School Board Rotates Presidents

Shant Sahakian

Shant Sahakian will lead the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education through what everyone hopes will be the end of the coronavirus pandemic, after he rotated in as school board president this week.
After spending the past year as vice president, Sahakian now takes the reins from Armina Gharpetian, who led the district through the majority of the pandemic. Board member Nayiri Nahabedian was selected as vice president, positioning her for board leadership next year.
“I take this responsibility very seriously, but I’m very mindful that we’re a team of five and, ultimately, we work together with our superintendent to achieve all the goals of the district,” Sahakian said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Our community has experienced a major stress test over the past year that I think nobody wanted to experience. We have witnessed the strengths and the vulnerabilities in our society. To anyone in our community who has lost a loved one, we wish our heartfelt condolences to you and your family.”

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Area Teachers to Start Receiving COVID-19 Shots Next Week

USC Verdugo Hills Hospital and other institutions will begin vaccinating area elementary school teachers for COVID-19 next week, including Glendale Unified School District teachers who choose to sign up for the inoculation.
The hospital will take 350 teachers on Monday and another 350 on Thursday and aims to continue its vaccination work with additional teachers and members of the community, as eligibility increases. The concrete plan is a welcome development weeks after the initial rollout for vaccinating teachers was delayed because of supply issues.
Additionally, Adventist Health Glendale and Glendale Memorial Hospital also will be handling vaccinations for GUSD teachers.

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GUSD Prepares a Hybrid Education Program

Photo by Zane Hill / Glendale News-Press
Students at Mark Keppel Elementary School check into their distance learning technology pods in August at the start of the school year. Glendale Unified School District plans to continue running these pods after it launches a hybrid learning format that has students alternating between in-person and at-home instruction.

The Glendale Unified School District plans to transition into its hybrid education program for elementary schools in March, which has long been designated as the next major decision point for the district with regard to pandemic protocol.
The decision comes this week following the announcement from county officials that elementary schools could reopen their doors for limited in-person instruction, with or without the waivers they may have applied for. Those officials had anticipated this week that adjusted daily new coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County would fall below 25 new cases per 100,000 residents each day — the threshold for reopening elementary schools while in the purple tier.

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District Applies for Waivers to Open Up Elementary Schools

Photo courtesy GUSD
After first getting a waiver to have some in-person instruction at Horace Mann Elementary School, the Glendale Unified School District plans to seek waivers for its remaining elementary schools.

The Glendale Unified School District will begin applying for waivers for the remainder of its elementary schools to resume limited
in-person instruction, weeks after the district piloted a reopening at s.
Meanwhile, district officials plan to keep a close eye on the ever-changing situation with regard to the pandemic and the plethora of restrictions it brings from county, state and federal leaders. For now, distance learning continues to be the primary teaching mechanism, and the board of education expects its next decision to be by March 12, the end of the third quarter and on the cusp of spring break.
“The end of the third quarter and the day before spring break seemed to be a good decision at the time,” Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said, “but I do want to repeat that if we maintain a purple tier as a school district and county, it will be difficult to make decisions any differently than what we’ve made so far.”

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GUSD Provides Post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 Tests for Employees

Photo courtesy GUSD
Drivers lined up at Glendale High School for free COVID-19 tests for GUSD employees this week.

Glendale Unified School District offered free, drive-thru COVID-19 testing for all employees on Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday break.
The district organized a temporary drive-thru testing site at Glendale High School in partnership with Vital Medical Services. The rapid-response nasal swab test was provided to any GUSD employee who wanted it.
“We are happy to offer our employees access to convenient drive-thru COVID-19 testing as a proactive measure to ensure our community stays safe and healthy,” said Armina Gharpetian, president of the GUSD Board of Education, in a statement.
Employees received their results within 10 to 20 minutes. The district reported that 263 employees out of more than 2,600 took tests on Monday.
“Student and employee health and safety is and always will be our top priority,” Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said in a statement. “As we continue to provide essential services for our community, we are taking all responsible measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

GUSD Takes Steps Toward Limited Return to Campuses

Local school officials have begun the process of preparing applications and obtaining the necessary letters of support to eventually begin applying to Los Angeles County for waivers to reopen limited facets of in-person elementary instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Glendale Unified School District continues to plan a return to outdoor conditioning for student-athletes and anticipate hopeful next steps for expanding in-person services to special education students and English language learners.
“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get questions — ‘When are we opening up? When are we getting our students back to school?’” board President Armina Gharpetian said at Tuesday’s meeting. “The county, they’re moving very cautiously and very conservatively. We need to take those baby steps to get there.”

