Though uncertainty clouds the future of education and instruction because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the goals of the La Cañada Unified School District for the 2020-21 academic year were made very clear in a virtual governing board meeting on Tuesday.
Board members approved Superintendent Wendy Sinnette’s main objectives, which include overseeing Measure LCF-financed facility upgrades, distance learning and instruction, planning and executing campuses’ eventual reopening and expanding the district’s wellness initiative.
There have been as many as 18 goals in the past, according to Sinnette, but this year’s four each comprise several initiatives.
“They are significant and meaty, given the turbulent times that we are in,” she said.
Though Sinnette laid out the importance of each objective, she singled out the expansion of LCUSD’s wellness initiative as “an important goal.”
“This year, that wellness initiative will serve as an umbrella and will bring in a very strong [diversity, equity and inclusion] focus that will look to establish and promote culturally relevant and responsive educational programs and school cultures on each of our campuses,” Sinnette said.
The district’s DEI implementation plan will be a three-year process in which staff members will work with a committee and school leadership teams “to promote a culture of continuous improvement,” according to Sinnette.
Part of that includes reviewing the DEI strengths and needs assessments report from Christina Hale-Elliott — a consultant who studied the issue of DEI within LCUSD for a year and presented her findings and recommendations to the board in August — and working with consultants moving forward.
“The consultancy component of this is critical,” said Sinnette. “I think it’s going to take at least three years over the course of this implementation plan for us to feel that we’re the firm leaders of this work going forward, so that’s a lot of time allotted for learning and that learning is provided by experts.”
Sinnette previously expressed a willingness to continue working with Hale-Elliott — whose contract with the district recently expired — but acknowledged that the district has to be open to multiple options.
“Our teachers have really, really worked well [with Hale-Elliott] and benefited from Christina’s professional development, [as has] our leadership team,” she said. “There was a pretty developed plan in place for programmatic outreach to students, so I think all of that is still very much part of our thinking as we move forward and hear from the larger community.
“It may not be that all of the community, and I’m being very blunt here, is receptive to family learning series by Christina, but there are some community members who really are. I think it’s creating a menu of options so that we’re meeting people to where they’re receptive, because alienating people on this journey isn’t going to get us to our goal.”
The district may not be alone in the quest to deliver a more inclusive environment. Other small districts — such as Burbank — and private schools are also developing DEI plans. Sinnette said she hopes to “explore synergies and integrative opportunities between our DEI efforts and other districts’ initiatives.”
The “heart and soul” of the district’s DEI initiative lives in the educational services department, according to Sinnette, because “it’s about educating our youth” as well as social emotional, instructional and campus leaders.
“I think they need to be extremely well-versed,” she added. “I think we’ve made some progress, but in order to get there, we need outside expertise that comes from a consultant. That is something I’m very committed to.”
Sinnette is also committed to ensuring that students are receiving a robust education, whether it is through distance learning or on-campus instruction. She plans to get feedback from students, teachers and parents to shorten learning gaps and create response plans based on identified needs.
Though health guidelines still do not permit on-campus instruction for the majority of students, Sinnette plans to work with the board, unions and committees to have procedures in place for all types of instruction. She recently submitted a request for a waiver that would allow children in transitional kindergarten through 2nd grade to return to campus and hopes to do the same for special education students and English-language learners.
Each goal will be challenged due to the fluidity of the coronavirus, and being responsive and open will be key for Sinnette and the district to overcome any barriers.
“That’s where success lies, in that openness and in that willingness to be transparent with the community and to reassess and to go forward to make things continually better,” she said. “It’s very much a journey and not a race.”
BOARD LOOKS TO SHORTEN MEETINGS
To reduce the running time of meetings, all board members approved a revision presented by district Chief Technology Officer Jaimie Lewsadder on Tuesday.
The board agreed to place a time limit on comments and no longer read anonymous remarks from the public during meetings. However, anonymous comments will be provided in written form to the board.
Lewsadder presented seven possible solutions that included board and staff responding to public comments at the end of the meeting, establishing a time limit for each remark, not allowing public comments after the meeting has begun, and limiting each person to one statement.
Board meetings have been livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel since March due to the pandemic, making them more accessible to the public. District officials feel the engagement from community members is the reason meetings have gone on as long as five hours.
“We want to hear people’s comments but we don’t want it to turn into a Q&A or a town hall,” said board member Brent Kuszyk. “And I’ll just say [former board member Ellen Multari’s] famous saying: It’s not a public meeting. It’s a meeting of the board in public.”
Community members sent comments during the discussion that suggested public comments are not the problem. Governing board candidate Belinda Randolph was one of them, saying public comments, including those that are anonymous, had not been a problem until last March and recommended that the board and staff members shorten their presentations and conversations.
LCUSD FIELDS SOON TO REOPEN FOR COMMUNITY
Weeks after allowing La Cañada High School varsity athletes to train on campus, the board unanimously voted in favor of reopening LCUSD fields to joint-use users and community members.
They will have access to the fields beginning Nov. 2 and must follow the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Reopening Protocols for Youth Sports Leagues.