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School cluster gaining traction

If a show of hands at a meeting aimed at forming a La Jolla Schools Cluster organization means anything, there’s a strong base of support building.

When the audience of more than 150 was asked at the Jan. 21 meeting if they supported the concept — which would link the community’s five public schools into a nonprofit organization — the La Jolla High Parker Auditorium was filled with raised hands.

On Friday, Lisa Bonebrake and Sharon Jones of the organizing committee said they were pleased with the response but noted it’s a small first step.

Jones called it an “affirmation” of the work the group of 10 parents has done since they started meeting on Jan. 7. Prior to that they had been e-mailing each other sharing information and trying to find a way to set priorities for their children’s schools in the face of a shrinking budget and to bring a unified voice to the education scene in La Jolla.

“The general mood was quite supportive,” Bonebrake said, adding that while many “would like to affect the budget right now, this is the best first step.”

By Friday morning a lot of people had signed up on the Web site www.lajollacluster.com to volunteer, she added.

The committee followed up with e-blasts to parents at all five schools urging them to go to the site — which includes an audio cast of the presentation and a lengthy FAQ page covering questions the committee has explored as well as those asked during the Jan. 21 meeting.

Then, on Monday, the organizers met again to determine what the next steps will be, Jones said. They plan to meet with parent leaders and staff at La Jolla High School and brainstorm with principals. They also want to have people vote on a board in February.

Bonebrake said they were pleased that the first large meeting included not just parents, but also four of the five school principals (LJHS principal Dana Shelburne was home dealing with water damage but sent a message he would have been there otherwise); school trustees Richard Barrera, John Lee Evans and John DeBeck, and about a dozen teachers.

As John May, president of the Torrey Pines Elementary School Foundation, said in opening the meeting, the cluster idea is all about sharing ideas and resources and finding common goals.

He pointed to the Point Loma cluster, which formed several years ago. When the group got together they realized each of the elementary schools had different levels of technology. Since then, they have unified their programs so students arriving at the community’s middle schools all have the same base on which to build, May said.

After the formal presentation, Bonebrake and Fran Shimp and other parents on the committee addressed questions that ranged from how long will it take to get organized to whether the organization could be rejected by school officials. Other questions focused on structural issues such as whether existing groups like PTA, PTO or foundations would be affected. The short answer, they said, “no.”

While it has taken Point Loma several years to get to the point of establishing a formal nonprofit organization, Bonebrake said the work the group has done in a month is an example of “quickly working together. There is a sense of urgency.”

As for whether the group could be stopped, they answered “no,” explaining that the cluster concept is not like forming a new district or a charter school.

“Time is the only downside,” Shimp said. “We haven’t found any drawbacks.”

The three board members and the district’s chief relations officer endorsed the concept of a cluster.

Barrera, the board president, said, “When you see people getting together to create a strong voice, good things happen. ... Better decisions come from people closest to our kids.”

Find the FAQs

www.lajollacluster.com

The site has information on:

  • Purpose of a cluster
  • Autonomous schools
  • Charter schools
  • District split
  • Affects on teacher unions