Facilities, student well-being listed as Del Mar schools’ top priorities

Del Mar Union School District office building
(Karen Billing)

The Del Mar Union School District has set its priorities for the new school year, focusing on topics such as proactive fiscal planning, facilities enhancements and the ongoing goal to transform the educational experience to meet the needs of every student.

“It is going to be an exciting year and a year of action in a lot of arenas that we’ve been planning and preparing for a long time,” said DMUSD Superintendent Holly McClurg at the board’s Aug. 28 meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Shelley Petersen said that everything at the district starts with a strong academic core and high quality instruction. This year’s priority actions include rolling out the new Spanish curriculum, placing an emphasis on social and emotional learning, and creating design thinking opportunities and experience for students that focus on personalization, agency and fostering an entrepreneurial mindset.

The learning environment is also a priority for the district when they consider instruction, Petersen said.

“We know the importance that environment has on students’ learning— their ability to learn, the comfort they feel in a setting,” Petersen said. “This year specifically we are focused on re-imaging our computer labs and what they can look like, re-imagining and thinking differently about what we traditionally know as our library setting and how we can think of those as multi-use spaces.”

Utilizing “visible thinking” in the classroom, Petersen said they are also moving away from showcasing only the finished project and exhibiting the process of learning and what that looks like.

With facilities, McClurg said it will be an exciting year as the district has a chance to apply all of its “thoughtful planning and preparation” into the realization of capital improvement projects.

The Del Mar Heights School reconstruction is set to begin in June 2020 with the new school opening in August 2021. Community input sessions will be held this month on the design of the school as well as temporary housing of its students.

The new Pacific Highlands Ranch school is expected to start construction in September 2020 and open for students in August 2022. The next step for the district is purchasing the site on Solterra Vista Parkway – another community design meeting will be held Sept. 18.

McClurg said the district’s most important priority is student well-being and actions this year include approving a comprehensive school safety plan, hosting parent information nights on a variety of topics and offering a multi-tiered system of support for each child.

“We are proudest of the work we do in making sure every child’s needs are met and making sure every teacher and staff member is supported and every family feels welcomed,” McClurg said.

2019-20 enrollment update

The district is starting off the year with an enrollment of 4,128 students, down from 4,284 students in 2018-19, according to Assistant Superintendent Jason Romero. Most Del Mar schools have seen a decline due to a trend district-wide of schools losing larger cohorts of sixth grade students and rolling up smaller kindergarten classes.

The one school where enrollment is “busy and booming” is Carmel Del Mar, which grew from 518 students last year to 557 this year.

“This is the largest Carmel Del Mar School we’ve seen in seven years,” Romero said, noting that Carmel Del Mar and Torrey Hills schools have the highest transiency rates in the district as there is more multi-family housing and turnover of students in those areas.

Romero said they anticipate enrollment to grow mid-year at Ashley Falls and Sycamore Ridge schools due to families moving into new homes in Pacific Highlands Ranch.

“We have staffed strategically so we have space to accommodate incoming families,” Romero said. “We take pride in making sure families go to their school of residence.”

Del Mar Heights and Del Mar Hills saw small declines and they remain the district’s smallest schools at 442 students and 264 students respectively. Ocean Air School, once one of the district’s largest schools, has continued to decline in enrollment from its peak of over 800 students in 2014. Ocean Air started the school year with 606 students, down from 663 last year.

“I don’t think that trend will change for the next couple years,” Romero said of the smaller Ocean Air. “The home turnover rate is very small and there are few multi-family homes.”

Ocean Air is one district campus that is being considered for temporary housing of Del Mar Heights students during construction. Community input sessions will be held on Sept. 12 and Sept. 26 at the district office to allow the public to weigh in on housing options which include phased construction on the Heights site, all students in portables at Del Mar Hills or split between multiple school sites.