Del Mar Union hopes to address teacher concerns through strategic planning process

DMUSD school site Teachers of the Year
DMUSD school site Teachers of the Year Emily Strengle, Becky Zebold, Cristin Strain, Laura McCarthy, Haley Kitchens, Jennifer Cass and Stephanie Cluxton, who won the districtwide honor. Not pictured: Chelsea Kuntz.

On a night when the Del Mar Union School District celebrated its teachers and employees of the year, public comments displayed the undercurrent of concern that remains about the working environment for the staff.

Over the last few months, teachers and parents have called for an independent survey and discussion of the climate of the district, following the replacement of a popular principal and past teacher surveys being made public, painting a “less than flattering picture of leadership” and one where teachers feel they are not being treated with respect. Members of the community have been questioning the district’s human resources practices as well as raising serious concerns about the treatment of its special education students.

“To the board, these concerns are not fleeting, please act on them,” said Del Mar Heights teacher Ian Phillip during public comment. “To my fellow educators, do not be afraid to speak up for the quality of your workplace and for your students.”

At the April board meeting, Del Mar California Teachers Association President Kevin Cunha had requested for the issue to be addressed on a future agenda and at the May 25 meeting, he said members were disappointed that it didn’t make the docket.

“As a president, I have not endeavored to create or increase division or dissension,” Cunha said, giving his monthly report. “I’ve done my best to demonstrate the gratitude and pride in our teachers for working in this district while at the same time communicating the hard truths that many teachers bring to my attention. It is my hope that these truths will be acknowledged so that we can move forward and work together to achieve a positive outcome.”

At the meeting, DMUSD Board President Erica Halpern said while a survey wasn’t on the agenda that night, an agenda item has been set for their August meeting on how to incorporate a teacher survey into their upcoming strategic planning work.

“Surveying is something we think makes sense to do,” Halpern said, noting that at the August meeting they plan to talk about the best way to get quality input from all constituent groups and how to measure progress for goals as they look ahead to the next five years.

During public comment, Carmel Del Mar teacher David Skinner said he appreciated Halpern bringing up some of the issues in the past DMCTA survey. He said teachers recently completed administering their annual wellness survey to students and he said some of the same questions should be in consideration for the district’s adults, questions like: “Do I get a chance to participate in discussions?”, “Are you happy to be at school?” and “Are you treated fairly?”

“We recognize in order to improve you have to know where you are,” Skinner said. “We look forward to this discussion in August and hope that this is a sign of improvements to come.”

The DMCTA was able to have successful collective bargaining negotiations with the district on a new three-year contract agreement, reflecting a 5% salary increase, retroactive to July 2021.