Tag Archives: Burbank Unified School District

Burbank Unified Schedules Q&A Session On Plans To Possibly Reopen Schools

The Burbank Unified School District will hold an online Question and Answer Session to discuss current plans for the potential reopening of schools with a hybrid education model on Wednesday, October 21, at 7:00 p.m.

Parents, students, teachers, staff and community members may indicate their interest in attending and/or submit questions in advance using the RSVP form here: https://tinyurl.com/y23t25he.

A link for the Zoom meeting will be emailed to those who RSVP. The deadline to RSVP and/or submit questions is 10:00 a.m. Tuesday, October 20.

The District has released a PowerPoint presentation for those interested in learning more about BUSD protocols for returning to in-person instruction.

The Q&A Session will talk about what a hybrid model for in-person education would look like, with smaller numbers of students on campus and in classrooms.

“Based on the current health conditions and the limitations of the TK-2 waiver process, [I] recommend that schools remain in distance learning through this semester as it would be too disruptive to shift instructional models at this point in the school year,” Superintendent Matt Hill stated in a report given to the Board of Education at the October 15 meeting.

Burbank Unified School District office. (Photo By Ross Benson)

Hill “recommends that (1) staff continue to work on plans that would allow for Special Education students to return to campus for assessments and small group work, (2) that the District continue planning for athletes to return for conditioning, and (3) that District staff continue planning for the potential of distance learning and hybrid instruction when it is safe to do so based on health conditions and guidelines.”

BUSD will be emailing a commitment request to all families to select either a hybrid (some in-person, on campus education) or 100% Distance Learning model for the time when a return to in-person education may become possible.

“Depending on commitment request responses and/or health conditions we may not be able to return to in-person learning,” the District states in the PowerPoint presentation.

Additionally, the District notes that, “Given the fluidity of the COVID-19 situation, we will continue to monitor the situation before making final decisions.”

Special Education teacher, Debbie Gal, who teaches Severely Handicapped and Special Day Class students, spoke at the October 15 Board of Education meeting to express concern that SH/SDC students may be brought back before general education populations. She noted that SH/SDC students often have major behavior control difficulties and challenges with hygiene and following social distancing protocols.

Gal also mentioned that she and her students have developed a new and acceptable routine for 100% Distance Learning this semester and she worries that change in routine will be a major challenge for her students to adapt. She also noted that many of her students’ parents will refuse to return their children to in-person education until an effective vaccine is widely available.

Gal asked the Board of Education to consider this information when discussing how and when to return Severely Handicapped and Special Day Class students to the classroom.

Hill addressed Gal’s concerns during the October 15 meeting.

“We are definitely going to continue to work with our teachers, our staff, all of our employees as well as our families to make sure when we bring students back to campus, we do so in a thoughtful and safe manner,” Hill said.

“There’s a lot to figure out as Miss Gal says, when health conditions change, and we need to be thoughtful about that,” he added. “The safety of our students and our employees is definitely going to be our number one focus.”

Hill has noted in Board of Education meetings previously during the Fall ’20 semester that students who are doing well with 100% Distance Learning will be allowed to remain in that model for the rest of Spring 2021 semester if parents request.

“The Board and I have been talking about this. Let’s plan, let’s look through all the scenarios and let’s make sure health conditions support an appropriate time to implement that plan,” Hill said at the October 15 meeting.

“This is an incredible challenge,” Board member Steve Ferguson said. “It’s critically important that when it is safe to do so we get our kids back in school as soon as possible.”

“I want to continue working with the Superintendent and others to start identifying those populations who are struggling in this learning environment.. developing collapsible interventions that depending on health conditions we can start working with our teachers and staff to get those students the help and support they need.”

“While we all certainly hope that the next semester will bring in-person instruction, the reality is that destiny is up to us in terms of whether or not we continue to socially distance, whether or not we continue to do the work that has gotten the levels down to where they need to be,” Ferguson also said. “We are close. We need to continue to be doing that work.”

The Q&A Session will discuss BUSD plans concerning special populations such as students with disabilities, English Learners and Foster Youth/Homeless, in addition to general education students.

Prospective schedules and protocols, including cleaning and sanitizing procedures, are detailed in the PowerPoint and the online FAQ.

More information can be found on the District’s webpage devoted to re-opening schools here.

Currently, the Board of Education is scheduled to potentially vote on a return to in-person education at the last school board meeting of the year on December 17.

Board Of Education Hears First Reading Of Anti-Racism Statement, Clarifies Actions On Challenged Books

The Burbank Board of Education heard the first reading of Burbank Unified School District’s Anti-Racism Statement, an update on distance learning and attendance, reports from student reps and responded to some concerns from the community during Public Comments during their regular meeting on Thursday, October 1.

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services John Paramo gave the first reading of the proposed District Anti-Racism Statement. BUSD has been working with the community, through the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, to “identify areas where the district can improve.”

“The Policy subcommittee [of the DEI] has been working on an anti-racist statement. While the district is not ready to create an anti-racist policy yet, the committee believes that a public statement regarding the vision for Burbank Unified School District to become Anti-Racist in practice and policy is critical.”

The statement is “100% reflective of our community members and stakeholders” on the committee, said Paramo.

The first reading of the BUSD Anti-Racism Statement is: The Burbank Unified School District officially denounces racism as the product of white default/supremacy culture and recognizes the impact of systemic and generational racism as traumatic to our country, community, and school district. In light of continuing racial violence, including the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Andres Guardado, Dijon Kizzee, and many others, we also recognize that Black people in this country have had a unique and traumatic history in terms of racial relations, equality, and equity. We stand with the truthful and humane statement that all lives cannot matter until Black lives and the lives of indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) matter. We are taking steps to actively work towards being fully anti-racist, not only in word, but also in policy, practice, and accountability. Change is rarely easy, but with the support and cooperation of the entire Burbank school community we know that we will reflect a district that is truly unified.

Board members asked a few questions and gave feedback on the statement to Paramo.

Burbank Unified School District office. (Photo By Ross Benson)

Two women spoke during Public Comment time, to express their views regarding the Anti-Racism Statement. Jennifer Jackson felt the statement itself was racist. Dana Morris asked the District to stop the anti-racism work until meetings could be held in person and denied the concept of systemic racism.

Superintendent Matt Hill thanked the women for their comments and responded to their concerns.

“I want to be very clear about why we chose to use the word around white supremacy… and racism,” Hill said. “The definition we are using is very clear about having an organized system of race that benefits power and privilege. It’s true.”

“In this country, across this country, we have a history that is harmful and hurtful,” he continued. “We need to acknowledge it. I do appreciate the words that were used [in the comments]; we need to heal and move forward. I feel that’s what this statement is saying. But first we have to acknowledge our history as a country and our history as a city.”

“Burbank was a sundown city. We had racist policies and practices in this city,” Hill added. “We all have biases. We need to acknowledge that. We need to have difficult and honest conversations about this, and that really is what the heart of this statement is.”

“White supremacy is not really about the KKK and neo-Nazis but how the systems, policies and structures were established in this country. We have to have critical thought about that and make sure we are healing and moving forward.”

“It’s not whites vs. Blacks, or any race, but to acknowledge the systems and structures we have in this country, city and school district and moving forward,” Hill said. “This statement is clarifying that we are just beginning the work and we need to move forward. We are going to be uncomfortable, some of us may say things that others may be offended by. We need to listen and learn and heal… together, with empathy and care.”

Justin Riner, English Chair at John Muir Middle School, also spoke during Public Comment to question BUSD’s procedure of removing four books from core curriculum lists (To Kill A Mockingbird, The Cay, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) at the beginning of the semester.

“I think we all want the same outcome and to insure the books we are teaching in our schools are the best and most relevant for our students at this time and represent all of our students,” said Hill, thanking Riner and DEI Instruction sub-committee member Polly Steinberg, who also spoke during Public Comment, for their comments. “We’re not looking for censorship or to ban the books.”

Hill explained the process and timeline of how the challenged books procedure works, noting the books were challenged for prolific use of the N-word. Steinberg noted in her comments to the Board that Huckleberry Finn uses the N-word 219 times throughout the book.

“It was my decision to ask the English teachers to not teach these four books this semester,” Hill said. “I feel that given the nature of the complaint and the concerns and the harm it has caused our students – especially our Black students – in this District…”

“I felt we should not ask them to opt out of instruction but we should pause and go through the process and come up with a strong recommendation,” he also said. “We want to respect the professionalism of our teachers. We want to respect our students and our families. But we have to acknowledge even the fiercest supporters of these books have highlighted the problematic nature of the books.”

“So we need to decide as a school district, are these the best books for our students? They will always be available. I keep stressing that because the censorship and banning conversation should not be part of this conversation.”

“We have to talk about our reading list and if these are the best books to teach these lessons. So we will provide updates as we proceed,” Hill added. “If anyone has questions about the process, please reach out to me and I’ll help address that.”

Board member Dr. Roberta Reynolds applauded Riner’s request for clarity about the process.

“It’s so important we listen to all the perspectives,” she said.

Reynolds also pointed out the BUSD policy regarding challenged books, saying, “they MAY remain in use. It’s ‘may’ not ‘shall.'”

“Certainly, some of these conversations ahead lend themselves better in an in-person situation,” Board member Steve Ferguson said. “It’s something to be mindful of, moving forward.”

“While it would be easier to have the difficult conversations in person, it’s not something we can even think of slowing down,” Board Clerk Charlene Tabet commented.

Board Vice President Steve Frintner said,” I think it’s important for people to hear different points of view and take the time to study [the issues.]”

“We have to acknowledge the systems that have been put in place for more than 400 years,” he continued. “To say there isn’t a system of white supremacy that has been put in place in this country… is to deny the reality of this situation. We need to acknowledge it so we can move on.”

“We are asking for everyone’s patience and understanding,” commented President Armond Aghakhanian. “It’s a very difficult topic but it is a topic we need to talk about and we need to respect individuals and families who have directly experienced racism, that it may be too painful and difficult to talk about. For the sake of our children and the future, let us have a civil conversation.”