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GUSD Sticks With Remote Teaching

Safety Drives School Decision, but Heavy Hearts Follow

Making the decision to start off the upcoming school year with students taking lessons through their computer screens represented a heavy moment for the officials making it.
Nevertheless, for those Glendale Unified School District leaders and likely for many parents, there is some relief in knowing what to plan for as the first day of class approaches on Aug. 19.
“I feel relieved to have clarity,” said Elizabeth Vitanza, whose son attends Franklin Elementary School. “I don’t think there’s a school district in the country that has figured this out. It seems like their response was sensitive to the concerns of some groups of parents and guardians around child care and standardizing the technology used.”
The GUSD Board of Education agreed unanimously this week to start the year with remote learning and to leave open the possibility of creating some sort of hybrid model in the future should public health guidelines allow for direct on-campus instruction. The decision nevertheless drew emotions from school board members who clearly were dreading it.
“Our precious kids, they won’t be able to see their schools on the first day of school,” said board President Armina Gharpetian, who fought tears, “especially our kindergartners who have never been to the school sites, our first-year middle school students and first-year high school students. Some of them, they’ve never been to the schools they’re going to go to. They don’t know what the school looks like.”
Some elementary school students may end up seeing what their school looks like, in a sense. Under a pod system, the district expects to provide child care for certain families by grouping a small group of students in one classroom, spaced out, where they can perform their remote learning work under the supervision and watch of an employee, likely a classified staffer or substitute teacher.
“That’s going to be a big issue,” said Leslie Dickson, a parent of four GUSD kids, on the need for child care. “We have a lot of kids who are fortunate to have a parent who stays home, but obviously we have kids who don’t or don’t have parents who can facilitate instruction.”
I think it’s a really good solution for people who have to go out,” she added. “No one wants this. We all want our kids in schools. I’m a teacher and I know what school is supposed to feel like, and knowing that none of that can happen in any form is really hard. I think GUSD is doing a really good job.”
Vitanza, who herself teaches at a private school in Los Angeles, agreed that the child-care portion will be a key relief for parents and district employees otherwise faced with having to monitor their own kids at home while working. She added that practices adopted in light of the pandemic might continue use with the district, depending on how effective they are.
“I think the situation has changed for a lot of parents who had a job and were laid off or furloughed in the spring,” Vitanza said. “I think they’re probably thinking creatively about that piece and, eventually when we do go back to school, maybe some of that will be retained.”
Still, it’s clear that the school year is going to have a big asterisk next to it. Typical on-campus experiences and events obviously aren’t going to be happening. The California Interscholastic Federation is expected to announce a plan for fall sports at a Monday press conference, after which individual districts have the final authority on which sports they will offer in any given season.
“Believe me,” said board member Greg Krikorian at Tuesday’s meeting. “I love watching CIF tournaments, the Battle of the Bell, cross-country matches, the marching bands — we have the best marching bands in the state — and now this pandemic is shutting them down. But we can’t shut down the educational system.”
“When we say ‘school,’ school is not just academics,” Gharpetian added. “It’s the experiences. It’s making new friends. It’s hanging out with your friends. It’s sharing funny moments, joining clubs, playing sports, learning a musical instrument, creating art, singing in a choir, going to assemblies, going to school dances, having pizza parties with your teachers, participating in classroom competitions and so many other things.
“For me, school is that,” the board president continued, “and unfortunately, we will not be able to provide all these experiences for our kids with 100% remote learning, but we are only doing this for the safety and health of our students, our teachers and our community as a whole. We’re not making this decision lightly.”
Dickson, whose eldest graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in June and has four other children in three GUSD schools, pointed out that other districts, like Burbank, Pasadena and Los Angeles unified school districts, also have gone with fully remote starts to the year.
“All of our neighboring districts are doing the same thing,” she said. “Doing anything different would be really irresponsible.”
Added Vitanza, who has served on the world languages advisory committee and superintendent’s parent advisory committee: “I’m cautiously optimistic that this could be a unifying moment in the history of GUSD. You’re always going to have the anti-mask contingent and others like that, but for those of us who have been invested in GUSD, it really seems like the school board members and Dr. Ekchian are working and acting in good faith.”

