It Takes a Village to Make This Imaginative ‘Zoo’

In pre-pandemic Burbank, residents would have to make their way over to Los Angeles’ Griffith Park to visit a zoo. And going to an aquarium would have entailed a trek to Long Beach.
Today, things are different. Now, thanks to Wendy and London Ruff, Burbank has its own community zoo and aquarium, located right smack in the middle of the city’s Rancho neighborhood. Gathering inhabitants from the plains of the Serengeti to the world’s great oceans and tropical reefs the Ruffs have rivaled Noah in bringing together a magnificent menagerie of critters — or rather, fanciful images of them.
Though the goal of the creature collector of Genesis was to fill an ark, the Ruffs’ has been to fill their front yard with art that represents all manner of animal and aquatic life.
“This all started after my daughter London returned home from Washington, D.C.,” said Wendy Ruff. “She had been doing a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, and when they closed she came back to Burbank.”

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School District Signals Intent to Strengthen Efforts on Equity

The Burbank Unified School District is taking a stand on current social issues unfolding in the nation, updating its stakeholders and board of education on the work of the district’s equity, diversity and inclusion committee.
“We know we have a lot of challenges in this country, in our city and in our district,” Superintendent Matt Hill said Thursday at a board meeting. “So we have to acknowledge those challenges and then we have to be able as [a California Teachers Association consultant] talks about going through a healing process and making sure we do that in a thoughtful manner. And then have clear action items on how we move forward to become more of an anti-racist school district.”

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Burbank Boys & Girls Club Announces New Headquarters

Photo courtesy Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley
The Boys & Girls Club, which has a Burbank and Greater East Valley chapter, offers after-school and day-care programs for youth. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the nonprofit has also provided distance learning help to members.

The Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley announced Wednesday that plans are moving forward to purchase the former Salvation Army facility in downtown Burbank.
The search to find a new main clubhouse has taken more than a decade, according to representatives from the local chapter of the national nonprofit.
“When I walked into the building, it was as if we were home,” Shanna Warren, the club’s CEO, said in a news release.
The club has had its current home in former a firehouse on Buena Vista Street since 1995. Though adequate 25 years ago, when the club served only 75 members, now more than 200 members and 70 employees walk through the main clubhouse doors.

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BUSD Adopts Fall Online Learning Plan

After much discourse and explanation from Burbank Unified School District staff members, the Board of Education approved — with some apprehension — the memorandum of understanding between teachers and BUSD during Thursday’s virtual meeting.
The motion to adopt the 15-page document passed, 4-1. The lone dissenting vote came from Charlene Tabet, who echoed parents’ concerns regarding the schedule that includes four days of mixed live classroom instruction and independent learning — Monday through Thursday — and a “pupil-free” workday on Friday.
Community members expressed worry that children would not get enough interaction with teachers, especially on a Friday that does not require students to check in. Tabet said she wasn’t so sure students would take advantage of that time with their instructors, and also expressed concern for those in special education and English-language learning.

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BUSD, Teachers Tentatively Agree on Distance Learning Hours

The Burbank Unified School District has reached a tentative agreement on a memorandum of understanding with the local teachers union regarding distance learning during the fall, district Superintendent Matt Hill said in his weekly update.
Burbank Teachers Association members will vote on the MOU within the next week and the board of education will discuss and vote on it during a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 6.
The MOU states that Google Classroom will be the primary platform used for distance learning, and live virtual instruction will be recorded and posted, if requested by a student or parent, for at least 72 hours. Zoom can also be used by teachers to interact with their students.
Remote learning at the high school level includes three 50-minute classes per day, Monday through Thursday, and students will be assigned 90 minutes’ worth of at-home assignments each day with live teacher monitoring and support, according to the memorandum.

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BUSD to Embrace Distance Learning, Superintendent Says

Not long after the Los Angeles public school system announced it will begin the school year with distance learning, Burbank Unified School District Superintendent Matt Hill made a similar declaration via Facebook Live on Monday, telling the local community that the district made the “difficult decision to go with 100% online learning.”
Hill cited safety as a primary concern, and follows suit with a slew of other districts who have opted for distance learning, including those in Glendale, Pasadena, San Bernardino and San Diego. Los Angeles County’s infection rate among people who have been tested is 9%, and a record 4,592 new cases and 2,173 hospitalizations were reported on Thursday.
“I know these are frustrating and challenging times,” Hill said Monday. “We get new information every single day. … But we are seeing a dramatic spike in COVID cases in Los Angeles County.
“For example, gyms have been following amazing, strict guidelines with masks at all times — gloves, social distancing, 6 feet apart, limiting people in the gym — and now they have to close again. … If a gym cannot even guarantee the safety of its clientele, if a restaurant can’t do that, how can we with a clear conscience do that right now at the school district? The answer we came up with is no, we can’t.”
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Budget, Schools’ Reopening Are on BUSD Leaders’ Minds

Though no public meetings were on the Burbank Unified School District’s agenda this week, Superintendent Matt Hill updated the community on the state of the budget and the reopening of school for the 2020-21 year — issues that have prompted keen interest among residents in recent weeks.
No agreement had been made between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature as of Friday regarding the state budget, which is supposed to be ready by June 15. Suspension of operations because of health concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic gave lawmakers less time to negotiate.
The May budget revise from the governor proposed drastic cuts in school funding, a big concern for small districts such as Burbank’s. BUSD would have to cut more than $13 million, and Hill urges parents and guardians to continue writing to political leaders.
“We need to continue your advocating and email the governor and the legislature,” Hill wrote in his weekly update. “Without the support of the governor and legislature, BUSD will be forced to adopt the governor’s May revise.”
The BUSD staff will have a study session on Wednesday, June 17, and the Board of Education will convene the following day for a regular virtual meeting at 7 p.m.
Hill also notified parents that the Reopening Committee — which is separated into four subgroups and takes into consideration guidelines provided by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and California Department of Education — will work with the Burbank Teachers Association and California School Employees Association and is expected to share proposed instruction models on July 2. Continue reading “Budget, Schools’ Reopening Are on BUSD Leaders’ Minds”

BUSD Stands by Grading Policy Despite Backlash

The BUSD Board of Education, which includes (from left) Roberta Reynolds, Steve Frintner, Armond Aghakhanian, Charlene Tabet and Steve Ferguson, backed Superintendent Matt Hill and the Burbank Teacher’s Association’s decision to change this semester’s grading policy to Credit/No Credit after listening to disgruntled parents’ letters.

The Burbank Unified School District stood firm in its decision to go with a “Credit/No Credit” grading policy for the spring semester despite backlash and pleas from parents during the Board of Education meeting on Thursday.
Superintendent Matt Hill and the five board members responded to numerous letters from concerned — and angered — parents regarding the Burbank Teacher’s Association and district’s controversial decision. All local schools closed March 16 because the COVID-19 pandemic and students were given Chromebooks for distance learning.
“I completely understand the passion and advocacy for your children,” Hill addressed parents during the meeting. “The approach we took with our teachers was looking at all of the options and thinking of different scenarios for each option.
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