Solana Beach schools weather emotional, budgetary impacts of pandemic

File photo
(Staff photo)

During this unprecedented school year of hybrid instruction, the Solana Beach School District is working to keep track of students’ academic progress as well as their social and emotional wellbeing.

At the board’s Dec. 10 meeting, the board received the results from a universal social and emotional screener that was given to all third through sixth grade students. Per the results, 94% of students said they had a trusted adult in their life, 81% said they like school, 90% said they feel safe and 91% said they “like being me.” Lisa Denham, the coordinator of student services, said each school site’s social and emotional learning team reviewed the results and identified students and families who needed additional support.

The most revealing and endearing part of the screener for the board was when students were given a chance to open up and honestly share their feelings:

“I like school but don’t like online school as much because we don’t see each other and my eyes always hurt.”

“I feel overwhelmed by school assignments sometimes but I’m all right!”

“I am feeling really sad because of COVID-19….It’s just that I regret the virus because it separates me from civilization and I can’t hug and be with my friends. I can’t touch anything or go on vacation.”

“I might need help making new friends.”

“It would be nice if we could go back to normal school soon.”

The result that stood out most to the district in the screener was that only 66% percent said they have a strategy or tool to use when they are upset and need to calm down. For Solana Vista School third graders, that number dropped to 54%.

In response to those results, Denham said school counselors and guidance assistants created classroom lessons for all grade levels that focused on practicing self-management strategies like how to calm down. Classroom teachers presented the lessons, and counselors and guidance assistants also provided live, virtual lessons.

On the academic performance side, the district used iReady diagnostic tests on math and English language arts state standards. With the testing, the district found that 92% of students are right where they need to be, on track to meet or exceed end-of-year grade-level standards. The tests also help teachers make individualized learning pathways for each student.

Sabrina Lee, assistant superintendent of instructional services, said the tests represent just a snapshot in time and are only one measure of student progress that the district uses. A more in-depth look at students’ academic progress this year is expected to be provided in February or March.

While these test results showed positive progress, SBSD Vice President Debra Schade has acknowledged that there will be learning loss from this school year and she recommended the district provide a “robust” summer academy for all students.

“We owe it to our kids to bring them back up to speed and make sure we’re delivering the best education,” Clerk Gaylin Allbaugh agreed.

As the district continues to work toward bringing more students back to school as many days as possible, first graders returned to four days a week in-person school on Dec. 7. SBSD Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger said their safety mitigation measures are working and have allowed schools to open and stay open.

“We all knew that reopening schools would not be risk-free, however, Solana Beach School District diligently prepared for these risks,” Brentlinger said.

Although the district has had 27 identified positive COVID-19 cases and 30 presumptive cases since reopening, the cases have only resulted in eight classes needing to quarantine and move into online learning.

Brentlinger said the trend they have seen is that one individual in a household will test positive which necessitates isolation and quarantine of other household members, who later test positive. Because they are already isolating and quarantining, it is preventing the further spread coming onto campuses and also preventing the need to quarantine and pivot any additional classrooms to online learning.

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, as of press time there are two active cases at Skyline School, one at Solana Santa Fe and two at Solana Pacific. There have been no school transmissions and no schools have come close to the 5% infection rates that require school closures.

Brentlinger said the district and board have heard the concerns and complaints from parents that they are “dragging their feet” in bringing more students back more days but the district remains committed to a safe and gradual increase in the number of students on campus. District and site reopening committees continue to meet as they consider the logistics of bringing back the larger upper grade 4-6 classes.

The district will return to distance learning for one week after winter break in January to allow for the re-entry testing of staff and optional testing of students. The district plans for second graders to return to four days a week on Jan. 11 and third graders on Jan. 25. The plan is to phase in grades 4-6 on Feb. 1, 8 and 12 although not necessarily in grade level order.

Moving into the new year, the district anticipates some challenges including a budget deficit and both teacher and substitute teacher shortages. The district’s projected deficit for 2020-21 has grown from $3.2 million at first interim to over $5.8 million this month, reflecting a 70% loss in revenue from the child nutrition program, significant losses from the Child Development Center, as well as increased COVID-related expenses to keep schools up and running. Looking ahead they are projecting out if COVID-related expenses will continue in the 2021-22 school year and keeping an eye on district reserve levels.

“I’m really hopeful that this is a worst-case scenario,” said Lisa Davis, assistant superintendent of business services.