The dawn of a new school year can be seen as an era of reinvention — a time to start fresh academically and socially.
While the San Marino Unified School District Board of Education last week echoed those sentiments, it also seems right where it wants to be at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, surpassing previous districtwide enrollment numbers by hundreds of students.
Through a presentation by Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Lena Richter at the Aug. 8 SMUSD Board of Education meeting, she shared that the district is starting the academic year off strong with 2,976 students. This total, though still growing, is already above what has been recorded in the last five years.
“I think everyone hit summer hard and has come back to hitting the school year harder, and it’s just really a testament to the amazing energy that San Marino offers,” said Board Clerk Jane Chon.
The data, collected up until Aug. 3, shows an upward trajectory of districtwide enrollment of 208 more students this school year than the 2,768 registered in 2022-23. This increase compares to the 2,709 students in 2021-22, the 2,781 in 2020-21 and 2,939 in 2019-20.
With 754 students enrolled this year at Carver Elementary, the school has demonstrated the largest boost in enrollment with 102 additional students, compared to the end of last school year at 652.
Valentine Elementary, with 683 students this year, has also brought up their enrollment by 13 students compared to the end of last year when they only had 670.
“We are pleased to see the strong growth at the elementary levels and are hopeful that these students will carry on their educational journey and matriculate to our secondary schools, increasing and sustaining enrollment at the secondary level,” Richter said.
Also contributing to the rise in districtwide enrollment is Huntington Middle School, with 681 students enrolled — 45 more students than the 636 they had last year. San Marino High School counts 858 students enrolled this year versus 810 last year, adding a total of 48 students.
The makeup of the enrollment data is broken down by interdistrict permits, with 13% from SMUSD employees, 1% from the city of San Marino employees, 21% from local business owners, 12% from other employment-related positions, 3% from legacy permits. The remaining 49% are regular interdistrict permits.
On the first day of school last week, backpack-laden students weren’t the only ones being welcomed to campus — so were those making their debuts in new leadership roles, including that of Huntington Middle School interim Principal Mary Hazlett and interim Assistant Principal Michelle Cota, as well as SMHS Principal Benjamin Wolf. Just a day earlier on Aug. 8, they received an introduction by the Board of Education.
Hazlett and Cota were praised by Superintendent Linda de la Torre in her remarks.
“Ms. Hazlett’s promotion to the position of interim principal is a testament to her dedication and exceptional performance as assistant principal under the esteemed leadership of Mr. Daryl Topalian over the past two years,” de la Torre said. “Her ability to actively collaborate with staff, engage students and build a positive school culture has earned her respect and admiration in the school community.”
She continued to say that: “Ms. Cota brings a wealth of teaching and leadership experience to her new role.
“She has been an integral role of the San Marino Unified School District community since 2015. … This dynamic duo has hunkered down, and they have been working tirelessly over the summer for what is to be the best opening of school at Huntington Middle School.”
When Hazlett took the podium, she said she felt a “profound sense of responsibility as the newly appointed interim principal.
“I commit to providing an environment of safety and wellness, continuing to implement a system of fiscal health and sustainability, demonstrating a conscious culture of service, value and appreciation, and I will make sure our staff and teachers continue to prepare our students to be highly qualified, global citizens,” Hazlett said. “Throughout my life and career, I have always had high expectations for myself and everyone around me. That’s a perfect match for the high-performing Huntington and the values of the San Marino community.”
Next was Cota’s turn. She expressed being grateful to serve HMS’ educators, students and parents.
“San Marino Unified has been my second family over the past eight years, and I’ve grown so much in that time. This community has supported me in growing as a teacher, becoming a mother — my son is starting at Valentine tomorrow — and most recently furthering my professional goals. It is my commitment to not only be deserving of that support, but reciprocate it by doing everything in my power to provide the best education experience to our Fox family.”
When introducing Wolf, de la Torre spoke of his dedication to fostering a positive and inclusive learning environment that she believes aligns “perfectly” with SMHS’ core values.
“Dr. Wolf’s forward-thinking approach and visibility in the school community created an atmosphere where students, parents and staff all feel respected, involved and motivated to excel,” de la Torre said. “His passion for education coupled with his ability to inspire and lead will undoubtedly have a transformative impact on our students and the entire school community.”
In response, Wolf said: “This is going to be a phenomenal year. … I look forward to hearing from our teachers and from our students and the community, and I appreciate this opportunity.”
New SMUSD student board member representative Megan Choi, a SMHS senior, said she hopes to embody the voice of her peers this school year.
“I’ve been so lucky to go through all three schools from the San Marino Unified School District, and I really think going into senior year, I’m so excited to soak up all of those traditions and everything that makes San Marino so special,” Choi said.
“I really look forward to representing the student body, and I do appreciate the opportunity we are given to have a voice and to give our input to the district all of you have worked so hard to build and maintain. Speaking on behalf of the students, we know that a lot of change is coming, and change can cause uncertainty, and uncertainty can cause a little bit of fear, but I would also like to say that I have no doubt that this year will be anything but amazing.”
First published in the Aug. 17 issue of the San Marino Tribune