San Marino is widely known for its stellar scholastic reputation. It’s a proud trademark the local school district does not take lightly — or for granted.

The same can be said of its community members, about 200 of whom rallied through record rainfall to show support for San Marino Unified at the third annual State of the District address held at Huntington Middle School’s Kenneth F. White Auditorium on Feb. 6.

Superintendent Linda de la Torre, who helped spearhead the State of the District event in the city, said the turnout was the largest yet.

Giving the State of the District address each year allows residents to measure SMUSD’s progress, said de la Torre, who noted that this update to the public also serves as a time for internal reflection.

“The State of the District is absolutely necessary,” she said. “It’s kind of a celebration of the work we are doing, and I really do think we are doing a great job. I think this is the best leadership team that this district has ever had in the 30 years I have been here. … I’m very fortunate to have the quality of people on my executive team and the School Board, and the principals we have are amazing.

“Everyone is just so invested in excellence, and my team is so hardworking and willing to execute on everything that comes their way. They don’t care how long it takes or how much manpower it requires. If we have a project, we work together and get it done.”

Throughout the evening, de la Torre introduced her executive team members, who reported about the status of their respective fields.

Photo courtesy SMUSD / Kindergartners in the district’s Mandarin Dual Language Immersion Program hold their hands over their hearts.


Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Lena Richter said the department has worked purposefully to promote Board priorities through its intentionally designed programs and initiatives aimed at educating the whole child, expanding teacher expertise, fostering positive relationships, supporting students’ foundational needs, cultivating safe and inclusive learning environments, developing opportunities for student agency and utilizing research-based educational practices that embrace innovation and collaboration.

“San Marino Unified is committed to all of this work, because for us, every student is every student and that translates to all means all,” Richter said.

The Educational Services Department has been focused on delivering individualized learning experiences through various learning strategies, which include multitiered systems of support, universal design for learning and academic diagnostic assessments for personalized learning pathways.

“Student success is at the center of every facet of district operations,” Richter said. “Over past years, the San Marino Unified School District has continuously focused on expanding cutting-edge programs and opportunities to better prepare students for college, career and life. To best prepare our students for their future is to provide them with opportunities to engage in real-world learning and application.”

Two innovative programs that launched this year are the Titan Medical Arts Academy at San Marino High School and the first kindergarten Mandarin Dual Language Immersion Program at Carver and Valentine elementary schools.

Our district stands poised at the threshold of a transformative journey, one defined by student empowerment, safety, fiscal responsibility and cultural consciousness. Together, as a united community, we will rise to meet the challenges that lie ahead.


Additionally, Richter said the Educational Services Department has implemented programs like positive behavioral interventions and support, and restorative practices to prioritize a safe physical and social-emotional learning environment, where “students can feel engaged, secure and empowered.”

“Creating environments of safety and wellness allows us to foster flourishing learning environments and authentic connections, further strengthening a sense of personal belonging so that every student feels like they belong,” Richter said. “These programs also allow our students to build personal responsibility to engage in inquiry and exploration in learning environments so that they are equipped with the skills and the mindset to thrive in a vast interconnected world.”

Photo by Natalie Miranda / Members of the San Marino Unified Youth Choir gave an endearing performance last week.


Chief Technology Officer Stephen Choi shared that SMUSD is in the process of upgrading its security camera system thanks to federal grant funds, which will allow SMUSD to better monitor potential threats and to collaborate more closely with the San Marino Police Department.

Choi also said that the Technology Services Department has taken significant strides in enhancing cybersecurity by implementing multifactor authentication for faculty and staff.

“This measure is crucial in preventing cyber incidents and ensures a secure digital environment for all,” he said.

In regard to communications, the pilot launch of ParentSquare has been a “resounding success,” Choi said.

“We are able to reach 100% of our parents through multiple channels, including email, text and app notifications,” Choi said. “What’s even more exciting is the flexibility the platform offers. Parents can customize their notification preferences and communicate in their preferred language, with automated translation facilitation seamless interaction. Soon, we will introduce online permission slips and secure document delivery through ParentSquare, streamlining communication, and reducing paper waste.”

This year, Choi applauded all who participated in SMUSD’s TECH Academy, which was reintroduced this year. The academy offered faculty and staff courses after school to learn more about topics, such as classroom technology, creative digital arts, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and data-driven decision-making.

The TECH Academy keeps SMUSD educators at the forefront of technological advancements, Choi said. In that same vein, he believes artificial intelligence can be used to propel education forward.

“As a district, we are not merely keeping pace, we are thriving and innovating,” Choi said. “I’m honored to serve on the Los Angeles County Office of Education AI Task Force. This opportunity empowers us to contribute toward the development of responsible use guidelines to harness the power of AI. We firmly believe AI holds the promise of personalized teaching and learning that will propel us to new heights.

