The La Cañada Unified School District governing board has hit the ground running in 2021 having already convened for three virtual meetings the past month. The challenges from 2020 carried over into the new year, and recently appointed board president Kaitzer Puglia is ready to tackle them and move the district forward.
“[January] and [February] are really tough,” Puglia said, “but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccinations are coming. We have got to take care of our teachers, staff and administrators. They are working so hard, and we need to take care of them so they can take care of our students.”
Getting students back into classrooms safely is one of several goals for the new board president, but as a professor in education and child development at Pasadena City College, Puglia understands that can happen only when the concerns of those providing instruction are addressed.
“To understand, to support teachers is essential,” said Puglia, who has served on the LCUSD board since 2013. “To help our administrators and our staff in the next few months as we go through protocols and make sure all the COVID protocols are being taken care of is extremely important. Our teachers are being really stretched thin, so how can we support them to support our students? I know that parents want their children back in school, to have them have some consistency. I think we all have to come together to help each other.”
Educators throughout the state have had to learn new skills and adapt to a virtual learning environment, including Puglia. The Glendale native took an eight-week training course to make sure her online classes were up to standard and effective, an experience that helped her grow as a professor and appreciate the extra effort of her fellow colleagues.
“Kudos to the teachers, who are frustrated but out there giving it a try every single day,” she said. “We have had an opportunity to expand our perspectives to look at resources differently, to be able to utilize resources and see how we can best benefit our students, who are much more adept technologically.
“I don’t know who could be prepared for all of [the hurdles in 2020] but it does speak to the resilience of humanity.”
Puglia said she saw that resiliency in children, who have had to cope with a pandemic that has distanced them from their friends, families and teachers. While maintaining a high academic standard is important to the board, Puglia says she understands that it can be accomplished only if the student is taken care of emotionally, which is why the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative is so important.
“We also maintain a focus on really looking at the wellness of the whole student,” Puglia said. “We need to make sure the student feels welcome and included. A huge component of learning is feeling a sense of belonging. If our students feel like they belong, if they feel like they are being heard, then there’s an exponential growth in the potential for learning.
“I think academic excellence and student wellness and safety go hand in hand together.”
The district remains hard at work in communicating with public health officials and finding avenues to having small groups of students return to campus. Puglia credits Superintendent Wendy Sinnette, district staff and the four other governing board members for being one the few districts in the county to offer in-person services and instruction for children in transitional kindergarten through second grade.
“We have a good team,” Puglia said. “The beauty of our team is that we have members on the school board that have different experiences and different perspectives, which make for a good team and support system for the school district.”
Puglia’s vast experience and knowledge about education has been essential to the efforts of LCUSD, which is one of the top-ranked districts in California. She has taught at various grade levels and has helped open seven schools in Los Angeles County.
“I am so fortunate again to be working with Kaitzer Puglia as the LCUSD governing board president,” Sinnette said. “All of Kaitzer’s decision-making and leadership is rooted in her professional expertise as an educator, her dedication to our students and staff, and her commitment to delivering a world-class and holistic educational program to the LCUSD community.”
Fellow board member Joe Radabaugh, who served as president last year, echoed Sinnette.
“Kaitzer’s educational background and years of LCUSD board experience makes her an invaluable and effective member. I’m looking forward to her second opportunity to serve as Board President and the impact she will make.”
The vaccination rollout and COVID-19 transmission rate since the holiday season has slowed the process of reopening schools, but Puglia said she was confident the La Cañada Flintridge community would persevere and the district would continue to provide a robust education.
“This is an experience, a tough one, but it’s temporary,” she said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we improve?’ This is my philosophy: service to the community, service to others and then support. It might sound Pollyannaish, but that’s what I’ve always done. That’s what I’ve always believed.”