Hill also gave his biweekly report on Distance Learning to the Board. Currently, BUSD is averaging about 15,000 free meals each week picked up by students. The District has loaned out 6229 Chromebooks by September 29, with 3000 more on order. They have loaned 1566 hotspots, with 50 additional on order.

Attendance for synchronous (live) learning is close to 99% average for all grades. Asynchronous learning continues to see lower attendance with 78% of students for Monday through Thursday and 72% on Fridays.

The specific number of disengaged students went up a little, but represents different actual students, and hovers at about 1% of the school’s approximately 15,000 student population. School administrators and Board members discussed intervention actions and tracking, along with how to connect with those disengaged students.

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for October 1 can be found online here.

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

Three Burbank Teachers Create Justice & Equity Team Resource For Co-Workers

Three Burbank Unified teachers recently created the Justice and Equity Team committee as a resource for teachers in BUSD as part of the Burbank Teachers Association and held their first meeting online in September.

Tori Cuseo teaches at John Muir Middle School. (Photo Courtesy Tori Cuseo)

Mojgahn Emamjomeh of Burbank High School, Ericca Dent of Joaquin Miller Elementary and Tori Cuseo of John Muir Middle School joined forces this summer to form JET.

The committee aims to “create a space for BUSD educators to reflect on their practice, access and discuss information on racial and social justice in education and make substantial (and needed) change throughout our district.”

“The reason why we started JET is because the majority of teachers in Burbank, and in the United States, are white,” commented Cuseo. “The responsibility of dismantling centuries-old racist systems in education falls on us, the educators.”

“Every child deserves a teacher who understands them, makes them feel safe and shows them mirrors of themselves in class,” she continued. “White students deserve windows into the lives of their peers of color, both in Burbank and in the world.”

Ericca Dent teaches at Joaquin Miller Elementary School. (Photo Courtesy Ericca Dent)

JET’s short-term goal is to provide interested BUSD teachers “with both a space and a toolbox of resources to reflect and discuss their journey toward antiracist educating.”

Long-term JET hopes to have teachers from every BUSD school site involved, “defining and working towards meeting their goals for equity and justice.”

“I’m looking forward to collaborating with other teachers on how to be an anti-racist educator and following it up with action,” said Dent.

“As a second-grade teacher, I want my students to see themselves and others in the curriculum I teach and the books I read.”

Mojgahn Emamjomeh teaches at Burbank High School. (Photo Courtesy Mojgahn Emamjomeh)

“I’m looking forward to taking the steps in creating an anti-racist and inclusive classroom, school site and district,” commented Emamjomeh.

“I want students to feel heard and represented and I’m excited to collaborate with other teachers to find ways to make this happen through curriculum, discussions and actions.”

JET uses Google forms and conversations to find out what teachers need or want from the monthly meetings. The committee welcomes all interested teachers to join.

More information on the Burbank Teachers Association can be found online here.

Board Of Education Hears Parent Concerns On Disney School Construction Delay, Approves Bond Refinancing For Taxpayer Savings

The Burbank Board of Education heard concerns from several Walt Disney Elementary School parents over the continued delay of construction at the school site, in addition to other comments and concerns from the community at the regular meeting held online on Thursday, September 17.

The Board of Education (BOE) also heard the Superintendent’s report on Distance Learning and approved a number of items, including a Bond Refunding and Refinancing Plan and the 2020-21 Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan.

The BOE meeting opened with reports from Student Board Representatives – Nadaly Jones (John Burroughs High School), Andrea Espinoza (Monterey High School) and Carmen Blanchard (Burbank High School) – on the latest activities in their school communities.

Burbank Unified School District office. (Photo By Ross Benson)

Former John Muir Middle School student, Chloe Bauer, who’s currently in ninth grade at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, communicated to the Board her concern about the possible removal of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry from seventh-grade English curriculum.

Tori Cuseo, a Spanish teacher at John Muir Middle School, talked about the goals and efforts of the new Burbank Teachers Association Justice and Equity Team (JET), which meets monthly.

The team is examining what it means to be an anti-racist educator and an advocate for all students, Cuseo said. “We want to do our best to make the community better for all students.”

Burbank Teachers Association President Diana Abasta made comments in support of JET and lauded the efforts of Burbank Unified staff and teachers engaged in Distance Learning.

Several parents of students at Walt Disney Elementary School decried the lack of communication and ongoing delays in beginning construction on the two-story remodel planned for the school site.

Disney was initially scheduled for construction remodel, to be paid for from Measure S Bond funds, in 2017. Redesign of the original plan to build a two-story wing instead of a one-story remodel delayed construction start, initially. But more recent ongoing delays to the construction start have many parents very upset and frustrated.

“When was the last time any of you walked on our campus before COVID?” asked parent Nicole Martin. “When was the last time you stepped into out library and computer room? Did you notice the bowed ceilings? Have you smelled when the AC comes on in the wing classrooms? See the tiles coming up?”

All Board members and Superintendent Matt Hill acknowledged that communication with parents, at Disney and District-wide, must be better.

Board member Steve Ferguson thanked the parents for escalating concerns over communication and construction delays and requested the Board perform an immediate site walk to see safety issues that may need to be addressed.

Board member Roberta Reynolds agreed with the parents that “delays have been extremely frustrating because [the construction] is so crucial.”

Board President Armond Aghakhanian expressed frustration with the continual lack of communication parents District-wide have been expressing over recent months and directed District administration to come up with a plan to improve communications with parents immediately.

Hill gave an update on Distance Learning to the Board, something the school board has requested for each of the regularly scheduled meetings, which are held every two weeks.

He noted a large jump in the number of meals picked up in the previous week – almost 10,000 more than from the week before, due to the implementation and announcement of free meals for all BUSD students regardless of income, funded by the USDA through the end of December 2020.

“The focus is to make sure families in need get the meals,” Hill said, as he addressed social media speculation that had been recently circulating. “These meals are intended for families who need them right now. You should not pick up the meals and distribute to others. It does not help retain jobs or our budget if you’re picking up meals.”

Hill also noted that overall attendance for synchronous learning remains at 98% and the number of disengaged students has dropped to 138, as BUSD continues intervention efforts, which he detailed to the Board. Asynchronous attendance in the afternoons is 77% overall and 71% on Fridays.

Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, Debbie Kukta, introduced a General Obligation Bond Refunding proposal, which was then presented in an overview by Khushroo Gheyara of CFW Advisory Services, who has worked with BUSD for more than 10 years.

The Board of Education went on to approve the proposal, which will bank approximately $5.7 million in interest savings for local taxpayers over time, because of current historically low interest rates in the bond market.

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for September 17 can be found online here.

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

Learning Pods Help Some Parents Of Young Children Manage Distance Learning

Parents of six third grade Spanish Dual Immersion students from William McKinley Elementary School banded together to create a two day per week learning pod to support their children’s education during the ongoing distance learning education model enacted by Burbank Unified School District for the Fall Semester of the 2020-21 school year.

Families signed an agreement stipulating mask-wearing, social distancing and other protocols to respect during the COVID-19 pandemic, including avoiding gatherings with more than 10 people and public transportation.

“The main goal of the pod was to pool resources to create a learning environment that provided stability, engagement, safe social interactions and hope for our children,” explained parent Paige Oliver, who organized the learning pod. “The first step was to identify families that had shared these thoughts on schooling, support and safety adherence.”

learning pod

Third grade Dual Immersion students get a boost from a parent-organized learning pod. (From left to right): Ben, Clarke, Sullivan, Maliyah, Mattie, Ella. (Photo Courtesy Paige Oliver)

“I reached within my social circle to find some like-minded families who had similar needs to fulfill. Five out of six of the families have two children that are in elementary/middle school, so assisting multiple children during the school day can get hectic. Additionally, almost all parents in the households work as well, and most are working from home during COVID.”

“The Dual Immersion challenge was a driver as well; all of the students are in the Spanish Dual Immersion program. However, English is the only language spoken at home,” Oliver continued. “It is important to remember that parents were not given much instruction, guidance or commitment on what the day of a student was going to look like until a few days before school started.”

“We started planning the pod four weeks out and based it on our experience in the Spring which was not good on any account. The Spring is what I would refer to as ‘crisis learning’ not ‘distance learning.’ No one could have prepared for that but it definitely could have been handled differently.”

“While this incarnation of distance learning has been much more structured than the Spring, we didn’t know what to expect and had to prepare based on our own needs and past experience,” she also said. “We are also quite sensitive to the fact that not everyone can do what we did here. We have asked our children to adapt a lot through all these changes and we were incredibly fortunate that we were able to provide them with this experience to assist them further.”

(Photo Courtesy Paige Oliver)

The learning pod meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. So the responsibility isn’t all on one family, two backyards have been set up with tables and tents. One family hosts the pod on Mondays and another does so on Wednesdays.

The kids are dropped off between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m.  The students set up their computer workstations and are ready for synchronous learning with their teacher, Judith Toscano, when class begins at 8:30 a.m.

“We are following the Burbank USD curriculum and the students are all online with the teachers during their required time,” Oliver explained. “Our tutor fills in the unscheduled or ‘asynchronous’ learning time in the afternoon and during breaks with additional support in Spanish based around their current lessons.”

“This includes math games, reading comprehension, re-explanation of directions for ‘homework’ and some other learning activities. We do not have her check the homework or assist in the actual work as we need to give the teachers a clear assessment of where the students are.”

“For third grade there are 230 instructional minutes per day (which include in classroom and home learning),” Oliver added. “This is roughly 50 minutes short per day from a regular school day. So [the students are] missing over 20 hours of instruction a month.”

“The children stay home the other three days and join the class online,” Oliver said. “Parents assist as needed throughout the day and have become experts on using Google Translate.”

Six third grade Dual Immersion students from McKinley Elementary School study outside with a tutor supervising for their two-day-per-week learning pod. (Photo Courtesy Paige Oliver)

While Oliver did much of the organizational aspects of creating the pod, she noted that all parents contribute equally to decision-making and in bringing resources and ideas to the group.

After five weeks of distance learning, the parents “see that we need to supplement and are planning for ways to incorporate art, music and more physical education.”

Setting up the learning pod included clarifying expectations and solving logistics.

