Tag Archives: Burbank Unified

Parents Urge Burbank Teachers And School District Reconsideration Of Credit/No Credit Grading Policy

Hundreds of concerned parents and students have signed an online petition, created on April 30, urging the Burbank Teachers Association and Burbank Unified School District to offer an option for high school students to receive a letter grade instead of a blanket Credit/No Credit mark for Spring semester 2020.

Originally, when in person instruction was suspended on March 16, students and parents were told that they would receive their letter grade as of the 10 week mark in the semester, with a chance to improve the grade during the rest of the semester. Two weeks ago, on April 16, Superintendent Matt Hill announced that the District, after consulting with the Burbank Teachers Association (BTA), would change to a Credit/No Credit grading for all students in all grades for the Spring semester.

The response from high school students and their parents, primarily those of sophomores and juniors, was immediate and strong. Many have emailed BUSD Administration requesting the option for students to choose a letter grade for the semester.

All neighboring school districts, including Los Angeles Unified (second largest in the nation), Glendale, Pasadena, San Gabriel, South Pasadena and Simi Valley have instituted letter grade policies for the Spring semester, or the option of students choosing between a letter grade or a Pass/Fail mark.

“I would be ok with BUSD’s policy if all high schools did it the same way,” commented a teacher and parent of a BUSD high school student. “But kids in other districts will get their grades counted while Burbank kids won’t. Students in the state could have higher overall GPAs due to these semester grades. That’s not fair for our hardworking Burbank students when it comes time to apply for college.”

“Burbank came out early with this change in grading policy compared to other districts in the area,” this teacher/parent added. “And the result is our hardworking kids are penalized.”

“Teachers were not surveyed about this decision – it was negotiated by BTA leadership and District leadership,” commented another teacher with knowledge of how the change in grading to Credit/No Credit came about. “I am unhappy as a parent, I have a student in high school that will definitely be affected, not all colleges will treat the Credit/No Credit the same.”

Reportedly, many Burbank Unified teachers were “livid” about the change to Credit/No Credit.

“Many of the teachers I talk to had no idea this change in grading policy was being pushed through by BTA,” commented yet another teacher and parent. “I feel that this Credit/No Credit policy is too limited and absolutely does harm students.”

“These children will be at a huge disadvantage compared to students from other districts,” the teacher continued. “But BUSD still has time to fix this. There’s still three weeks left in the school year. Let the students who want a letter grade for the semester receive one.”

Many concerned parents have also noted that their students continue to be engaged daily for multiple hours learning, studying and completing class work as well as prepping for AP tests which begin May 11. The College Board, which administers the AP test, has said that colleges will accept 3s, 4s and 5s on the tests to replace college classes as they typically have in the past.

Parents and teachers have tried contacting the Burbank Teachers Association, with no response. A call and email to Diana Abasta, President of the BTA, for comment on the situation, received no response.

According to parents, BUSD Administration has indicated that the grading policy change came at the direction of the Burbank Teachers Association.

However, Burbank Unified students who are enrolled in the online Independent Learning Academy (ILA) will receive a letter grade for Spring ’20.

Students study in the John Burroughs High School library. (Photo By Lisa Paredes)

When asked for comment, Hill responded, “We have not seen a statement from a university that states students will be at a disadvantage this semester if a district, county, or state decides to offer credit/non-credit. Many districts are offering credit/non-credit because universities and states have given guidance that it will not harm students. For example, UC President, Janet Napolitano sent this out yesterday, “Understandably, many California high school students and their families are anxious about what recent changes to instruction and grading mean for their higher education dreams. We at UC feel strongly that the current crisis should not threaten any student’s ability to pursue and attain a world-class education. Earlier this month, we announced in partnership with the Academic Senate that we are temporarily relaxing admissions requirements pertaining to letter grades and standardized testing. This will ensure that no student sees their hard work wasted or their college plans derailed.”

“Based on university and state guidelines, BUSD and the Burbank Teachers Association (BTA), believe that our decision is the most equitable for students; therefore, we are not reconsidering our grading policy,” Hill added.

However, Hill did not answer specific questions such as:

How does this address equity when other BUSD students who are in ILA will receive letter grades?

How does this address equity for students when those in neighboring districts are receiving this opt-in option for letter grades?

How does this not negatively affect future scholarship and college admissions for BUSD students when they will be applying with students who will show a letter grade for this semester? 

While UC, Cal State and Harvard may have released statements indicating a lack of letter grades for this semester will not negatively impact college applications, several other California colleges and private universities, including Occidental, which have been contacted by concerned parents, could not give such a guarantee. In fact, this decision will impact college applications for the next three years at a minimum.

Typically, colleges require semester grades from grades 9 – 11 when students apply. Grades for work done in some subjects, such as foreign language and Algebra 1, when completed in eighth grade are also required.

Additionally, most highly competitive colleges, such as USC and UCLA, receive more than 100,000 applications every year. College reps who have visited Burroughs and Burbank High Schools have stated that for a student to even get their application looked at, their GPA must be in the top 5% of their class at their individual school.

(Photo By Lisa Paredes)

In the eyes of many high school students and parents, students who have spent the past year working hard to bring up grades to get into that top 5% and/or have taken AP and Honors courses to boost their GPA, all that hard work for an A now equals the same effort as other students who may have only done the minimum, when everyone receives a Credit/No Credit mark.

