Solana Beach School District approves grade reconfigurations at district’s Carmel Valley schools

By Kristina Houck

Many Carmel Valley students will transition to new campuses when Solana Ranch School in Pacific Highlands Ranch opens in fall 2014.

The Solana Beach School District board on Sept. 12 approved grade reconfigurations at the district’s Carmel Valley schools, changing to transitional kindergarten to third grade, and fourth through sixth grade, instead of the current K-4 and 5-6 configurations. In a 4-0 vote with board member Jeff Busby absent, the board decided Carmel Creek School and Solana Highlands School will offer grades TK-3 and Solana Pacific School will expand to grades 4-6 starting in fall 2014.

At the April 24 board meeting, district staff asked board members to consider grade reconfigurations because approximately 431 students will transfer from the three Carmel Valley schools to Solana Ranch when it opens as a K-6 school, leaving some unused classrooms.

“It’s not ideal. I’d love to keep that 5-6; I love it. I voted for it. I recommended it. I really thought it was great,” said board member Debra Schade. “But I think when you look at the capacity and other options, which would include boundary lines, this is probably the best scenario and best learning environment for those three schools.”

Since board members discussed grade configurations at the June 27 meeting, district staff met with a teacher and parent focus group to discuss potential changes. Superintendent Nancy Lynch said the group’s biggest concern was pedestrian and traffic safety around Solana Pacific, which is located on Townsgate Drive in Carmel Valley (behind the Del Mar Highlands Town Center).

The group discussed making the front of Solana Pacific School a three-minute loading and unloading zone and installing signs to remind drivers not to use their cell phones in school zones to improve safety. The district also hired a supervisor before and after school to monitor students crossing the street at the corner of Carmel Country Road and Townsgate Drive, the busiest intersection near the school. The city has also ordered three countdown timers for the crosswalk and two other intersections, Lynch said.

Tarri Baldwin, president of the Solana Beach Teachers Association, said she didn’t receive any negative feedback from teachers regarding the potential grade changes.

“They don’t care either way,” Baldwin said. “They figure if it’s going to be done, this is the year to do it because not only will it be a change between configurations, there’s a lot of people that are changing to the new school and it looks like it’s going to be a huge upheaval for most of us in Carmel Valley anyway. I think everyone is comfortable with it as long as they get to be with their team and they get some input into how things are going to look in the future.”

Although board members were initially hesitant about reconfiguring grades, they agreed making Solana Pacific a grades 4-6 school would be the best way to utilize the district’s assets and be more consistent with other schools in the district.

“Boundaries and school reconfiguration are very, very, very difficult decisions,” Lynch said. “I appreciate you carefully thinking about all aspects to make that decision.”