Del Mar schools open new era with new superintendent

Hermosa Beach’s McClain chosen from field of 20

The party’s over for about 4,200 Del Mar and Carmel Valley kids. Monday, Aug. 25 marks the first day of classes for the Del Mar Union School district and its eight elementary school campuses.

It’s not just the start of another school year but also the dawning of a new era in the district. This will be the first school year in a decade that the district will open without Tom Bishop as school superintendent.

Last February, district trustees somewhat controversially bought out the contract of Bishop, ending 10 years of leadership that saw the opening of five new schools in the district and causing a rift among a large group of parents and educators. But with six months of water under the bridge, the district is now introducing another leader in an era most likely marked by decreasing growth and economic challenges. On Wednesday, the school board announced the hiring Hermosa Beach City School Superintendent Sharon McClain as Del Mar’s new leader. After an early morning trip to Hermosa Beach to speak to members of that district’s school community, trustees later returned to the Del Mar district’s Ashley Falls School for the announcement.

Trustee Katherine White says her board has made a good choice in McClain.

“What I like most is her ability to focus on the whole child,” she said. “Her approach is that of a problem solver and she’s already demonstrated her ability as a leader and a manager. They love her there (Hermosa Beach).

The Hermosa Beach district oversees about 3,000 less students than the Del Mar district, but like Del Mar is considered one of the higher performing districts in the state in regard to test scores. The Hermosa district also operates as does Del Mar, with a successful education foundation, school site councils and well-regarded special education program. The district has been in existence for about 100 years.

Del Mar will open its oldest current school, Del Mar Hills Academy, without a permanent principal, after seven-year principal Laurie Francis accepted the vacant principal post at the San Dieguito High School District’s Carmel Valley Middle School. The district has named an acting principal for the school, former Cardiff School District Superintendent Vince Jewell. Jewell, 58, retired last year from the Cardiff district after spending four years as superintendent. At the time he said he was retiring to devote more time to being an artist. Bernard said Jewell’s art background would be a good fit for the school’s academy format and that Jewell would stay on at the school until trustees name a fulltime replacement.

That replacement might have some shared duties in the future. Bernard acknowledged that at the Sept. 3 school board meeting, trustees would begin an initial conversation concerning possibly folding both Del Mar Hills and Del Mar Heights into one school. Under that scenario, one school might hold kindergarten through second grade classes and the other, third through sixth grade classes. Under that format, the two campuses could possibly share one principal and an assistant principal. Bernard said that one of the schools could also house the district’s preschool and employee childcare facility. Depending on the final outcome of the purchase deal with the city of Del Mar for the Shores property, that facility could need a new home.

“These are options for an initial discussion and they have been thrown out there as a possibility,” said Bernard.

With decreasing student population at the two schools - especially Del Mar Hills, which will lose 30 students this year - rumors have circulated for several years over the possible closure of one. The schools sit within one mile of each other off of Del Mar Heights road just east of Interstate-5.

“We will put some other ideas out there, but we will obviously want a lot of public input on this,” said Bernard.

No such problems exist, though, at the district’s Carmel Valley schools, where a sudden upturn in student registrations last week prompted a need for the posting of four additional teaching positions. The registration influx has delayed the approval of some intradistrict transfers and has had the greatest impact at the district’s newest school Ocean Air.

According to Rodger Smith, director of facilities and planning for the district, Ocean Air will have 110 additional students over last year.

He said Ashley Falls School experienced an enrollment drop of about 28 students, as did Carmel Del Mar school, which saw a 20 student drop. Overall, the district will gain about 70 students from last year.

As usual, grades kindergarten through sixth have an 8 a.m. start with grades first through sixth dismissed at 2:30 a.m. except on minimum day Wednesdays when dismissal is at 12:30 p.m. Kindergarten students are dismissed daily at 12:40 p.m., but commencing Sept. 15, kindergarten students will have one extended day per week with a 1:45 p.m. dismissal. Their respective kindergarten teachers will inform parents of the new schedule.