HomeCommunity NewsSMUSD Board Discusses Programs, Safety

SMUSD Board Discusses Programs, Safety

By Mitch Lehman
San Marino Tribune

The San Marino Unified School District Board tackled a series of “priority initiatives,” at its meeting on May 9 and discussed updates about the dual immersion language program, wellness center and school safety.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, the school board heard from Rotary Club of San Marino member Bill Payne, who spoke about a plaque that commemorates the life of Kathy Fiscus, who died at 3 years old after falling into a well in 1949 in San Marino, needs attention. The plaque is located near San Marino High School’s softball field, and is in disrepair and in need of relocation, he noted.
Bill Deverell, an author and staff member at the Huntington Library, has recently conducted research that calls into question the location of the well in which Fiscus lost her life.
“Maybe we are starting fresh,” said Payne, who volunteered to help fundraise for the project. “I am hoping you think this is the right time to do something.”
Research done by Deverell has shown that the well was in a field, which is now near where the football field is located, and perhaps near the west end of the track. Payne is hoping to construct a memorial near the site.

Assistant Superintendent Lena Richter provided an update on San Marino High School’s dual-language immersion program that is scheduled to launch in the fall.
“One of our board goals is to produce high-quality global citizens and this will be a big part of the students’ education,” said Richter. “Along with block scheduling and the Titan Medical Arts Academy, which is also set for a fall launch. Our goal is to promote bilingualism, as well as cultural competence and awareness.”
The dual language immersion program will feature instruction in both English and Mandarin. Just last month, the district notified families who were selected for the program.
“This will allow the non-native speakers to acquire the language at a much quicker rate,” said Richter. “We are working with PCC, which has a very robust Mandarin language program. We are also working with the Chinese School of San Marino.”
The Titan Medical Arts Academy is also scheduled for a full launch in the fall.
“This has been one of our district initiatives,” Richter said.
San Marino High School Principal Jason Kurtenbach said he believes the district has the right classes to launch the academy.
“We have 75 students who are interested in joining this academy and we have approximately 820 students, so that is close to 10%,” Kurtenbach said. “All the materials have been paid for by the Rotary Club of San Marino and Partnership for Awareness.”
Included in the curriculum will be state-of-the-art Anatomage tables that students will use to study the medical arts.
“We could end up producing kids who want to be doctors, nurses, medical scribes,” said Kurtenbach.
“All of these things are things that people have said could not be done,” said school board member Jane Chon.

Assistant Superintendents Michel Lin and Stephen Choi then provided the board with a safety update.
“We identify students who we believe are at-risk and could display violent behavior,” Lin said.
Lin also said the two elementary schools will be updating their ALICE — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate — training, which needs a refresher course. Lin was formerly the principal of Carver Elementary School.
Lin said that the district needs to “harden” its campuses in order to prevent crime
and other threatening behavior.
He then said the district is also providing on-site CPR and first aid training and that 102 staff members have voluntarily registered for the training.
Lin said that for years, schools have relied on walls for protection and safety.
“We are now turning to technology,” he said, adding that the district can receive immediate background checks and they have added San Marino Police Department dispatch services.
He said the district has been actively applying for a justice department grant to upgrade their surveillance cameras.
“Another area is cyber-security,” Lin said. “Unfortunately, K-12 campuses are targets. The district recently completed a risk assessment, and we need to replace systems that are approaching end-of-life.”
He said the SMUSD continues to use internet filters and that the district is cautiously optimistic to see how artificial intelligence might be used to improve learning and teaching.
Lin then mentioned the Facilities Advisory Committee, which he said has met four times since January.
Later in the meeting, the board approved a contract with LPA Facilities to develop a facilities master plan and possibly work toward a bond campaign.
But the district has more immediate facility needs. Lin said that Valentine and HMS need some $900,000 worth of HVAC repairs, which they will be able to complete with one-time money that must be used by September 2024.

The board highlighted that the month of May is Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month as well as Mental Health Awareness Month. To that end, Huntington Middle School Principal Daryl Topalian took the audience on a virtual tour of the library and wellness center at Huntington Middle School.
“The wellness center is a place where we are proactive and where students have a place to go,” said counselor June Gonzales, who has been at the school for 17 years. “We have a wellness lounge as well as some new wellness aspects in the library. That is very unique for a middle school. This is a great place where students can talk and visit.”
The wellness lounge is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., with personal counseling available.
HMS converted a classroom to a wellness lounge, complete with therapy tables, a zen experience and sand trays.
“All of this is for self-regulation. There are varied seating options and meditation mats.
“It gives our students a break from traditional classroom seating,” said Gonzales. “We have wellness interns and mindfulness activities. Students are discouraged from bringing their cellphones and Chromebooks into the center.
The wellness center also features “Peace in a Pod,” which is a large circular chair for students who also have the option of using noise-cancelling headphones.
“The students’ sole focus is on wellness,” Gonzales said.
“We like to see the students create an inner calm, on their breathing and gratitude,” Gonzales said. “Our students have access to an array of mental health programs and activities.”

The board also received a report from the San Marino High School Titan esports team, which recently won the state championship for League of Legends.
Nathan Teng, captain of the League of Legends team, represented the squad at Tuesday’s meeting and reported that the team has compiled a 7-1 record this season.
“We were able to win because of our synergy,” said Teng. “We have really been able to grow the club this year. Our esports program has brought so much joy to our players.”


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