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LBUSD reflects on 2022 and looks ahead at 2023

BY: Jason Viloria, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools

This month inevitably invites a period of reflection as we anticipate the end of the calendar year and the beginning of a new one, the promise of a fresh start. It has been a few years since we have felt that tangible transition from one year to the next in education. We’ve had moments of respite, but we will not see “the end” for some time.

This past year, for example, chronic absenteeism saw an all-time high across the state and locally for students and staff alike due to quarantine requirements early in the year. For background, a student is deemed chronically absent in California after missing ten days of school. In addition, if a teacher or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they must quarantine for a minimum of five days and up to ten days. As a result, substitutes for teachers and support staff are in high demand and low supply. At the same time, students have had to relearn appropriate classroom behavior and social skills. Consequently, disruptions from student misconduct have increased, along with the number of students needing mental health services and the complexity of their needs. 

I  never underestimate, however, the resilience of our Laguna Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) children and youth and the strength of the support systems in our school community. Our students, teachers, school support staff, and administrators have experienced and overcome more than many can imagine since COVID-19 transformed the school experience in March 2020. I am grateful for our commitment to, and the school board's support of, mental well-being and mental health as an essential pre-condition for learning and success. We have not wavered in our commitment to prioritizing opportunities for connection and work to know every student's strengths and needs to increase personalized opportunities for enrichment and support that expand academic skills and further develop social-emotional strengths. 

The data recently released by the state supports our heightened focus on addressing student needs through targeted academic interventions such as expanded learning time and learning acceleration strategies.

This school year, we introduced reading and math interventionists to provide students that need additional support with personalized learning opportunities. In addition, free after-school programs for extended learning are available to students at all grade levels to enhance learning or challenge them further in interest-based clubs. During winter and summer breaks, the program for students in grades TK-6 becomes a full-day camp in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club. Transportation is free for socioeconomically disadvantaged families.

Despite our school district's relatively small size, our high school students have access to an incredibly diverse array of courses that allow them to explore almost any subject or career pathway in-depth and with hands-on project-based learning. So, while we're addressing learning acceleration and recovery, we're also inspiring a love of learning and a curiosity that drives exploration. 

We know that every student and every family has had an individual experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. While some thrived and found joy in the added time spent together at home, others experienced economic hardship and instability that strained their mental health. For this reason, our approach to learning today must address both learning acceleration and learning experiences that go above and beyond what is possible in the traditional school classroom. Central to this two-pronged approach that meets the needs of all learners are community partnerships such as the Boys and Girls Club and Schoolpower, a parent volunteer-based, non-profit education foundation that has raised money for Laguna Beach public schools since 1981.

Implementing academic and social-emotional support systems that support the whole child takes immense effort. LBUSD teachers and school staff have dedicated countless hours to support and participate in professional development that teaches them new skills to adapt and address the changing needs of students and families. 

I am proud of everything the LBUSD staff have accomplished and excited for what awaits us in 2023. The past few years have provided us with many opportunities to reimagine student learning and the overall school experience. Our promise for the new year is to remain steadfast in our commitment to every student (every day) to ensure that LBUSD students have the support they need to discover their personal paths to success and are prepared to embark on their journey when they leave our schools.