“No one has said why the district cannot let the students who want a grade to opt to get one. It cannot be that hard to do… can it?” commented Michael Bax, the parent of a sophomore and eighth-grader. “There is a demand for the option of receiving a letter grade. Fairness would be letting those who want one have one.”

“My wife has contacted a few colleges my older daughter is interested in. Those colleges cannot guarantee a Credit/No Credit score (no GPA) will not affect her chances of getting in or amount of a merit scholarship they might receive,” he added. “[Some] people… have commented how there are bigger things to worry about, maybe for them. To us, regardless of the situation there is not much more important than my daughters’ education.”

“California states DO NO HARM. I think that BUSD is in direct violation of this policy,” commented Shelley Bates, parent of two boys, a junior and a freshman. “You are harming my children. Please reconsider the Credit/No Credit grading policy. I only ask that you allow the students (maybe even only high schoolers) a choice to opt in for grades or pick Credit/No Credit.”

“I really think that it is a fair compromise and takes [into] account EACH child, not only the lowest common denominator. Please do not punish the hardworking students. Equality is not equity,” Bates continued. “This district cannot guarantee that every college and university will equally treat a CREDIT versus a GPA on their transcripts. I need to look out for the best interests of my children and keep them competitive with surrounding districts.”

Burbank High students in the 2018 graduating class. (Photo By: Edward Tovmassian)

Due to the high cost of college tuition, many students and their families plan to rely on scholarships and grants, from independent sources and from their college. One of the major factors for scholarship awards, whether at an institution of higher learning or other independent sources is the high school GPA.

Many families are concerned their students’ opportunities will be limited if they do not receive a letter grade for Spring ’20, along with the extra point boost an A in an AP or Honors class would provide.

Bates also shared San Gabriel Unified’s statement regarding how their grading policy was reached, which was released on April 28.

“The SGUSD grading guidelines were developed considering the different challenges students and their families may be faced with at this time, as well as equity and access issues they may be experiencing. During the Spring 2020 school closures all Elementary and Middle School students in grades TK-8 we will receive credit for their participation in Distance Learning. In the comment section their Report Card, TK-8th grade will receive the comment ‘Credit for Distance Learning’ for Trimester 3.”

“At the end of the Spring 2020 semester, all High School students, in grades 9-12, will receive credit for all coursework in Distance Learning. Rather than choosing credit, students in grades 9-12, will also have the choice of ‘opting -in’ to receive traditional letter grades. Students who choose the grade option have the opportunity to improve their grades during this time. While the Cal State and the University of California systems will be accepting credit grades, private colleges and out of state schools may have a different grading system. Thus, allowing the option for SGUSD High School students to receive grades may better align to their college and university aspirations. Due to the State’s ‘do no harm’ grading guidelines, no SGUSD High School student will receive a grade lower than their third trimester grade.”

“Choice is the fabric of our country. Choice is always good; never bad,” commented a Burbank parent of a sophomore and a sixth-grader, Maxwell Sinovoi, drawing from a letter he sent to the Burbank Board of Education. “Taking away choices is always bad. Pretending to make generalizations about anyone or any group is always bad. This is what pure freedom means. The right to choose. In choices we hold our own power. As so many other school districts have already decided – please join them and give our students the right to choose between a Credit/No Credit grade or ‘opting in’ for letter grades. Students should have rights too.”

Another parent said her son, who is autistic, was very invested in receiving the As he worked so hard for during the school year and was incredibly upset at the prospect of receiving a blanket Credit for his classes instead of the As.

The Change.org petition created by Burbank parents can be found online here. It will be sent to Burbank Teachers Association President Diana Abasta, BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill, BUSD Assistant Superintendent of Education John Paramo and the Burbank Unified Board of Education.

Nearly 400 people have  signed the petition as of noon on May 1.

Concerned parents have also emphasized they have no issue with students and parents who prefer a Credit/No Credit mark for the semester. They are petitioning BTA and BUSD to allow those high school students who want a letter grade for their semester to receive one.

Emails requesting comment from the Burbank Board of Education went unanswered. The next Board of Education meeting is May 7. Information on the BUSD Board of Education can be found online here.

 

Editor’s Note: The article originally stated Cal Poly Pomona could not give a guarantee when contacted by parents. Cal Poly Pomona is part of the State College System. We apologize for the confusion.

Burbank Teacher Of The Year Honored As Los Angeles County Winner, Moves On To State Consideration

Burbank Teacher of the Year, John Burroughs High School Drama teacher Guy Myers, was selected as one of the 16 Teachers of the Year for Los Angeles County, as announced in a ceremony on Friday, September 20. He will move on to consideration for the California State Teacher of the Year, the results of which are announced in October.

Myers first started at JBHS as an English teacher and when the drama teacher retired, he was offered the chance to take over the program. In the ensuing years, he’s built the JBHS Drama Program into multiple classes of Drama 1, Drama 2, Musical Theater and Advanced Play Production which enrolls hundreds of students in grades 9 – 12.

