Summer break officially ended for the approximately 200 district employees who convened in the Huntington Middle School cafeteria Wednesday morning.
Teachers, counselors, administrators, staff and school board members began their first professional development day for the 2016-17 school year by catching up with colleagues and enjoying a light breakfast.
They also heard welcome messages from San Marino Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss and former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, the keynote speaker for the breakfast.
“Our theme continues to be innovation and improvement,” said Cherniss, listing the development of new English and math curriculums; the Tech Academy; launch of the mobile app; the Student Mental Health Academy; the new course at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens; computer science classes for 4th and 5th grade students; a mindfulness component in the health curriculum; and the addition of an AP Computer Science class as some of the improvements over the last two years.
“We did so much and we accomplished so much and this year we continue to move on and innovate,” Cherniss added, noting that the San Marino School District had the highest achievement scores in the state.
“Everyone had a part in this,” he said as he looked at the crowd.
O’Connell praised San Marino schools, too.
“You have an outstanding school district. These test scores are off the chart and they have been for years,” he said.
O’Connell compared a good school district to a good band or orchestra.
“If you take any one section out, it’s not a very good sound. And it’s the same thing in education,” he said.
“Thank you to the entire band, the entire team for your dedication, your commitment, your energy and your passion,” said O’Connell, commending all members of the district for their work.
But that work hasn’t been easy, he noted. “The last four years, we have never seen so many significant, fundamental changes in our public school system,” said O’Connell. “This district really is preparing the leaders in our society, in our state, in our country,” he said to the crowd. “Next to our parents, the most influential folks in these young people’s lives—not just while you have them but for the rest of their lives—it is those of us in education. It’s the teachers that have that tremendous impact.”
“To me and our entire society, the most important profession is being a teacher. And I can say that because, ‘Who prepares doctors? We do. Who prepares lawyers? We do. Who prepares business people? We do,’” O’Connell, a former government teacher, added.
“Who prepares politicians? Okay sometimes we don’t do a good job,” O’Connell, also a 12-year assemblyman and 10-year state senator, said.
He likened the breakfast to the opening day of a championship sports team. “We have to get rings for everybody here,” O’Connell joked to Cherniss.
O’ Connell also stressed the importance of school infrastructure.
“We need to make sure to invest in our facilities,” he noted, encouraging the attentive crowd to support Proposition 51, a $9 billion school bonds initiative on the November ballot, and Proposition 55, a tax extension to fund education and healthcare. “The realtors appreciate it big time and the students and teachers and all the personnel are healthier,” he added.
Jack O’Connell was elected California State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2002 and reelected in 2006. He is a partner at Capitol Advisors Group, LLC, an education policy advocacy firm based in Sacramento.