“We expect that the children are wearing masks at all times except when they are seated at their computer stations. Additionally, each family in the pod signed a ‘social contract’ which was created to give guidelines on safety behaviors in and out of the pod. An example would be if someone comes into contact with someone who has COVID that we all are notified so we can be tested.”

Ella stands for the Pledge of Allegiance to begin distance learning. (Photo Courtesy Paige Oliver)

“We were fortunate to have access to some resources that gave us a good starting point; the group was able to pool together resources to provide homes with backyards so we had outdoor space for the kids, robust WiFi in our homes so everyone could be online at the same time, a few tents for shade and some tables to use as desks,” Oliver continued. “I believe we invested in three additional tables between the two houses for outside and chairs (total around $200),  an additional tent ($90) and cleaning supplies for each house ($75).”

“All the kids had computers in the household or were able to get them assigned from school. We realized the first week we needed to add a few fans and extension cords as we were greeted with a heat wave ($40). All families/teacher provide their own masks and bring their lunch/snacks/drinks. The tutor used to facilitate the pod is about $7.50 an hour per child, so for each family $90 per week; this money most of us would have normally used for childcare.”

The parents of the learning pod students invested a lot of time, looking at respective family homes to see which locations would work best and interviewing prospective tutors.

“We interviewed numerous people for the tutor position once we all agreed on the requirements (pre-interview, one on one, and then with the group), we moved items from each other’s houses to the other, we did walk-throughs with the kids so they felt comfortable with the new environment before school started. We made sure computers worked at capacity on the WiFi and logins were saved to enable smooth transition for all the apps they were using.”

What do the students think of the learning pod and distance learning?

Rose, the learning pod’s tutor, works in the background while Clarke and Sullivan (center, right) get ready for a project. (Photo Courtesy Paige Oliver)

“I think it is more fun than regular school,” said Sullivan. “I just like being by myself and not surrounded by my classroom. I like being independent and depending on myself to get my work done.”

“I think the pod is fun because I like playing with my friends,” she added. “We get a chance to play at lunchtime so I still can spend time with them.”

“I think it’s cool and I don’t like it. I think it’s cool because we get to stay home and stuff, but I don’t get to see some of my friends in person,” commented Mattie. “But I get to see some of my friends in the pod.”

The learning pod is “nice and good because I get to see my friends and we get to play together,” she also said. “Ms. Rose shared a fun game with us called Kahoot!”

“It’s good,” said Ben. “The hard part is being on the computer for five hours.

He likes the learning pod, “It’s fun. I get to hang out with my friends. We get to work together and play. It makes me happy.”

Distance learning is “fun and still learning at the same time,” said Ella. The learning pod is also “fun and good that we have social interaction.”

Clarke also likes the learning pod and being able to be with some classmates a few days out of the week.

“It’s fun. They are the best kids in my class,” he said.

Maliyah works on a project. (Photo Courtesy Paige Oliver)

“I like remote learning, it’s very fun to learn with my classmates while at home,” commented Maliyah. “I enjoy being a part of the pod because I get to be with my friends. We learn and play together. I also get to be with Rose, she helps me with learning Spanish.”

“I think the social aspect of in-person learning was the most ignored portion in the development of distance learning,” commented one of the learning pod parents, Liz Tignini. “The pod has been excellent in providing a much-needed opportunity for socialization for my kids.”

“Both of my daughters are in a pod- and while my kids really do get along well, I noticed that towards the end of the summer (month five of being stuck in a house together, lol) they were starting to really get on each other’s nerves,” Tignini continued. “The pod has given them another set of kids with whom they can goof around, and takes the pressure off my kids to be each other’s only playmates.”

“As a family, this pod is useful because it gives each child some dedicated time. In the spring, one of the most stressful parts of distance learning was trying to split my time helping both kids (while also trying to work and take care of my normal every-day tasks),” she added. “My younger daughter is currently in first grade, so there has been a lot of hand-holding and re-directing going on; my older daughter, she’s the one in the third grade pod, is much more self-sufficient but still requires some assistance.”

“I felt terrible when I couldn’t give them the attention they deserved when they needed it because I knew it meant it would get them off-task or make them more frustrated because they couldn’t figure it out or distract their sibling from doing what they were doing. The pod gives everyone a little room to breathe.”

Mattie shows off her work. (Photo Courtesy Paige Oliver)

“Also, the Spanish aspect was very daunting as we are not a Spanish-speaking family but are in the Spanish Dual Immersion program,” Tignini also said. “We wanted to provide additional support to our kids that went beyond watching Spanish television programming. (I even tried looking for some art classes or physical education classes online that were taught in Spanish to supplement especially over the summer, but didn’t find any that suited our purposes.) Ms. Rose has been excellent in reinforcing what the school has been teaching, helping them expand their vocabulary and keeping them conversational.”

Tignini’s younger daughter is in the First Grade Dual Immersion program at McKinley and she is also in a learning pod. The tutor leading the third grade pod, Rose, also directs the first grade pod on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Fridays, they are both at home and, as I thought, things get hairy trying to juggle it all,” Tignini said.  “My younger daughter [is] not quite as adept at reading the instructions or using the computer, so an adult needs to be on-hand at all times.”

“She also tends to be distracted by ANYTHING, but I hear her teacher telling almost all the kids at different times to get back on task, so I think it is more endemic to the age then her personally. Her teacher, Sr. Gutierrez, and the assistant, Srta. Coronado, are incredibly patient and re-affirming,” Tignini added. “They try to be very entertaining as well so they can keep the kid’s attention; it’s a full show each day- it must be so exhausting!”

Ben works on the computer for remote learning. (Photo Courtesy Paige Oliver)

“I can’t imagine what it must be like for a Kindergartener or TK student who hasn’t had much formal classroom experience; that compounded with the technology must be incredibly daunting for all those involved. My third grader doesn’t need as much help and can be self-sufficient for longer periods of time.”

“I really hope that the District takes this into consideration when considering re-opening; the younger kids truly need more in-person opportunities than the older kids who are more capable of self-study.”

The six learning pod students have differing opinions about distance learning.

“I think that online school is better because if I have to do something the teacher doesn’t have to give me permission like if I have to get something I can just get it really quickly. If I need to make noise I can just mute myself. I like relying on myself to be a good student,” commented Sullivan. “I do miss my friends so that part is hard.”

“I think it’s not okay because I want to go to school,” said Mattie. “I miss being in my normal classroom and stuff.”

Distance learning is “annoying,” said Ben. “I don’t get to run around and play on all the stuff [playground]… or soccer, jailbreak and basketball.”

Ella pauses during remote learning for a photo. (Photo Courtesy Paige Oliver)

“It’s safe but I also think it’s kind of sad because you can’t see your friends and can’t meet new kids,” commented Ella.

“I miss going to school, but I like remote learning,” said Clarke. “I miss everyone.”

“It makes me a little sad because I miss playing with all my friends during recess at school,” added Maliyah.

“We felt the pod approach was necessary for the happiness of our children; the limited social interactions our children were having as a result of the quarantine were affecting them greatly,” Tignini also said.

“When Paige approached me with this idea, I was keen on the idea of a limited and safe social environment where all the families were committed to certain health standards,” she went on to say.

“Additionally, as I mentioned, the kids were getting short with each other, the adults were spread thin, and additional Spanish support was needed, we knew we needed some help. I know there are other options available, but my senior mother lives with us and I didn’t want to put her at additional risk, so the pod seemed to be the safest bet.”

Oliver also shared her perspective on Burbank Unified’s distance learning model.

“I believe that the Burbank School District only prepared for going back to school in a hybrid model despite sending out surveys asking about what the parents wanted,” Oliver commented. “They did not have answers about a full distance learning model when it was announced that we were not going back into the schools.”

(Photo Courtesy Paige Oliver)

“They did not have answers days before school started. They wasted the summer not preparing for both scenarios and our students have suffered.”

“The teachers’ union did what they were suppose to – fight for the teachers. The Burbank School Board watched over the monetary and liability aspect of the District,” Oliver added. “Who collectively fought for the students?”

Oliver has a positive assessment of the teacher for Spanish Dual Immersion but is concerned about her daughter and other students falling behind.

“I believe we have a wonderful teacher who is engaging, and is willing to learn and adapt as much as we are being asked to,” she said. “She is transparent and owns it if there are mistakes along the way. She responds quickly with concerns and I feel that she loves her job. I am very grateful for her.”

However, “Dual Immersion students at this level are not at the same level/equivalent to their standard English counterparts. With the reduction in hours of in person learning in both Spanish and English, both Spanish and English learners are at a disadvantage.”

“The educational environment at this age is one of interacting with one another, and currently a social component is missing in our children’s world,” Oliver went on to say. “Even if our pod was only two children it would help give them something they have been missing since March.”

“We practice social distancing, they all have their own assigned chairs and tables… but they can physically see each other, hear each other, talk to each other without a computer screen. They are outside in the fresh air and outside their homes (up until [last] week, as we have had to cancel pod meetings until the smoke goes away.)”

“Fear, depression, sadness are replaced by excitement, encouragement and anticipation for the next pod meeting. We have been amazed by what our creativity and resources can overcome and are inspired to do more!” Oliver said. “This pod helps their education in more ways than one.”

Burbank Board Of Education Swears In Student Members, Hears Reports On Distance Learning And The Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee

The Burbank Board of Education administered the Oath of Office to three Student Board Members and heard reports on Distance Learning and the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee at their regular biweekly meeting held on Thursday, September 3.

The meeting began with a remembrance of Monterey High School teacher Keith Lang, who recently passed away. Board members and other speakers shared memories of the teacher throughout the more than three-hour-long meeting.

The three Student Board Members – Carmen Blanchard from Burbank High School, Nadaly Jones from John Burroughs High School and Andrea Espinoza from Monterey High School – each gave a report on the various efforts of their school’s Associated Student Body (ASB) and ongoing projects.

Burbank Unified School District office. (Photo By Ross Benson)

Four speakers addressed the Board during Public Comments.

Parent Libby Fortman expressed frustration with the mask mandate, remote learning and social distancing.

