Kipke Voted in as New School Board President | Suzie Abajian Honored for Service

Michele Kipke accepts the gavel from Dr. Suzie Abajian during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting at the South Pasadena Unified School District

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | Outgoing Board of Education President Suzie Abajian, joined by fellow board members and members of the cabinet of the South Pasadena Unified School District, was honored for her one-year service. She received a plaque during the South Pasadena Unified School District Board meeting Tuesday night

Back in a familiar role, Dr. Michele Kipke will serve her third term as president of the South Pasadena Board of Education.

Her peers on the school board unanimously selected Kipke to hold the highest seat for another year. She replaces Dr. Suzie Abajian, who will remain as a board member. As part of the reorganization of the 5-member panel Tuesday night, Ruby Kalra becomes the board clerk.

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | South Pasadena Board of Education Member, Dr. Michele Kipke was recently voted in as the new President, while Dr. Ruby Kalra took Kipke’s former role as Clerk

Long on service to local schools, Kipke, who has served on the Board of Education since 2008, was the board president in 2010-2011 and 2014-2015, and the District liaison to the city’s Youth Commission in 2006.

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“She cares deeply about children,” said Dr. Geoff Yantz, superintendent of the South Pasadena Unified School District. “She cares deeply about the community. She takes great responsibility in her role as a board member and carries out her duties and fiduciary responsibility seriously with great integrity. She is respectful to all people. With those characteristics she has proven and will continue to be a valuable school board member.”

For two years, from 2006 to 2008, Kipke served on the Board of Trustees of the South Pasadena Educational Foundation.

“I look forward to this coming year,” she said. “I’m honored. Thank you very much.”

Professionally, Kipke has been a court-appointed special advocate and an educational guardian for children under the jurisdiction of the Department of Children and Family Services for the past 16 years.

In addition, she is a professor of pediatrics and preventative medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, and vice-chair of research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Abajian, saying goodbye to the high ranking post, was praised by her colleagues after guiding the local school board over the past year. Following her career as a K-12 teacher, she received her Ph.D. in education from UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

“Suzie, I just want to thank you for an extraordinary year,” Kipke, the outgoing board clerk, told Abajian, honored for her year in office. “We so appreciated your leadership and guidance through the years. You govern from your heart. You have a very strong moral compass and I just want to thank you for everything.”

Abajian, who is expecting a child in about 10 weeks, received a collection of children’s books as a gift from those on the school board.

Kipke presented Abajian with a plaque dated December 10, 2019 reading: “In appreciation for your year of service as President of the Governing Board for 2018-2019 school year.”

“Thank you so much,” said a heartfelt Abajian. “It has been amazing being a part of this board. “I feel this has been the strongest board I’ve been a part of and I’m really grateful for all of you, for the cabinet and grateful to be a part of this team.”

It’s a tradition for the outgoing president to give a gift to others serving on the board. Abajian gave away the book “Tongue Tied – The Lives of Multilingual Children in Public Education” to those seated next to her.

“This was a book that I used to assign my students when I was a professor of education at Occidental College when I taught a class in language acquisition,” she explained. “It’s really a great book that gives us a window into the lives of immigrant children, multilingual children and their families, their experiences in public education. Myself being an immigrant, and also a multilingual person, I relate to a lot of the writing in this book. It’s a compilation of poems, short essays and excerpts from other books. This is my gift to you and I hope you enjoy reading it.”

Since 2005, Abajian has served as a field supervisor for the Teacher Education Program at UCLA, an educational researcher at UCLA, a mathematics professor at Loyola Marymount University and an education professor at Occidental College. Today, Abajian is a district administrator for the Orange County Department of Education.

Abajian, similar to Dr. Kipke, “exhibits great character, puts students first, cares deeply about human kind, our community and always wants to do better,” explained Yantz. “This past year, I was fortunate to work closely with Dr. Abajian. She was always well prepared, very insightful and provided excellent guidance.”