State Of The Schools Celebrated In Grand Fashion

Behind the Burbank Arts & Education Foundation, the recent event brought out the best in the city and business for local students.

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Spotlight Award Honorees Joan McCarthy and Sally Chan with Brenda Etterbeek and Jennifer Lorigo.(Photo by Ross A Benson)

As celebrations rate, this was pretty good as the State of the Schools was roundly celebrated recently at The Federal in North Hollywood.

The two-hour event featured sparkling conversations, a Burbank High jazz combo, esteemed guest speakers, and spotlight award honorees.

The affair was hosted by Brenda Etterbeek, the Burbank Arts & Education Foundation chairwoman, and was ably assisted by Jennifer Lorigo, the vice chairwoman of the Burbank Arts & Education Foundation.

This is their mission statement: The mission of the Burbank Arts & Education Foundation is to engage and inspire the community to invest in meeting the diverse educational needs of every student. The organization was created on October 1, 2020, after the Burbank Educational Foundation and the Burbank Arts For All Foundation merged to create a singular unified voice for Burbank students.

Steve Ferguson, the Burbank Unified School District president, was the first to speak and said one key he believes is having core values.

“It’s hard when values clash,” he said of the rapport he has with his four board member colleagues, Charlene Tabet, Dr. Armond Aghakhanian, Dr. Emily Weisberg, and Abby Pontzer Kamkar. “I am so glad that we came together.”

Ferguson said there are roughly 15,000 students in the BUSD and that, first and foremost, the students are the top priority.

“It’s always about the kids,” he said. “We are here to celebrate the State of Our Schools,” which drew large applause.

Ferguson also noted that when he attended school in the city, it was much different than it is today, especially school safety.

“Education isn’t recognizable,” he said. “We value the trust you have in us. We are here to build a consensus.”

Newly elected BUSD Superintendent Dr. John Paramo also spoke.

Superintendent John Paramo (Photo by Ross A Benson)

“All kids can learn. They just need the resources,” he said. “What I’ve noticed is the level of parent support and involvement.”

Dr. Paramo raved about the Burbank Adult School and noted there are many amazing programs, including the LVN program and read a letter by a former student who is working as a nurse in New York.

Dr. Rebecca Harris, the principal at Walt Disney Elementary, took the floor and said that her school is one in which arts are stressed and as a result, they flourish.

Muir Middle School principal Dr. Greg Miller said engaging students is critical and that he sees diversity in our libraries.

Burbank High senior Kelsey Finnigan spoke eloquently about wanting to become an engineer and how the BAEF has helped her.

Annie Cavanaugh is the Burbank High teacher and band director, and she spoke about the importance having students excited about music and being in the band. “Grants are priceless,” she said, and of course they are.

Sally Chan, who spent 11 years at Disney and 12 years at Warner Bros, is leaving her current position as Vice President, Community Engagement, Warner Bros. Discovery and was a Spotlight Award Honoree.

“Though I don’t live in Burbank, there’s no city like Burbank,” she said.

Likewise, Joan McCarthy who is retiring after 39 years as Director, Enterprise Community Engagement for the Walt Disney Company, was recognized as a Spotlight Award Honoree.

“I have had the great pleasure of working for the Walt Disney Company for over 39 years and Burbank is like a second home for me,” she said. “Burbank is a very special place. It’s a community where the people care for each other and that is especially evident by the support provided to the schools and nonprofits in town.”

McCarthy continued: “My role at Disney allowed me to work alongside so many dedicated leaders on community and charitable boards. But it was more than a job for me. It was a way to help make a positive difference in the lives of others,” she said. “So, when I am recognized for this work, I am humbled and filled with gratitude. The Burbank Arts and Education Foundation was so kind to shine the spotlight on me, but it was always a community effort I only shared with some incredible people.”

McCarthy concluded her thoughts.

“I am filled with gratitude. I am incredibly grateful for the city of Burbank,” she said. “It’s a great place to work, and I’ve been blessed to work here.”

Craig Murray was also in attendance and was at the forefront of the Burbank Arts & Education Foundation.

“All of this came together because of big business [Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros.], schools and individuals working together and wanted to do something for the schools,” said Murray, the founder of Craig Murray Productions and is the Executive Chairman at MOCEAN.

Murray went on: “I think they went above and beyond. They wanted to connect with the students,” he said. “This is a personal passion. It’s in the DNA of Burbank schools.”