La Jolla Cluster Association moves ahead on partnership agreement with district
, parents and teachers asked to provide feedback via survey


By Catherine Ivey Lee

Parents, teachers and administrators from La Jolla are being asked to weigh in on whether the area’s public schools should be given autonomy over certain curriculum, hiring and spending decisions from the San Diego Unified School District.

An online survey on 13 policy changes put forward by the La Jolla Cluster Association affecting La Jolla’s five public schools is being circulated this week to the public school community for feedback, part of a long-standing goal by the Cluster to develop a partnership agreement with the school district that would give La Jolla schools more control and financial freedom.

Formed in 2010 in response to school budget cuts, the La Jolla Cluster is comprised of parent, teacher and administrative representatives from each public school and speaks to the district in a unified voice.

“Parents and educators were tired of the one-size-fits-all policies that had been implemented at the district and the state level,” said Fran Shimp, parent chair of the Cluster’s agreement effort, at a town hall meeting on Feb. 19 at which the survey and the decision to craft the partnership agreement were discussed. Approximately 50 people attended the informational session at Muirlands Middle School.

The survey is being disseminated by the schools, which include Torrey Pines, La Jolla and Bird Rock elementary schools as well as Muirlands Middle and La Jolla High, in the near future and will also include explanations of each proposed change, according to organizers.

Survey results will help Cluster leaders determine whether to begin crafting the actual agreement that the Cluster will bring before the district’s school board or whether new proposals — and another survey — are needed. The La Jolla community will have an opportunity to review the final agreement before it is brought up for a vote, Shimp said.

She added that any agreement must be supported by the community and urged those in attendance to spread the word about the survey.

“Please don’t delete it! Please encourage your friends to take the survey,” Shimp said. “We need to show not only a large approval rating but a large number of people who take the survey — besides the fact we all want you engaged in this process.”

The ideas under consideration emerged from numerous meetings with and surveys of teachers and administrators at La Jolla’s public schools over nearly a three-year period. School leaders and teachers were asked to identify current state and district policies that prevented them from providing students with “the best possible education.”

Survey respondents will be asked whether they support giving La Jolla schools and their leadership teams the power to:

• Decide when and what district assessments (tests) to administer

• Interview all qualified applicants for certain open positions

• Pool resources to effectively serve special education students

• Determine courses of study, scope and sequence, curriculum, instructional strategies, text selection and program materials guided by state standards

• Determine professional development content and meeting days and times

• Set daily start and end times and/or the school calendar

• Control restricted and unrestricted funds

• Have the option to purchase supplies directly from vendors.

The idea is to “bring decision making down to the community level where we can meet the needs of the kids that we see everyday,” said Muirlands Middle School teacher Julie Latta, a teacher co-chair on the agreement. “San Diego City is huge. It’s very difficult, even with the best intentions, to make decisions that meet everyone’s needs.”

Latta said the San Diego Education Association, the teachers’ union, has been supportive of ideas under consideration that affect teachers.

Former area superintendent Mike Price, who is helping with the agreement, expressed optimism that it would be well received by current school board members. Many have gone on record in support of community-based schools initiatives, he said.