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Parents call meeting on Thursday about future of La Jolla schools

A group of parents whose children attend La Jolla’s five public schools are inviting others who care about local education to a meeting Thursday night to talk about the future of those schools.

The 7 p.m. meeting in La Jolla High School’s Parker Auditorium is being called a “La Jolla cluster” session, explained Natascha Vossen, whose child is a fifth grader at La Jolla Elementary.

Cluster is education jargon for a group of schools that feed into a particular high school — in this case La Jolla High, Muirlands Middle, and Birdrock, La Jolla and Torrey Pines elementary schools.

“The catalyst was the state budget,” Vossen said last week. “We quickly saw parents at each of the schools interested in forming a cluster organization.”

She said those in the organizing group “want to protect what we’ve created — quality schools, what the sites look like ... test scores ...”

The group of about 10 parents has met several times to talk about what can be done, said Lisa Bonebrake, a parent leader at Bird Rock Elemenary School.

Under the cluster concept, parents, teachers, staff, administrators and community members work as a unit to develop programs that better connect the elementary and middle schools with their feeder high school. They also act as a unified voice in communicating with the school board.

There’s even a possibility that a cluster budget could be established, giving the group some say over how funds are spent, Bonebrake explained.

A cluster is unlike a charter school or the “autonomous” relationship that La Jolla High has with the district that enables it to determine its own curriculum, strategies, textbook selection and staffing as long as it meets state and district guidelines. Rather, a cluster works within the existing district structure as an advisory group.

Both of those concepts have been topics of the organizational meetings, say those involved, but not the focus. Instead, they said, that the cluster has been gaining traction as the way to go.

At this point, say they hope to come out of Thursday’s meeting with more people interested in participating and perhaps leading the group. They also are preparing a survey to find out the direction people think the effort should take, Vossen said.

They are also setting up a Web site. If you can’t make the meeting and want to participate or want more information, e-mail

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The committee members have talked with parents from Point Loma, where a cluster has existed since the parents became concerned about the fates of Dana and Correia middle schools. And last week they met with interim Superintendent Bill Kowba and Bernie Rhinerson, the district’s chief relations officer who will attend Thursday’s meeting on behalf of the district.

He said they are very excited about the idea of a La Jolla cluster being formed.

“We want to help,” Rhinerson said, noting that they are happy to see parents are organizing and talking about how to improve local schools. “It’s good at the school sites and for the administration to have clusters that are thinking across the educational spectrum.”

Trustee John DeBeck, who has worked closely with the Point Loma group and has been an advocate of forming a new smaller coastal school district, said he “supports the concept of cluster management” as do other members of the school board.

He noted that while “La Jolla may have a lot of clout, they have not evolved into a cohesive group,” but added that the cluster may do that for them.

John May, president of the Torrey Pines Elementary School Foundation, said he got involved because “the more we can do to integrate what parents and teachers understand, the better off parents and kids will be.”

He also focused on strength in numbers with a cluster.

“If we are well organized we can speak with one voice ... not just as a random parent speaking for their son or daughter,” he said.

Some sort of continuity like a cluster organization would be especially useful to parents and teachers to assist with transition to middle and high school, he added.

Other members of the organizing group are Linda Dowley and Sarah Schrier, whose children attend La Jolla High; Alison Lee, Torrey Pines, Muirlands Middle and La Jolla High; Margaret Ohara, Bird Rock and La Jolla High; Sharon Jones and Fran Shimp, La Jolla Elementary.

School cluster meeting

  • 7PM, Thursday January 21 2010
  • La Jolla High School auditorium
  • 750 Nautilus St.