Tag Archives: Burbank Unified

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


Talking to Children About Violence


Addressing Grief: Tips for Teachers and Administrators


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.

Matt Hill


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.

Measure S Makes Needed Upgrades For Burbank Schools

By Lisa Paredes
Associate Editor

Since the voter passage of the Measure S Bond to support infrastructure fixes at Burbank Unified schools, a number of projects have already been completed and more are in the works. The $110 million dollar bond has been divided into three three-year issuances, with each bond issuance totaling about one-third of $110 million. Over the next few weeks, myBurbank.com will look at various aspects of the Measure S bond and the effect on Burbank’s schools, city and community.

While the citizens of Burbank recognized the need for infrastructure fixes to aging school buildings and the value of using the bond process and voted to pass Measure S earlier this year, the public may wonder where and how is the bond money is being used. BUSD has put in place a multi-step plan for targeted work, designs, approvals and construction. An Oversight Committee, made up of district staff and community members, makes sure the process and work adheres to the specifics of the bond.

“When you look at a bond project, it is overwhelming. When you have fifteen components at twenty different sites and you try to coordinate and schedule every particular little step of the way for the public to see, it is cumbersome and mind boggling to be able to show every single portion of every step along the way,” explains Craig Bell, Burbank Unified School District Director of Facilities. “But, that is a challenge we have taken very seriously with this particular bond because this was a sore subject from the last bond. And so, the message was pretty clear to the district and the staff, as we move forward, to be very transparent and show from the design process, to the input from the community, to the site, to the board, that we are being open… trying to be transparent in making sure the public is confident on how we are spending this 110 million dollars.”

First Set of Projects The first issuance of bonds, for the first of the three-year projects, totals around $41 million dollars. While exact costs will ultimately be determined by market prices, that number is the working number. Project managers do expect that some funding from the state, estimated to be about $9.5 million dollars from the State Facilities Matching Program, will also be obtained, stretching Measure S dollars further.

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Since the passage of the bond in March, a lot of administrative work was needed at the start, to get the bonds issued and sold. The process took about two months for the paperwork and those bonds to actually be sold, generating $41 million dollars. When the $41 million was raised by mid-May, the project managers were given the green light to move forward.

“That did not mean for those first two months we just sat still. We were anticipating projects that we were going to be able to start and complete yet this past summer before school started. So that didn’t give us a lot of time to do the planning process, the design process, the procurement process of contractors, job walks, and putting those scopes of work together to actually award contracts,” comments Mr. Bell. “We had to look at something that was an immediate gratification, that we could show the general public as a thank you for passing the bond… projects we could jump on quickly that didn’t take a whole lot of involvement in the approval process.”

Completed Work Summer 2013 “We planned early on to do some fencing, some asphalt work, playground equipment and playground surfacing replacement. So we chose Washington Elementary as one of those school sites we could jump on quickly and get some immediate work to be done over the summer before school started.”

At same time, Facilities staff began the planning process for replacing already-identified roofs in need of urgent attention, over the past summer. Best Contracting was chosen through bidding process, and by time school started in August, all roof projects were 85% completed. Minimal detail work that could be completed on weekends and not interfere with the weekday activities at the school sites was all that remained.

New Modular Classrooms at Stevenson Elem. School (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

New Modular Classrooms at Stevenson Elem. School (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

At Stevenson Elementary, two portable classrooms were installed and finished completely within a week of school starting. The portables provided needed extra room to help accommodate the enrollment increase the school has experienced.

New synthetic turf in eight courtyards in all the different wings was installed at the Burbank Adult School, along with new interior fencing. The Adult School program has given Facilities a lot of praise for this infrastructure work, reports Mr. Bell, and is interested in doing more work in the future.

“We felt very successful on the work we did at Washington as well as the roofing projects,” says Mr. Bell. “In a few short months, (with) all the planning that was involved from Washington Elementary, to the portables and roofing and Adult School, we felt very successful.”

Overall Plan and Measure S Process The overall plan, using funds generated from the bond measure, is to do a continual modernization of the district, focusing on upgrading infrastructure, explains Mr. Bell. Infrastructure includes water lines, drain lines, gas lines, HVAC, electricity, utilities, lighting, fencing and security issues, asphalt, playgrounds, replacing portables with permanent classrooms, energy management systems, emergency communications systems, fire alarms, doors, hardware and public address systems. (Editor’s note: There is also an Information Technology component to the bond, which will be discussed in a subsequent article.)

The last bond measure for Burbank school was in 1997 and did not address all these issues. The newest BUSD school was built in 1955, so the buildings are functioning on borrowed time and have reached a critical point where fixes must be made. Some original water lines feeding the schools are 70 years old.

“The infrastructure has so badly been ignored for years – I’m not pointing fingers – it’s just a fact of life,” comments Mr. Bell.

In early 2012, Facilities, Information Technology and BUSD staff started estimating costs for necessary fixes based on industry standards, for example the price per square foot for asphalt, and created a template of work to be done over the next nine to ten years. They created General Obligation (GO) Bond spreadsheets and were able to determine how much of a bond to ask for from Burbank voters.

The GO Bond spreadsheets totaled $123 million and the Measure S bond went to $110 million. Matching funds from the state are expected to offset much of the remaining costs. The template spreadsheet is a wishlist of infrastructure fixes needed, based on urgency. Every project has to go out to bid, and the work will go on until the funding cap is reached.

“Those numbers, as you look ahead, over the nine to ten years, those costs are going to go up, come down, be all over the map,” commented Mr. Bell. “You just don’t know at this point what those real numbers are, but this was our best guess at the time to come up with a realistic number.”

Plans are designed and refined by the approved architects and then the district reviews and makes changes. The plans are then shared with board through the design phase, involving the community-driven Oversight Committee. Once approval from the Department of State Architects (DSA) is made and there are no changes, then BUSD goes through procurement process and out to bid. The DSA reviews and makes sure the plans follow all codes and state guidelines, a process that can take three to six months. Once the winning bid is selected and contracts signed, the construction is scheduled.

Inside one of the New Modular Classrooms at Stevenson Elem. School (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Inside one of the New Modular Classrooms at Stevenson Elem. School (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Mini-Modernizations For Local Schools Right now, BUSD is in the planning phase with five approved architects, looking at a variety of projects. The first four sites planned for a mini-modernization are Horace Mann, Miller Elementary, Washington Elementary and Jordan Middle Schools. One to two years after those projects are completed, mini-modernizations for Bret Harte Elementary, Emerson Elementary and Roosevelt Elementary Schools will commence, and are currently in the beginning stages of the design process.

BUSD will complete some projects between now and the start of the summer 2104 mini-modernizations. New playground equipment and synthetic turf surfaces at five elementary schools’ main playground areas, for Edison, Jefferson, McKinley, Providencia and Disney, are planned to be completed by the end of this year.

Check in tomorrow for Part 2 of the interview with BUSD Facilities Director Craig Bell and additional information on upcoming Facilities upgrades to Burbank’s public schools.