Parent Liz Bax expressed concerns over BUSD’s not always clear communications and requested more attention be paid to parental input, particularly with the development of the hybrid learning model and an eventual return to in person education. She also shared concerns about AP students not getting enough instruction time in order to prepare for Spring AP tests.

Senior Burbank High School student Sophie Peterson questioned why the AP French and French 3 classes were placed together in one remote learning class and was concerned she and other students aren’t getting enough instruction and class time to be prepared for the Spring AP test.

Burbank Teachers Association President and Burbank High School English teacher Diana Abasta addressed the Board, commenting on the hard work and progress teachers have made with remote learning. She lauded the efforts of all BUSD employees, particularly the classified workers.

Superintendent Matt Hill and each Board member responded to each commenter in turn.

Although Los Angeles County Public Health recently indicated schools may possibly be able to bring back small groups of students soon, starting with Special Education and English Learners, Hill said, the County is not yet offering waivers for elementary schools.

“We will continue to discuss hybrid learning,” he added, indicating an update on that model would be presented to the Board at the October 1 meeting, and directly after that BUSD would seek community dialogue.

Hill gave a report on the newly created Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. He asked that any Burbank stakeholder who has an interest in joining a subcommittee email him for information.

The committee has been working with a California Teachers Association consultant, Reena Doyle, to look at BUSD K-12 education for systemic bias, adjust the curriculum and find ways to promote equity, diversity and inclusion.

Some classic English literature books that have been taught for many decades, including To Kill A Mockingbird, The Cay, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, have been identified as problematic for racist language and stereotypical depictions of Black people.

“This is not about censorship but about righting the wrongs of the past,” said Hill, as he also noted the efforts of the BUSD students of the Diversify Our Narrative campaign who have joined the work.

Hill also mentioned the committee was looking at Ethnic Studies pathways to add to the curriculum. The State of California has indicated an ethnic studies requirement for high school graduation will be mandated in the near future.

In Hill’s report on Distance Learning, he noted that for the period of August 27 through September 1, BUSD students averaged approximately 98% attendance for the live/synchronous learning. However, students from K-12 are averaging 74% attendance for asynchronous or independent learning attendance check ins.

Although a more complete report is forthcoming, Hill mentioned that more absences are being recorded in the asynchronous component for elementary age students. He also noted that tracking of asynchronous learning across all grades has been problematic.

This year, the State is not financially penalizing school districts for Average Daily Attendance drops, but school attendance is required, so school officials are working to sort out the reasons for the disparity.

Hill also emphasized that any student or family who is experiencing trouble connecting to the internet, to contact their school principal and request a hotspot and/or Chromebook. If students and families are having technical issues with their equipment, they should contact their school principal as well or check on the District website for troubleshooting tips.

As of August 27, BUSD has distributed 5614 Chromebooks and 1395 hotspots, utilizing Federal funds.

For the first week of school, BUSD distributed 10,890 meals, which dropped to 5830 meals the second week. However, 8830 meals have been distributed in the third week. Those with questions about the meal pickup process should contact the Food Services team.

BUSD can provide free meals (nutrition and lunch) to all of its 15,000 students, regardless of income, due to a recent expansion of the Summer Food Service Program.

The Board and Hill also discussed the Learning, Continuity and Attendance Plan which was provided to BUSD stakeholders in the form of videos on Wednesday, September 2. A link to those videos can be found on the District’s website here.

The videos discuss a possible return to in-person instruction. BUSD seeks comments from stakeholders and encourages people to email their comments to ReOpeningSchool@Burbankusd.org. Comments may also be made on the videos which also appear on the District’s Facebook page.

The Board of Education proclaimed September 2020 as PTA Membership Month.

Burbank Council PTA President Wendi Harvel gave a presentation on the efforts of the PTA at the State and local level. VP of Membership Lori Little highlighted easy membership signups on Council PTA’s website.

Erin Konstantine, VP of Legislation and Advocacy for Burbank Council PTA, also spoke in support of Proposition 15, which is on the ballot in November.

She quoted former California State PTA President Carol Kocivar, saying, “It doesn’t do a darn thing to your home. It doesn’t affect residential property at all. Prop 15 doesn’t hurt homeowners and it helps small businesses by eliminating their personal property tax. Prop 15 gets money by closing a tax loophole that has allowed billion dollar companies to evade millions in taxes that should be going to our schools and communities.”

Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, Debbie Kukta, emphasized that should Prop 15 pass, it will bring 9.1 million dollars to Burbank Unified.

Kukta then discussed the Unaudited Actuals report, a closing report on the budget for the prior fiscal year. She noted that the District’s financial situation is better than expected, particularly with the change in the State budget in June, as certain financial burdens were deferred by the Governor and Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) monies were restored by the State. She also went over Federal funding, particularly funds resulting from COVID-19 stimulus packages.

But, she warned, the structural deficits for 2021-22 and 2022-23 remain and must be prepared for.

Kukta also noted BUSD has received an A+ credit rating from Standard and Poor’s.

Because the HEROES act has stalled in the Senate, there is no additional Federal stimulus funding on the horizon currently.

Burbank Unified relies on State and Federal funding. The City of Burbank is financially separate and while they are a strong partner with certain types of support, Kukta noted, the City does not have a dedicated financial contribution to the District.

The Board approved the purchase of a one year contract for electronic high school Social Science textbooks, paid for by the Lottery Textbook Fund, thus providing current materials for high school classes.

“We are hoping by the end of the year to be able to adopt the textbook in full,” commented John Paramo, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services.

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for September 3 can be found online here.

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

Burbank Unified Parents And Students Share Perspectives On Remote Learning

Since the first day of school on August 17, families, caregivers and students in the Burbank Unified School District have had to adjust to a rigorous remote learning program as schools in Los Angeles County remain closed to in person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many perspectives – positive and negative – have been posted online via social media recently. We reached out to a few families and their students to share their experiences with online learning.

“So far, my family and I are adjusting as well as we can,” commented Pamela Di Andrea, parent of William McKinley Elementary School students Joseph (fifth grade) and Evelyn (third grade.) “Obviously, none of this is ideal, but with the current situation the world is facing, we are determined to do our best to continue to move forward and accept the challenges ahead.”

“Though we are only a few weeks in, overall, I feel things have been going well with remote learning. When we have had any questions, the teachers and McKinley staff have been helpful and timely. That said, we fortunately have not experienced any major issues these first few weeks,” Di Andrea continued. “My husband and I have spent a lot of time talking with our kids to make sure they were prepared for this new way of learning. We both feel it is very important to maintain a positive morale and keep them on track with everything, which at times can be a big challenge.”

Lana and Georgia Dadekian, eighth- and seventh-graders, respectively, at Luther Middle School, are at home with their remote learning stations. (Photo Courtesy Kristi Dadekian)

“Going into this school year, our family is at a bit of an advantage because of the age of our children. Although they do need assistance from us throughout the day from time to time, they are able to navigate the technology fairly well because they had used some of it before at school prior to the pandemic. They are also at academic levels where they are reading proficiently, which allows them to read directions and navigate assignments on their own. Also, my children do not require any additional services or interventions.”

“I have not personally needed to reach out to the district or school for any special assistance, but they both have made it very clear that they are available to help students and their families with any educational support or assistance they may need,” she added.

“My kids were disappointed when the decision was first announced that we would be having remote learning. They both really enjoy school and because we have been on lock down orders for so long, I think they were really looking forward to leaving the house and seeing their friends! I also think they were somewhat apprehensive towards continuing with remote learning after their experience in the spring since all of the learning had been done asynchronously, with only some occasional live meets with their teachers. This was a bit difficult at times for all of us in trying to maintain some normalcy with school.”

“Though I know they would much prefer going to the school site every day, I do think the addition of synchronous learning via live meets every day has made a big difference in a positive way. Overall, I am okay with how remote learning has been structured for the fall, and with the current situation that we all are facing in the world, I believe this is the best solution for now.,” Di Andrea went on to say. “The health and safety of my children, family, friends and the community in general, is paramount and we need to do our best to make it work and be as patient as possible.”

Burbank High teacher Amy Winn shares remote teaching and learning space with her son Matthew Winn, a seventh-grader at John Muir Middle School. (Photo Courtesy Amy Winn)

Di Andrea talked about what her children’s day of online school looks like.

“It is a big help that the school day begins for both of them at 8:30 a.m. with live, synchronous learning. My husband and I are fortunate enough to work from home, so this synchronous aspect of remote learning is essential with our schedules. Again, because of the ages of my children, they can be self-sufficient for the most part during the times of the day when they need to complete work asynchronously. However, my husband and I are able to provide guidance whenever they need.”

“One of the biggest challenges is keeping track of their schedules. My phone has more alarms than I can count!” Di Andrea also said. “Even though my kids login for their first live meet at the same time, the rest of the day their schedules differ, which has been a bit of a challenge for me to keep things straight. I wouldn’t mind if at least their lunch and recess schedules were the same!”

“Although, now that we are into the second week, we are all getting the hang of their new routines. In addition, I feel that both of my children’s teachers have been working hard to make sure and be available for their students as well as the parents for any questions that we might have. So far, I am feeling optimistic that my kids will be able to learn and be successful in the remote model.”

Burbank High Principal Tom Crowther works from home while his daughter practices piano. He’s wearing a mask because his son is working with a tutor in the next room. (Photo Courtesy Tom Crowther)

“The school has sent out recommendations on how to get your child ready to learn for the day and we definitely have adopted many of the suggestions which were already very similar to our usual routine during a ‘normal’ school year.

For example, we wake up with plenty of time to eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, etc., but now we include making sure to login early to check for any tech glitches and we have our daily talks on expectations for the day and what assignments they will need to work on.”

Tech and internet issues prompted the Di Andrea family to upgrade their services and equipment.

“My husband is working full time from home and I am currently a full time college student embarking on my own journey with remote learning. In order to make it work, we did need to purchase another laptop so we all could have reliable devices. We did encounter issues with our internet connection due to of all of the use, so we made the decision to upgrade our cell data plans to utilize hot spots in the event we needed them.”

“Both the school and district have said that they can provide technology and internet hot spots for families to borrow if needed. We did consider at first reaching out to the district for assistance because we had faced some economic hardship at the start of the pandemic, however, we were able to overcome this hardship, so we no longer required any assistance.”

