South Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Geoff Yantz anticipates a smooth opening as local public campuses are set to open their doors on Thursday morning for the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
Yantz says it’s always exciting for those just coming into the district, and for others looking forward to the challenges of beginning a new grade level.
“We look forward to opening our classroom doors to returning students from last year as well as new students to the community,” said the superintendent who will make the rounds, visiting each of the district’s five schools on the first day.
Yantz was on hand at the new teacher orientation Monday morning when Karen Reed, the SPUSD’s assistant superintendent of human resources, and local Board of Education President Dr. Suzie Abajian welcomed 16 new instructors into the district. Greeting the teachers, some of whom are temporary, Reed talked about the rigorous interview process each went through to secure positions in the district.
“There were 105 candidates for six elementary school positions,” explained Reed, who handles human resources duties in the district. “Being one just to get an interview means you have to be pretty good.”
Landing a job, teachers passed a paper screening, were selected for an interview, followed by questions from a panel of principals and administrators, and finally reference checks and calls to former employers.
In the end, Reed and district officials got what they were looking for following a busy summer.
“We have a great group,” she enthused.
Meet the New Teachers
- Katherine Clark, AV, 3d grade (Temporary)
- Nicolas Simone, SPMS, Science (Temporary)
- Danielle Loo, SPMS, Broadcast Journalism
- Trey Farrell, SPMS, Band (& 5th grade Band)
- Julie Lee, AV & Marengo, Sp. Ed, RSP
- Jared “JT” Guiou, SPHS, Math & Computer Science
- Jackie Griggs, SPHS Special Ed (Temporary)
- Kayla Zimmer, MHS, 1st grade, (Temporary)
- Priscilla Dea, AV, 3rd grade – Future Mandarin Dual Language Immersion teacher. She will move to Marengo next year.
- Sarah Howard, MHS, Kindergarten – Future Spanish Dual Language Immersion teacher at MHS.
- Cristian Meza, SPMS, Social Studies
- Michelle Yeh, SPMS, English
- Teresa Argueta, SPMS, English
- Taylor Gibberson, AV, 3rd grade (Temp)
- Geraldine Ramirez, AV, 3rd Grade (Temp)
- Missing from photo: Jo Laurista-Nakata, AV Pre-K Special Ed.
What’s new at local campuses?
South Pasadena High
South Pasadena High’s strong support system – the PTSA, Booster Club and staff – have spent long hours over the summer months preparing the campus for Thursday’s opening.
In addition, the school is inching closer to another major construction effort following the opening earlier this year of a new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) building on campus.
In November, the school will break ground on an athletic facility construction project. Included will be new outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts, visitor bleachers, work on both gymnasiums and more. During the construction phase, competitions and practices will move to South Pasadena Middle School.
In addition, Saturday night bingo, a weekly and successful fundraiser for SPHS will temporarily move to SPMS while the overhaul of the athletic facilities is underway.
On the curriculum side, South Pasadena High staff and students will be introduced to A World of Difference Institute as part of a training program on campus. The research-based workshops will be brought to the campus through the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
As a leading provider of anti-bias education, ADL explains on its website that A World of Difference Institute recognizes that “attitudes and beliefs affect actions, and that each of us can have an impact on others, and ultimately, on the world in which we live.”
SPHS Principal Janet Anderson said the workshops are designed to address assess the school’s specific needs as assessed by students and staff.
Following the workshops, school staff will hold a one-day interactive seminar, as up to 50 volunteer students will receive two-day peer leadership training, “all with the goal of building understanding of the value and benefits of diversity and to improve intergroup relations,” said Anderson in a message to SPHS parents. “The impetus for this was to help us all learn to hold unbiased conversations, in which all voices can be heard and acknowledged.”
South Pasadena Middle School
“Pardon our dust” might be words heard often at South Pasadena Middle School as construction on the old gymnasium on campus is currently taking place, converting it into an arts building, black box theater and computer lab.
“It’s being built inside the old building but with a completely different configuration,” explained SPMS Principal Dave Kubela, noting that the project will take about a year to complete.
Five new instructors, including two English, social studies, a broadcast journalism teacher and band teacher, will come aboard the campus.
On Monday, members of ASB (Associated Student Body) were busy showing incoming sixth grade students around campus. It’s a tradition that brings all ages on campus together, creating a welcoming environment.
In addition, about 80 SPMS 8th grade students are trained to be mentors to the sixth grader through the Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) program.
“I’m really proud of this group,” said Kubela. “It’s about sixth graders getting acclimated to the middle school, but research shows that it really helps the 8th graders better. When you’re training kids to be leaders and mentors, you’re building empathy in them. It’s about how to fix our society and having compassionate students. Some of my proudest times are when you can see 8th graders spend three or four days before the start of school with new students because they are concerned about someone else. We want kids to feel welcomed at their school. It builds community.”
Arroyo Vista Elementary School
Principal Cheryl Busick is anxiously waiting to hear if Arroyo Vista Elementary School is on the list of the latest nationwide Blue Ribbon Schools.
“That announcement will be made at the beginning of September and we are very confident that AV is an amazing school and deserves that recognition,” said Busick.
According to its website, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. More than 8,500 schools across the United States have been presented with this coveted award.
Six new teachers will join the AV staff “and it will be great to bring them into the great culture that is already in place at AV,” noted the principal.
Monterey Hills Elementary School
Dr. Laurie Narro, the MHS principal, said the school will be working on writer’s workshop implementation as teachers will continue to receive training. A restorative justice program is also in place, designed to mediate any problems for students in an out of the classroom.
The program has been successful in the Oakland Unified School System, which points out the Restorative Justice is a set of principles and practices inspired by indigenous values used to build community, respond to harm/conflict and provide individual circles of support for students.
“The restorative justice program is about having the person who might have been the harmer be able to own what happened, but then also try to figure out a way to connect with the harmed in a positive way to assure that we don’t have a broken relationship anymore,” explained Narro, saying the program deals “with the harmed and the harmer. Each student (involved in the disagreement) gets a chance to share what’s going on, why it happened, apologize, then accept the apology. It’s a wonderful way for kids to forgive each other.”
The Writer’s Workshop is an instructional practice designed to help children become confident and capable writers, providing them the skills to express thoughts and ideas.
Marengo Elementary School
Marengo Principal Patricia Cheadle likes the idea that all the elementary schools in the South Pasadena Unified School District will be piloting new science materials during the 2019-20 school year.
Under Cheadle’s leadership, the school will continue to encourage the use of higher level thinking skills to increase academic achievement.
The theme on campus this year will be continued focus on being kind, noting: “Kindness Starts with Marengo.”
The school’s Mandarin dual immersion program will be in its fourth year with classes in kindergarten, first and second grade.