How should the district address declining enrollment? Will it, at some point, be necessary to consolidate or close any campuses or reduce staffing from today’s levels?
Long Beach Unified School District’s enrollment started declining in 2003 when it had approximately 97,000 students to the current enrollment of 64,000, averaging a year-over-year decline rate of 2.5%. There are thousands of school districts across the country who are also grappling with declining enrollment. It’s a macro trend influenced by multiple factors, such as changing birth rates, economic changes, migration patterns, and unforeseen family events influencing geographic educational choices.
There are many key strategies and educational policies that can address the complex challenge of declining enrollment, such as strengthening academic programs, improving community engagement, addressing physical infrastructure, fostering a positive school culture, or confronting broader social issues. I’m proud to say the LBUSD has already started applying many of these best practices. We have recently hired more literacy teachers, established emotional wellness centers at all high schools, funded more social workers to support our homeless and foster students, increased the number of English language interpreters, and passed a new construction bond to renovate our school facilities.
The District’s Facilities Master Plan calls for several changes prior to any school consolidation or closures, such as the removal of portables from school sites, repurposing of green space to the creation of outdoor learning classrooms and renovating key school sites. Following the 2021-2023 planning evaluation, the process called for identifying and selling surplus property. The school district will also continue to assess the quality and efficiency of school programs and school buildings to determine if any additional changes are necessary.
In the future, I would like to streamline the online enrollment process to make it easier to enroll new students, expand our parent university offerings to families without their children enrolled in the district, and improve communications with all of the diverse communities of Avalon, Long Beach, Lakewood and Signal Hill.
Students are still struggling to recover from learning loss during the pandemic. What more should the district be doing to help students meet basic reading and math standards, especially low-income and English-learning students who were disproportionately hurt by school closures?
LBUSD and I are committed to addressing learning loss, particularly among low-income and English-learning students affected by school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The District has put forward the 2023-24 Learning Acceleration and Support Plan which can be found on the district’s website. It highlights the four pillars of utilizing the District’s one-time pandemic funding to focus on the following areas:
1. Academic Acceleration and Support
2. Social Emotional Well Being
3. Engagement and Voice
4. Infrastructure and Capital for the Future
By implementing the targeted measures in our strategic plan, the school district can enhance its efforts to help the most disproportionately affected students meet basic reading and math standards resulting from the hardships caused by the pandemic school years. I will continue to monitor and call for public reporting of these interventions at school board meetings to make future adjustments as necessary.
The renovation of the Jordan High campus started a decade ago, and some campuses are still waiting for long-promised air conditioning. What can the district do to get renovation projects moving more quickly and cheaply?
Local voters passed Measure Q construction bond in November 2022 to address these issues. The $1.7 billion in new funding will directly assist with providing the resources to add air conditioning to classrooms and accelerate school facilities renovation projects.
The LBUSD Facilities Development and Planning Team has reported they are actively exploring strategies to expedite and streamline renovation projects. Recently, the school district accelerated the planned installation of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems at several LBUSD schools in response to community concerns. We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, such as last year’s heat wave, and the increasing frequency of extreme heat and poor air quality days. The districts’ schedule adjustment aims to ensure the completion of these projects 1 to 2 years ahead of the initial timeline. The District has recently secured $65 million in state matching construction funds, which will further allow us to accelerate air conditioning upgrades.
Furthermore, the school board has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring safe and modern school facilities in the upcoming Campus Transformation Projects at Washington Middle School and Poly High School. According to the LBUSD facilities master plan, the HVAC portion of these projects are expected to be completed in 2027 and 2028, along with substantial renovations to instructional buildings, construction of new classrooms, and modernized athletic facilities. The overall project schedule for these campuses has also been accelerated due to the work of LBUSD staff and the new funding made available by the Measure Q construction bond.
There have been recent concerns about crime and violence at campuses, including a student bringing a gun to Wilson High School and a lockdown at Cabrillo High School because of a nearby shooting. How do you make sure students feel safe in class and around campus?
The safety of our students is my top priority. As one of two board members with a school age child in the district, I understand the concerns about student safety on a personal level. Also, as an LBUSD alumni who grew up in Central and West Long Beach, I know being on campus for some students is the safest place for them as we have many who are struggling with societal issues outside of school. LBUSD has a comprehensive approach to ensuring students feel safe in both the classroom and around campus, so they can focus on learning and reaching their academic goals.
Each of our schools are required to have Comprehensive School Safety Plans which outlines school site safety protocols and emergency preparedness tactics. The site-specific plans include a range of topics from campus evacuations to maintaining a standard of safe school environment. Every visitor who comes to a campus is required to check in at the front office and all staff have specialized district identification badges to confirm they are employees. The school district maintains extensive partnerships with the Long Beach Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department through its Office of School Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Law enforcement is very familiar with our campus, and we work together proactively to deter many safety issues from escalating or occurring. Teachers and staff receive annual safety training and drills. There is also physical infrastructure in place to enhance student safety, such as buzzer-access entry doors, security cameras, and perimeter fencing. We also have partnered with community organizations, like Californians for Justice, to update our discipline guidelines and procedures to include restorative justice, conflict resolution, and healing circles. I will continue to push the school district to explore the expansion of new partnerships with more community based organizations and center student voice/perspective on the topic of school safety.
If elected, what is a concrete policy change you will immediately advocate for at a school board meeting?
In 2022, the state of California started a seven-year initiative to convert potentially thousands of public schools into full-service, parent-focused community schools. There is more than $4 billion available for local school districts to establish community schools. These public schools were developed with the core belief that every community is different, and we have a shared responsibility to educate each student to reach their highest potential. Community Schools ensure students, families, educators, and community members have a say in deciding what will work best for local student success. They provide parents and students with more access to high-quality instruction and culturally competent wrap-around services, including mental health supports, tutoring, nutrition programs, free school meals, health care, counseling and other social assistance. The Learning Policy Institute in a 2017 Policy Brief recommended Community Schools as an evidence-based strategy for equitable school improvement that states should consider for implementation of Every Student Succeeds Act. There has never been this level of new funding, as there is now, available from the state to make Community Schools a reality in Long Beach. However, LBUSD has not yet applied. I have attended recent community meetings at Long Beach City College to learn more about this evidence-based strategy for school improvement and community development. I have also submitted a draft resolution for our school board to seek this new state funding. I would like to see one of the West Long Beach schools be among the first to utilize this new funds and enjoy the benefits this public school model has to offer our students.