Construction ongoing at new middle school in Carmel Valley

Construction on San Dieguito Union High School District’s new middle school in Pacific Highlands Ranch is humming along, and it now has a name. The school board voted Nov. 13 to call the school Pacific Trails.

Recently, Principal Mary Anne Nuskin stood on the rebar of a second-floor classroom under construction and participated in the topping-off ceremony, when the last beam was placed atop the school. Nuskin was able to sign the beam, which she inscribed with her name and the words “for the joy of learning,” which has been a major emphasis for the school’s planning team.

“It’s cool that the beam is in that building, that the spirit is in there,” Nuskin said. “The school should really be about helping kids find what they’re passionate about and interested in and helping them reach their full potential.”

While the school board has selected the name, it will be up to Pacific Trails students in fall 2015 to come up with school colors and their mascot. Nuskin said it will really help start the process of students taking ownership of their campus.

“Middle schoolers may be young, but they have amazing things to say, and when they own (their school and their voice), they’re more motivated, and I really want that for them,” Nuskin said.

Pacific Trails will start small with just a seventh-grade class of around 220 students in 2015. The first few years, there will be about 500 students. With full build-out by 2018, the school would have about 1,000 students.

Phase one of the school that will open in 2016 will include a two-story, 22-room classroom building, the art and music rooms and performing arts center, basketball courts, the track and fields.

There will be interim portables for food service, administration and the media center.

The second phase (slated to begin in 2016) will include the permanent administration building, a multi-purpose room and locker room building, the media center and food service building.

Phase three will be based on need and could begin sooner or later, depending on how development in Pacific Highlands Ranch progresses. The third phase is estimated to begin in fall 2018 and includes another two-story classroom building.

Selected to lead the new Pacific Trails is Nuskin, who is in her 11th year at the district. She started as the assistant principal of Diegueno Middle, was then principal at Diegueno, assistant principal at Canyon Crest Academy, and for the last three years, served as principal at Earl Warren Middle School.

Before coming to San Dieguito, she was a middle school teacher in the Escondido Elementary School District.

“I just like the middle school kiddos,” Nuskin said. “I like that they’re still so young at heart like elementary students, but yet they can’t wait to become that adult and put their mark on something, and you want to help them do that. And in middle school, there’s also a sense of fun.”

Nuskin has a front-row seat to the construction at her school from her temporary office at neighboring Canyon Crest Academy. As they get into the enrollment season of February and March next year, she plans to move into a temporary portable in the parking lot to be more accessible to school families.

Nuskin said the process in developing Pacific Trails has been very exciting, having to wear several “different hats.”

With her teacher hat on, she is thinking about what things should look like in the classroom; as an administrator, she’s trying to figure out how to make things work in the classroom; and as a parent of two children, she’s considering what she would want middle school to be like for her students.

“It’s really cool to look at this project with all these lenses, and I’m confident that we will have another awesome middle school in our district,” Nuskin said.

A middle school planning team was formed at the end of the last school year, made up of 27 people representing local feeder schools of Sycamore Ridge, Ashley Falls and Solana Ranch, as well as two parents from Carmel Valley Middle School, teachers representing all subject areas, district staff and San Dieguito Union High School District board members Joyce Dalessandro and Amy Herman.

The group first met in September and they have full-day meetings every three weeks discussing what’s most important and what they value in building this new school.

They’ve looked at curriculum instruction and assessment, professional learning communities, student and staff culture, technology and toolkits to support 21st-century learning and school leadership.

They have been very strategic about their math and science core curriculum and having electives that support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). They have looked at arts and how to integrate them into the classroom as much as possible, especially digital art, according to Nuskin.

“Another big theme we’re looking at is the physical fitness program, not just PE but physical fitness and wellness — emotional, intellectual and social wellness,” she said.

She said the group wants the total school environment to be one where students will understand what it means to be balanced.

“Kids have embraced rigor, maybe to a fault,” Nuskin said. “We want them to understand the school is a place with caring, nurturing adults able to support them.”

The bell schedule has yet to be determined. Nuskin said they intend to be mindful about start and end times of feeder schools and neighboring CCA for traffic purposes, as well as embracing some of the studies about students and sleep and the benefits of later start times.

Some CCA students have been invited to the next planning meeting as the group looks at technology and social and emotional support for students.

“They have great ideas and they’re not too far removed from middle school,” Nuskin said. “It’s good for us to brainstorm with them and get their ideas.”

Work is still ongoing on the school’s website and social media presence, but information on Pacific Trails can be found on