John Burroughs High School Drama teacher Guy Myers moves on to consideration for California State Teacher of the Year. At the Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year ceremony on Friday, September 20, are: (from left to right) Myers’ sister Jill Kent, Myers and his husband Brian Carlson, and Myers’ father Robert Myers with family friend Wendy Marciante. (Photo Courtesy Guy Myers)

“I’m a theater geek – I always have been, and I always will be,” commented Myers. “After graduating from Yale with a degree in Theater Studies and serving as president of the Yale University Dramatic Association, I traveled the U.S. performing, writing and directing.”

“But I was most inspired working with high school and college students in the theater classroom. It’s magical. When nurtured to express themselves creatively, students find their voices and shake off their fears. It was challenging and rewarding, and I knew I had to be a teacher.”

So he earned a Master’s degree in education and a teaching credential in English from Mount St. Mary’s College in 2005. Two years after that, he happened to be driving past JBHS right as school was letting out.

“The energy and enthusiasm from students leaving campus were electric, and I turned to my friend and said, ‘I’m going to teach drama at this school.’ Mission accomplished.”

Burbank 2019 Teacher of the Year Guy Myers with his sister Jill Kent. (Photo Courtesy Guy Myers)

“I’m extremely proud of Burroughs’ theater program, which I built from scratch beginning with only a few students,” Myers continued. “We perform three mainstage productions annually and have earned statewide and national attention from multiple theater organizations.”

“While accolades are flattering, what’s most gratifying is seeing students reach their potentials and step onto the stage or into the world with bravery and confidence – knowing they can and must share their stories with us all.”

Myers “loves teaching his students to express themselves creatively, find their voices and share their authentic selves. Through the art of storytelling and the power of words, [he] hopes to embolden his students with confidence and bravery as they walk out onto the stage or into the world.”

Several of his students have written comments about their experiences in the JBHS Drama Program that Myers read aloud at a recent Burbank Arts For All Community Exchange meeting highlighting successful BUSD progams in the arts.

Burbank Teacher of the Year for 2019, John Burroughs High School Drama teacher Guy Myers, was selected as one of the 16 Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year on Friday, September 20. (Photo Courtesy Guy Myers)

“I can’t think of a single reason to be open about who you are in high school. It must seem a bit of a played-out trope, hating high school. But it’s a trope I’m guilty of,” wrote one of Myers’ students. “I felt I had to put on an armor every day to get through the day. The armor held all the parts of me that made me individual.”

“I don’t know how Mr. Myers did it. He created a space freeing in a place that is anything but. He nurtured creativity, honesty, self-expression of his students in his classes,” the student continued. “He created a space where young people felt safe to try out who they were for an hour of the day. My education comes from the experience of being open in the sight of others.”

Now that Myers has been selected as one of the 16 Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year, a State selection committee will review the candidates’ applications and visit their respective schools to see the teachers in action and the California Department of Education will conduct another interview. The State Superintendent of Education will then choose the five California Teachers of the Year and announce the honorees in October.

JBHS Drama’s first performance of the season is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” which runs November 22-24 at the high school auditorium. More information on the JBHS Drama program can be found here.

Burbank Unified Kicks Off Budget Cuts Awareness Campaign

The Burbank Unified School District kicked off an awareness campaign on Saturday, April 27, about current budget cuts the District faces. Volunteers showed up at Burbank High School in the morning to pick up stacks of informational flyers, with the goal to deliver one to every household in Burbank.

Most flyers were handed out or left at residences throughout the city last weekend, with the rest of the flyers being distributed this coming weekend, May 4-5.

BUSD faces a 3.5 million dollar structural deficit for the 2019-20 school year. Officials have been working to address the problem for the upcoming budget, which meant eliminating and reducing a few positions, along with other cuts.

“We are not receiving enough revenue to cover rising costs (utilities, retirement, healthcare),” Burbank Unified Superintendent Matt Hill explained. “Also, we were not collecting enough fees to cover the rising cost of Horace Mann (part of our budget balancing solution is to raise fees at Horace Mann.)”

(Photo By Ross Benson)

This structural deficit looks to continue indefinitely.

“It is going to increase as we try to keep up with Cost of Living increases and the State is pushing more pension costs down on us,” continued Hill. “We are forecasting that we will need to cut $2-3 million per year if we want to give any sort of Cost of Living Adjustment to our employees.”

Burbank Unified’s budget awareness campaign aims to explain this situation to City and community stakeholders. People can learn about California’s education system and how its schools are funded at this link.

Despite having the fifth-largest economy in the world, California ranks in the bottom 10 states for per pupil funding. The California School Boards Association has set up a website at this link for more information on ways California could increase per pupil funding.

(Photo By Ross Benson)

After adjusting for inflation, public schools in California are receiving the same amount of funds per student that they were getting in 2008 before the recession.

Burbank Unified officials have been advocating for increased State funding for education.

“We have been meeting with elected officials to discuss our needs,” said Hill. “We will also join the California School Board Association and California Teacher Association when they meet with elected officials in Sacramento and have a joint rally on May 22.”

While every Burbank public school has received a California Distinguished School award, the rising costs are forcing the District to make cuts in order to comply with the directive for a balanced budget. Concern is mounting over the effect these cuts will have on the quality of Burbank public school education.

Burbank Unified Superintendent of Schools Matt Hill speaks to BUSD budget awareness attendees. (Photo By Ross Benson)

Burbank Unified officials note that one-time funds are not a fix for their ongoing budget problems. They see a parcel tax measure as the only way to get needed ongoing funds for the Burbank school district.

