Teacher climate survey to be part of Del Mar’s strategic plan process

Superintendent Holly McClurg visited with an Ocean Air classroom this spring.
(Karen Billing)

The Del Mar Union School District is in the initial stages of crafting its new five-year strategic plan and teachers who are in the classrooms daily are hoping that their voices will be heard: “Please do not ignore us.”

Both teachers and parents spoke up this spring calling for an independent survey of the district’s climate in light of a well-liked principal being released, complaints of a “toxic work environment” and a 2019 teacher survey made public that showed very few teachers felt that district administration cared about their emotional wellbeing. In addition to the 2019 teacher survey, a March 2022 survey of special education teachers revealed low morale, staff feeling overworked and concerns about “unethical” practices.

During public comment at last month’s board meeting, several teachers again called for the independent, third-party survey that they felt had been pushed off.

“There a lot of wonderful areas of DMUSD that I am proud of but there are some areas of need,” said Del Mar Heights teacher Ian Phillip. “We have an environment where many teachers are afraid to share their true concerns, including in small groups where we’re meant to speak freely.”

District Design 2022, the district’s last strategic plan drafted five years ago, came with the vision statement of an “Unrelenting pursuit of the extraordinary school experience.”

“Relentless pursuit without enough time to address problems is not healthy for kids or adults,” Phillips said. “How about the thoughtful pursuit?”

With her comments, one teacher noted that there has been a “significant effort” from the administration to mend relationships and be open to input from special education teachers. She thanked the district for those efforts and hoped it continues.

“We hope opinions and input are not only valued but used to guide the change and direction that will continue to make this the best district,” the teacher said.

According to DMUSD Board President Erica Halpern, the climate survey is a part of the strategic planning process and it is something the board has been asking for, particularly Trustee Scott Wooden.

In October, the board approved hiring a partner and facilitator for the strategic plan process, voting in favor of a contract with Battelle for Kids at a cost not to exceed $78,980.

Battelle will assist Del Mar in creating a guiding document and work with the district on a communication strategy with surveys, emails, messaging and drafting a report about the district’s current state with focus group and survey findings. In the design stage, there will be more meetings and Battelle will help the district begin writing the plan that will include priority areas and how the district will measure success.

Superintendent Holly McClurg said many voices will be included to shape a plan with a shared vision: “We’re very interested in having it be a visible and inclusive process.”

Initial engagement and focus group discussions have begun and the district is hoping to develop the “Portrait of a Learner” (which describes what the district expects of a DMUSD student by the time they finish sixth grade) by January or February 2023. Input sessions and plan design will continue in the early spring, working toward board approval in May.

McClurg said much has been accomplished with District Design 2022, including their goals to transform learning environments across the district and encourage student agency and independence: “We’re excited about what we can do next.”

Wooden has stressed that the climate survey should be done earlier rather than later in the community engagement stage. “I’d like to see it more on the earlier end of things because that will influence what we’re going to say in the Portrait of a Learner,” Wooden said. “What do our stakeholders say about what we need to improve upon?”

Both Wooden and Halpern requested to see more structure surrounding the climate survey as soon as possible. Trustee Katherine Fitzpatrick also wanted to make sure the details are well-communicated, such as how community members can participate as she has been disappointed in the number of respondents with past district surveys.

In his comments, Trustee Gee Wah Mok said he was encouraged to hear in public comment about the progress being made between the district and special education teachers—he was hopeful that the relationships with all teachers can build further through the strategic planning process.

“I think the relationships in this district are very strong and I’m very proud of those kinds of interactions,” McClurg said of the engagement, and conversations they have begun having. “I look forward to the strategic planning process.”