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Not adding up: La Jolla teacher and some parents ‘beyond frustrated’ with new SDUSD math initiative

The La Jolla Cluster Association discusses the San Diego Unified School District's new math program Feb. 24.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Following two La Jolla Cluster Association meetings about a new San Diego Unified School District math initiative, Muirlands Middle School math teacher Rob Tindall says he is “beyond frustrated” and wants the local association to consider invoking part of an agreement with the district that allows schools to request adjustments to the curriculum.

Tindall relayed his concerns during the Cluster Association’s Feb. 24 virtual meeting. The group is composed of parents and staff from the five SDUSD schools in La Jolla.

As presented to the cluster in December and January, the initiative, called San Diego Enhanced Mathematics, is designed to modernize SDUSD’s math instruction through new curricula, course offerings and assessments.

But Tindall said he has been asking the district math department questions about the new program for two years without receiving answers.

“I’ve heard several people talk ... about meaningful engagement of stakeholders,” he said. “I’m feeling like we’re being engaged but not meaningfully. We’re not being heard.”

Local parent Eren Efe echoed Tindall’s frustration, saying she has asked for months for a chart to compare the current math pathways with those proposed, without a response. Other parents expressed support for such comments in the meeting’s Zoom chat.

“There are significant changes being proposed by the district ... that our math department at Muirlands is 100 percent in disagreement with,” Tindall said. “I don’t think parents really understand what’s happening. I don’t think parents know what our math curriculum pathways currently look like, let alone what the future ones are.”

Wendy Ranck-Buhr, leadership and learning instructional support officer for San Diego Unified, told the La Jolla Light that “our SDEM leadership team is committed to community outreach and input and we continue to consult with our external SDEM steering committee, a group of mathematicians and educators represented from UC San Diego, San Diego State University, S.D. Community College District and the S.D. County Office of Education. We have multiple opportunities for interested staff, parents and community members to provide input and learn more about ongoing planning for the math initiative.”

Families can enter questions and feedback about the initiative at bit.ly/SDEMForm.

But Tindall said Muirlands math teachers would like to invoke a clause in the original memorandum of understanding between the La Jolla Cluster Association and San Diego Unified “that allows schools to make adjustments to curriculum, as we might see fit, in agreement with the district.”

However, he wondered whether “the cluster agreement is actually an active binding document anymore.”

SDUSD Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino said she would research the issue.

The San Diego Unified School District is facing funding challenges exacerbated by enrollment declines, including among the public schools that make up the La Jolla Cluster.

Item III of the agreement states “the district recognizes that LJC schools desire greater authority to manage, operate and administer the educational programs in the LJ cluster and that, from time to time, LJC schools may wish to alter the courses of study, scope and sequence, curriculum, instructional strategies, text selection, staffing configurations, professional development, assessment content and timeline and the methods to meet state graduation guidelines ... for the LJC schools.”

The MOU spells out a process through which cluster schools can request a change to an educational program. The request ultimately requires agreement from the district.

“The purpose of the cluster was to get together and discuss common problems and issues and to try to share solutions and resources and, when necessary, ask for support from the district,” Tindall said. He added that recently, most meetings focus on the cluster’s successes.

“We need to hit the reset button,” Tindall said.

La Jolla Elementary School Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink said: “I feel like we’re in a bit of a different time. That doesn’t mean I’m saying we shouldn’t activate something. I have to read that section of the MOU, and I think we’ve got some learning to do.”

“I would love a way to figure out how to have some more open dialogue and discussions so people don’t feel like we’re just presenting all the good stuff and not getting into what’s really important, because that’s a waste of everyone’s time,” she added.

Cluster Association co-chairwoman Heather Polen said one of the three cluster meetings left in the school year will be devoted to the math department to discuss changes.

The cluster agreement can be revisited at another future meeting, Polen added.

Association members also discussed forming a math subcommittee. Polen said she would email cluster members to gather interest in joining the committee. ◆