Student housing plan set for Solana Vista rebuild

(File photo)

The Solana Beach School District board unanimously approved the interim housing plan during the one-year Solana Vista rebuild, splitting students between Skyline and Solana Highlands School. The board and staff believed that the housing option creates the least impact on the educational program and offers parity between all school sites.

In the staff-recommended “Option A,” Solana Highlands in Carmel Valley would welcome about 233 K-2 students from Solana Vista, bringing the projected enrollment to 534 in 2020-21. About 100 Solana Vista third graders will head to Skyline for the year, for a projected total enrollment of 595.

The board had been split on the decision 2-2 until new board member Dana King was appointed on Feb. 27. At the last board meeting, President Julie Union and Clerk Gaylin Allbaugh supported Option B in which kindergarten and first grade Solana Vista students would be housed at Solana Highlands and second and third graders at Skyline.

Last month, Union and Allbaugh backed Option B to keep as many students in the Solana Beach area as possible, minimize transitions and recognize concerns expressed by Solana Highlands parents about enrollment increases and class sizes at their school.

“I’m a very empathetic person which often helps bring people together. In this case, I let my heartstrings and past experiences override my best judgment,” Union said, explaining changing her vote. “I understand that the year is going to be a hardship for some of the families but I want to vote for what is best for the most students and what is the most equitable and positive. This is going to be a year of giving, stretching and supporting each other to build a new school which is going to benefit students for decades to come and I can’t wait to get started.”

New board member Dana King was in attendance at the board’s February meeting to hear the board’s discussion and also went over all of the different options with Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger. King said he had heard from a small sample of Solana Vista families that even though they would have to drive to two different campuses, they were excited that they were going to have an “incredible new facility to learn and live in.”

According to Brentlinger, the district held several stakeholder meetings and gathered enough input to come up with seven different housing configurations.

Monica Rainville, a Solana Vista teacher who serves on the school redesign committee for Solana Vista Schools and the interim housing committee, said option A was the only one that “ensures a stable learning environment, rigorous and academic standards.” Rainville said Option B would have negatively impacted seven programs at Skyline including discovery labs, special education, math intervention, speech and language programs and English language development programs.

“Option A may not be ideal for families with siblings split between sites and it will be an inconvenience in the short term for drop off and pick up but it is is the most equitable option to ensure quality education with the lowest impact to the consolidation of our specialized programs,” Rainville said.

As part of the interim housing plan, the district will provide bus transportation and is exploring staggered school schedules to help with the impact on traffic during drop-off and pick-up.

In changing her vote to support Option A, Allbaugh said it was the right thing to do for students but still had reservations about the concerns she heard from Solana Highlands parents in February, “I believe that there is still one school community impacted by this decision that did not and will not feel that they have been equally represented in this decision,” she said.

In the future, Allbaugh encouraged that school site leaders work to better inform school families, manage expectations about the fluctuations in enrollment and allow families to share concerns so they feel that their voices have been heard.

Vice President Debra Schade said that she knows that district staff will do everything they can to protect Solana Highlands and make the year of transition a smooth one. Brentlinger has stated that class sizes at all schools will not be impacted—average staffing ratios for grades K-3 will remain at 20:1.

“I’m very disappointed that we kicked this down the road a month because it delayed a tremendous amount of decision and work…it’s really going to put a lot of stress on our staff now to execute and pick up the speed,” said Schade of the challenging planning work to be done particularly during a time of uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s going to be a really exciting year for these kids,” Schade said. “Getting on a yellow school bus is really fun.”