From the BUSD budget awareness flyer: “While the State of California continues to look for ways to get more money to schools that will get us to 2019 levels, the only way the school district can get needed ongoing funds is through a local measure for neighborhood schools. The City of Burbank is a supportive partner to the Burbank Unified School District. However, our schools are not funded by the City of Burbank. We do not receive any of the sales tax revenue the city collects. 100% of the funds collected through a local measure would go directly to the Burbank Unified School District. These funds will significantly reduce the burden to the school district and allow BUSD to keep providing equity and excellence for our students.”

State Senator Anthony Portantino talks with the crowd at the Burbank Unified budget awareness rally. (Photo By Ross Benson)

School officials are currently polling the community and school stakeholders via phone call and email about the idea of another parcel tax measure for the 2020 ballot. The most recent parcel tax, Measure QS, narrowly failed to pass the required 2/3 approval.

Hill encourages people to contact him with questions at MattHill@BurbankUSD.org.

Whether the 2019-20 State budget will boost spending per pupil in public schools is not yet clear.

The Governor releases his revisions to the State budget on May 10 and then the California State Legislature has until June 15 to submit a final budget to the Governor.

People may wish to contact their State representatives Anthony Portantino, Laura Friedman and Robert Hertzberg, in addition to Governor Gavin Newsom, to advocate for increased per pupil funding for public schools.

More information on California’s public education spending can be found on this webpage authored by the California Budget and Policy Center.

More information on the Burbank Unified School District budget can be found here.

The Business Of Music Forum Aims To Engage Students

Four experts in the music industry will talk about careers at The Business of Music Creative Circles Forum on Thursday evening, March 8.

Panelists in the one-hour discussion include iHeartMedia Connections VP Amy Roach, Chief Business Development and Consultant at B Brands Bill Bennett, two-time Emmy Award winner and Grammy Award nominee composer Ryan Shore and Golden Reel Award-winning music editor Chuck Martin Inouye.

Presented by the Burbank Arts For All Foundation, The Business of Music aims to engage Burbank students with ways to work in the music field as adults.

business of music

Panelists Bill Bennett, Charles Martin Inouye, Amy Roach and Ryan Shore will discuss The Business of Music at the March 2018 Creative Circles Forum.(Image Courtesy Burbank Arts For All Foundation)

“Thousands of kids participate in BUSD’s general music, instrumental music and vocal music programs,” commented Executive Director Trena Pitchford. “Over our 12 year history, Burbank Arts for All Foundation has invested thousands of dollars into these music programs throughout the District and, this year, we continue to support BUSD’s Music Is Instrumental campaign.”

“Through our next Creative Circles Forum focused on The Business of Music, the Foundation strives to connect public education to career pathways by hosting an inspiring dialogue with leading experts in the fields of music.”

“Guests and students alike are sure to hear inside tips and tools of the trade, gain exposure to the vast field of jobs in the music business and have the unique opportunity to mix and mingle during the reception,” she added. “We guarantee an engaging evening for anyone with a love for music!”

Tickets for the event are $20 for general admission and $10 for current Foundation Community Circles Members. Students with a Burbank Unified high school identification card will be admitted free of charge.

Some tickets will be available at the door beginning at 6:30 p.m. More information on the event can be found here. Free parking is available on site and on surrounding streets.

The Business of Music Creative Circles Forum begins at 7:00 p.m. at the Garry Marshall Theatre located at 4252 West Riverside Drive in Burbank.

“You’ve Been Noted” Surprises Burbankers With Colorful Music Notes

An awareness campaign, “You’ve Been Noted,” has been making its rounds in Burbank, with colorful music notes appearing on lawns throughout town. The large music symbols bring attention to Burbank Unified School District Arts For All’s Music Is Instrumental fundraising efforts to repair and replace musical instruments at all secondary schools.

Since “You’ve Been Noted” began on February 28, the 3-foot high lawn ornaments appear overnight on pre-selected lawns and stay for a few days, until they are moved to another location in town. Residents can nominate other Burbank friends and neighbors to receive the temporary installation.

youve been noted

“You’ve Been Noted”: colorful lawn ornaments bring awareness to BUSD Art’s For All’s Music Is Instrumental campaign to repair and replace secondary school instruments. (Photo Courtesy Michelle Mehta)

A letter inside a clear waterproof sleeve explaining the program and the process is attached to the Music Is Instrumental sign, which is included with the multiple notes and symbols placed on lawns.

“We are currently hoping to spread the word about this campaign and create a network of residents who truly care about their city having a quality instrumental music education program,” commented Burbank resident Michelle Mehta. “We have made it very simple to donate from the comfort of their home by giving clear instructions in the letter.”

“My two Burbank High School juniors are helping me with this project,” Mehta explained. “Nathan and Ryan Mehta are JV and Varsity athletes who once played two instruments each.”

“They know and appreciate how difficult it is to master an instrument, especially when it’s a trumpet with broken valve!” she added. “My sons and [BUSD] High School Instrumental Music students will help me with delivery and pick up of the lawn signs and information packet.”

“Instrumental Music has been instrumental in our lives and I feel each student who makes the commitment to learn an instrument should be given one that fosters quality musicianship,” Mehta said, noting her oldest son, Evan, currently studies music in college.