“In conclusion, the state of technology in San Marino schools is robust, forward-thinking, dedicated to the well-being and advancement of our students and community. Together, we will continue to embrace technology as a powerful tool for education, safety and innovation.”

Photo courtesy SMUSD / Students in SMUSD’s inaugural class of the kindergarten Mandarin Dual Language Immersion Program lead the Pledge of Allegiance in Mandarin and English.


Chief Business Official Michael Lin said the Business Services Department provides support in areas, such as payroll, finance, accounting, procurement, maintenance and operations, food services, property and liability, and facility use.

Since the last State of the District, Lin said SMUSD secured a $200,000 grant for new efficient ovens for its school kitchens as a way of recognizing the district’s commitment to healthy eating and wellness. The district has also engaged the community in long-range facility planning to address aging campuses and basic essential repairs of school facilities.

Lin also shared that the Business Services Department is exploring a zero-tax bond this November to address areas in its four schools that need basic heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and repairs due to water erosion and age.


Director of Human Resources Jason Rose reported that SMUSD has retained more than 90% of its new certificated employees over the last two years.

“While recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers can be a challenge to any district, I’m happy to report that the San Marino Unified School District employs targeted recruitment, enhanced mentorship, increased professional development, partnerships with educational institutions and outside organizations, along with an employee recognition system,” Rose said.

SMUSD’s collaboration with both the certificated and classified unions is pivotal, Rose said.

“The Human Resources Department fosters dialogue with union leadership and by valuing the expertise of our staff members from both unions, we are often able to exercise joint decision-making with bargaining units, thus making teamwork the norm in San Marino,” he said.

Total compensation is crucial, according to Rose, who noted that the Human Resources Department commits to a thorough review each year, including competitive salaries, health benefits, working conditions and increased professional growth opportunities.

“We are proud of the total compensation package that we provide our employees … which is supported by a large number of applicants we routinely receive,” Rose said.

The well-being of the certificated and classified staff members is a top priority, Rose said, with SMUSD holding monthly safety drills at all school sites and sending out monthly newsletters that focus on mental health. He also added that employees have access to wellness programs, and SMUSD often collaborates with other district departments to improve facility safety.

“The San Marino Unified School District’s Human Resources Department believes investing in our certificated and classified staff is investing in our students and their success,” Rose said.

Reflecting on the presentations given by her executive team on the state of the district, de la Torre gushed about how grateful she is to be leading SMUSD.

“I’m so proud and so blessed every single day to come to work here and be a part of this team and move the needle forward in San Marino,” de la Torre said. “I see so many positive and innovative things happening right now. It’s not business as usual, we’re not just doing the same old things every year that are on the calendar. … It’s very gratifying, yet we keep looking toward what we can do next.

Photo by Natalie Miranda / The San Marino High School Dance Company performs a routine for attendees.

“We have to stay relevant in education. We have to make sure we are connecting with our students, hearing their voices and listening to what they need to prepare them for the best future they can possibly have. Every child — every single child — has the ability to be successful, if they get what they need.”

The evening included comments from SMUSD leadership, with principals from each school site introducing themselves to the community and speaking on what their campuses have to offer the children of San Marino. Students from various grade levels also graced the stage to showcase their talents through song, dance, instruments, and speech and debate.

Board of Education President Shelley Ryan said she was happy to see so many people come out and celebrate the district’s accomplishments alongside her and the rest of the SMUSD family.

“We really got to see not only a snapshot, but a 360-degree view of our school district,” Ryan said. “We focused on academics, athletics and the arts. … There was not one missing piece, and together, that’s what makes San Marino such a special place.”

Next for the “boutique district,” as it is fondly referred to internally, is surging forward with its mission to educate San Marino children.

“As we look to the future, we look forward to providing every student with a well-rounded, world-class education,” de la Torre said. “We recognize the need to not only prepare them academically, but also to inspire them to embrace change, discover a lifelong love of learning, seek out their passions and practice kindness, compassion and self-care so they may grow to be well-educated, independent thinkers and confident global citizens. We don’t do this alone. It takes an entire community. We do this with the many partnerships we have and with our parents and families, and community groups and civic leaders. We do it together.

“When all these pieces come together, it’s magic. When all these pieces come together, we can continue to support every single student who attends San Marino schools. In the San Marino Unified School District, if you can dream it, you can achieve it. Anything is possible.”

Ryan added: “Our district stands poised at a threshold of a transformative journey, one defined by student empowerment, safety, fiscal responsibility and cultural consciousness. Together, as a united community, we will rise to meet the challenges that lie ahead, and together, we will achieve unparalleled excellence in education.”

First published in the Feb. 15 issue of the San Marino Tribune