“I feel good about how we get to learn from the teacher seeing them at a Google Meet everyday,” commented Joseph. “I like Google Classroom because we can ask questions really fast and chat with the other kids in the class about school work also. I do miss seeing my friends and playing with them at lunch and recess.”

“I feel pretty good but not too good because I miss all of my friends, seeing my teacher and past teachers in person,” said Evelyn. “I don’t really like being on the computer because I would rather be in the classroom. But I am glad that I get to still do school at McKinley because I love McKinley. Even though I miss being at school, I like doing the Google Meet everyday so I can at least see my teacher and friends in class.”

John Muir Middle School seventh-grader Matthew Winn pay attention during his remote learning class. (Photo Courtesy Amy Winn)

On Monday through Thursday, the elementary school distance learning plan for grades one through five allows for two 60-minute periods of live instruction in Math and English/Language Arts in the morning, with a break in between, followed by lunch.

After lunch, there are 110 – 120 minutes of asynchronous learning, which includes 45 minutes of live virtual instruction (which can include small group interactions, individual support and teachers answering questions/emails or providing enrichment in PE, Reading, Social Studies, Science, Art or Music, or Math and English/Language Arts if needed.)

On Fridays, one hour of live virtual interaction with students is held. The weekly plan is similar for Kindergarten students, but with the live interaction typically in 40 minute intervals for Monday through Thusday.

Carey Bennett-Dean and Kevin Dean are the parents of fifth-grader Olive Dean, a student at McKinley Elementary. They have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My husband and I both work in the entertainment industry; Kevin is a Key Grip and I am a Costume Designer. Neither of us has had work since school closed on March 13,” Dean explained.

“We are grateful that BUSD pulled together a distanced learning model so quickly,” she said. “Truthfully, one of the most important things my daughter has learned [is] that everyone has challenges and it takes all of us being thoughtful and super patient to sort them out. She’s also really seeing how much stuff parents, teachers and administrators do behind the scenes to keep everything running smoothly.”

“Online learning has been a welcome way to organize our day and serves as a path to keep us learning.”

Olive Dean, a fifth-grader at William McKinley Elementary School, pauses during her remote learning education. (Photo Courtesy Casey Bennett)

“Overall it has worked rather well. There are the occasional assignments that won’t open or are otherwise compromised. Like today, Olive opened an assignment that had already been filled out by another student. In our experience there’s some funny issue like that each day but the kids write their teacher about it and it gets resolved,” Dean continued. “I have yet to need to seek help from the school district or even her teacher. I do have a text chain going with other parents in her class and we communicate any issues and challenges and help each other sort them out.”

Olive says she likes “not being in a rush to finish assignments, doing things at her own pace and having snacks whenever she wants.”

“She definitely gets computer fatigue and often finds learning by herself at home boring,” Dean admitted, and “she says the hardest thing is that she dearly misses her friends and the social aspect of school.”

“This go around, having the teachers there in person is huge for us. Olive would much rather be taught from her teacher than from me and her morale is much better with the enthusiasm and connection from her teacher,” Dean said. “I appreciate that the assignments are posted per day, as opposed to posting all the work for the week on Monday which is overwhelming.”

“Overall, with the computer model, I think creativity suffers greatly as they are no longer drawing or using color in assignments. Being able to communicate that way and express herself through art or artful assignments is really what makes Olive tick. She used to thrive on those type of assignments, even making wonderful doodles on regular assignments and going the extra mile to make the assignment great. Now she keeps a piece of paper next to the key board on her desk to draw on while listening.”

“I think she also learns kinetically, so having to sit for long stretches and be at attention in a computer screen is hard and exhausting for her. Normally, being able to move around and be in the flow of her day, energizes her.”

Fifth grade student Olive Dean works intently from her at home remote learning station. (Photo Courtesy Carey Bennett)

What does Dean find positive about the remote learning model?

“Having the assignments post each day and notated as to when they are due is so helpful! I go over everything with her after the first in-sync session and I do have to monitor to make sure it is all getting done. Olive will talk herself out of needing to do ALL of the assignments, so it takes paying attention on my part and finding the right balance of keeping her motivated but not being too much of a nag,” she explained. “Breaks, snacks and ultimately making sure I hold space enough so she is not so distracted that she can’t get all the reading done.”

“She mostly works independently and only asks for help on assignments here and there. It’s really more the stamina and motivation to press through and get everything done each day that is a true challenge.”

Olive wishes there was “time to socialize.”

“I am acutely aware of how little exercise she is getting,” Dean continued. “It is tough to get her to do the GoNoodle assignments anymore so I really have to work in ways to get exercise. We do a daily walk, for sure, but she never gets to run and scream and laugh with other kids like she got to do daily at recess.”

“I have heard that older kids have to prove that they are exercising; is there something we could do to that end?” Dean wondered. “Some team building or off line challenges that they compare notes on each day would definitely help with motivation and make it more fun.”

What does the Dean family’s typical day of remote learning look like?

“We wake up, do some chores, check in on Teddy Bear the hamster, eat breakfast then she’s off to school. I monitor from a distance and work to keep her motivated to keep going and get everything done. We often read our separate books while sitting together as it’s the only way to create an atmosphere to get reading done. She’s mostly done with all school assignments a little after lunch.”

Six third grade Dual Immersion Spanish students, placed at tables socially distant from each other, from McKinley Elementary meet twice a week for their supervised learning pod. The families manage the pod and agree to a contract about social behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo Courtesy of a Burbank parent who wishes to remain anonymous)

“In the afternoon she has online art classes and we are going to be starting in-person-distanced volleyball and Japanese lessons (her wish because she loves anime so much!) We also make time to play with friends online on Roblox or Minecraft or just chat on the phone together. We are seeing friends safely in person, maybe only once or twice a week. Exercise is the real challenge. We go for a walk everyday but the quality of exertion and silly exuberance is just not the same as what she used to get at school and playing with friends.”

“My husband and I are not working from home in a significant way as we are out of work until the movie studios are able to open up,” Dean added. “However we are all usually on Zoom calls of one nature or another. Sometimes there are three Zoom calls happening at once and the challenge is finding a place to take the call where we are not interrupting each other.”

“Our house has a desktop for Olive, two laptops and two iPads, two phones and an iPod, all of which we have accumulated over the years and all seem to get a work out every day. We have alarms on all the devices to remind us to put them down.”

“Our internet has been seeming slower but we’ve luckily not had any significant issues. We have definitely had issues with Zoom and Google along the way as we learned the little tricks to making things run smoothly, like turning devices completely off more frequently, clearing the cache and sometimes just having to hop onto another device quickly while we sort out the one that’s not functioning. It’s a group effort to keep it all running smoothly.”

Georgia Dadekian is in seventh grade at Luther Middle School. (Photo Courtesy Kristi Dadekian)

Kristi Dadekian has three children utilizing remote education in her household: John Burroughs High School (JBHS) junior Sonya, and Luther Burbank Middle School eighth-grader Lana and seventh-grader Georgia.

The first week of 100% distance learning was “up and down” for the family, Dadekian admitted. “Fortunately for me I have older kids who are more self sufficient and tech savvy so it’s a bit easier than those who have elementary school kids.”

Most of the issues the Dadekian girls faced involved technology.

“For some reason the Google Classrooms don’t work as well as Zoom,” Dadekian said. “My younger girls are using Chromebooks that we got from the school. When they are on Google Classroom they sometimes get kicked off and have to try to get back on. My oldest is using an older Mac laptop that we had and she doesn’t seem to have that same problem.”

“We are trying to work it out here, but might have to talk to the school soon if it keeps happening.  I have given my laptop to my youngest when it keeps happening to her.”

Sonya Dadekian, a junior at John Burroughs High School, shows off her at home education work station. (Photo Courtesy Kristi Dadekian)

Dadekian acknowledged her daughters are doing fine with remote learning “but they really miss being at school with their friends and teachers. I feel the same. I miss them being in school too.”

“In some ways it’s kinda okay because we aren’t running from one thing to the next or having to rush out the door in the morning. I don’t mind the slower pace. However, we all feel more cooped up than ever. Some days my girls don’t even leave the house and it can get to them. I told them they need to walk around the backyard during class breaks.”

“I think the fact that the teachers are actually teaching them live is great. At least for the age of my girls. I think the only thing that could be better is better connection with the computers.”

The Dadekians also had to upgrade their internet service to accommodate learning and working from home by multiple members of the famile.

“My husband is a movie trailer editor. Currently he doesn’t have a steady job, because of the pandemic, but he does do freelance work when he can. When he does, he needs the WiFi at top speed for the videos he edits,” Dadekian explained. “We had to switch over to a different provider with a faster internet during the spring for that.”

“We kept our other internet provider too because it was cheaper, although slower. This way we have two different internets to use when everyone needs to get on. I substitute in the district, and so far haven’t had any jobs for that yet and not completely sure how that will work yet.”

Remote learning is “fine for now, but I want to go back to school!” commented Lana.

“I get frustrated when I get kicked off of Google Meet,” said Georgia. “I miss being in school.”

“I think so far it’s going ok, but obviously I’d prefer real school,” added Sonya.

Eighth-grader Lana Dadekian pauses from remote education work. (Photo Courtesy Kristi Dadekian)

Diana Lucas is a Kindergarten teacher in a charter school outside of BUSD and is currently teaching her class remotely. Her three children attend Burbank schools: seventh-grader Dylan and eighth-grader Jared go to Luther Burbank Middle School and daughter Lauren is a senior at John Burroughs High School.

“We are all adjusting to remote learning and our new settings at home as our classroom. The first week back, the kids experienced delays, glitches and disconnections at times during their live instruction,” Lucas commented. “We anticipated needing a good WiFi signal, so we had our service provider come to the house to relocate our router to the middle of the house where the signal can be reached by all learning areas. This week has been much better.”

“On a typical day, the kids are receiving synchronous, live instruction from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They attend three classes per day. We lunch for an hour, and then  go back to complete asynchronous (online) assignments until they are completed.”

