District Set to Start School on Monday

The La Cañada Unified School District and its teachers reached an agreement on the distance learning model for the upcoming school year, Superintendent Wendy Sinnette reported during the governing board meeting on Tuesday.
Virtual learning will begin for all grade levels on Monday, Aug. 17, in keeping with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidelines preventing schools in counties on the state’s COVID-19 watch list from providing in-person instruction.
“We are committed to providing a world-class educational experience virtually, in small groups,” Sinnette said, “and then hopefully we get to the hybrid model and then ideally to a full resumption of school as we once realized it, hopefully within this year.”
Sinnette’s virtual presentation included scheduling information that had been previously discussed but included one major update.

“The protocols that we’ve established and signed off on have taken our campuses from being closed to being open as worksites, which is really important,” she said. “That’s a significant iteration. It helps us to be able to really think about how we transition from being open as school sites.”
Teachers will be able to work from their designated classrooms to provide live online instruction and have access to campus supplies and materials, enhancing the experience and giving the district an opportunity to perfect safety protocols in preparation for phase two — the hybrid model that would allow students to return to campus at a limited capacity.
The elementary schedule, which is divided into morning and afternoon cohorts, can transition smoothly into the next phase. However, the same cannot be said about the secondary schedule.
That schedule “is very reminiscent of our in-person instruction with modified block schedules,” Sinnette said. “This will not be able to translate seamlessly into hybrid instruction.”
Sinnette said “more work needs to be done” regarding a phase two model for La Cañada High School and LCHS 7/8 students, and the reopening committee is still reviewing every option.
“It really is a priority for me that that’s in place as soon as possible, so that we’ve communicated to our entire community that we’re perfectly positioned to be able to welcome students back on campus as soon as the opportunity is available to us and do so in a healthy, safe way,” she added.
A “school’s worth” of families committed to the district’s Virtual Learning Academy, which would keep students enrolled in distance learning throughout the year. Sinnette offered apologies to parents who were not able to get their desired schedule for their children in elementary schools. She said more than 75% requested the morning cohort and the district could not accommodate all families.
District staff members remain hard at work in agreeing to terms with teachers regarding the hybrid model. Several details that have been discussed during negotiations with the La Cañada Teachers Association include occupancy capacities, arrival protocols, social distancing guidelines and a cleaning schedule.
Another significant note from Sinnette concerned the inclusion of mandatory daily small group learning experiences at the secondary level called Spartan Connect, which is set up to build a foundation between teachers and students.
“The intention is to get to know the kids better and develop relationships and also work on any key subject matters,” board President Joe Radabaugh said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Teachers will have the liberty to craft those experiences. … We think it’s important for the social emotional learning and well-being of students.”
Spartan Connect will begin virtually, but district officials hope to make it an on-campus experience when health guidelines allow it.
LCUSD has made an effort to support and educate teachers, parents and students about the distance learning experience. Teachers participated in a professional development day on Tuesday, and the district hosted several tech sessions for parents and teachers. Officials have also worked with English language development teachers and special education instructors to prepare for the semester.
The topic of waivers to allow elementary students to come to campuses for instruction was raised during the public comment portion of the meeting, with Sinnette responding that they are not an option at the moment because the county will not allow them for elementary schools.
Sinnette also presented the next priorities for the staff and governing board, including reopening protocols, identification of triggers or metrics that would prompt a return to in-person instruction, continued advocacy for special education, English language development, waivers for small group instruction and experiences, PPE acquisition and installation and child care opportunities.
“We really want to make sure families, especially students and staff, feel excited for this school year,” she said. “I know it’s new. I know it’s difficult, but I think if we can maintain our sense of optimism and hope and enthusiasm, we can move [the school experience] into the virtual world and make sure we build a connected districtwide culture, make sure we have our orientations and back-to-school nights, that we don’t lose that sense of community, which is so important.”
“I feel really good from where we came from just a couple weeks back,” Radabaugh said.

Armed with more details regarding the financial fallout from the pandemic, Mark Evans, associate superintendent of business and administrative services, presented a 45-day budget update that was ultimately approved unanimously by the governing board.
The adjusted financial projections were much more favorable than what was adopted in June. According to the most recent figures, the anticipated revenue for the upcoming school year will be $50.19 million, rather than the $45.58 million forecast earlier, and projected expenditures also increased by $1.8 million for a total of $51.41 million, mainly due to providing extra professional development, contracting with an online tutoring service and paying for personal protective equipment.
Following the governor’s May revision, Evans had originally estimated a $4 million deficit. That figure now stands at $1.2 million because state funding remained largely unchanged and the district received federal funding through the CARES Act. Federal funding shot up from $936,544 to $2.43 million.
Evans added that expenditures may increase if the district continues to spend on supplies and PPE. The budget will be revisited at first interim in December.

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