Photo By Ross Benson

“We wouldn’t let student athletes play with broken equipment. We wouldn’t let student artists paint or draw on ripped canvas. We wouldn’t let photography students only use outdated film techniques from decades ago without introducing modern technology! All artists should be able to have the proper materials to achieve the proper outcomes.”

BUSD’s Arts For All program launched the Music Is Instrumental campaign in October 2017, with the goal of raising $1.2 million dollars over several years for the repair and replacement of instruments at Burbank and Burroughs High Schools and Muir, Luther and Jordan Middle Schools.

“I wanted to create a playful, colorful, and eye-catching visual to spark curiosity about this campaign and possibly inform the public of this incredible need,” Mehta said.

“I feel there are many Burbank residents who care deeply about their city having a quality instrumental music education program for decades to come!”

“You’ve Been Noted” culminates in advance of the May 11 Music Is Instrumental district-wide concert at Burbank High School. The “Music From Film & Television” concert will feature Burroughs and Burbank High School IMAs, Burroughs VMA, professional musicians from the Musicians at Play Foundation and the BUSD All District Symphonic Orchestra.

BUSD Superintendent Addresses School Shooting Concerns

Burbank Unified School District Superintendent Matt Hill addressed the concerns of students, parents, teachers and the Burbank community with a letter released today, February 22, in the wake of the Miami suburb of Parkland, FL, school shooting last week.

On February 14, 17 people were killed and 14 injured, during a six-minute rampage at Stoneman Douglas High School. The alleged assailant, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz, was arrested shortly afterward and confessed to using an AR-15 style semi-automatic weapon in his attack, according to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

Student survivors of this shooting, one of the deadliest school massacres recorded, have been outspoken about access to AR-15 style weapons, which are not used for hunting and typically used for target practice, military training and in theaters of war.

Responding to nationwide calls by students for walkouts at schools and policy change at state and national levels, Superintendent Hill released this letter to the Burbank Unified School District community:

Dear BUSD Families, Employees, and Community:

Given the alarming increase in the number of mass killings taking place at American schools, concerts, churches, and government buildings, all of us are experiencing a heightened level of stress, fear, and concern. I want to assure all of you that we are working closely with the Burbank Police Department to review and increase our safety measures. All of our schools have safety and emergency plans. Our school sites review these plans on an annual basis and practice drills regularly throughout the school year.

Supporting Our Students
In addition, all of our schools have access to counseling and psychological supports for our students and employees. If any child or employee needs support, they can reach out in a confidential manner to gain support they need. Individuals may also contact Family Service Agency of Burbank (FSA) directly at (818) 845-7671. The best proactive approach to prevent tragic events like the ones we have witnessed is to ensure all individuals have access to quality support and care.

Here are some resources you may find helpful:

Helping Youth After Community Trauma: Tips for Educators

https://www.lacoe.edu/Portals/0/StudentServices/helping_youth_after_community_violence_educators.pdf

Talking to Children About Violence

https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/talking-to-children-about-violence-tips-for-parents-and-teachers

Addressing Grief: Tips for Teachers and Administrators

https://www.lacoe.edu/Portals/0/StudentServices/Addressing_Grief_Tips_for_Teachers_and_Administrators_FINAL.pdf

Threats
Please note, we take all threats seriously. If someone sees or hears something that is out of the ordinary, they need to report it to school administrators and/or the police. Unfortunately, today we experienced a social media hoax directed at Burbank High School. Upon hearing about this, we immediately worked with the Burbank Police Department to identify that the threat was not credible. It was determined that the threat received today involved Belen High School (BHS) in the state of New Mexico. We have included the link to the story here: http://www.news-bulletin.com/news/police-bhs-sophomore-admits-to-posting-threat/article_f3ef511e-17f1-11e8-8e51-271e78bc4634.html These types of threats are unlawful, regardless of intention, and may result in serious criminal and civil consequences that include possible financial restitution for hours spent on investigations.

Nationally Scheduled Walkouts
We are aware of a series of scheduled walk-outs being organized by various groups across the nation. While I fully support students and adults having the opportunity to express their concerns and opinions, I want to ensure those activities take place in a safe and productive manner. As your superintendent, I have decided that we will have age-appropriate activities at each school site on March 14 at 10am to accomplish this goal.

  • Each elementary school will leverage the curriculum they are using to promote peace, tolerance, and mindfulness.
  • Each secondary school will work with their student bodies (ASB) to develop an event / activity based on our students’ needs. We want to ensure youth voices are empowered and supported. Over the past week, I have had several conversation with students who are interested in forums where they can ask questions and get answers. We will work with our students to provide resources and create a safe space for these questions to be discussed/answered. Below is a sample of some of the questions I have received:

Voting and Policy Questions

  • What are you adults going to do to ensure we are safe at school?
  • How do I register to vote before age 18?
  • How do I find out my elected officials’ views on gun rights/gun control?
  • Why does anyone need to own a semiautomatic rifle?
  • Who do I speak with or write to express my opinion on legislation/policy changes?

Mental Health Resources

  • What resources are available to me or my friends?
  • How can we get the money for more wellness support?

Safety Precautions/Procedures/Training

  • What additional security measures can you put in place in our schools?
  • Where can we get additional money to put in more security?
  • Why are we turning our schools into prisons (buzzers, locks, security, metal detectors, bullet proof film, etc.)?
  • When I leave the school and cross the street, who is going to protect me then?

