Amid ongoing conversations around the supervision of students on the playground, the Rancho Santa Fe School District board approved the hiring of new part time paraprofessional position to help with playground supervision at its Dec. 13 board meeting.
Interim Superintendent Kim Pinkerton made the recommendation—she said a four-hour paraprofessional position was left vacant this year but over the course of the year they have realized a need to fill the post, particularly when paraprofessional staff is absent and there are not available substitutes.
“It would benefit not only supervision when we have absentees but decreasing our student-to-teacher ratios and ensuring we have full coverage across all of our playgrounds,” Pinkerton said.
At the November board meeting, parent Brandi Miller asked the board for more supervision, particularly during the second grade through fifth grade recess period. She said not having enough trained supervisors has led to behavioral issues, safety concerns and bullying.
The Peaceful Playground program suggests a ratio of 32:1, and most of Rancho Santa Fe’s ratios are much lower than that on the playgrounds, according to Interim Principal Megan Loh. Prior to the hiring of the new paraprofessional, the ratios were 22:1 at kindergarten lunch/recess and 29:1 at first grade lunch/recess. The recess period with the most students was the second through fifth grade morning recess, with a ratio of 46:1.
Kindergarten will now be 15:1, first grade at 29:1 and second through fifth 40:1. As the lunch period is split into two sections for second through fifth grade, the ratio for the 125 students in second and third grade lunch/recess will be 18:1 and fourth through fifth grade lunch.recess with 155 students will be 22:1.
Loh said that the ratios might also be lower as about eight to 10 students are absent each day, about 10 to 15 go to the library and another 10 to 15 attend lunch clubs.
Supervision by the paraprofessionals was also one of the topics at a Dec. 5 town hall with parents. Loh said she has been working with the paraprofessionals all year on building respect and rapport with students. She has had paraprofessionals take on a teacher role on the playground, teaching students the rules of four square next will move on to the gaga pit. Teaching the kids the rules for the games also sets expectations for their behavior, Loh said.
“We have seen a noticeable decrease in problems on the playground especially during four square since we’ve done this,” Loh said.
Loh meets with paraprofessionals monthly to discuss behavioral problems and how can they can support students. She is also working on developing a code of conduct on the consequences for specific actions and how conflicts will be managed.
“When conflicts arise, we empower students to be independent problem solvers,” Loh said, noting the paraprofessionals teach the strategies of walk away, talk it out or using rock, paper, scissors to solve a conflict. “Recess is short and they often don’t want to talk it out. Rock, paper, scissors is one of the most effective ways for them to be resilient, bounce back and get back to playing.”
Communication between paraprofessionals, teachers and parents on student issues continues to be a concern for some parents and one that the district is working on.
Clerk Kali Kim questioned whether the district had considered having teachers on the playground, as they know the students best—a suggestion also made by a parent at the town hall.
“That is something we are evaluating, if it’s appropriate to have our staff on the playground,” Pinkerton said.
Pinkerton said there are logistical pieces to that proposal including schedule and financial implications, issues with labor code and education law as well as when and what the value is of having staff on the playground.
Board to receive bids on electronic lock system
At the Dec. 13 meeting, the Rancho Santa Fe School District board voted to go out for bid on outfitting the campus with electronic locks and an access control system.
A past estimate for the project was $405,000.
“Electronic access control is one of the most effective ways to physically protect students in the event of a threat,” said Brad Johnson, chief business officer. “It allows the district to initiate a site-wide lockdown in seconds. In addition, it allows for the classrooms to remain locked during instruction, providing another layer of safety.”
Access control has been a topic of conversation over the last eight years—as Johnson noted, the school was built with this system in mind but it was removed during construction due to budget constraints.
The system would replace every door with the electronic lock and there would also be ID card readers, perimeter gate controls and better front door management.
Currently, the school employs a conventional lock and key system which requires manual locking of all doors and various gates. There is no indicator from the inside as to whether the door is locked unless manually checked, making securing a classroom a challenge for teachers.
“We felt it was important to bring this topic forward and looking at this project and essentially try to move forward with the best solution in mind,” Johnson said.
The project would be funded through the capital facilities fund, which is not connected to the general fund so it would not impact the budget deficit, he said. Capital facilities funds can’t be used for deferred maintenance, operating expenses, equipment, materials, supplies or services.
RSF School Board President Sarah Neal voted in favor of going out to bid on the project but wanted to ensure that her vote was not taken as a “full green light.” She said she still had concerns about whether the project is the most effective way to improve student safety, particularly as it is “extremely expensive.”
“This is as much or maybe more a safety consideration as it is a facilities upgrade,” Neal said. “I think it’s very important that the board and Donna (new Superintendent Tripi) really revisit the facilities master plan …Access control wasn’t a part of it so we either need to rescind that plan, amend it or create a new one. I have a problem going forward with such an expensive facilities expense without it being part of our approved master plan.”
The master plan was approved in 2015 and includes plans for improved classroom spaces, options for a new gym as well as the acquisition of properties along El Fuego for play space and parking. Earlier this year the board considered a master plan refresh as it was considering a potential bond for a new gym. In April, the board decided not to move forward with a 2018 bond or the master plan update.
The district established a safety committee this spring and has taken a number of steps toward securing the campus this school year, including limiting access points, hiring a safety consultant to conduct a hazard assessment (access control was one of the recommendations to come out of the assessment) and developing a comprehensive safety plan.
The district has limited access points to campus and conducted a traffic study—the district made striping improvements to the crosswalk at the intersection of La Granada and Avenida Acacias, and plans to have a radar trailer to slow cars down in the parking lot.
Other safety updates for the school include promoting social and emotional wellness programs, additional staff training for emergency response and addressing low sections of perimeter fencing.