LCUSD Plan for School Year: More Normal, Still Cautious

The La Cañada Unified School District expects to go back to a full five-day bell schedule for the 2021-22 school year, and Superintendent Wendy Sinnette gave the community a preview of what instruction will look like in the fall, assuming that the coronavirus remains largely at bay.

Sinnette gave a presentation during a virtual LCUSD Governing Board meeting on Tuesday that informed stakeholders and board members of current guidelines from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

LCUSD will reopen with a full schedule on Aug. 16 and current health orders require students and staff to wear masks on campus when indoors, though there are exceptions for special education students. Students and staff will not be required to wear masks outdoors on campus, but Sinnette said employees will encourage students to wash their hands frequently and be socially distanced in the hallways and during lunch.

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Educators, Students Reflect on Lessons of Pandemic Year

Jane Chang teaches of Palm Crest Elementary School students in person after they returned to campus in March. Like other local educators, she provided only virtual instruction when the academic year began.

Last March, the world was upended by a pandemic that affected people in all walks of life, especially those in education. In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, students, teachers and administrators throughout California were forced to pivot to distance learning, a method of instruction that was not easy for learners.

“Personally, for me it was a pretty negative experience,” said Miye Sugino, a rising senior at La Cañada High School. “I don’t think it’s because of the way the school handled it. It was just not good for me to be at home all the time. I missed the ability to interact in real life.

“It was just a really difficult year in terms of general motivation and very limited screen team because the teacher’s presence isn’t the same, but that’s not their fault. It was the best they could do.”

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After Last Year’s Cancellation, Interfaith Baccalaureate Tradition Returns

Students who gave their testimonies included Leah Laska-Sandleman, Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center; Jaden Milbrodt, La Canada Presbyterian Church; Kayley Bond, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Lonnie Blanchard, St. Bede the Vulnerable Catholic Church; and Seema Kayali, Islamic Congregation of La Canada Flintridge.

The La Canada Flintridge Annual Interfaith Baccalaureate Service – for graduating seniors from local high schools and their families – was held under the oaks at La Canada Presbyterian Church last Thursday, with approximately 250 people in attendance.
The keynote address was given by Chris Erskine, a prominent local author who also has a son graduating this year.
“Let me tell you: I have so much respect for this graduating class,” said Erskine to the grads. “You’ve had a turbulent 18 years, born after 9/11, raised amid political turmoil and now a pandemic. You could be cynical, and without joy.
“But you are funny and inspiring. Thank you for that. Seriously. Thank you for your resilience. Your laughter. Your heart.”
“Did you know that when you place sunflowers in a vase, sunflowers turn toward the sun? Just as you’d expect, right? But when placed in a dark room, in a sunless environment, sunflowers will turn toward each other,” Erskine added. “That’s what you did the last year — you turned toward each other. I hope you will continue to do that.”
Other highlights included five students – Lonnie Blanchard, Kayley Bond, Seema Kayali, Leah Laska-Sandleman and Jaden Milbrodt – giving their testimonies, all from different faith traditions. The audience also enjoyed a recorded version or “Hear My Prayer,” sung by the La Canada High School Choral Artists. The benediction was given by the Monsignor Antonio Cacciapuoti of St. Bede the Venerable Catholic Church.
The LCF Interfaith Planning team members are listed in the program (photo).
“I think Baccalaureate is the most meaningful of all the traditional graduation celebrations,” said Christie Frandsen, chair of the Baccalaureate Committee. “We had to cancel our event last year due to the pandemic, but we found a way to do it safely this year, outdoors, everyone masked and safely distanced, but that special spirit of love and faith was stronger than ever. We have seen, over the past few months, just how suddenly the basic structures of our lives can fall apart: school, jobs, social interaction, even our health. It has been devastating.
“Baccalaureate reminds me that there is one foundation that cannot be shaken and that can carry us through these rough times: our faith in God,” Frandsen added. “That faith is strong and vibrant in the lives of these young graduates. And that’s why I love Baccalaureate.”