I am sure we will receive many more questions that we will need to address. To be candid, I am saddened that these are the questions our students must ask at this time. Our students should be asking about their futures, not about whether or not they are going to live. Some adults have shared with me that this is just how we live now. I do not accept that answer. I am inspired by the leadership of our children and I hope they will inspire all of us to do something different.

To be very clear about one question I have received – I will never recommend that our teachers be required or have the option to have a gun on campus. The last thing we need to do is spend money on firearms training and guns. On the contrary, our teachers and students need funding and support so that they can focus on teaching and learning.

While we are in the midst of some very dark days, I am encouraged by the feedback I have received so far from the community of Burbank. We all can work together to ensure a brighter future for our children, families, staff, and our community.  As your superintendent, please know that I am here for you and remain focused on making the changes necessary to protect our students and staff.
Respectfully,

Matt Hill

Superintendent

Burbank Unified School District

(818) 729-4422 (o)

(818) 299-1941 (c)

“Equity and Excellence”

Burbank Unified First Day Of School Arrives

It was a hot first day of school for the more than 15,000 students in Burbank Unified School District as they started classes Monday, August 15, and temps neared 100 degrees by afternoon dismissal.

BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill visited the various school sites through town and welcomed students and staff back to school.

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

“Today was a great day! Students, parents and teachers were very excited to be back at school,” Hill said on Monday. “Many commented on the great improvements they are seeing in facility and technology upgrades due to the Measure S investments we are making.”

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

“I am looking forward to working with all of our employees to build on our successes, especially in the areas of mental health and wellness and our goal of achieving a 100% graduation rate,” Hill added.

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

The Burbank Unified School district includes 11 elementary schools, three middle and three high schools, along with a Transitional Kindergarten program, the Horace Mann Children’s Center, the Burbank Adult School, the Magnolia Park School, Community Day School and the Independent Learning Academy.

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

BUSD Superintendent Speaks About First Months On The Job, Future Goals (Part 2)

BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill sat down recently with myBurbank to talk about his first six months at the helm of Burbank public schools and goals for the future of Burbank Unified. (Part 2 of a two-part interview, see Part 1 here.)

Hill talked about the learning curve as he took the reins of the district’s top position, along with his initial impressions of Burbank Unified and the Burbank community.

“I quickly learned Burbank is definitely a strong community. Everyone says, it’s not a city, it’s a town. And, it definitely is a town and I love that,” Hill continued. “If we have challenges or successes,  I can quickly get out to the school site and be part of that.”

“I love that we have engaged parents, community members, teachers, students. A lot of people play multiple roles in the district – they’re former students, current teachers, they have kids in the schools,” he added. “I think that’s a major asset that we have that most districts don’t have.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“So that’s one thing I want to continue to build upon. I spent a lot of my first six months truly listening and learning and reflecting on what I hear and sharing what I hear. I’ve been trying to create more opportunities for us to share what is great and where we have opportunities to grow. That’s going to be probably a signature aspect of my leadership.”

“I’m not going to do what I did for just the first ninety days, first hundred days,” Hill went on to say. “That’s what I want to do throughout and that’s the culture of BUSD: us sharing what we’re seeing and experiencing in our schools and continually improving upon that.”

Hill focused on opportunities and goals for Burbank Unified in the coming months. Currently, BUSD sees 96% of its students graduate from high school within four years.

“I started this summer reaching out to the seniors that did not graduate. I truly do believe we can get to one hundred percent,” said Hill. “I know I’ve got criticism for saying that – they think it’s unrealistic.”

“I am happy to say that of the students that did not graduate, we are in contact with all but one. So there’s one student that’s missing one class and we’re still trying to connect with that child,” he explained. “And the others may need a couple more years in our adult school to get the credits they need. But we’re working with them.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“By modeling that with the senior class, I’m hoping to change the expectation,” Hill also said. “If you enroll in Burbank Unified, you will get a diploma. It may take you longer. You may take different routes. But we’re not going to give up on any child.”

As Hill aims for every student to receive a high school diploma, he points to the additional funding the district has received, which has provided additional counselors and intervention specialists.

“We can start much earlier in a child’s career… it’s not the seniors that we are trying to catch,” he continued. “It’s the eighth grader who’s thinking about dropping out, it’s the junior who’s having challenges in his or her life. We’re going to be able to connect with each of those students.”

“My number one goal is to get to that one hundred percent graduation rate and build the systems in place to do that.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

Hill himself continues his pursuit of higher education, as he works towards a doctorate in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University, which he expects to complete in 2018.

“I am a strong believer in lifelong learning and I was really impressed with LMU’s focus on social justice.”

“I’d like to reiterate, a high school diploma now is really just the starting line and we need to do a better job of expanding and deepening our career pathways,” Hill also emphasized. “Whether a student wants to go to a community college or a four year college or directly into the workforce, we need to make sure we’re providing more of those pathways.”

“That’s a lot of the focus I’ve been working with my secondary team. We have two pathways now – digital media and digital manufacturing. We want to partner with the city and the local businesses or look at what are other pathways that we need to embed into our schools as well as our adult school.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“The rest of the work really starts from early education all the way through graduation,” Hill said, mentioning a recent school climate survey the district just completed. The survey has provided data from parents, students, teachers and members of the community on successes in the schools, as well as aspects in need of improvement.

