HomeBlocksFront-GridState of the District Highlights Arts, Academics

State of the District Highlights Arts, Academics

By Eliza Partika
San Marino Tribune

Superintendent Linda de la Torre and Board President Shelley Ryan elevated the academic and artistic achievements of students, as well as contributions to athletics and community-oriented activities, at last week’s State of the District address.
Ryan thanked the community and organizations that assist the San Marino Unified School District, including the Chinese Club, the San Marino Schools Foundation, PTA, PTSA, PTA Affiliates, Rotary and the San Marino City Club.
She also acknowledged the continued partnerships with Pasadena City College, Caltech on STEM and college readiness, and the USC Keck School of Medicine on medical arts programs that prepare students for positions in the growing health care industry.
Ryan highlighted students’ academic vigor through data collected by the school district: 87% of students meet or exceed standards in English language arts; 83% of students meet or exceed standards in math; of the 91% of students taking AP classes, 87% earned college credit through AP exams; and 80% of students from SMUSD who apply are accepted into top 25 colleges such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford.
All SMUSD schools were awarded California Distinguished Schools award and National Blue Ribbon awards. The district has also won a Golden Bell for honors humanities, and an award for mitigating risk and emphasizing technology during the pandemic.
“The board is committed to ensuring that our students obtain a well-rounded education in a healthy, safe learning environment, and that they are well prepared for success, wherever their journey takes them, be it in college, a career and most importantly in life,” said Ryan.
De la Torre highlighted the high school’s medical arts program as an example of academic innovations that began this year, to align with the state’s predictions for the job market — the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that one-third of new jobs will be in health care and senior services in 2023.
“Our goals are to create a culture of service and to produce graduates who are high-quality global citizens,” de la Torre said, as she reaffirmed the district’s goal to educate the whole child.
Principals from each school spoke about the academic and artistic achievements at their school, including theater and band awards, community service opportunities, and physical education’s role in creating a well-rounded education.
Performances at the State of the District included appearances from the Titan High drumline and the Honors Wind Ensemble from Huntington Middle School.

PTA, Schools Foundation Help Students Prosper
The PTA plans and executes community service opportunities for all schools and supports classroom enrichment, including through annual fundraisers supporting arts and music programs.
The PTA also supported the athletics programs at the school, raising half a million dollars for athletics and arts and activities and putting in 100,000 volunteer hours.
The San Marino Schools Foundation will support the district with a $2 million grant funding five teachers at each of the four school sites: 1% of the $2.4 million goal has been met as of Feb. 24, with 39% of San Marino families having donated to the foundation.
“We exist to support the mission of providing an excellent foundation for all of our graduates,” said foundation president Alison Moller.
The Chinese Club partnered in support of San Marino schools and students, raising $20,000 this year, and $800,000 over 34 years. Club President Alan Chen presented the check to the district.

Open Session Focuses on Special Education Staffing
In a public comment during the meeting’s open session, Marguerite Lindsay, an inclusion aide and special education specialist at Carver Elementary School spoke to the board on the worsening strain on special education teachers, aides, case carriers and other paraprofessionals working with students with individualized education plans at all school sites.
“We are stretched to the limit this year,” she said, underscoring the need for support amid changing IEPs and minutes of instruction, and scheduling student assessments. Lindsay noted how large cohorts of incoming students, coupled with sudden changes to schedules that rely on students’ behavior and individual needs, have strained teachers. She said substitute teachers are sometimes assigned transitional kindergarten classrooms rather than being assigned to IEP management, where they are needed.
“Yes, TKs are mandated by law but so are IEPs. IEPs are considered a legal document,” she said. “Subs ensure full IEP minutes are met instead of endangering noncompliance from the district,” Lindsay said. Special education case carriers — who are responsible for ensuring proper supports and services are in place to cater to a student’s individual education — must continually grapple with sudden schedule changes if a paraprofessional is absent, especially when there is a limited pool of substitutes. Lindsay said precious time is used by case carriers and aides like herself attending to these schedule changes instead of creating education plans and class schedules that meet the students’ needs. She said it is not uncommon for administrators and case carriers to step in to fill the gap.
“Sending paraprofessionals out of the district to work does not help the home district with coverage or morale. I respectfully encourage the district to consider not only the special education caseload numbers but include other factors such as the impact on student success and care teams,” she said.
Lindsay’s public comment was the only one on the docket for the meeting.


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