San Marino Unified School District Principals Stuart Caldwell of Carver and Whitney McAlpine of Valentine speak on the phone nearly daily, forming a close-knit partnership to weave one cohesive vision for their elementary school goals with those of the Board of Education.
On Aug. 22, the pair presented their joint action plan to the Board, covering a variety of topics.
“In our quest to align our two elementary schools and make sure that they are doing things collaboratively, they have really aligned their action plan with the Board’s goals as two elementary schools working together, and I think that’s really important and impactful,” said Superintendent Linda de la Torre, praising Caldwell and McAlpine’s teamwork.
In February, there will be a State of the District Address, de la Torre explained, which is like a midpoint check-in on the progress the schools are making in meeting those benchmarks. Then, in March or April, she will give a detailed account of the steps leadership has taken to meet the Board goals.
“This will be the second consecutive year we have followed this process,” de la Torre said. “This really allows our community and the public to have some insight into the Board’s work on things that are really important to the Board of Education and the things the leadership team is doing to meet the needs of the school district within that vein.”
SAFETY AND WELLNESS
McAlpine kicked off the first point of action, which covered safety and wellness. The principal noted that it is not only a top priority districtwide, but it is also a main focus at the elementary school level.
She said Valentine and Carver will continue their annual trainings and drills for its staff and students as they teach and also practice their procedures for earthquakes, fires and other critical incidents. Additionally, their School Site Safety teams will review their comprehensive School Site Safety plans in collaboration with the San Marino Police and Fire departments.
“In order to create safety and wellness at our schools, it includes community involvement and awareness,” said McAlpine, who noted that both she and Caldwell have received positive feedback from Parent Safety Night.
“Parents want to be partners with us in creating a safe and secure learning environment for our students and that happens when we have alignment and when we have communication,” McAlpine said. “We are also prioritizing safety and wellness through our School Site Council meetings, with participation from SMPD and SMFD, and even our PTA meetings — everyone is very involved.”
Both schools have incorporated information from the Titan Wellness Center into their parent-student handbooks to aid parents in understanding what resources are available to them, as well as referral details if they chose to seek help privately. The schools will also continue to promote the services from the Titan Wellness Center in their weekly newsletters to families.
Valentine and Carver is proceeding with the implementation of positive behavior intervention and support plans, also known as PBIS, as well as restorative practices.
“We are forming a cohort of staff members to receive training on restorative practices and look forward to these individuals becoming trainers for other staff members so we can really grow the capacity at our schools,” McAlpine said. “We have both ordered our PBIS signage for our schools because we want our schools to be welcoming, but we also want students to visualize the expectations we talk about every day and that’s really going to help us maintain that safe campus and positive student behavior.”
FISCAL HEALTH AND SUSTAINABILITY
Both schools are growing enrollment numbers. Valentine has added three classes, while Carver has added four, with 678 students at Valentine and 716 at Carver — an announcement made by McAlpine on behalf of both elementary schools during the presentation.
“With the amount of requests from families wanting to join our schools, our employees wanting their children to attend our schools and the many, many school tours to prospective families we do throughout the year, it is clear that being a Valentine Viking and Carver Pioneer comes with great pride as our students receive a superior education,” McAlpine said.
In their aim to attract more students, the two schools are committed to promote and share their schools’ successes via a variety of platforms, such as social media, local news, weekly newsletters and school websites.
“It’s important to both of us that our community and those interested in attending San Marino schools are aware and knowledgeable of our academic and enrichment programs, our special events through our wonderful PTAs and our close partnerships with our parents, our families and what truly sets us apart from our surrounding schools,” McAlpine said. “There’s a lot of greatness happening at our schools, and we are both committed to continuing our pursuit of excellence through the guidance of these Board goals.”
SERVICE, CULTURE, APPRECIATION
Caldwell echoed a popular sentiment among San Marino residents, describing SMUSD as a “boutique” district.
“Demonstrating a conscious culture of service, value and appreciation — certainly that’s something that permeates all that we do here at San Marino Unified,” he said.
“We have exceptional elementary schools, and we have the great privilege and honor to have a role in leading those in continuing that work,” Caldwell added. “Part of that is giving top-notch service, right? I want to say that we are the Nordstrom of service, so we are always listening to all of our stakeholders — our students, our staff, our families, our community and trying our best to rise to do what they need. That requires regular communication with everybody.”
Caldwell noted that email has been the preferred mode of communication with parents in the past and that he and McAlpine work hard to reach out in a timely manner, with a concerted effort to meet their needs.
“We are really honored to be in this unique district, where we are able to serve our families in that way,” Caldwell said.
PREPARE STUDENTS TO BE GLOBAL CITIZENS
One area where SMUSD deviates from other districts, Caldwell said, is its ability to build foundations for its students to become high-quality global citizens.
Part of that, he said, is being recognized as California Distinguished Schools.
“That has a lot underneath it,” he said. “Our enrollment, in large part, is probably directly tied to the successes around our elementary schools. We work hard daily, our staff work hard daily and our families work hard daily to ensure we continue to offer that high-quality education.”
Celebrating cultural diversity is another component that brings pride to the district, including the offering of cultural events.
“We know that we have such rich diversity here at San Marino Unified,” Caldwell said. “If I count the languages spoken here at Carver, it’s certainly more than I can count on two hands, and our families feel welcome and part of our school system and we are really proud to be able to do that.”
At the close of their presentation, the principals were met with feedback and support for the camaraderie shown between the two elementary schools.
“I don’t think that they’ve ever been functioning as one team before,” said Board member Francesca Gill. “There has been that friendly rivalry, and I think that will continue, but I love that we really are, and should be, one elementary family.”
First published in the Aug. 24 issue of the San Marino Tribune