BUSD is beginning the budgeting process, the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which enters full work mode in the spring of 2016.

“We want to hear about where those opportunities are to strengthen the work,” he added. “We have working groups right now focused on mental health. We have a working group focused on our Gifted and Talented (GATE) students, with math and science.”

“There’s a lot that we’re working on in smaller groups to get feedback and we’re going to bring that all together. Unfortunately California doesn’t have enough funding to do everything I want to do, so we have to make some prioritization.”

“I really am excited and energized by the relationship I have with the school board, with our unions, with our teachers, with our principals,” Hill said. “I really feel that Burbank Unified is positioned to achieve amazing things. We’ve always been a strong school district. And I just see so much more potential. By working together we’re going to get there.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

 

BUSD Superintendent Speaks About First Months On The Job, Future Goals

BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill sat down recently with myBurbank to talk about his first six months at the helm of Burbank public schools.

Burbank Unified School District Superintendent Matt Hill has been a very visible head of the school district since stepping into the post on July 1 of this year. As BUSD Superintendent, Hill has connected with the many schools, personnel and elements of the school district with energy and enthusiasm.

He’s learned about food safety and lunch procedures in a middle school cafeteria, talked about his love of the arts at the Burbank Arts For All Foundation community meeting and tasted some of the treats prepared by students at the Community Day School.

For the first few months as superintendent, Hill emphasized a listening and learning approach, getting to know the people and groups that make up and partner with Burbank Unified.

New Burbank Superintendent Matt Hill. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

New Burbank Superintendent Matt Hill. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Early on, he reached out to the Burbank Teachers Association (BTA), which had expressed concern about the process during which Hill was selected as a candidate and hired.

“In hindsight, I would say the majority of the concerns were with process,” said Hill. “I’m definitely a nontraditional candidate and for the teachers’ union to hear about that a week before the official announcement… they didn’t have enough time to really get to know me and process through that.”

“As soon as I joined, July first, we sat down together and talked about our views and concerns and wishes for the district, and, we were very similar in our views,” added Hill. “My approach is listen first, share different perspectives, look at options. I’m very direct with my thinking and open minded to other people’s perspectives.”

“We worked through some challenges right through the summer. Some we agreed on, some we didn’t, but we both walked away with a high level of respect for each other.”

“From that moment we’ve continued that on and I really enjoyed working with our union leadership, classified teachers, certificated… it’s the approach I take with everyone,” he also said. “It’s an amazing district and it’s my job to help make it run smoother.”

Superintendent Matt Hill at the opening of the Community Day School new kitchen.(Photo by ©Ross A. Benson)

Superintendent Matt Hill at the opening of the Community Day School new kitchen.(Photo by ©Ross A. Benson)

“While it is still early to assess, Superintendent Hill, along with the new school board, has been working well with BTA by sharing more information and reaching out to us for input,” said BTA President Lori Adams. “We have settled some old conflicts and are working on some new ones.”

“Mr. Hill is very approachable and can see the struggles that teachers endure as we transition to new state standards, curriculum and assessments, changes in facilities and new technology.  It is nice that new money is coming into the district so we are able to replenish and improve upon the cuts that were made in the last decade.”

“My only remaining concern is Mr. Hill’s past association with the Broad Foundation and Eli Broad’s new plan to change 50% of LAUSD’s public schools to charter schools,” added Adams. “It is my hope that in the unfortunate event that we lose some key court cases, he will stay true to his word that he is not interested in bringing charter schools to Burbank. Keeping Burbank’s schools public and transparent will allow us to continue to use taxpayer dollars to provide an excellent education for all students.”

“All of Burbank Unified School District’s schools have been recognized as California Distinguished schools,” Hill said in response to Adams’ concern. “My role as superintendent is to continue to support our excellent schools so that there is no need for parents or teachers to want to form a charter school.”

Superintendent Matt Hill talks with BUSD elementary school kids on the first day of school, August 17, 2015.  (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

Superintendent Matt Hill talks with BUSD elementary school kids on the first day of school, August 17, 2015. (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

School safety has become a much-discussed issue in Burbank in recent months. Thefts at two elementary schools rattled parents and the community, although the alleged perpetrator has been arrested and charged by police. Another incident, in which an individual jumped over a school fence and was detained by school personnel until police arrived, also has raised community concerns.

“I would say our partnership with the Burbank Police Department has been very helpful,” Hill said. “They’ve always worked with the district for training. When we have incidents like this, I can pick up the phone and call. That’s one thing that I love about Burbank is that I can talk to the Chief of Police right away or his team.”

School safety is “not a one time thing that you do. It’s ongoing. We have had some reminders that we have to be very diligent about it.”

“Coming in as the new superintendent, I wanted to do an audit of where we are,” he explained. “Every year we do school safety plans. We do the Great Shakeout. We do lockdown drills.”

“We have procedures in place, we have training in place, but being brand new, I wanted fresh eyes to give me a third party objective look at everything. So that was something I recommended to the board that we put aside some of the one time funds we received from the state to do the audit.”

“We have to be overly diligent about approaching and welcoming,” said Hill. “I don’t want to be profiling or it to be a fear tactic when individuals come to our campuses, but we need to say hello and make sure people are properly identified when they’re on our campuses.”

