HomeBlocksFront-GridBoard Votes to Renew Ekchian’s Contract

Board Votes to Renew Ekchian’s Contract

First published in the Sept. 3 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

The Glendale School Board seemed so eager to approve Superintendent Vivian Ekchian’s contract renewal that one member blurted out their “aye” the instant the agenda item was read aloud, just as comments were to begin.
The substance of those comments made it clear where that enthusiasm was coming from. The full Glendale Unified School District Board of Education ultimately approved to keep Ekchian — who was first hired in 2019 and has spent the majority of her tenure guiding the district through the COVID-19 pandemic — at the helm for another four years.
“I’m deeply honored and grateful for the opportunity to serve this community for another four years,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting, following the vote. “Obviously it would have been impossible to predict what my first three years in this role would have been, but we can’t escape luck or destiny — what can I tell you? You go to your home district, and then the pandemic hits.
“The unpredictable circumstances taught us a lot,” Ekchian continued. “We’ve learned together. What we’ve shown as a district, each and every one of us, from the board to the administration, to the staff to the families and students, is that starting at a place of commitment to our students allows us to make sure that whatever decisions we make, it’s always about the best interests of our students.”
The district’s contract sets Ekchian’s annual salary at $310,000 and includes standard benefits for work-related ventures and a $500-per-month vehicle allowance.
Ekchian and the Board look to continue her track record for the past three years, during which she has made it her platform to close the “digital divide” and foster educational relationships with local colleges and institutions. She has also prioritized expanding wellness programming for students and childcare opportunities for families, both of which were tested during the pre-vaccine era of the pandemic when schools were forced to close doors and pivot to remote instruction.
“We’ve always had good friends and we’ve always cultivated good friends, but true partnerships, that level has really been raised in Glendale Unified,” Board Vice President Jennifer Freemon said, “and that is due directly to the leadership of our incredible superintendent.”
The Board first hired her in May 2019 when she was selected among 21 applicants to replace Winfred Roberson, whose three-year tenure ended on a narrow 3-2 vote in the wake of mounting budgetary concerns, declining enrollment and the then-ongoing Sagebrush dispute. Ekchian, who was born in Armenia and has lived in Glendale for decades, became both GUSD’s first female and first Armenian superintendent. She’d spent 34 years with the Los Angeles Unified School District, most recently as a deputy superintendent and interim superintendent.
“At the time, the Board was looking for a strong leader with a lot of experience,” Board Clerk Shant Sahakian said. “She clearly — with her many, many, many, years of dedication to public education, from a teacher to virtually every position in a very large and complex school district environment — brought us that experience. I know that every night when I go to sleep, I’m very grateful that she was the captain steering the ship, helping us face these many, many challenges.”
School Board member Ingrid Gunnell, who was only just elected, described her friendship with Ekchian as multifaceted, having shared time together at LAUSD (where Gunnell is an educator) and as Glendale residents (where Gunnell’s sons are currently students). She recalled taking a selfie with Ekchian when she was hired in 2019.
“I remember that day. I know a lot of my colleagues in LAUSD were very — upset, distraught, I don’t know what the word is — that you left LAUSD,” Gunnell said Tuesday. “I think this is the community you’re in. You live here. It’s good to live in the community you work in.”
As the pandemic developed in spring 2020, GUSD — like virtually every other school district — kept teachers and students home and reliant on video-conferencing instruction and online work to complete the school year. The district used the opportunity to procure and provide Chromebooks, along with internet hotspots, to students in need of the technology, and also developed a free breakfast and lunch program for all Glendale and La Crescenta children, regardless of their enrollment.
The 2020-21 school year kicked off with a better-refined remote education model, with district officials planning for the day the county allowed some students to return to campus on a hybrid school week model. (This transition occurred throughout spring 2021.) To account for childcare for younger students, GUSD pioneered so-called “technology learning pods,” where an instructor watched a classroom of socially distanced students during the day as they used their computers for class.
Board member Kathleen Cross commended Ekchian for keeping focused even as the pandemic “pulled the rug out” from under her midway through her first year.
“I see you continue to lead with grace, strength and purpose, and I think it’s awesome,” Cross said.
The district ultimately kicked off the 2021-22 school year in typical fashion, save for masking and testing protocols.
“The sense of responsibility you carry yourself with is really only matched by your ability,” Board President Nayiri Nahabedian said. “I want to know how you do it, really, and it’s a pleasure to see you as an example of what’s possible and your dedication, strength and graciousness.”

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