It was unclear at several junctures which would come first: an end to Tuesday night’s school board meeting or San Marino High School’s graduation, which is slated for Friday, June 1.
The board meeting won out, but not by much, ending near midnight, after 4-1/2 hours that covered the entire gamut of activities at the SMUSD. Among the highlights was an end-of-year report from Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss, who mentioned the many achievements experienced by the SMUSD during 2017-18.
“Let’s not be numb to our successes,” Cherniss said in front of a packed board room. “Let’s measure our critiques and let’s be honest with the facts. Clearly, the positives far outweigh the negatives. This is an exceptional school district, and all of you here tonight exemplify that. Moving forward, let’s not take our successes for granted.”
With a PowerPoint presentation being displayed on two projection screens, Cherniss then mentioned several of the highlights of the school year, including a 15th consecutive ranking as the highest achieving public school district in the state of California, construction of the Barth Athletics Center at Huntington Middle School, the work of the district’s PTAs, the San Marino Schools Foundation, PTAffiliates and a coveted Golden Bell Award, which the district received from the California School Boards Association for its Honors Humanities Seminar program at San Marino High School, a collaborative effort between the SMUSD and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
He also mentioned the fact that both local elementary schools have been named California Distinguished Schools, then district’s top scores in state-mandated English and Math proficiency tests, Next Generation Science standards, AP and Honors classes and other high-water marks.
“Can we improve, of course, and we will,” Cherniss concluded. “But let’s put it in perspective and remember that we are improving upon a school district that is the envy of every other district in this state for the reasons highlighted tonight.”
Cherniss then told a story about a recent “Superintendent for a Day” event, where he escorted a student who was charged with handling the ceremonial duties of the supe. Cherniss said he learned much from the middle schooler and projected how improvements in curriculum could meet the student’s lofty academic aspirations, including a partnership between San Marino High School and Caltech which is scheduled to begin in August.
“This is the real stuff,” Cherniss said during a phone interview on Wednesday morning. “This is a community. We have so many people stepping up and giving their time and energy and it really shows in what we are doing.”
Cherniss also introduced Dr. Soomin Chao, San Marino High School’s new assistant principal of instruction and guidance. Chao will replace Doug Berry, who was recently named principal at Village Christian School in Sun Valley.
“She is described by her references as being an exceptionally bright, well-organized and enthusiastic instructional leader,” Cherniss said. “We are confident that Dr. Chao will make an excellent addition to our high school leadership team.”
Accompanied at the meeting by her husband and two young children, Chao expressed anticipation in getting about the task of her new job.
Chao began her career in education in 2006 when she was hired to teach middle school students in South Pasadena.
In 2016, she accepted a position at Temple City Unified as a Curriculum Coordinator where she oversaw the districtwide initiative to integrate computer science curricula involving coding, robotics and sandbox gaming. From January 2016 to the present, she has served as Vice Chair of the California State Board of Education Instructional Quality Commission.
The board then heard a report from Dr. Michiko Lee of the Academics Advisory Committee, which recently suggested mandatory cuts to homework for students of all ages.
Several community members spoke against the plan, including Susan Flanagan, a San Marino resident who for more than 30 years taught at Carver Elementary School until she retired two years ago.
“As a teacher, a resident and a parent, you would be doing a disservice if you adopt the Academics Advisory Committee’s policy,” Flanagan said. “I don’t know what that current research is you are talking about…the harder you work, the better you are going to be. If you attempt to dumb down our kids, I will oppose you in every way.”
Flanagan then threatened to launch a candidacy for a seat on the San Marino School Board.
Approaching the midnight hour, the board then heard a report on the proposed Wellness Center at San Marino High School from Principal Dr. Issaic Gates and Liz Hollingsworth, who now serves as a consultant to the district.
The board delayed a vote on the project until its next meeting on Tuesday, June 12.
“In concept they support the Wellness Center,” Cherniss said. “We will bring back more detailed staffing recommendations at the next meeting.”
The board also accepted donations from the San Marino Schools Foundation, PTAffiliates and San Marino National Little League.