Superintendent Matt Hill meets parents on the first day of school, August 17, 2015. (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

Superintendent Matt Hill meets parents on the first day of school, August 17, 2015. (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“So in the short term, our schools are having conversations. Right now is the time when we update our school safety plans. So they’re taking the recent events in consideration as well as the annual process to look at how you strengthen safety on campuses. We’re looking at additional needs we may need to provide to schools and combine that with the findings of this school safety audit.”

The BUSD Board of Education approved the hiring of Nicole Miller & Associates to perform a district-wide school safety audit in November. Work began shortly after the approval and continues into January. Results from the audit should be available by February.

“After I receive the report, I will prioritize the recommendations with the firm and begin to recommend some improvements to the Board,” commented Hill. “We have set aside $100,000 in one time funds to begin some implementation this year.”

The cost for implementing safety improvement may be higher than the $100,000 already set aside by the Board.

“The firm has recommended not publishing the findings, since they highlight potential weaknesses in our safety protocols,” Hill went on to say. “I feel we have good safety procedures and protocols in place here at BUSD, but we can never be satisfied. We need to constantly review and upgrade our safety practices in order to ensure our students and employees are safe.”

More of the interview with BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill will be published in Part 2.

BUSD Elementary Spanish Dual Immersion Program Poised For Growth

Due to increasing interest in the Burbank Unified inaugural Spanish Dual Immersion program, district officials plan to offer two Kindergarten classes and at least one first grade class for the 2014-15 school year. Director of Elementary Education Dr. Tom Kissinger leads two informational meetings for parents on the Spanish Dual Immersion program at the BUSD offices; the English presentation will be held on Monday, February 10, and the Spanish presentation on Tuesday, February 11.

“We want to make sure people understand every aspect of the Spanish Dual Immersion program before they commit,” commented Kissinger. “We have an overwhelming interest in this program and we will have to have a lottery for the classes.”

The district may have enough interest to add an additional first grade class for 2014-15. If that is the case, Kissinger said he would seek Board of Education approval to expand the program to that extent. If the Spanish Dual Immersion program continues to be successful, Kissinger has indicated the possibility of starting an Armenian Dual Immersion program in the 2015-16 school year.

BUSD logoThe Spanish Dual Immersion Kindergarten program is housed at Disney Elementary and is populated by approximately 20-25% of children whose school of residence is Disney. The rest are drawn from throughout the district and permits.

Of the 29 students in the pilot Kindergarten program, the majority are English speakers and only three are totally fluent in Spanish, with four more who understand Spanish, Kissinger explained in a recent report to the Board of Education. The goal is to have a 50-50 ratio of fluent English and fluent Spanish speakers in each class. To this end, district officials have done more community outreach about the program and Kissinger feels confident the 50-50 ratio will be obtainable for the 2014-15 school year.

In the recent presentation to the School Board, parents of the children in the class, Disney Principal Melissa Kistler and Kindergarten bilingual teacher Juliana Sanchez all spoke in glowing terms about the Spanish Dual Immersion program.

“It’s a smashing success. It’s a very bright and enriching environment,” Kistler told the Board of Education. “It’s filled with positivity and the teacher is well-organized and highly effective.”

Sanchez described the daily activities of the class to the School Board members and explained that at the beginning of the year, comprehension was very challenging for the students. Eighty percent of the class is taught in Spanish and 20% in English for the daily Language Arts study.

“It’s incredible to see how far they’ve come in just a few months,” Sanchez said. “Now they know our routines and, for the most part, understand what I am saying.”

The future plan is for Kindergarten to be taught 90% in Spanish and 10% in English, first grade 80% Spanish and 20% English, second grade 70% Spanish and 30% English and third grade 60% Spanish and 40% English. By fourth grade, the target 50% Spanish and 50% English language usage will be reached.

Photo By Lisa Paredes

Photo By Lisa Paredes

“Principal Kistler, the staff and the curriculum specialist at Disney have provided excellent support,” added Kissinger. “Parent volunteers work in the classroom and are well-utilized by the in-class aide.”

As the program adds more classes, more rooms will be needed and Kistler has a plan to use existing classrooms on campus, Kissinger told the School Board. The district is planning to form the classes by May 2014. The lottery for class spaces will begin February 10 and end April 11.

Each class costs approximately $110,000 per year to fund and a six-year program, with one class per grade, would eventually cost the district $660,000 annually. With two classes per grade, the cost would double to 1.2 million dollars.

In the long-term, Disney Elementary could become a language magnet school, but district officials also want to continue traditional classes for those who don’t want to participate in the Dual Immersion program. At the January 16 meeting, School Board members and Kissinger talked about the need for a long-term plan and ways to integrate middle and high school language programs.

“The benefit of this program is only enhanced if we can continue this through grade 12,” commented Board of Education member Larry Applebaum.

“We have had a significant number of our students who did not stay in this district because our neighboring schools offered this option,” BUSD Superintendent Dr. Jan Britz said at the meeting.

“We have a need and parents want more classes like the Dual Immersion program and we’re going to try and fill that need,” concluded Kissinger.

More information on the Spanish Dual Immersion program for primary grades can be found on the BUSD website or by contacting the district offices at 818-729-4401.