Letter to the Editor: Former Principal and Current Parent Questions BUSD’s Leadership

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Editor’s Note: This was also sent to the Burbank Board of Education

Letter to the Editor:

An August 2022 Gallup poll revealed that only 9% of respondents were “completely satisfied” with K12 schools in the United States compared to 55% who were “somewhat dissatisfied” or completely dissatisfied.” In the same survey 82% of respondents said that their child attends their local public school with 80% saying they are “completely satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their local school.

This is consistent with survey trends going back nearly three decades. Repeatedly the public suggests the American education system is failing, but they also believe the school their own children attend is an exception. This makes sense. As parents no one wants to believe that the school they send their own children to isn’t exceptional.

In communities like Burbank, residents pay a premium for homes largely driven by the reputation of the schools. In many cases, we send our children to the schools we attended in our youth, and we fool ourselves into thinking that a reputation that was earned years ago or on the merits of our highest achievers or most elite extra-curricular programs represents the typical student experience today.

This is a mistake. Despite so many talented teachers in the district, BUSD is stagnant due to a lack of vision, leadership and proactive strategy in a time where it is needed now more than ever before. We should start holding BUSD to its motto “Equity and Excellence” so that it represents more than hollow words without adequate substantive commitment to the students of this community.

I spent twenty years as an employee of BUSD, the same District I attended as a child. Last spring, I was one of eight principals to leave the district in a sixth month span. Although willing to share with you my insights into the District’s current culture and leadership, to date I’ve been ignored. In fact, the District hasn’t asked the departing educators (teachers, TOSAs, APs, Principals, Directors and an Assistant Superintendent) why they’ve moved on by way of formal exit interviews. This lack of inquiry speaks volumes.

Regardless, this is the first of what I expect will be several open letters to the Board of Education about where BUSD must do better and where it is currently falling short for students, including my own children. It is being shared with you with the support and encouragement of other households with students at Disney and McKinley elementary schools troubled and frustrated in having our concerns dismissed.

Middle school — a time where students clamor for more independence but where they still need the guidance of their parent(s). Though BUSD is thousands of minutes over the State required instructional minutes for the middle school level, the traditional (i.e. archaic) bell schedule doesn’t meet the needs of many students. It limits students to six periods of instruction. Moreover, despite the 8:30 start time at the high school level, our developing middle school tweens and teens continue to start their days at 8:00 a.m.

CA SB-328 forced all high schools to push the start of the school day back and many districts took this as an opportunity to align at all levels. I have yet to hear a substantive reason for the lack of alignment in BUSD. My son begins fifth grade at 8:40 a.m., will start middle school at 8:00 a.m. and then high school at 8:30 a.m. Developmentally, the same underlying sleep needs exist for our middle schoolers.

Again, with the CBA contractual minutes/BUSD instructional minutes nearly 10,000 over what is required for middle school, moving the start time back could have no bearing on the current 3:00 p.m. end of the student day for middle school. Further, an 8:30 a.m. start time for most students would allow for a zero period or seventh period option for some students who desire more challenge, need to fit an elective into their schedule, or who have other special needs that the existing six-period day cannot accommodate.

In one example, the current six-period middle school day is limiting and disproportionately harming students in English Language Development and Dual Language Programs. Our neighboring school district, Glendale, coming out of the remote school debacle, made the decision to move to a seven-period middle school day in a clear commitment to students. BUSD should do the same. Why? Because in a six-period school day, English Language Learners are forced to use their “elective” for additional language acquisition, as are Spanish learning Dual students who wish to opt into the widely accepted maintenance model of two periods in the target language.

BUSD’s programs like choir, band, drama, robotics, culinary arts offer middle school students’ necessary access to dramatic, performative, social emotionally rich outlets they so desperately need on the heels of the pandemic. BUSD’s elective programs largely remain highlights and a source of bragging for the District and its students.

As a former high school principal, I recall being in the audience when an English Language learner who had recently arrived to the U.S. from Armenia performed a solo in a performance of Oklahoma! at a choir event. He brought down the house. This opportunity was only afforded to him because his choir director, his counselor and an administrative team got creative with his schedule beyond the traditional district model and its limitations. The majority of English learners do not get an elective experience until they re-classify as English proficient.

It is insulting that parents of English Language learning students are never presented with elective options, and that Dual Language households have to choose between full-participation in the language program they put their trust in when their students began kindergarten, and participation in elective programs universally acknowledged to benefit them. Both student groups are robbed of the breadth of elective experiences. In the case of English learners, it is only because they live in a home where a language other than English is spoken. This is not excellence or equity for students.

A week ago I sat in the latest dual language Parent Meeting. I watched the District try to defend the current middle school experience. I heard misleading data presented to parents, questions half-answered and half-truths about student performance in the current model. I’ve also sat on the Dual Language Instruction Master Plan Committee this year, also disappointed by BUSD’s partial responses and half-truths to parent inquiry and concerns.

Parents of English Language Learners and Dual-Language students have not even asked for a District-wide commitment to a seven-period middle school day like neighboring Glendale has already adopted. We have merely asked BUSD to consider a zero period or seventh period option that parents of these programs could opt their children into. Sadly, the biggest barrier to excellence in this context remains BTA’s current leadership and the District-level Administration’s refusal to prioritize students over negotiations with adults.

BTA Leadership refuses to allow such options to be considered under the guise of “overscheduling middle school students.” We believe this should be a personal decision for each household, not one arrived at through interest-based bargaining. We also believe the District’s failure to provide access to an elective for students in these programs is inequitable and causing harm.

More broadly, I simply can’t help but wonder, when the status quo became “good enough” for BUSD? As parents and community members, shouldn’t we seek excellence for our public-school students?

I opened this letter with reference to a survey. Let me close with a reference to a second survey. BUSD is currently collecting stakeholder input through an annual satisfaction survey. I encourage all households to submit responses through the lens of an honest assessment of the current reality.  I also ask the Board open their eyes and ears, listen to concerns, task leadership to find solutions, ask tough questions about what has changed, demand better of those who have been constants (those no longer effective and those who have never been effective) and to truly bring excellence and equity to students in BUSD. Anticipating the usual dismissals and excuses by District and BTA leadership, I welcome further discussion on any of the above. 

Tom Crowther
Burbank

    2 COMMENTS

    1. WOW! Nice job Mr. Crowther. Thank you for calling out for the truth. I have known things have been amiss for years at the BUSD. The leaderships sudden and ongoing perseveration on DEI and CRT has also caused a distraction from learning ideals.
      Additionally Mr. Crowther, at the last BUSD meeting the board approved spending over $500,000.00 to identify facility needs. This is a stated precursor for asking the electorate to approve YET ANOTHER school bond. The time to end mismanagement is here. We desperately need to replace the current Superintendent with someone who has a clue.

    2. Tom, first of all, I recognize that you are a resident of Burbank, and thank you for that. Many workers are not, alleging “high prices” as their excuse, yet they work here and live in expensive homes, like Dr. Hill, who is not a resident but pulls down plenty of salary to buy or rent here.

      A patriot and Burbank Republican demanded voting districts and now they are coming. This will be a game-changer. We also need salaried school board members who work full-time to effect change.

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