids who are curious, confident and connected,” Fowler said, with an “emphasis on learning by doing.”

The Children’s School offers a “rich program” of classes but also recognizes that “you can’t develop great scholars until you have good people,” Fowler said. The school addresses that by teaching communication and helping students “develop as whole people,” he said.

San Diego French American School, near the top of Mount Soledad, offers bilingual instruction in French and English, with Spanish as a third language, said Head of School Mark Rosenblum.

Started in 1988, the school serves students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

SDFAS “seeks and accomplishes integrating best practices from around the world … through the lens of bilingualism and global education as the skill sets our young people need to thrive,” Rosenblum said.

The school also focuses on social-emotional learning, he said, “leveraging what we know about individual and group psychology and how to self-regulate.”

Public schools

La Jolla’s five public schools are in the San Diego Unified School District and make up the La Jolla Cluster.

The La Jolla Cluster Association includes parent and staff representatives from the five schools and meets monthly during the school year to “promote and support excellence in education” among the campuses, according to co-chair Heather Polen, a teacher at La Jolla Elementary School.

Torrey Pines Elementary, one of La Jolla's five public schools, opened in 1980.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Torrey Pines Elementary School, which opened in 1963 near UC San Diego, now serves 460 students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade, said Principal Nona Richard.

TPES is “so special in that it celebrates diversity,” with more than 35 languages spoken by students and staff members, Richard said.

She said TPES focuses on “critical literacy, an approach to literacy development that focuses on author’s bias and perspective across text.”

“We are legacy of like-minded individuals who believe so strongly that children need both the character and the academic foundations to be able to find success wherever they go,” Richard said.

La Jolla Elementary School opened nearly 125 years ago in The Village and has grown to now serve 440 students in TK through fifth grade, with ”a long history of academic excellence, thanks to our exemplary, innovative, dedicated teachers,” said Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink.

LJES was named the No. 2 elementary school in California in U.S. News & World Report’s recent rankings.

Hasselbrink said LJES is special because of “the partnership we have between our teachers, our staff and our parents. We have a very collaborative community that works together to serve not only our students’ academic needs but also ... their social and emotional needs and development.”

Bird Rock Elementary School, built in 1951, currently serves 350 students in TK to fifth grade.

Part of what makes it “wonderful,” said Principal Andi Frost, “is we are a STEAM [science, technology, engineering, art and math] initiative school,” which means all classes “have a minimum of four hours of problem-based learning science per week.”

Frost said BRES also is focusing on social-emotional wellness. A component of that is the Bird Squad, a team of upper-grade students “who want to be leaders,” she said.

Muirlands Middle School on Nautilus Street began in 1963 as Muirlands Junior High, said Principal Jeff Luna. It currently serves 730 students in grades six through eight.

Muirlands offers grade-level and accelerated courses in many subjects, along with several athletic, art and elective options, Luna said.

He said “one of the highlights … is the strength of our leadership among our [cluster] principals and how closely we work together.”

“We want there to be a smooth transition” among elementary, middle and high schools, he said.

La Jolla High School, also on Nautilus Street, will celebrate its centennial in 2022, said Principal Chuck Podhorsky. LJHS currently serves 1,290 students in grades nine through 12.

The school features a four-year biomedical pathway, with seniors serving internships with local physicians, along with 22 Advanced Placement courses and programs in computer science, theater and 29 different sports, Podhorsky said. There also are almost 80 clubs on campus, he added.

Along with an emphasis on social-emotional learning, “our focus is really about getting students ready for being global citizens and helping them focus on collaboration, analysis, critical thinking and community engagement,” Podhorsky said.

Representatives of all the schools said their campuses follow all state and local guidelines for COVID-19.

Other Town Council news

“Hometown Heroes”: Town Council Vice President Jerri Hunt said the organization has received many nominations for its “Hometown Heroes,” or people who “have gone above and beyond during this very difficult time.” The nomination period closes Friday, Oct. 15.

A selection committee of five community leaders will meet the week of Oct. 18 to choose eight nominees to be recognized at a luncheon in the Walnut Lounge at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club on Wednesday, Nov. 10, Hunt said.

Tickets for the luncheon will be $50 and will be on sale soon, she said. “We’ll only have 70 seats available.”

Recipients also will be honored at the La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival on Sunday, Dec. 5.

For more information, visit lajollatowncouncil.org/hometown-heroes.

Next meeting: The La Jolla Town Council next meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11. Learn more at lajollatowncouncil.org.