Looking Ahead to 2024

head shot Marian Kim PhelpsLooking Ahead to 2024

By Marian Kim Phelps, Ed.D.


As the Superintendent of the Poway Unified School District, I am excited to share our priorities for the upcoming year. Building on the progress we've made in 2023, our focus remains on enhancing the world-class educational experience we are providing for each and every student in our district.

First, addressing learning gaps remains a critical priority. The pandemic has undeniably impacted student learning, particularly in foundational subjects like math and English language arts. While Poway Unified has among the top test scores in San Diego County, we want to ensure more students are meeting and exceeding grade level expectations. To tackle this, we continue to invest in professional development. For example, our math trainers have done an excellent job in teaching teachers how to make math more accessible and collaborative, helping students shift their mindset for problem-solving. For reading, all Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grader teachers, along with our Education Specialists have received training on how to teach reading foundation skills. By equipping educators with innovative teaching strategies, sound pedagogy, and resources, we can better support our students in bridging these gaps. We are also providing targeted interventions, tutoring, and supplemental learning opportunities at our school sites to ensure students who need extra help are getting it. By screening and identifying struggling learners earlier and implementing the Response to Intervention process, we can accelerate students’ learning through tiered instruction. Finally, we are addressing social-emotional learning, to ensure students are coming to school, ready to learn. This includes fostering personal connections to build school culture and belonging and partnering with families to remove barriers to school attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism. One great example of this is our Youth in Transition program, providing emergency housing, food, counseling, and transportation to students struggling with housing instability.

Digital citizenship is another key area of focus. In our increasingly digital world, it is essential that our students not only become proficient in using technology but also learn to navigate it safely and responsibly. This includes setting behavior and expectations on social media and partnering with families to implement guardrails and best practices at home. This year, we will continue our integration of Common Sense Media digital citizenship into our curriculum across all grades, ensuring that our students are well-prepared to handle the challenges and opportunities of the digital age. Additionally, our Technology & Innovation Department is tackling the topic of artificial intelligence in education, and how we can teach students how to use it responsibly and ethically. A.I. is increasingly shaping our world, and is already incorporated in technology such as Amazon’s Alexa or Grammarly. We must teach students about critical thinking,  potential biases, privacy concerns, and ethical dilemmas inherent in AI technologies, ensuring they are prepared to make informed decisions as future innovators, consumers, and citizens.

Additionally, we're excited to continue expanding our global languages and career technical education (CTE) pathways. From Mandarin to American Sign Language, PUSD students are exposed to multiple languages early on, starting in elementary school. Through Project Lead the Way curriculum, the X-Ploration program, and Hour of Code initiatives, students are diving into science, technology, engineering, and math. By the time students reach high school in PUSD, our goal is that they understand their strengths and interests, which serve to guide their post-secondary plans. We are not just providing education for education’s sake. We are empowering world-class learners for a future that is quite different from what we currently know and understand. Our programs are constantly being adjusted with the help of our business and industry partners, which is vital in preparing our students for a diverse and evolving workforce. For example, we have added electric vehicles to our automotive technology class, esports, computer science and data science, as well as a more robust building and construction course. By offering a wider range of languages and CTE courses, we're opening doors to new cultural understandings and career opportunities. These programs not only enhance academic learning but also help students develop real-world skills and perspectives. 

Finally, we will expand our alternative and flexible learning opportunities for students. What we learned from the pandemic is that one size doesn’t fit all. With our hybrid school, Connect Academy, we provide two days of in-person labs, collaboration, and social interaction and three days of live, virtual instruction. With our newest high school, Poway to Palomar Middle College, high school juniors and seniors attend both college and high school classes while earning their high school diploma and college credits at no cost! We are also working to build on dual enrollment options for high school students with our higher education partners. PUSD also has a Memorandum of Understanding with Cal State San Marcos that guarantees college admission for any PUSD student who has a 3.0 or above.

We are setting the stage for a successful and transformative year ahead. As we embark on this journey, I am confident that together as a community, we will continue to provide a world-class public education by adapting to the needs of our students and creating an enriching and supportive learning environment for all our students.


Head shot Michelle O'Connor-RatcliffPUSD's Priorities and Challenges for 2024

By Michelle O'Connor-Ratcliff

School Board President

As President of the Poway Unified School District Board of Trustees, I am proud to share our district priorities and challenges for 2024 with the community. Our vision remains steadfast: to create the culture and conditions to empower world-class learners. This means that we will continue to strive to ensure that every student, in every PUSD classroom, at every PUSD school, receives an education that fosters their individual potential and prepares them to thrive in our increasingly global society.

