Solana Beach School District readies for virtual first day of school

Solana Pacific School Principal Elisa Fregoso's virtual office.
Solana Pacific School Principal Elisa Fregoso’s virtual office. Teachers have created Bitmoji classrooms to engage with students.

(Courtesy)

It was an emotional day last week as Solana Beach School District teachers and staff came together virtually to kick off the school year and their next adventure in distance learning. On Aug. 25, all students will begin the year online but the district has planned and prepared to reopen and welcome kids back five days a week in a safe and healthy environment when it is possible.

“This has been a round-the-clock effort all summer long. Speaking from the heart, every minute has been used. I have a sheer amount of gratitude to all of my colleagues who have invested their time, efforts and work,” said Sabrina Lee, assistant superintendent of instruction, growing tearful at the board’s Aug. 13 meeting. “I’m really, really proud of the things that we’ve done.”

Starting the school year online, Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger noted how important it is going to be for staff to connect with their students, many of whom they are meeting for the first time. Brentlinger said she had no doubt their teachers will do a “magnificent job” finding creative and thoughtful ways to connect, starting with virtual, mini open houses on Aug. 24.

Over the summer, teachers have also furnished their Bitmoji classrooms—a fun virtual room to engage students that is decked out to look like their school classrooms with clickable icons for assignments and video lessons.

Solana Vista teacher Jesse Atkins said that every year as the first day of school approaches there is a mixture of excitement and nervousness—this year there is an extra layer of unknowns. She said communication and collaboration between teachers and administration will help make for a successful year in these unprecedented times.

“Bringing teachers into every conversation creates a sense of trust and makes teachers feel like their feelings matter and also that their professional opinion is important,” said Atkins, who serves as president of the Solana Beach Teachers Association.

The county officially came off the watch list on Aug. 18 after meeting the three-day metric of fewer than 100 COVID-19 cases per every 100,000 residents. When San Diego County has been off the state’s monitoring list for 14 days and schools are cleared to reopen, the district will offer two different instructional models: Onsite Scholars and the Online Scholars distance learning program.

Sixty four percent of the district or 1,800 students, have selected the Onsite model while 34% (940 students) have opted into the Online Scholars program.

Online Scholars will be its own school for the 2020-21 school year and have its own school events and activities. A new administrative team has been formed that will be dedicated to supporting the students, staff and families in the Online Scholars model. Angela Tremble, who most recently served as an assistant principal at Solana Ranch and Solana Pacific was named principal of Online Scholars and Roderick Gayta, a STREAM teacher at Solana Ranch, has been named the assistant principal.

“We know that, between the two of them, they will create a special community of Online Scholars,” Brentlinger said. “This community will expand the strong school connections already in place for students and staff at their school of attendance, which is what the board and our leadership team want to create for all families in the program.”

Both programs will be staffed using the district’s collective bargaining ratios: K-3 classes at an average of 20:1 and grades 4-6 at an average of 27:1. The district has hired 10 additional teachers prior to the start of the school year, due to some late retirements.

Kim Criscuolo, a Skyline School parent and new president of the Solana Beach Schools Foundation, said it will be very important that children feel connected to their home school site no matter what model they will be a part of, “We think that connection is vital to maintaining our strong school communities.”

During public comment, she encouraged the district to set aside time every week for virtual school-wide assemblies, events and activities that will allow everyone, both Onsite and Online Scholars, to come together. The district has stated they will work with foundation leaders and site PTA/PTO groups on opportunities for students to stay connected to their school of attendance communities.

The board plans to take a look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the budget at its September meeting.


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