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La Jolla public schools work toward latitude on math policy

The La Jolla Cluster Association meets March 17 online.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Members of the La Jolla Cluster Association, which represents the five La Jolla public schools in the San Diego Unified School District, discussed refocusing their vision and asking the district for latitude with policies as they met March 17 online.

After months of hearing concerns from parents and teachers about a new SDUSD math initiative, the cluster formed a mathematics subcommittee to target potential solutions.

Concerns about the initiative, called San Diego Enhanced Mathematics, have included access to particular class pathways and how students are placed in accelerated courses.

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.

Subcommittee co-chair and cluster parent Eren Efe said the goals of the group, which is composed of administrators, teachers and parents, include understanding how district math policies affect La Jolla students and supporting the cluster in math education “however … we can.”

Subcommittee co-chair Jen Burney, also a cluster parent, said the group’s first meeting March 16 focused on the district’s interim placement policy, which the district has said will stay in place through next school year.

Burney said Muirlands Middle School’s math team, represented by one of it teachers, Rob Tindall, said the interim policy “does not provide appropriate data,” leading to misplaced students.

The policy also means grading and teacher recommendations are not calibrated within the cluster or across the district, Burney said.

“The sense is that the interim placement policy is actually actively causing harm to students through misplacement,” she said. “This is especially the case for students who are placed in accelerated math but who struggle, but it’s also true for students who are placed in [grade-level math] who could be in accelerated … but are not allowed.”

She said the policy also has created administrative issues, causing problems for schools in supporting their master schedules.

District officials have said the San Diego Enhanced Mathematics leadership team has been consulting with an external group of mathematicians and educators and is providing opportunities for school staff, parents and community members to provide input. Families can enter questions and feedback about the initiative at bit.ly/SDEMForm.

“The subcommittee decided to recommend that the cluster ask the district for latitude to rework our cluster placement,” Burney said. “We would like to be able to have a data-driven, individualized placement policy in conjunction with appropriate resources or slack in the system to be able to accommodate waivers and placement adjustments that would benefit student learning and well-being.”

Tindall said he would like that latitude given before next fall, though he added that the recommendation had not been formally submitted to the district.

The La Jolla Cluster Association’s original agreement with San Diego Unified spells out a process through which cluster schools can request a change to an educational program. The request ultimately requires agreement from the district.

SDUSD Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino said she would ask district officials about the process for waiving policy.

Revisioning?

The cluster then broadened its discussion to include the association’s vision. Tindall reiterated his comments from the February meeting that routine updates from principals and district officials often prevent the cluster from discussing more serious issues.

“If we’re going to take 60 to 75 percent of the time we’re here together to be told reports from other schools and not have a discussion about anything, there’s no need for me or other teachers to be here anymore,” Tindall said.

He said the Cluster Association was originally formed to discuss local issues not addressed by the district and to collaborate on solutions.

“We’re no longer an active body that requires input, with the exception of today,” Tindall said.

“We’ll work on this,” Merino said. “I want us to be able to come together in the best interest of kids.”

Other cluster news

Recess mixing: With case rates of the COVID-19 coronavirus declining, La Jolla Elementary School transitioned two weeks ago from having steady groups at recess to allowing classes to mix, Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink said. “Recess is more joyful,” she said.

Torrey Pines Elementary School Principal Nona Richard later told the La Jolla Light that staff at her school has set a tentative date of Monday, April 18, to mix classes at recess.

Bird Rock Elementary Principal Andi Frost said her students have had recess in grade-level groups since the start of this academic year and that there are no plans to change.

Ramadan donations sought: A Torrey Pines Elementary parent is seeking donations of canola oil, dates, flour and cloth in colors other than red for the school’s recently enrolled Afghan refugee families as they prepare for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins Saturday, April 2. To donate or for more information, email kathy.williams321@gmail.com.

Next meeting: The La Jolla Cluster Association next meets at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, April 21, online. Learn more at lajollacluster.com.