First published in the Oct. 28 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The coronavirus pandemic has posed numerous challenges to students and educators throughout the nation since March 2020, and now the La Cañada Unified School District has made it a priority to begin the recovery process.
The district Governing Board this week unanimously approved Superintendent Wendy Sinnette’s goals for the 2021-22 academic year, two of which focus on helping students continue to make the transition from remote and hybrid learning to regular in-person instruction.
Sinnette presented four objectives during a board meeting on Tuesday. Some involve the district’s Measure LCF bond program — which funds various construction projects — and the health, safety and security of students amid a pandemic. The goals that received the most attention, however, included giving pupils and teachers the tools to address interruptions in learning in the previous school year and continuing to implement the district’s wellness and belongingness initiative.
Data from the district’s assessment of the 2020-21 school year showed that LCUSD students in certain grades struggled to master the standards in English language arts and math courses. Thirty-seven percent of 7th-graders did not meet expectations in math at the end of the year, and only 52% of 11th-graders met expectations in English — numbers that are not typical of a district that prides itself on providing a “rigorous and robust” education.
However, the LCUSD isn’t alone in its students’ recent struggles. Districts throughout the nation are working to address what is commonly referred to as “learning loss,” a term that board Vice President Dan Jeffries said is unfair.
“There weren’t things that were learned and lost, there were things that were never learned,” he said. “And with that, we need to be cautious about not putting too much emphasis on any of these tests.”
Anais Wenn, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, told the board that the reliance on virtual instruction for nearly a year affected many students, especially in regard to math courses.
“It was almost a whole year of instruction done virtually, and you don’t know how each child learns through a screen,” she told the board. “I personally as a parent saw my child respond very differently looking at the screen as the teacher was teaching and sitting in the classroom. It was much more challenging, especially math.”
Wenn added that recent assessment tests were “completely different” from those in previous years, and Jeffries suggested that his colleagues and stakeholders look at the empirical data.
“We hear that our students are saying that there are things that they are missing, things that they didn’t learn,” he said. “We are hearing teachers saying there are things that didn’t get taught. It’s not the kids’ fault. There just weren’t enough hours to cover everything. It’s not the teachers’ fault. They did everything they could.”
School administrators and teachers have already developed plans to identify areas of need for each site and grade, and Sinnette said she is committed to overseeing and making sure the district provides them with support and resources to accomplish the goal of helping students meet education standards.
“[Rigorous and robust academics are] one of the hallmarks of our district, but we have to really double down on it with regard to our response as we emerge from the pandemic,” Sinnette said. “We want to hang on to the best practices that are newly created from the opportunity of the recent crisis and [keep] innovating as we see needs emerge with regard to our students. The needs are changing, and so our responses need to change.”
One of those responses is to continue the district’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion. The district has already expanded counseling services to help students achieve their academic and individual goals.
“This is really important,” Sinnette said, “because we have to make sure that we support our kids in making sure they have a world-class education and mastering and exceeding in all standards, that they have our support that emphasizes our core values of student wellness, health and safety, inclusion and belonging, diversity and equitable access to programs and services for each distinct and individual learner.”
Sinnette added that transparency and communication will be key in achieving this goal and assured parents that have expressed concern over political bias in the classroom that the LCUSD will ensure instructional oversight and accountability to the state standards.
Communication was also emphasized in the health and safety and bond program goals. Sinnette said she wants to include community input on current and future construction projects and better inform the board and stakeholders about projects and changes to the district’s COVID-19 safety plan.