Luther Burbank Middle School seventh-grader Dylan Lucas works on his remote learning lessons. (Photo Courtesy Diana Lucas)

Lucas noted her son Dylan takes about one to two hours to complete his work on those days, Monday through Thursday, “He is a G.A.T.E. student who works hard at his academics.”

“I don’t really need to monitor the kids’ study habits, but like to check on what assignments they are assigned and help answer anything they may not understand.”

“I like the distance learning schedule,” commented Dylan. “I like that the school day is shorter and I only meet with three classes a day. I have less homework because of this. I don’t like distance learning because I miss seeing my friends.”

“I am fortunate to work from home and be with my family,” said Lucas.

“Last Spring, when the kids weren’t able to return to school, it was more difficult for families. We were all new to the challenges we were facing. For example, we were all sharing one laptop! That was tough!” she continued. “The kids were assigned work via Google Classroom without any type of teaching or instruction. So, there were many days where we would take turns doing research and completing the assignments.”

“BUSD was much better prepared for the return of students by loaning out Chromebooks for any student who needed one, and the teachers and students now have class meetings via Zoom or Google Meet, Monday – Thursday, with a full day of asynchronous learning on Fridays,” Lucas also said. “For now, we are taking it a day at a time. We are blessed to be healthy and safe at home, but look forward to the day that we return to in person schooling.”

The Goulet family have also adjusted to the remote learning approach and have marked the differences between the last few months of school in March through May as compared to the current Fall semester.

“Things have, surprisingly, been going very well for Eliza. You can feel and see the difference from how the school year ended in May,” commented Amy and Derick Goulet, who also noted their older son, who graduated from JBHS in May, is currently a college freshman taking classes remotely at home. Daughter Eliza is a seventh-grader at Luther.

“Thankfully, we have only had minor issues with distance learning. A few times last week while Eliza was in a live class session she was disconnected or bumped off. Being disconnected caused her to panic a bit, but she was able to log back in, get connected and carried on. We requested a hotspot from the District before school started and I think that has helped alleviate any major technology issues.”

Eliza Goulet, a seventh-grader at Luther Burbank Middle School, shows off her at home remote learning station. (Photo Courtesy The Goulet Family)

“Eliza has adapted well to distance learning. She enjoys only having three classes a day and likes the slower more leisurely pace of learning from home,” Amy went on to say. “She hasn’t felt the same pressure as when in-person, moving through six classes per day combined with homework and extracurriculars.”

“Her one complaint is that it is still sometimes hard to understand assignments, especially those given for asynchronous or independent learning. She knows she can always seek help or ask questions through the Google Classroom or via email, but because you are not face to face the response is not always immediate. Because you have three classes per day, not seeing and connecting with teachers daily is difficult too.”

“As parents, our biggest concern is that these students are only experiencing three classes a day. Are they learning half as much as they would if in-person? Will they be prepared to advance to the next grade? Are they forced to learn/complete material independently that they would have otherwise learned in person and therefore risking not grasping the concept correctly?”

“Eliza is extremely self sufficient and responsible. She needs to be monitored very little. She knows how to log in, be on time, navigate the Google Classroom, ask questions electronically and submit homework assignments. We are very lucky in that respect, but with that said, I still log into the Aeries Student Portal to monitor attendance, grades and missing/incomplete assignments.”

“The typical day of distance learning consists of getting up and ready for school, having breakfast and being logged in to class by 7:55 a.m. There are three classes per day, each consisting of a 45 minute ‘live’ instruction followed by 35 minutes of teacher support where the teacher is available and ‘live’ to answer questions and help with classwork or independent learning assignments. There is a 10 minute break between classes. The last class of the day ends at 12:20 p.m. followed by a lunch break until 1:30 p.m. Students are expected to be working on asynchronous or independent work from 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.”

“My husband is currently working out of the home due to COVID, so he’s able to provide support and answer questions for Eliza as well, in real-time,” continued Goulet. “The hotspot allows Eliza to have her own WiFi dedicated to schooling, even though my husband is working only ten feet from her. It has alleviated the strain on our network provider so far.”

“Our son started remote learning at UC Berkeley just this week, though, and he’s already expressed issues with our current WiFi situation. We have been able to manage our computers pretty well and are conscious of each other’s virtual calls and schedules. If two people are having Zoom or Google Meets at the same time, things can slow down. We will have to see how it plays out in the next week or two, if we have to bump up to a better network.”

“What I would like to say to parents and fellow students is, I know it’s hard and I’ve had my hard days too, but I’m telling you, you will get used to it for the time being,” said Eliza. “I believe in each and every one of you!”

George and Michelle Robinson’s son Dylan is a sophomore at Burbank High School. So far, their experience with 100% distance learning has been positive.

Dylan Robinson, a tenth grade student at Burbank High School, pauses from his remote education work. (Photo Courtesy Michelle Robinson)

“Thus far it has been going well. One of the benefits was our son took an online class over the summer. It helped him prepare for some of the technology hurdles students are facing today,” they said.

“As expected with technology, some days it works seamless. But we have had the internet go down but thankfully we were able to reconnect, or have the backup device that does not require WiFi,” the Robinsons continued. “We ended up upgrading our WiFi system just prior to school start. Especially because we have two students and both parents working from home.”

“With the support of teachers and counselors, the routine, class expectations and Zoom etiquette laid out, this week is going better,” they acknowledged. “Also, our employers are very supportive and are aware of the challenges. As parents we are here to support Dylan in any way needed.”

“I feel more comfortable with it now, especially with what I learned with online learning with World History over the summer,” commented Dylan. “Especially with uploading assignments and calendaring.”

“What I like about it, is that all we are all learning and working in Zoom, with Google Classroom and Google Meets,” he continued. “My assignments are easily accessible in Google Classroom. I check what I need to do and what I am missing with Google Classroom, which is great. I’m currently liking the class structure, and the amount of time spent in each class.”

“What I dislike is not being with my classmates and interacting with my teachers in person,” Dylan added. “Especially, when there may be a time that we could all discuss a problem or assignment, and sometimes it’s hard when everyone is talking at the same time on Zoom.”

“Being on Zoom means making sure you pay attention, that is important. It’s important for the time we have with the teachers to listen and understand. You just can’t go back to the classroom and ask a question,” he explained. “That doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to the teacher, it’s just different and not as immediate. I also miss seeing everyone on campus. Especially the excitement that is normally felt the first week of school. I’m an athlete as well, and missing my Football and Baseball teammates. Not being on campus affects students in so many ways.”

“We like that we are able to be there for Dylan if he needs us. We dislike that he is missing out on the interaction with teachers and friends,” the Robinsons also said. “We do provide tech support when needed. Making sure the headphones are still working, connectivity works, or if there are issues with the mic which are challenges anyone can face.”

“Dylan has a zero period and Zoom begins in our house at 7:00 a.m., Monday through Thursday, and goes until 1:30 p.m. each day. He also has class check ins on Friday. He continues with assignments after school.”

“It can be challenging at times, with both parents online, and two students, one of whom is a college student (recent BHS 2020 grad Justin Robinson,)” they said. “We each needed our own computer set ups, whether hardwired or WiFi based, so that we are all able to be successful throughout the day. It’s being mindful of the student needing to focus and have an area they can do that. Along with parents needing to balance phone calls and Zoom calls.”

“We support each other through it all, as we navigate through these ever changing times,” the Robinsons added.

 

Burbank Unified High School Teachers Talk About Remote Education

Four Burbank High School teachers took time to share their perspectives on remote teaching and education, now that the Burbank Unified School District has had two full weeks of 100% distance learning since the first day of classes on Monday, August 17.

Overall, teachers responded positively to the new learning model, noting they spent a lot of time over the summer preparing for the new approach. Their general consensus is that remote education is a viable approach, given the constraints of a national and international pandemic, but it is not without some very real challenges.

Many noted the limited social engagement that students receive through virtual classrooms and breakout groups with other students and their teachers. Additionally, teachers have taken on a huge amount of extra work in order to teach the required materials, connect with students and manage their classrooms to the best of their ability. Technology access and resources and special equipment or software, particularly for advanced or specialized classes, remain a top concern.

Burbank High AP Stats and Algebra I teacher Robert Hammell shows off his at home remote teaching setup. (Photo Courtesy Robert Hammell.)

Robert Hammell teaches AP Statistics and Algebra I this year at BHS, so his students are from all grades 9 – 12. He teaches from home, “My wife is also a teacher in the district and she is teaching from school as it is hard for both of us to be teaching at the same time because the noise travels very easily in our house.

His average class size is about 30 students, over two sections of AP Stats and four sections of Algebra I. His classes draw students from all grades 9 – 12.

As a statistics teacher, I must point out that my average is a slightly misleading number as I have one class that is much smaller than the rest. If I remove the small class, my average is 32.4,” he said.

“To prepare for the remote/online learning approach, I went through the district created modules which covered instructional modules, digital classroom community, supporting special populations and grading and assessment,” Hammell explained. “These modules were created by colleagues throughout the district and had a lot of useful information and ideas. They were organized in the format: learn and explore, create, and share. There was enough material in these modules to spend at least a week exploring and learning.”

“In addition to the district modules, I also self reflected on what went well and did not go well last spring, read student feedback from surveys I had my students fill out last spring, talked to colleagues and read many articles online.”

“At this point, I think the biggest thing that needs attention is how to get my students to interact with me and each other more during live instruction,” Hammell continued. “I am quickly learning the best way to utilize some of the features in Zoom to help with this including the chat window, breakout rooms, nonverbal feedback, reactions, virtual and literal hand raising, waiting rooms and controlling mic/video settings.” 

Burbank High School’s front entrance is devoid of students currently. (Undated file photo by Ross Benson)

“I feel one of my strengths is adjusting my teaching in real time based on student feedback and interactions and I am missing that piece in my class right now.”

“As far as what worked well, I think I was successful in communicating a mathematical mindset to my students,” he continued. “I want students to change their perspective in my class from earning points for a grade to receiving feedback to help them master learning objectives.”

“With this change in perspective, I’m hoping students will find the value in asking questions to gain understanding of concepts, learning from mistakes, being creative, learning math (and not just performing/memorizing), communicating their thinking and appreciating depth over speed.”

