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‘On the same page now’: Frustration eases in La Jolla public schools about district’s new math initiative

The Muirlands Middle School math team met recently with San Diego Enhanced Mathematics representatives.
The Muirlands Middle School math team met recently with San Diego Enhanced Mathematics representatives to discuss “[making] sure that everybody can be where they need to be in terms of math at all levels.”
(Elisabeth Frausto)

After months of frustration about new San Diego Unified School District math policies, representatives of the district’s five campuses in La Jolla expressed satisfaction last week with progress in communication with the district.

In recent months, the La Jolla Cluster Association has discussed how to gain more autonomy from SDUSD regarding upcoming changes to the district’s math curriculum under a new program called San Diego Enhanced Mathematics. SDEM is designed to modernize San Diego Unified’s math instruction through new course offerings and assessments.

Cluster representatives have shared concerns about SDEM, especially access to particular class pathways and how students are placed in accelerated courses. They also have said they haven’t been able to sufficiently weigh in on how changes may affect students in the La Jolla Cluster.

At the Cluster Association’s virtual meeting May 19 — its final meeting of the school year — Jen Burney, co-chairwoman of the cluster’s math subcommittee, said the Muirlands Middle School math team, made up of teachers and Principal Jeff Luna, met last month with district SDEM representatives to discuss “placement policy, calibration ... and [making] sure that everybody can be where they need to be in terms of math at all levels.”

Muirlands math teacher Rob Tindall said the meeting was very productive and added that “it’s just really nice to know that we’re all on the same page now.”

At earlier association meetings, cluster representatives discussed ways to revisit an expired agreement between the association and SDUSD, which included methods to request more autonomy in curriculum decision-making.

Tindall, who has been a vocal critic of the district’s communication about SDEM, said in February that “we’re being engaged but not meaningfully. We’re not being heard.”

But Tindall now says his concern about the lines of communication “does not exist anymore.”

“We were informed that there will be a new math placement policy for the 2023-24 school year and the district is seeking input from stakeholders, including teachers,” Tindall told the La Jolla Light. He added that Muirlands’ initial suggestions “seemed well-received.”

He said another meeting with district leadership is scheduled for this week.

“I’m feeling just superb about doing a better job of meeting the needs of each and every child when it comes to math and their placement in the cluster,” Tindall said at the Cluster Association meeting. “As long as we’re feeling a sense of purpose that’s around sharing our issues, concerns and opportunities for us to work together … I’m feeling pretty good about the direction we’re headed.”

District representative Maureen Magee said the collaboration between district staff and the La Jolla Cluster math team has been productive and has “provided opportunities for the math team to share their knowledge and expertise with district staff and to work together to refine district math placement procedures.”

Burney said an April 25 meeting with parents at Muirlands discussed math placement for incoming middle school students beyond an interim policy in place through the 2022-23 school year.

The interim policy for middle school is based on fifth-grade math teacher recommendations, a student’s fifth-grade midyear math grade and “parent voice,” Burney said. Parents may request a waiver to change the placement once notified.

A permanent math placement policy will be announced in the next year, Burney said, along with rollout of SDEM courses.

The April 25 meeting also included the idea of discussing middle school students transitioning to high school, which Burney said “fits into a broader theme of doing more vertical alignment [from elementary to middle and middle to high school] and understanding the curriculum across all levels.”

The La Jolla Cluster Association, made up of representatives of the five San Diego Unified School District campuses in La Jolla, learned of new district programs intended to address learning loss in certain students prompted by the closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cluster Association voted unanimously to allow the math subcommittee to continue to meet to address changes coming with SDEM and share that information with the cluster.

Burney also requested “one or more fifth-grade teachers on the math subcommittee next year to help facilitate … alignment.”

Cluster co-chairwoman Heather Polen said it is up to principals to ask teachers to volunteer their time for the subcommittee or the Cluster Association.

The La Jolla Cluster Association typically meets the third Thursday of every month during the school year. Its next meeting is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, online or at a location to be determined. Learn more at lajollacluster.com.