Considering Shelley Ryan has been an educator for 34 years, put her twin sons through San Marino schools and has served on the San Marino School Board for the past five years, one might guess the current board president has adopted a “been there, done that” attitude.
Ryan claims she is as energized as she was in November, 2013 when she was first elected to her post and is looking to build on the enviable success of the SMUSD.
“I told you five years ago that I would roll up my sleeves and get things done and I am proud of what we have accomplished,” Ryan said. “We have kept the district in the top one percent of all the public school districts in the state. We have been the top-rated school district for 15 consecutive years as far as API scores are concerned, and another three years according to CAASPP. That’s 18 years at the top of the state, which is remarkable. Our schools are also nationally ranked, as well. All of our schools are Distinguished Schools and Blue Ribbon Schools. I recognize that these honors are not the only indicators of success and that success comes at different levels, but this is a solid foundation.”
Ryan told The Tribune she has “heard from the community” a desire to have their high school seniors admitted to the best colleges in the nation.
“I have spoken to parents individually and through the Academics Advisory Committee,” Ryan explained. “It is our desire to provide the best course offerings possible and we have already taken several steps to make that a reality.”
Ryan touted the SMUSD’s Honors Humanities Seminar, which partners with the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens to provide a multi-faceted experience for juniors and seniors at San Marino High School.
“I am very proud of that class,” Ryan said. “It won the Golden Bell Award for its innovative use of community resources. It is a blended program, whereby the student completes a lot of the instructional elements at home and in the classroom before going onsite to conduct actual research and data collection.”
Ryan said the board is currently designing a Computer Science curriculum and is heading towards an AP Computer Science program. She also mentioned the popular STEM Research Honors course, which partners with six professors at Caltech.
“Both of these relationships, with Caltech and The Huntington, took three years to develop,” Ryan said. “This is all a part of our goal to extend learning beyond the classroom by matching professors with students.”
Ryan also mentioned San Marino High School’s popular, successful Robotics Club and the FIRST Lego League, which is popular among San Marino’s elementary school students.
“Nobody else in the nation has these programs,” Ryan said. “ And I wouldn’t be surprised if we strike a partnership in the field of healthcare with an organization such as Huntington Hospital.”
Outgoing Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss made campus safety one of his top priorities and Ryan is in accord with that thinking.
“We discussed at our most recent board meeting the need to better vet every on-campus visitor in the district,” Ryan said. “Research around the nation has shown that campus shooters are often well known among the community. We are looking at single points of entry at all of our campuses. We are also considering school resource officers at our campuses, which we discussed at our most recent joint meeting with the San Marino City Council. This is a partnership we are considering.”
Ryan also touted the need for ongoing parent engagement and involvement.
“We continue to rely on the San Marino Schools Foundation for its annual $2 million commitment,” Ryan said. “We are also actively involved with the PTAs and the PTSA in exploring other funding sources for projects such as the wellness center at San Marino High School. It is my goal to see that the district engage the whole child, through academics, athletics, the arts and now, activities. We want to provide balanced, robust experiences for all of our students.”
Ryan also stressed the importance of communicating with the community.
“Through the mobile application we developed and through our constant contact, this is crucial,” Ryan added. “Not only how we distribute information, but we must also be very careful how we protect our students by disseminating the information with great discretion.”
The Barth Athletics Complex, which is currently under construction, remains a top priority.
“This was many years in the making and the community wanted the gym and associated facilities at Huntington Middle School,” Ryan said. “When we realized we could not get enough money from the state, many, many members of the community stepped forward to help.”
Ryan currently serves as the principal of Ynez Elementary School in Monterey Park, a K-8th grade school with 900 students.
“My job requires me to make practical decisions,” Ryan said. “And that is how I am approaching the next four years on the school board. It is our job to see that every dollar goes to our students. We make difficult decisions. but they are the correct decisions because they help kids. When you think of San Marino, you often think of the parks and the beautiful homes. But the most important resource in this city is our children. We only get 50% of the money it takes to educate a child from the state and we have to rely on local funding for the rest. Also, 87% of what we spend goes to salaries and benefits. We have only 13% to use to make sure our children get the best possible education.”
Ryan said her unique experience suits her for another term.
“I have described it to a parent that I can see myself in 360 degrees,” she explained. “Working in education, being a parent and being a board member gives a fresh perspective. We have lived in this town for 23 years. I know and love the San Marino community, I love the kids and I have no agenda other than to protect this district. I am open to change, but I also don’t think we should change just for change. Change is measured against constraint on our budget and resources.”
Ryan and her husband, Kelly, have three children.