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Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy Holds Commencement

Isabella Gerhardt, Berit Oxley, Natasha Mertens, Jordyn Hart and Nicole Bednar

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy’s 88th graduation ceremony was held at Crane Field this past Sunday, June 6.
“After a year of so much separation, this is an amazing moment to be able to celebrate the tremendous achievement of these graduates together,” said Sister Carolyn McCormick, FSHA’s president.
Delaney Miller sang the Dominican blessing and Angelina Reddy the Alma Mater.
Commencement speaker Drew Washington, a member of FSHA’s class of 2012 and graduate from UC Berkeley School of Law, was the Rose Queen as a high school senior.
As the program neared the end, seven FSHA legacy families were recognized for having three or more girls having graduated from FSHA.
The graduating seniors’ traditional rose petal toss concluded the ceremony.

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LCHS 8th Grade Promotion Ceremony

Quest Swan, Beckett Sheffield, Dani Ghiraagosian, Ryan Talbert and River Wokosin

Due to social distancing and COVID-19 safety protocols, La Canada High School 8th graders had their promotion ceremonies divided into two separate events – one for School 3 and the other for School 4, both of which were held on campus on June 2.
After opening with “Pomp and Circumstance” played by the 7/8 Band and Orchestra, the flag salute was led by ASB President Seth Larsen and Claire Lin for School 3; Kelly Sellman led the flag salute for School 4. The National Anthem was sung by the 7/8 Honor Choir. A special solo (Taylor Swift’s “Never Grow Up”) was sung by Kat Sears for School 3, and the trio of Kate Chun, Vani Gupta and Kelly Sellman sang Pink’s “Cover Me in Sunshine” during the School 4 ceremony.
Promotion addresses were delivered by Seth Larsen in School 3 and Vani Gupta in School 4.
There were also special award presentations during the respective ceremonies. The Scoville-Tupper Award was presented to Talia Sverdlik and Kelly Sellman, the Principal’s Award went to David Gilles and Michael Cho, the Excellence in Scholarship Award was presented to Maddy McClure and Luke Rogez, and the Participation and Engagement Award went to Lorelei Rocca and Sofia Flores-Sirolli.
“The accomplishments so many of you have made up to this point are to be remembered and cherished,” LCHS 7/8 Principal Jarrett Gold told the students. “Always believe in yourself and what you can do. Remember that you can accomplish anything you want with desire, drive and hard work. I am confident that every one of you has the ability to change the world. Don’t settle, don’t quit and never give up on any and all dreams you have.”

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LCHS Salutes Graduates, and Gratitude Is Major Theme

Maya White, Pru Yontrarak, ben Lee and Yasmine Kaki

The Rose Bowl Stadium packed with more than 90,000 spectators is a sight to behold, but it was just as grand last week when it was the site of an unforgettable 2021 La Cañada High School commencement ceremony and attendees filled barely more than 1% of the landmark’s capacity.
About 1,450 people gathered — socially distanced, of course — at the stadium to celebrate a senior class that spent the majority of its final high school year at home in front of a computer screens and listening to teachers via Zoom. Schools throughout the state pivoted to distance learning in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, creating a new generation of learners known as “Zoomers.”
After a difficult year marked by a coronavirus that killed more than 24,000 Los Angeles County residents, destructive wildfires in the area and a presidential election that divided a nation, it was perhaps natural that the theme of all of the commencement speakers was gratitude.
“This last year has been anything but simple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the wildfires, the presidential election and the Black Lives Matter movement to name a few,” graduating senior Seema Kavali told her classmates. “If there’s any takeaway from this whole experience, it’s that we have learned to be appreciative, creative and patient, tools we can carry along with us as we continue our journey in life.
“We were forced to grow up quickly and process the world unfolding around us. What you go through now, tomorrow, next year and so on prepares you for what has to come next. I am so proud of all of us.”
Madeleine Reinoso expressed a similar sentiment in her speech, saying that “the year was far from perfect, but it was ours. Regardless of all the hardships and challenges we faced this past year, we persevered and made it here today.”
Jack Salcido and Noah Truong teamed up to deliver a speech that introduced some levity and described a day in the life of a senior “Zoomer, defined by their reclusive nature, lack of an official SAT score and hypersomnia despite waking at 11 a.m. every single [day]. Zoomers are the result of nearly unlimited screen time and a year of isolation.”
The two Spartans, like the entire class of 2021, made the most of their distance learning experience and reminded classmates of what the group accomplished. They celebrated ways in which the senior class was a pioneer — such as being the first to have its own Chromebooks provided by the La Cañada Unified School District, to take physics freshman year, to begin class at 8:30 a.m. all four years instead of the “dreaded” 7:30 a.m. start time that was changed four years ago, and to have a prom held on campus.
Principal Jim Cartnal gave the final speech and returned to the theme of gratitude, saying, “That we’re here is the victory. Together, in person, on one of the grandest stages in the land. And that we are here says a great deal about who we are as a learning community and what we value.”
“While many other school communities struggled with access, struggled with engagement and struggled with campus cohesion, our students and families remain committed to our core value that education matters, learning matters and that you matter,” Cartnal said. “ … Other hard times will no doubt come, but you know how to respond because you kept working, you kept applying yourself, you kept caring and you gave everything that you could to be successful, and I’m so grateful.”