“I am confident that my students will learn the material and that I will be providing a rigorous course.  However, I would not say I feel comfortable yet, but I am getting there,” Hammell also said. “We ask students to have a growth mindset, ask questions, learn from mistakes and think critically to problem solve. This is the perfect time to model that as teachers as this is a brand new model for teaching for most of us in the district.” 

Burbank High AP Biology teacher Rebecca Cooper believes in a “dress for success” approach to remote teaching from her dining room table office. (Photo Courtesy Rebecca Cooper)

“The hardest part for me is figuring out how to build a classroom community where all the students can share their thoughts and I can adjust my teaching in real time based on students verbal and non verbal feedback,” he added. “The virtual classroom setting makes it very difficult to get feedback in the usual way, but I am quickly learning new ways to get the feedback that I need to be a more effective teacher.”

Rebecca Cooper, who has taught for 18 years – 16 of those at BHS, is currently teaching five periods of AP Biology from home. She is also the Burbank High Science Department Chair.

“If it becomes too challenging (due to technology and materials needed), then I may start working more at BHS,” she said.

Cooper has a lot of students this year; she is averaging 37 students per class.

“Preparing for remote learning has been an ongoing work in progress. Fortunately, I was already using Google Classroom (GCR) with my students last year for a variety of purposes, so that made the shift to going all online for distance learning a little smoother for me,” she commented. “However, with that being said, distance learning/teaching is about far more than simply knowing how operate GCR.”

“Over the summer I was part of the district Professional Development team that helped build the training modules for the staff this year. They were designed to help everyone have supports in place as they started preparing individually for this new format.”

“And from that moment on, it has been read, learn, create, discuss, share,” Cooper continued. “The same model we try to impart on our students. I am in a number of teacher groups on social media where I am constantly getting or sharing ideas and am in constant communication with my colleagues as well  I am always looking for ways to engage my students better, or to help them feel supported and more connected to one another.”

“I have mixed feelings about teaching this way. While I am grateful for the opportunity to maintain safety and good health and feel confident that I can do a good job teaching, it is still overwhelming,” she acknowledged. “It’s hard to not have the opportunity to engage naturally in conversation with people. For students to have to sit silently in class, rather than socialize and build relationships between classes.”

“On the logistical side of things, it’s challenging to manage Zoom windows, chat windows, student ‘hand raise’ icons, screen sharing, etc. AND develop a natural flow to the class. And building classroom community takes a very intentional approach – it’s not just going to happen on its own in this sort of setting.”

Burbank High AP Bio teacher Rebecca Cooper’s Zoom profile includes a background of her classroom view. (Photo Courtesy Rebecca Cooper)

For AP Bio students and other high school classes that usually incorporate lab work, that hands on approach can be a real challenge for distance learning.

“We’re going to do the best we can to still make lab experiences happen. Many of the labs are possible to do at home with some basic materials (like cups, water, seeds, soap, etc.), so for some classes, students may be surveyed for their home access for certain materials, and can be provided with the additional supplies,” said Cooper. “In other cases where material distribution is too cumbersome (or involves supplies that are not safe to use at home), students will be provided with live or prerecorded demonstrations of the labs, or alternatives such as virtual labs, or samples of lab data that they can then be asked to analyze.”

Burbank High AP Bio teacher Rebecca Cooper watches her students in a Zoom call work in teams to build a presentation as they work on a shared document that is projected on a wall behind her computer. (Photo Courtesy Rebecca Cooper)

“It’s certainly not the same experience, but we will do our best to make it as interactive as we can. In my AP Biology class, we will be attempting our first at home lab on Monday where students will be investigating the properties of water. Students were provided with a materials list, and if they are able to gather materials, then great! And for those who are not able – no problem!”

“I have embedded video clips into the lesson that are demonstrating the activity,” she explained. “They can use these videos as their experience to assist in answering their lab questions and doing data analysis.”

“Overall successes so far include pretty great student attendance and overall improved communication between students and their teachers (lots of students reaching out via email and comments in GCR),” Cooper went on to say. “And in my classes, most students have been doing an excellent job of keeping up with their assignments, and putting in good effort not only with their work, but attempting to get comfortable with a room full of digital strangers.”

“It continues to be very difficult to manage all of the responsibilities that need to be done daily, while also remembering the importance of self-care. For the last 10 days, I have spent the better part of every day (probably about 12 hours is a fair estimate) sitting in front of my computer – just to stay caught up.”

“We want to do a good job, but sometimes that means catching up with 100s of work-related emails gets put in front of working on our lesson plans, activities, building presentations/lessons and providing feedback on student work,” Cooper also said. “And all of those listed responsibilities end up getting put in front of our home responsibilities (cleaning, cooking, exercising, tending to our own families, resting, etc.)”

“I think for everyone – both teachers and students – we need to establish some healthy routines, schedules and boundaries. Today [Thursday, August 27] I started my day at 4:30 a.m. just so I could make time to exercise (for the first time in two weeks) and accomplish some work [before] school started, and before the new emails for the day started pouring in.”

“Same goes for students… several shared that their work was pretty manageable last week until Friday, when they became overwhelmed,  as they didn’t realize there would be so much new work assigned on Fridays for their classes (and they had procrastinated on assignments from earlier in the week.)”

“Several students recognized it is their responsibility to hold themselves accountable, and mentioned their new goal for week two was to tackle their school work on the day it is assigned, during school hours (from 1:30 – 3:00), rather than waiting until it was due.”

“I think eventually, we will all get more accustomed to how the different technology tools we are using work, and we will start to figure out a groove of routines that work well for us,” Cooper also said. “I’m enjoying getting to know my students a little more everyday, but am going to have to work on having a cut off time to be looking on my phone or computer, or doing work for school – my brain needs a forced break every day.”

“I’m sure right around the time where it all starts to feel comfortable, will be the same time where we get to go back to school in person and will have a whole new set of norms to learn and establish.”

Burbank High teacher Amy Winn shares remote teaching and learning space with her son Matthew Winn, a seventh-grader at John Muir Middle School. (Photo Courtesy Amy Winn)

Amy Winn is in her 19th year of teaching at Burbank High. Before taking over the Digital Video Production classes five years ago, Winn taught Special Education and English classes at the school. She  teaches seven sections at BHS, covering grades 9 – 12, and averages 37 students in her Video Production and Yearbook classes, 27 in Broadcast Journalism and 10 in Advanced Video Production.

“The first week was very challenging personally – it was probably the most anxious I have ever felt in my 19 years of working in Education,” Winn commented. “Overall – my classes went great, the students were great and it was good to be back with them again. It was just a lot to prepare for, fear of technology not cooperating and I had true anxiety about trying to maintain an academic setting on a Zoom call in my living room.”

Burbank High Digital Video Production teacher Amy Winn logs in students to her Zoom classroom. (Photo Courtesy Amy Winn)

“I collaborated with Richard Lightfoot at JBHS [John Burroughs High School] who teaches Video Production, he was a huge help as we figured out together how we could even attempt to do this,” Winn added. “It’s taken hours upon hours to prep for four different classes and transform the material into a new digital, virtual format.”

Winn is very concerned about her students not all having access to video editing software at home that the school typically provides in the physical classroom.

“The real test will come when the students will work independently on video assignments at home which they would normally have in class to use software and edit their work. It’s a gamble right now if they will be able to complete projects at home not having the right technology.”

“I am not confident at all in my ability as a teacher or in my ability to adequately teach my subjects this way without the proper tools,” Winn continued. “I am constantly working – I don’t think I leave my desk at home all day… continuously answering emails, figuring out lesson plans, having Zoom call classes, grading, etc.  I know every teacher is going through this, but it’s A LOT of extra work that I didn’t expect.”

“The kids were happy to be back and interacting with each other,” she acknowledged. “There is still a lot that needs to be addressed like technology access. It feels impossible to be able to teach these Arts/Digital Media classes which are hands-on and interactive in this particular format.”

Digital Video Production teacher Amy Winn in her at home remote teaching office. (Photo Courtesy Amy Winn)

“I have computers and editing software that students are able to use at the school and I am not sure what editing software or apps my students have access to at home, meaning then my whole curriculum is having to be modified and manipulated to take on this challenge of distance learning.  I have a huge broadcast studio that we film our announcements in at BHS and now are forced to do them on a Zoom call.”

“We have a Yearbook to produce with no activities, no sporting events, we aren’t even on campus… so, everything in my digital media world is a challenge and will be until we are able to be physically back at school.”

“Until then, we do what we can – I teach the subjects the best way I can and pray that this all works out. The students are definitely not getting at home what they could be getting in the classroom, especially in my classes and I feel like I’m failing them already and the year hasn’t even really started yet.”

“I know it’s no one’s fault, but this is very very difficult for me and I’m doing the best I can,” Winn also said. “I like things to be perfect and they aren’t and it’s hard for me to accept that – it is what it is.”

John Wells teaches the Associated Student Body (ASB) class in addition to Phys. Ed. classes at Burbank High.  His classes average 40 students per section.

“I am working from both home and BHS. I live in Burbank so makes it easy to go back and forth,” Wells said. “I have a young son, age three, that my wife and I share duties teaching and entertaining right now so that determines when I go in and when I don’t.”

“I am beginning to feel more comfortable. It isn’t easy being on screen for hours a day but [I’m] making it work,” he added. “The confident side is a bit harder because shifting Physical Education to all online has challenges and I think as we go on I will get more confident with what I am teaching each day.”

Burbank High ASB Advisor and Phys. Ed. teacher John Wells works from his remote teaching setup. (Photo Courtesy John Wells)

Wells talked about how Burbank Unified is handling Phys. Ed. classes.

“These are a bit challenging but I think are slowly getting better. As a Physical Education department, our goal is how can we get these students as active as possible while maintaining the necessary social distance and health protocols.”

BUSD requires two years of Physical Education classes and passing the State Physical Fitness exam (or additional semesters of Phys. Ed. until passing the exam) for graduation.

“We are creating at home workout videos that the students will workout to during class as well as they create their own and share them with us. We will also have different activities and sports that will be covered. Those will be covered with videos in and out of class that students can watch and answer questions to.”

