By Eliza Partika
The much-anticipated first meeting of the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education for the 2023-24 school year focused on funding updates as the city’s education leaders expressed excitement for a fresh start.
But before the Board could delve into the action items pertaining to Measure S funding and new language immersion textbooks, the group faced an hourlong session of contentious public comment ranging from concerns about low-test scores, poor student performances and certain curriculum taught in classrooms.
Board President Jennifer Freemon, Vice President Shant Sahakian, Clerk Ingrid Gunnell and members Kathleen Cross and Nayiri Nahabedian were present for the meeting alongside interim Superintendent Darneika Watson.
“There’s a lot of excitement on this dais, I can feel it,” Watson said. “All of you do amazing work, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
GUSD has been one of many education hubs across Los Angeles County at the center of pro- and anti-LGBTQ+ protests.
Demonstrations at a June 6 meeting turned violent as the Board was set to adopt a resolution to recognize June as Pride Month. Hundreds of protesters showed up outside of the district headquarters for the June meeting, and three were arrested.
Following a near two-hour closed session, the Board approved an agreement with Maxim Healthcare Staffing for school nurses at various school sites, bids for various Measure S construction projects at several school sites and approved new Microsoft licenses for the year.
They also approved the hiring of three new foreign language teachers, a subscription for Nucleus Robotics for career education classes and provisional internship permits for the 2022-2023 school year.
The Board then discussed their final budget adjustments for the 2023-2024 school year and approved finalized budget changes as well.
Board priorities for the academic year include accelerating student engagement and learning, closing the digital equity gap, ensuring equitable teaching and learning opportunities, and preserving the district’s financial resources.
Changes to the state budget impacted the district’s budget for the year, which was reduced by about $1.1 million to total about $21.99 million. California school districts are required to revise their annual budget if the state has significant revisions to their budget.
Projects under Measure S bond funding, which secures money to renovate and improve the city’s existing school sites, were also approved for the year.
The Board allocated $28,400 for wrought iron fencing at Monte Vista Elementary, $45,023 for the new building foundation and sitework at Monte Vista Elementary and $3.75 million for improvements to the field at Crescenta Valley High School.
Other projects receiving Measure S funds include the Clark CTE Building, CVHS Field Improvements, CVHS Pool Expansion, Glenoaks Classroom Building, Hoover High School Pool Expansion, Marshall Multi-Purpose Room Building, Monte Vista Classroom Building Verdugo Woodlands Bridge, and Summer and Miscellaneous Measure S Project funds.
A number of German textbooks were approved for dual-language immersion, mostly at the elementary school level, with a pair of AP German textbooks also approved for the high school curriculum.
“I wanted to thank you for bringing these up and for looking at how we can bring our community together with us, how we can be a team,” said Board member Ingrid Gunnell. “This is where we put our goals, and the LCAP is where we put our measures.”
Ahead of the meeting, a handful of parent groups on Instagram released a statement that they would be boycotting the Aug. 8 meeting.
“We remain concerned about threats posed by area extremists who have previously caused violence, threatened parents and teachers, and filmed and publicized minors in attendance [of School Board meetings],” the statement read.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, signs saying “Leave Our Kids Alone” were easily visible in the event’s livestream and many speakers voiced opinions on GUSD’s policies regarding LGBTQ+ students and sex education curriculum, which follows the state Department of Education requirements.
One speaker who identified as a Vietnam War veteran said the meeting’s procedure felt like “Gestapo,” while another speaker said the teachers in the district conducted Pavlovian conditioning on the students as he hoisted a rainbow pinwheel during his presentation.
A former student of Glendale High voiced his support for teachers in the district, opposing the majority of intense rhetoric thrown at the Board.
“I am here because I’m tired of seeing my teachers harassed and bullied by these hate groups that have popped up in the past few months,” he said. “These hate groups have created an atmosphere of fear in our community, not only by harassing [the Board] but also by harassing my teachers.
“The truth is they want to destroy public education. They hate public schools and they want GUSD to fail. You have the resources to fight this misinformation. It will go a long way.”
Hans Johnson, a member of the East Area Progressive Democrats, also expressed support for the district’s personnel, thanking them profusely amid a backdrop of audience boos, to which he responded to in frustration.
“This is incredibly ungrateful,” he said as Freemon banged the gavel to get the audience in order. “Please pipe down and let me finish my remarks. I’ve listened to you. Let me finish, please.”
On the topic of poor test scores and performances, one Hoover High graduate said the Board was not doing enough to focus attention on test scores, which he said have lowered each year since he attended Hoover High School.
“It needs to go back to the students and back to objective measures of success,” he said. “We need something new.”
First published in the August 19 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.