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LCUSD Diversity Plan Takes 
a Step Forward

After much work, deliberation and delay, the La Cañada Unified School District took a monumental step in its diversity, equity and inclusion initiative and is ready to push forward the plan that has been in the works since last August.

The LCUSD Governing Board unanimously adopted two documents pertaining to DEI during a virtual meeting on Tuesday, including one that details the district’s objectives, guiding principles, DEI definitions and commitment statement.

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a Step Forward”

LCHS Among Best in U.S. News Annual Rankings

The U.S. News and World Report published its annual best high schools rankings last week and La Cañada High School made the grade with an exemplary scorecard of 98.74, placing it 10th out of 659 qualifying schools in Los Angeles and 27th out of 2,598 in the state.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette was “thrilled” to congratulate LCHS for its “exceptional performance” and credited the students, LCUSD employees and families for the honor of being recognized by a high profile publication, which ranked La Cañada No. 225 in the nation out of 17,857 schools.
“LCUSD always looks to research-based indicators to assess our performance, and we recognize that this is just one measure, but we are proud of our high school’s achievement here and wish to recognize the performances of our students, teachers, staff and administration,” Sinnette said in a statement. “We are also grateful to our families for their support, which continually allows all of our schools to thrive.”
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LCUSD Cautiously Advances DEI Initiative

The issue that is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) dominated the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board meeting yet again on Tuesday with dozens of stakeholders reiterating their stance against the initiative.
The board was expected to discuss and adopt the district’s DEI framework and guiding principles for the initiative, as well as its mission statement and definitions, but the panel balked at fully adopting each document due to the language used and a perceived lack of clarity.
Board members ultimately decided to table the framework for adoption at a future meeting, but they did partially approve the other agenda item. They did move forward on approving the mission statement and definition of diversity, but asked staff to work further on the definitions for equity and inclusion.
Josh Epstein, who was elected to the Governing Board last November, said he was conflicted about the decision and wanted the community to know that there is a sense of urgency in moving forward with the DEI initiative.
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St. Bede Given Green Light to Demolish, Rebuild Parish Hall

Photo courtesy Jim Saake
The Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for the demolition of the St. Bede the Venerable Roman Catholic Church parish hall, which served as the church from 1952-1968, despite the objections of several residents and parishioners.

The beloved parish hall at St. Bede the Venerable Roman Catholic Church in La Cañada Flintridge is one step closer to being demolished and replaced with a new building that would better serve parishioners and the school.
Despite hearing pleas from community members requesting for preservation and modernization rather than replacement, the city’s Planning Commission unanimously approved three resolutions last week giving St. Bede a conditional use permit that allows demolition of the Spanish mission-style building and redevelopment of the courtyard, a tree removal permit and a variance to allow for the reduction of parking onsite parking spaces.
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