“We hope to get creative when it comes to demonstrating different sports and lack of equipment students have access to. So that will be a challenge and fun at same time.”

Wells notes that ASB, which runs school spirit campaigns and a lot of special activities at the school, has really been impacted by remote learning.

“With the distance learning ASB activities have shifted. Students are disappointed at this time there isn’t our annual Foam party, which kicks off the year, and then into homecoming celebrations which are postponed at this moment, with hope they can happen in the spring,” Wells explained. “So ASB students have shifted their mindset of what they can do to engage and keep that Bulldog pride alive.”

“We will be having our first virtual spirit week next week. This is where students will dress to different themes each day for their classes and can post their outfits in Burbank High ASB Instagram. ASB will choose a most spirited for each day.”

Student members of Burbank High School’s Associated Student Body (ASB) class meet with advisor and teacher John Wells via Zoom. (Photo Courtesy John Wells)

As ASB advisor, Wells seeks to “[encourage] the students to continue to think outside the box and get creative. Which these students are. As their advisor I support and help with any logistics they need with their ideas. I really try to make ASB about them and creating excellent leaders.”

“For our virtual classes, I meet with ASB president Carmen Blanchard and ASB VP Bella Bowman at [the] end of each week to plan out the following week,” he added. “We are currently engaging in a lot of leadership activities and having ASB students create their own lesson plans and then present their leadership lessons to rest of class. These are going well thus far.”

Currently, Burbank Unified remains focused on providing 100% distance learning for its students’ education, while planning for an eventual return to in person education.

“Reopening will depend on current health conditions and guidelines,” Superintendent Matt Hill has stated. “Current guidelines require six feet of physical distancing, so when it is safe and appropriate to reopen we would phase in with a hybrid model.”

Hill has also emphasized that the District does not want to reopen schools, only to have to shut them down again. Thus, BUSD’s approach to reopening to in person education will be cautious and follow County and State guidelines.

 

Burbank Unified Back To School Approach Looks Different For Fall 2020

Due to the COVID -19 pandemic, Burbank Unified’s reopening and back to school efforts, with the implementation of 100% distance learning, made the first day of school look very different for teachers, administrators, students and families for the start of the 2020-21 school year on Monday, August 17.

For the past several years, myBurbank staff photographer Ross Benson has accompanied Burbank Unified Superintendent Matt Hill as he would check in at the various school sites, usually visiting about 10 schools on the first day.

This year, on the first day, students logged in to their online classrooms from home and teachers welcomed their new students virtually in Google Meet or Zoom either from their homes or their otherwise empty classrooms at school sites.

McKinley Kindergarten teacher Kasey Palermo teaches her class remotely from school. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

Once BUSD decided in July to open Fall 2020 with 100% distance learning, the remaining summer weeks turned into a focused effort for teachers and staff alike to get up to speed with technology and remote learning.

“Our teachers and staff did an amazing job getting ready for the first week of the year,” commented Hill. “This is definitely going to be a challenging year, but everyone rallied together to support our students. We also appreciate the partnership with our parents as we navigate this new learning model.”

One of the benefits of the Measure S parcel tax bond passed in 2013 was the technology and infrastructure upgrades carried out over several years. The money raised from the bond measure allowed BUSD to upgrade wiring/cable and tech infrastructure at all school sites, which in the current environment of remote learning has proved almost prescient, while at the time the upgrades were simply viewed as bringing BUSD up to a current standard.

Burbank Unified has made a huge effort to get Chromebooks and hotspots into the hands of students and families who didn’t have the access to individual workstations or reliable access to the internet. The District has loaned out more than 1000 hotspots and 5000 Chromebooks to date and continues to work with families in need.

McKinley first grade teacher Lisa Fuentez works from her empty classroom. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

While the teachers and staff put in a lot of work to be prepared for remote learning, perhaps the biggest challenge facing the District and its students is the need for consistent, reliable internet access via devices that work up to current tech standards.

“Google Meet and Zoom have had periodic issues and we have experienced other technology glitches that our help desk is working through,” Hill also said. “Parents can call the help desk at (818) 729-3401.”

Emails detailing troubleshooting actions have been sent to all BUSD families over the past week, outlining steps to try and rectify tech issues.

Hill noted that Chromebooks and hotspots are still available for loan and encourages families in need to contact their school principal.

Another important aspect of school is access to Nutrition and Lunch, particularly for families who qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch program. BUSD provides a week’s worth of Nutrition and Lunch, available for pickup from each school site on Fridays, for students who qualify for the program in addition to students whose families choose to purchase the meals.

Burbank’s William McKinley Elementary School yard is empty. Normally it’s filled with children for recess and activities. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“In our first week of distribution, our participation was 1089 meal kits (10,890 meals),” said Hill. “Meal distribution will continue to be every Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Meals need to be picked up from the school site your student attends and pricing will be determined based on the meal benefits your student qualifies for. Families need to fill out an new meal application every school year.”

Approximately 35% of BUSD students qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch program. The application can be found online at www.busdfoodservices.com.

“Families who qualify for Free benefits will not have to pay for these meals. Families who qualify for Reduced benefits will pay $3.50 per student/per week (.30 cents for each nutrition meal and .40 cents for each lunch meal),” explained Kathy Sessinghaus, Director of Food Services for BUSD.

“Families who do not qualify for benefits will need to pay full price for each meal. Elementary will pay $28.75 per student/ per week ($2.25 for each nutrition meal and $3.50 for each lunch meal),” she added. “Middle and High School will pay $31.25 per student/per week ($2.50 for each nutrition meal and $3.75 for each lunch meal.)”

Luther Burbank Middle School Principal Oscar Macias gears up for on site work at the school. (Photo Courtesy Oscar Macias.)

There has been a lot of concern voiced online in thought pieces and via social media, going into the new school year, over how students – particularly, the younger ones – will do with remote learning. While some parents have opted for homeschooling, hiring tutors for individual attention or creating small learning pods with other families for support, in general, most families have continued to stick with the Burbank Unified School District for education.

Overall, Burbank Unified’s enrollment is steady, according to Hill, at approximately 15,000 students throughout the District.

“We have fewer kindergarten students than projected, but we have enrolled more middle and high school students than expected,” he said.

Currently, Burbank Unified remains focused on providing 100% distance learning for its students’ education, while planning for an eventual return to in person education.

Burbank High AP Stats and Algebra I teacher Robert Hammell shows off his at home remote teaching setup. (Photo Courtesy Robert Hammell.)

“Reopening will depend on current health conditions and guidelines,” commented Hill. “Current guidelines require six feet of physical distancing, so when it is safe and appropriate to reopen we would phase in with a hybrid model.”

Hill noted in a recent Board of Education meeting that the District does not want to reopen schools only to have to shut them again with a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus. Thus, BUSD’s approach to reopening for in person education will be cautious and measured.

Remote learning will remain accessible for those students and families who wish to utilize that approach for the remainder of the ’20-21 school year, Hill said, even when a hybrid or fully open education model becomes available.

Burbank Unified is comprised of 11 elementary schools, three middle schools, three high schools including Monterey Continuation High School, along with the Horace Mann Child Care Center, Community Day School, Magnolia Park School, the Burbank Adult School and the Independent Learning Academy, an established online-only program. More information on the Burbank Unified School District can be found on their website.

Burbank Board Of Education Set To Discuss Reopening Plan, Budget Concerns

The Burbank Board of Education holds a virtual meeting on Thursday evening, July 16, to discuss the School Reopening Plan for the 2020-21 academic year, along with other policies, regulations and budgetary resolutions.

The school board meeting continues to follow social distancing measures and safety guidelines, and is viewable online here. The meeting begins at 7:00 p.m.

For a link to the agenda packet, please visit this webpage.

BUSD has received a few comments from stakeholders requesting to make their comments live, rather than having District personnel collect them ahead of time and read them to the Board. So, the Zoom application will be utilized to allow public speakers to speak directly to the Board for the July 16 meeting, according to Kimberley Clark, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent.

Those who wish to make a public comment via the Zoom app must follow specific directions:

  1. Public Speakers please email Kimberley Clark at kimberleyclark@burbankusd.org no later than 45 minutes prior to the start of the public meeting (before 6:15 p.m.) stating your full name and the topic you wish to speak about.
  2. Speakers are asked to log into the Board meeting virtually through the Zoom invitation no later than 6.45 p.m. The meeting will open at 6:00 p.m. and will be locked at 6:45 p.m. promptly. Please note that only those individuals who have emailed Kimberley Clark prior to 6:15 p.m. will be allowed to enter the Zoom meeting. Upon receipt of an email request, the Zoom meeting login details will be emailed to each individual speaker. Speakers should rename their Zoom profile to indicate their real name to expedite this process.
  3. When it is time for a speaker to address the Board, the speaker’s name will be called and the microphone on the Zoom account will be activated. Speakers must be present in the Zoom meeting when their name is called in order to be given an opportunity to address the Board. Speakers are also requested to state their name prior to addressing the Board.
  4. After a speaker completes their public comment or if the five-minute (5) time limit has been reached, the microphone for the speaker’s Zoom profile will be muted.
  5. The Zoom meeting will be closed following the Public Communications portion of the meeting.

For those who aren’t able to use the Zoom app to make a public comment to the Board, comments and questions may be mailed to the Reopening School Committee at Re-openingSchool@burbankusd.org.

According to a press release sent out by BUSD, the Board of Education meeting will discuss the following:

  • Report on School Reopening Plan for the 2020-2021 School Year (Please note that the Learning Model Selection deadline has been extended until Friday, July 17.)
  • First Reading of Proposed Revision of Selected Board Policies and Administrative Regulations (BP 0415, Equity, revised to include anti-racism policy language)
  • Adoption of Resolution 1 Approving Support for Funding for Schools and Communities Act
  • Adoption of Resolution 2 for the Elimination or Reduction of Services for Classified Positions
  • Adoption of Resolution 3 for the Elimination or Reduction of Services for Certificated Children’s Center Positions
  • Approval of Holding Fees for Horace Mann, Monterey Infant Center, and Around the Bell Child Care Programs
  • Consent Agenda