By Marsha Sutton
When I received an invitation to join the Del Mar Union and Solana Beach school district superintendents for a casual chat over coffee at a local restaurant, I was surprised and delighted.
I was even more impressed when I walked in and heard their friendly conversation about kids, family, winter break vacation time and the weather.
There’s so much in common, so much overlap, between the two local elementary school systems, and now we see two leaders interested not only in professional cooperation but also in relaxed, amiable camaraderie.
Perhaps this was the case in years past, with previous superintendents, but it was never very public.
Although similar in many ways, Holly McClurg and Nancy Lynch, superintendents of the Del Mar Union and Solana Beach school districts respectively, have different approaches to some of the issues they face in education.
We met to talk about the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and initially they began by congratulating the San Dieguito Union High School District for taking the initiative to bring together all five of SDUHSD’s feeder elementary school districts for regular discussions about how to make the drastic kinds of changes CCSS is demanding and how to integrate everything into a seamless transition for students moving from elementary to middle and high schools.
“I give San Dieguito a lot of credit,” McClurg said, noting that all five feeder districts are on board to work together. Lynch agreed, applauding San Dieguito’s push for a united approach.
They also both agreed that the new standards are very different than current standards – which they say is welcome news.
“There’s a genuine interest around Common Core,” Lynch said. “Our teachers love it, [especially] the new focus on math.” But she added that it’s “a bit more stressful” to have to teach in a different way.
McClurg said there’s enthusiasm in her district as well but that teachers are feeling “some pressure” and are nervous because of the need to learn new methods of teaching.
With narrower, deeper and more rigorous standards, students will need to learn how to demonstrate their knowledge in ways that show a more multifaceted understanding of the nature of the lessons.
“They’ve added more depth and complexity,” Lynch said.
McClurg endorsed the new emphasis, particularly in math, on coherence and integration of concepts, meaning the material is linked and built upon what’s been learned in previous grades.
“We want our kids to be fearless about math,” McClurg said.
Lynch said parents are starting to see a difference in the homework. Before, children might bring home a sheet with 100 problems on it. Now, parents may begin to see only four problems with multiple steps and stages – and the need to show more work.
Problems may ask for the best answer, not necessarily the right answer, McClurg said.
Language arts is also in for some changes, even at the elementary level. Writing standards are changing, and more focus is being placed on non-fiction over fiction.