Burbank Unified Aims For “Better Normal” As 2020-21 School Year Draws To A Close

(Photo By Ross Benson)

With less than three weeks left in the 2020-21 school year, the Burbank Board of Education heard new plans for the district to provide Chromebooks for every student in the future as well as the final report on distance learning, covering meals, technology, general attendance numbers and the percentage of students who returned for the limited afternoon in person classes in recent weeks.

Superintendent Matt Hill began his report to the Board noting the ongoing efforts of all Burbank Unified School District employee groups and the hard work they all have put into an incredibly challenging year under the weight of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The district continues to distribute more than 10,000 meals weekly to BUSD students and their families. Hill mentioned that the federal school nutrition program administered and funded by the USDA will continue providing universal free meals to any public school student through June 2022, without requiring eligibility forms to be completed.

As of May 3, 10,538 Chromebooks have been loaned out to students, including 3000 utilized for state testing, along with 1944 hotspots to boost internet access. The district will collect these items at the end of the school year so the technology department can re-image the devices to be ready for use during summer school.

“We are now in the position with the stimulus dollars and the purchases we’ve made, we can be a 1:1 district,” Hill commented. “And we know that is not a wish list anymore for the district. That’s a necessity. We are now in the position to be able to do that for the next school year.”

Starting in Fall 2021, all students in grades 6 – 12 will check out a Chromebook and be able to take it home and bring back to classes for the duration of the school year, Hill explained. The next wave of stimulus funding will help make that Fall 2021 target a reality.

In the past, the district used classroom carts that were checked out for daily use by teachers per class period.

“Now all our teachers have set up Google Classrooms and they’ve integrated technology in their classrooms and students are learning at home. They need that technology,” Hill added.

There will be backup devices at school sites in case students forget their Chromebooks or have a tech issue.

Students in grades four and five will still utilize the cart system during the school day, with carts of Chromebooks assigned to each classroom for daily use for each student during class. Students in Kindergarten through grade three will share carts according to a schedule.

“We also know that families are going to need devices at home that don’t have them,” Hill also said. “So we’ll allow families that need them… to check them out so when they’re doing homework or working at home to have them.”

“This is a huge step forward for our district,” he continued. “We were able to accomplish it this year, through Covid, and we want to continue that going forward… as the better normal.”

The stimulus funding, which is expected for the next few years, has allowed the district to hire a technology supervisor – a position which had been frozen due to budget cuts previously – and provide overtime for tech employees to better support the increased need for student devices and internet access during the past year of remote learning.

“Our technology team has done amazing work this year,” Hill added.

He also thanked Burbank voters for passing Measure S, the bond fund that provided money for school facilities and infrastructure. Some of the funds were used to upgrade and improve all school sites with fiber, wifi and current technology, along with the building of the BUSD Data Center.

“We do not have a digital divide in Burbank,” he said, as the district made sure every student who needed a hotspot and Chromebook for the 2020-21 school year of distance learning had their needs met.

Burbank Unified is looking to expand the student technology access program for 2021-22 and must examine ways to sustain a 1:1 device to student ratio for the future, Hill emphasized.

Attendance has “normalized” Hill said to 96% overall for both elementary and secondary schools, with 98% of students attending synchronous distance learning morning classes and much lower numbers for asynchronous afternoon and Friday distance learning. Eighty percent of elementary students continued to check in for afternoon remote classes, with just 58% of secondary students logging in. Fridays saw 79% of elementary students attending and 56% of secondary.

According to BUSD’s most recent numbers, 6045 students are enrolled in elementary grades and 8267 in secondary, plus 111 for Monterey High School and 19 for Community Day School, for a total of 14,442 students.

Hill also went over attendance numbers for hybrid in person afternoons and those remaining in distance learning. As of April 30, 53% of elementary students have returned for the hybrid afternoons, while just 30% of secondary students did.

Students who opted-in for the limited afternoon hybrid attend for approximately two hours, two afternoons per week, in order to adhere to L.A. County health guidelines and maintain social distancing. Masks are required to be worn.

Parent and guardian work schedules and child care challenges have limited the ability for many students to return to in person afternoons, Hill commented, along with a significant number of students and families who did not yet feel comfortable with health conditions for a return to hybrid.

“We’re looking forward to that full in person learning back this fall,” he said.

Burbank Unified’s last day of school for the 2020-21 academic year is Thursday, May 27.

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for May 6 can be found online here.

The Burbank Board of Education is comprised of President Steve Frintner, Vice President Charlene Tabet, Clerk Steve Ferguson and members Dr. Armond Aghakhanian and Dr. Emily Weisberg. More information on the Board can be found online on their webpage.