Priorities for 2024

  1. Fostering a Sense of Belonging: Our top priority is to ensure that every student in our district feels a profound sense of belonging. We recognize, as does study after study, that education is most effective and achievement most pronounced in an environment where students feel safe, accepted, and valued. PUSD will continue to implement programs that promote inclusivity and social-emotional learning. We want students to feel a connection to others at school, whether peers or adults, and to know that they are cared for, seen, and respected. One way several of our high schools are accomplishing this is through Unity Days where students spend the day breaking down barriers between classmates, creating more cohesive peer learning communities through recognition of shared experience.
  1. Excellence in Academics and Beyond: We are committed to providing all our students with the resources and opportunities needed to challenge themselves and excel, not only in academics, but also in their personal growth: from our students with extensive support needs to our highest academic achievers. This includes offering advanced coursework, grade-level content supports, hands-on learning experiences, and mentorship and internship programs that cater to the diverse needs and interests of our student body. Teaming up with community and business partners creates a stronger connection between what students are learning inside the classroom and what students want to pursue in college or careers.
  1. Inclusive Opportunities in Multiple Pathways: Recognizing the varied interests and abilities of our students, we need to design our programs to be inclusive and accessible, allowing every student to explore and develop their skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), visual and performing arts (VAPA), career and technical education (CTE), and athletics. Our inclusive practices are advancing at every grade level so that students with extensive support needs are more and more able to access their education with their grade-level peers in an environment that is most effective for every student. For example, Garden Road Elementary has worked very hard on their WIN Time model, Adobe Bluffs Elementary is a showcase for its Ability Awareness Day and Unified Champion School designation, and co-taught classes have proliferated across the district.

Challenges for 2024

  1. Budget Constraints: School districts are facing a fiscal “cliff” with one-time COVID funding set to expire. That funding allowed us to begin the work of helping our students recover learning loss and social-emotional and mental health challenges following the pandemic. Ours is a success story in this area, but the work is not complete. Without that extra funding, our ability to maintain and expand these vital programs will be impacted. At a recent school board meeting, our Finance Department shared that for 2024-25, the Poway Unified School District is facing a projected general fund deficit, ranging from $15.6 million to $26.4 million based on current State budget assumptions. Declining enrollment, as many families relocate outside of San Diego, also presents a challenge in terms of funding and resource allocation. California funds public schools based on enrollment and attendance. We are working on strategies to attract and retain students, including enhancing our program offerings and improving our outreach to students who are chronically absent. 
  1. Aging and Failing Facilities: Our school buildings need urgent attention. The average age of our schools is now over 32 years old, yet California does not provide dedicated facilities funding to school districts. Any repairs or maintenance takes away money from programs and people funded by PUSD’s general fund. As any homeowner knows, *not* maintaining or ignoring our buildings is not an option. Aging facilities not only pose safety concerns, but also limit our ability to provide a contemporary and world-class learning environment. The state expects local communities to support their local schools through voter-approved bonds. All funds generated by the last bond in 2008 have been used to build and renovate our schools. Readers may recall seeing images of leaking roofs and drainage problems at Poway High School recently. Without another bond measure, more school buildings will be in failing condition. Our children deserve better.
  1. Staffing Challenges: As with many industries, recruiting and retaining high-quality staff is crucial for our success. In PUSD we pride ourselves on our top-notch employees; they are the reason PUSD is so special. However, we continue to experience staffing vacancies. Recent mandates from the State, such as universal school meals for all students and universal transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds, created even more positions that we need to fill. It is difficult for a public agency to compete with private industry that can raise salaries and simply charge more for their services or products. PUSD continues to work hard to attract talented educators and support staff by supporting competitive compensation whenever we can, professional development opportunities, and excellent benefits. We have so much gratitude and appreciation for Team PUSD.

 We are dedicated to upholding the highest standards of education that are expected of the Poway Unified School District, and we are confident that, with the support of our community, we will overcome these challenges and continue to provide world-class learning experiences and opportunities for our students. As we head into the new year, we invite readers to join us in shaping a bright and promising future for our children—our community’s rising innovators, leaders, critical thinkers, and learners. Thank you for your partnership and support.