Board split on where to house Solana Vista students during rebuild

The Solana Beach School board was split on the interim housing decision for the Solana Vista rebuild.
(Karen Billing)

As the Solana Beach School District prepares to break ground on the new Solana Vista School this summer, the board is facing an important decision about where students will be housed during the one-year construction. The district and board are looking for the option that provides the most enrollment parity between sites and impacts host schools Solana Highlands and Skyline and their educational programs the least.

“We’re asking Solana Highlands and Skyline families and staff to stretch and support more students for one year,” said SBSD President Julie Union. “Stretching comes with some discomfort but at the same time it will be a lesson in showing kindness and helping others that we’ll be teaching our children.”

On Feb. 13, the board was split on the option to send Solana Vista kindergarten through second graders to Solana Highlands and third graders to Skyline. Down a board member after Richard Leib’s resignation and with a 2-2 stalemate, the board must now wait until they appoint their fifth board member on Feb. 27. The board then expects to revisit the interim housing decision at its March 12 meeting.

Over the last month, the district held several stakeholder meetings and gathered enough input to come up with seven different housing configurations. Two rose to the top.

In the staff-recommended option A, Solana Highlands would welcome about 233 K-2 students, bringing the enrollment to 534. The option would bring about 100 Solana Vista third graders to Skyline for a total enrollment of 595.

According to district staff, this option creates the least impact on the educational program with enough space for discovery labs for all students and enough room for specialty programs.

“Option A keeps the most students together if you look at social emotional learning and balanced classrooms,” said Solana Vista teacher Jesse Atkins, president of the Solana Beach Teachers Association. “It also keeps teaching teams together.”

As part of the interim housing plan, the district will provide bus transportation and is exploring staggered school schedules to help with the impact on traffic during drop-off and pick-up.

The board has heard opposition to option A from parents, including that it would cause too many transitions for second graders. With option A in three years Solana Vista second graders would be attending Solana Highlands, then back to Solana Vista for a year and then go on to Skyline.

The board also received a petition signed by 95 Solana Highlands parents in support of option B, in which kindergarten and first grade Solana Vista students would be housed at Solana Highlands and second and third graders at Skyline.

In this option, Skyline would have an enrollment of 680 with the projected 185 students from Solana Vista, while Solana Highlands would be around 449 students with the additional 148 students.

Option B provide less transitions for the second graders and keeps more kids in Solana Beach but it would impact educational programs such as discovery lab time and space, special education and intervention programming at Skyline.

“Our families are very excited to welcome the Solana Vista families, we know a lot of them from our preschool, our sports teams, churches and from Sprouts,” said Katie Suel, a Solana Highlands parent. “We strongly support option B because it will provide more flexibility for enrollment changes at Solana Highlands while also accommodating Solana Vista’s housing needs.”

Suel said parents are already worried about enrollment increases at the school as last June enrollment was projected to be 269 students but they started the school year with over 300 students. She said the kindergarten class in particular was larger than anticipated, leading to a “crunch” of 23 students in each class.

“I know all schools have enrollment fluctuations but we have a rather large transient and international population that is hard to predict,” said Suel, noting option B is better suited for the school to be able to accommodate those fluctuations without negatively impacting discovery lab time or class sizes.

Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger stated that in both options, class sizes will not be impacted—average staffing ratios for grades K-3 will remain at 20:1.

In her support of option B, SBSD President Union shared her personal experiences--her daughter attended Solana Santa Fe school for kindergarten when the second story was being built at Carmel Creek. When her daughter was in the sixth grade at Carmel Creek, the school topped 600 students while they welcomed students before Solana Pacific was built.

“I know first-hand what it’s like to be at a stretched, full school and both experiences were very positive because we knew it was only for one year,” Union said.

Union said while she understands that option A may be the best option for educational learning, she wants to keep as many students in the Solana Beach area as possible, recognizing the link between Solana Vista and Skyline.

“I’m balancing a little less discovery lab time at Skyline and keeping second grade students in the Solana Beach zip code,” Union said. “Having two classes at Skyline and two at Solana Highlands to me just seems right thing to do.”

SBSD Clerk Gaylin Allbaugh joined Union in supporting option B as she said she was looking through the lens of the 28 Solana Vista second grade families with siblings, whose youngest children will be sent to Carmel Valley while the older student stays in Solana Beach. As much as possible, she would like to keep siblings in their local school area. Both Union and Allbaugh voiced concerns about what could end up being a 45-minute commute for young students between Solana Beach and Carmel Valley, in a high traffic corridor.

SBSD Vice President Debra Schade supported option A because she believes it gives the district the best ability to deliver the education program that they all expect, with equity.

“Option B has so many negatives to Skyline that I don’t know if I can move in that direction,” said Schade.

Board member Vicki King also expressed her concerns about equity and the impact option B would have on limiting space for special education and intervention programs at Skyline. She said she was sold on option A as it was preferred by teachers and staff.

“In the time that I’ve been here as a board member, I have really come to trust our staff and I know that if they’re behind a decision, I know it will work,” King said. “It’s important to me that we’re doing what’s best for all kids in our district. I know it’s a challenge for one year, but option A provides more parity to all students.”

Currently the district is also evaluating an option to convert Solana Highlands to a K-6 school (it has been a K-3 school since 2014). The original plan was to make the change following the enrollment wave of housing Pacific Highlands Ranch students, around 2024-25. As Pacific Highlands Ranch students were not assigned to Solana Highlands, the timeline could be moved up to 2021-22. Community meetings have been held at Solana Highlands and there will be a presentation on the conversion at the board’s March meeting.