More Solana Beach — and an update on the high school superintendent search


By Marsha Sutton

The normally dormant Solana Beach School District suddenly roared to life with an explosive issue that attracted over 100 people to the April 25 school board meeting.

As discussed in last week’s column, the proposal to change kindergarten in the Global Education program at Skyline School in Solana Beach from a modified day to a full day by adding nearly two hours of afternoon instructional time brought passionate defenders of the status quo to the boardroom to express their disapproval.

We shall see how this issue is resolved in the coming months.

But this was not the reason I attended that board meeting. I hadn’t attended an SBSD meeting in years, because the district’s agendas are, frankly, rather dull.

This time, however, the agenda for the meeting on April 25, which did not include the kindergarten issue (the protest was a surprise), promised a few interesting items, including school boundary changes, grade configuration shifts and big expenses.

Caroline Brown, SBSD’s director of technology and new facilities, told the board that construction of the new school, Solana Ranch School in Pacific Highlands Ranch, is on schedule to open in the fall of 2014 for a projected 431 students in grades kindergarten through sixth.

In preparation for the opening of the new school, attendance boundaries, not updated since 2004 when Solana Pacific School opened, were on the agenda.

The district recommended that attendance areas be shifted from Solana Vista and Skyline schools in Solana Beach, to Solana Santa Fe School in Fairbanks Ranch, for residents in Rancho Pacifica, also known as Del Mar Highland Estates, and for the Polo Club and Morgan Run developments in Whispering Palms. This change would take effect this fall.

The second boundary recommendation would assign residents of the Pacific Highlands Ranch communities to the new Solana Ranch School in the fall of 2014. Those neighborhoods include: Santa Barbara, Portico, Manzanita Trail, Santa Rosa, Arrabella, Crossing, Watermark, Hampton Lane and Bridgewater.

Students in grades K-6 from these developments currently number 365 and attend Solana Highlands, Carmel Creek or Solana Pacific in Carmel Valley.

The board expressed some concern about residents in the Santa Barbara development, as it is located farther west than the others, and suggested the district poll the community for residents’ thoughts.

The school board will vote on boundary changes in June.

Changes for Solana Pacific

With the opening of Solana Ranch School in 2014, the district is also recommending that Solana Pacific School, located on Townsgate Drive in Carmel Valley, expand from a grades 5-6 school to grades 4-6.

The change, proposed for 2014, would make the grades K-4 Solana Highlands and Carmel Creek schools into grades K-3 schools, which board member Debra Schade said was a good configuration.

Board member Julie Union said making Solana Pacific a grades 4-6 school would be more consistent with other schools in the district, and “parents would be more invested.”

The capacity of Solana Pacific, Brown said, was 864 students, so it is being under-utilized with a current enrollment of 522 students. The school will lose an estimated 140 students when Solana Ranch opens in 2014.

“It’s a spacious school,” Brown said. “It would be nice to put kids in there.”

According to the board report, when Solana Ranch opens, about 431 students will move there from the three Carmel Valley schools. Without changing grade configurations in 2014, enrollment projections indicate there would be 452 students at Solana Highlands in grade K-4, 460 students at Carmel Creek in grades K-4, and 383 students at Solana Pacific in grades 5-6.

Moving both fourth grades to Solana Pacific would reduce enrollment at Solana Highlands and Carmel Creek by about 100 students each and would add those 200 students to Solana Pacific.

Brown also said the One Paseo project in Carmel Valley has the potential to add 120 students to Solana Beach schools.

Brown said 10 classrooms at Solana Pacific would be available for incoming fourth-graders, and the change would open space for other programs at the two K-3 sites.

This discussion at the April 25 meeting was for information only. The board will vote on the matter at its June board meeting. “We just wanted to start the conversation,” said SBSD superintendent Nancy Lynch.

Big money

Law enforcement, consultants, city of San Diego staff and district personnel recently reviewed all six SBSD schools for proper levels of safety and security, and made specific recommendations.

Providing window coverings, for an estimated $50,000 to $60,000, would improve safety during lock-down procedures by ensuring that intruders can’t see into classrooms, Brown said. Window coverings also protect property at night and will help deter thefts, which have plagued local schools in recent months.

Lynch recommended approval, saying, “This would be money well spent.”

The safety recommendations also included fencing.

Brown said some sites are missing pieces of fencing, especially Skyline School in Solana Beach. The estimated fiscal impact for securing all school sites was $150,000 to $200,000, but Brown said the cost may be up to 50 percent less. Also, where fencing is shared between the district and the city of San Diego, the city will reimburse the district for half the cost.

A restroom repair at Solana Highlands School near the fields is estimated to cost $50,000 to $80,000, but the city of San Diego will reimburse the district for half the cost because the restroom is maintained under a joint-use agreement between the two entities.

And lastly, as part of the district’s ongoing Technology Replacement Plan, upgrades and increased capacity are necessary to accommodate growing network requirements district-wide, according to the board report. Brown said the equipment is not supported by vendors any longer, and it’s an end-of-life issue.

The network infrastructure upgrades and hardware replacement are estimated to run $250,000, and the project will be completed this summer.

All four items were approved by the school board unanimously and will now go out to bid. Brown said money has been set aside in a separate fund for all the projects.

New local school leaders

May 13 is a big day for administrative announcements.

Brian McBride, long-time Solana Beach principal who has headed Solana Pacific School since it opened in 2004, is retiring this year. Lynch said the district received 59 applications for the post, has held six interviews and expects to announce the new principal May 13.

Also on May 13, San Dieguito Union High School District’s Board of Education will announce its choice to replace retiring superintendent Ken Noah.

SDUHSD board president Barbara Groth said the deadline passed, and in closed session on May 1 the board reviewed 16 applications. That was the board’s first opportunity, she said, to see “who’s out there and who’s interested and what their qualities are.”

The board narrowed down the applicants to three, to interview May 8. She wouldn’t say if there were any internal candidates.

Groth said $26,000 was paid to the search firm Leadership Associates, and the open position was heavily advertised. “I’m pretty confident they got a wide net out there,” she said.

The search firm’s agreement stipulates no additional charge if the person selected leaves within one year, she said.

After the interviews on May 8, Groth said the selection is made. “We make it that day as a board,” she said. “We deliberate and make it.” But the announcement doesn’t happen then.

She said on May 13 board members will visit the home district of the selected candidate, “just to validate.” She said all five board members are prepared to travel, along with the heads of both the classified and certificated unions. The board will announce its decision after the visit.

“We want to do this as soon as possible because people are on pins and needles,” Groth said.

San Diego Unified, less than 24 hours after superintendent Bill Kowba announced his retirement, plucked elementary school principal Cindy Marten out from relative obscurity and named her to replace Kowba, without any community input – a move that shocked education leaders nationwide.

In contrast, the much smaller San Dieguito district recently concluded a lengthy period of community input and received nearly 100 comments, Groth said.

“We want this to be inclusive because we’re all going to be involved and working together,” she said.

Besides the usual comments about wanting someone competent with proven leadership and listening skills, Groth said the exercise allowed constituents representing many different groups to express their thoughts on what the district could do to improve.

“This is a self-evaluation opportunity as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

She said the board is paying attention to comments that indicate direction, weakness and what needs work. “There’s always nuances,” she said. “It’s subtle but it comes through.”

“It’s a great opportunity to ask people what do they think, what they’re looking for and how the district is being run,” she said.

The search firm brought together varied community and school district groups to discuss the direction of the district and its leadership. Groth said those focus groups included council members of neighboring cities, board members from feeder elementary school districts, parents, site councils, principals, classified staff, certificated staff, public focus forums and other groups.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at