Torrey is a distinguished school


Torrey Pines Elementary is one of two La Jolla public elementary schools to be declared a 2008 California Distinguished School.

Torrey Pines and La Jolla elementary were among 343 state public elementary schools, six of which are in the San Diego Unified School District, to be so honored.

For Torrey Pines Elementary School Principal Jim Solo, it was the attainment of part of a long-range vision for his school.

“Being a distinguished school is something over my last 5 1/2 years as principal that I’ve been trying to achieve,” said Solo. “We want to let people in the community know this is a great school, offering great public education for their children. We’ve gotten that message out over the years, and this just adds to that.”

The quest started for Torrey Pines back in October 2007, when high academic performance test scores racked up by its fifth graders qualified the school to apply for the “distinguished school” designation.

It was at that point, said Solo, that he, the school’s Foundation and parent groups collectively decided they were willing to run the bureaucratic gauntlet to become a distinguished school.

The first step in the months-long process was for Torrey Pines to answer a number of questions concerning why it was deserving of the honor. The answers filled a detailed 20-page report.

Solo talked about what that 20-page report entailed. “The emphasis is on standards-based instruction for every grade level,” he said, “addressing how you ensure all stakeholders are involved in decisionmaking at the school to enhance proficiency or do better in the core curriculum areas.”

Next it was time for Torrey Pines to prove all the qualifications claimed in its 20-page application to the state. The state dispatched a team of three trained administrators and teachers to conduct a site visit to validate what had been claimed by Torrey Pines in its written application.

“The three came out in early April and spent the whole day here,” said Solo. “They had to have documents to back up whatever we said. Our classrooms were open and available to them to do observation. At the end of the day they told me it was a good site visit.”

In mid-April, Torrey Pines was notified it had made the grade as a California Distinguished School.

Vince Johnson, current president of Torrey Pines Elementary School Foundation, who was part of the school’s application process, talked about why the La Jolla school is special.

“I think we have a pretty dedicated parent base that really likes to get involved, like doing things to support the Foundation,” said Johnson. “I think the school also draws from a pretty ethnically diverse base, that really sort of enhances everything we do.”

Johnson noted there are lots of visiting families from other countries whose children are enrolled in Torrey Pines Elementary while their parents are at UCSD on one-year sabbaticals. “Both my daughters come home from school all the time and say things like, ‘There’s a new kid in class from Germany and he doesn’t speak any English,’ ” said Johnson. “Our children learn from an early age that it’s normal for people to speak other languages who come from other parts of the world. Everyone just manages to work together.”

Despite the honor, these are challenging times to be involved in public education. With ongoing educational budget cuts, the role for school support groups such as the Torrey Pines Foundation is becoming larger and more important. But Torrey Pines has been more than equal to the task.

“It’s been kind of a record year for us in terms of volunteer hours,” said Johnson, “and in the amount of funds we’ve been able to raise. Our principal ... has come up with a plan to try to keep these (budget) cuts as far away from our classrooms as possible. The more support we give him, the more ability he has to maintain his teaching staff and his plan for our school.”

Solo said Torrey Pines can apply to be a state distinguished school again but not before the 2012 school year. The honor carries with it no monetary incentive. Nonetheless, it singles the school out for educational excellence at all levels. To be eligible in 2012, the school will also have to qualify once again in academic standardized testing.

Last year’s mark of 944 out of 1,000 possible points has set the bar quite high.