School Board Wants ‘100% Focus’ on Distance Learning to Start Year

By unanimous verdict, Glendale Unified School District will start the academic year at 100% remote learning, mirroring neighboring districts that are facing the realities of educating students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The selection was one of three provided to the GUSD Board of Education on Tuesday by Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, who ultimately recommended exactly what the board took up. The board also committed to bringing students back to campus in waves once it feels that the public health guidelines indicate that it’s relatively safe to do so. Ekchian’s recommendation was based on a litany of survey data from families and GUSD employees as well as guidance from Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“I think the fall semester is a better turning point for when things might be different and I think right now we need 100% focus on one area, and that is remote and making it the best semester possible,” said Shant Sahakian, the board’s vice president. “I think we all hope that the school year and spring can end much stronger.”
This week, the Los Angeles, Burbank and Pasadena unified school districts all committed to 100% online models to kick off the school year. GUSD classes are slated to begin Wednesday, Aug. 19.
Much as school board members wished students could return to their schools on a normal schedule, they also acknowledged that simply was not an option right now, particularly as daily new cases of the coronavirus seem to set new records each day.
“Any decision we make, there’s going to be a segment that’s not going to be happy. But at the end of the day, I know from all the years that all of us have been in this community, the last thing we’d ever want is for something to happen to one of our kids,” said board member Greg Krikorian, who noted he “couldn’t be more supportive” of the remote decision. “I’m not personally willing to take the chance on a child or teacher’s life.”
Echoed board President Armina Gharpetian: “I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I knew somebody’s health is at risk because of our decision.”
Meanwhile, the district will continue to make available its free breakfasts and lunches to all children residing within the district, as it began doing in March when it, like virtually every other district in the state, closed its doors as reality dawned with respect to the pandemic. When the school year kicks off, the district plans to offer on-campus child care to families who need it. Small groups of students in child care would tentatively be assigned to a “pod” that has a dedicated classroom each day where kids can space out and do their remote learning.
This service would likely be offered strictly to elementary school students and would prioritize children who receive free or reduced-price lunch, children of essential workers and children of district employees. Ekchian said the district would make a final decision based on how many families express a need for child care and go from there. Classified employees and substitute teachers would likely be brought in to monitor these pods.
“Ultimately, our capacity has to be supplemented with family and community support, whether it’s for child care or nutrition services for medical care or employer flexibility,” the superintendent said Tuesday. “We have to be able to support our parents to reinforce the needs and guidelines around physical distancing, to ensure that children are engaged with e-learning and to make sure that parents are able to keep their sick children at home.”
Board members emphasized the need to ramp up what the remote teaching system was like in the spring and stressed that equity should be a priority among the district’s 26,000 students.
“The fact is that teaching remotely, no matter how vibrant it’s going to be, it is not the same as in-person,” said board Clerk Nayiri Nahabedian. “It’s a social justice issue, to be able to do right by our more vulnerable populations.”
Constant communication with stakeholders, the board and superintendent contended, will be key to future decisions as well.
“I know we have been working over the last several years to really increase engagement, really make sure that we are hearing from folks and that we are really taking that into account,” said board member Jennifer Freemon. “All of that has come together and up here on the dais, we have a really good pulse on where our entire GUSD community is, which helps us understand what can be done.”

College Success Fund ‘Planting Seeds of Hope’

This Glendale 1st-grader hopes to use the $50 from the Student Success Fund to attend college and become a veterinarian, saying, “When I make animals feel better, I feel happy.”

Amid the requisite challenging financial news that accompanies every meeting in the COVID-19 era, the Glendale Unified School District launched a truly uplifting program on Thursday evening that pierced through the typical report of budget deficits and dwindling reserves.
It’s called the College Success Fund, a long-awaited new initiative that will provide each 1st-grader within GUSD with a $50 savings account to begin the long financial road toward post-secondary education.
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