By Vincent Nguyen and Eliza Partika
Data and numbers were at the forefront of the second Glendale Unified School District Board meeting of the school year as officials presented enrollment numbers and state standard test results, as well as a revised library vetting process.
Preliminary enrollment numbers show a slight decline in new students after two years of an upward trend, while results from the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) reveal more students are meeting the standard in language arts, math and science.
The Board also recognized Suicide Awareness Month, Attendance Awareness Month and Hispanic Heritage Month.
GUSD director of student support services Hagop Eulmessekian presented the district enrollment numbers tallied as of Sept. 6. A full report is expected to be shared in late October or early November, as enrollment continues to be counted.
So far, 2,705 new students have been enrolled for the 2023-24 school year. That number is down from the previous year of 2,875 new students, and 2,730 added the year prior.
Currently, the total student enrollment in GUSD is 25,014 students, roughly the same number as the previous year, according to officials.
The number of students who left the district was estimated at 615 students, and about half of that number, 343, enrolled in another public school in California. That’s a drop from the previous academic year, which reported 677 students leaving the district.
“The cost of living is having the same impact that it had in the 2008 recession — people just can’t afford to live here,” said Board Clerk Ingrid Gunnell. “That’s just a bottom line for a lot of declining enrollment around L.A. County and other wealthy parts of California.”
Gunnell suggested district officials take a look into workforce housing and community schooling to help families with affordable housing.
Eulmessekian also reported 401 new interdistrict permits approved for the 2023-24 year for a total of 1,440. Those permits give students the opportunity to attend GUSD even if they reside in another district’s zip code. That is a preliminary number, he emphasized, and the actual number will probably be higher.
Stepan Mekhitarian, the district director of innovation, instruction, assessment and accountability, presented the results of the CAASPP standardized testing, as well as suggestions on how to move forward with the information provided.
The CAASPP results were from a preliminary report, though about 95% of results are in and the state does not expect the results to change, according to district officials. Full CAASPP results are expected to be released in December.
The report shows 62% of students met or exceeded standards in English language arts, 53% in math and 42% in science.
Mekhitarian provided a comparison to the 2018-19 and 2021-22 years as well. The test has been shortened in the years following pandemic restrictions. The 2018-19 assessment was a full-length test, reflecting pre-pandemic results.
“It won’t be a direct comparison, but it is the most recent data we have, so we figured we will show you as much of the most recent information as we can so that you have a comparison, not only to the year before, but also to pre-pandemic levels,” Mekhitarian said.
The latest results show English and math scores are similar to pre-pandemic (2018-19 showed 62 and 54, respectively), and science scores improved from pre-pandemic levels by five points.
Board member Shant Sahakian encouraged officials to put more emphasis on mathematics.
“Struggling math is not a new challenge for students, but it’s also critical for future careers as well,” Sahakian said.
“You can see their fear and their dislike for math, and a lot of my effort was just getting them to pass before they can even access the content,” he said. “So, I agree, it’s very important and it’s something that we have to work on so that they can embrace math and see that it’s a powerful tool that’s not just important for tests, but also, for everything else in life.”
Mekhtrian said data has been shared with most GUSD schools, and district officials are pushing very hard for interim assessments — miniature versions of the CAASP and CAST tests. The interim assessments will help with not only test prep but help prepare review for students to bring them up to the appropriate level, he added.
Board President Jennifer Freemon and Board member Nayari Nahabedian both inquired about comparisons with Los Angeles County. Mekhtrian said the newest testing data will be available on the district website in October. Previous years are already available to the public.
SUICIDE PREVENTION AWARENESS
Narineh Kemichian, the district’s wellness coordinator, shared a presentation on suicide prevention.
“Mental health is a fundamental aspect of our overall well-being, yet it often remains in the shadows, hidden away due to the stigma that surrounds it,” Kemichian said. “The reality is that millions of people around the world regardless of age, gender or background, are suffering in silence.
Suicide was the second leading cause of death for students in the United States aged 10 to 14 in 2021. Kemichian noted GUSD’s crisis teams are composed of teachers, school administrators and counselors who have developed a comprehensive response to students who may be struggling with mental health.
The crisis teams completed 350 threat assessments in the 2022-2023 school year; 40 students were assisted at hospitals as a result. She emphasized the importance of follow-up care to help students make a complete recovery.
“We create safety plans and hold re-entry meetings, where we welcome students back to school post-hospitalization, with their parents, and offer them a combination of support staff on campus and in-person and telehealth services,” she said.
Kemichian encouraged parents who wished to enroll their students in safety plans to contact their campus administration.
Additionally, to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, the GUSD Teaching and Learning Department presented recommended reading, TV shows and the study of influential figures such as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
LIBRARY MATERIAL VETTING
In response to recent concerns surrounding content provided in school libraries, district staff conducted reviews of library practices that found there are different procedures for vetting books at each school.
They recommended a districtwide process to ensure uniformity and adherence to district regulations. Library staff is currently working to implement committees to review elementary and secondary books and to review new library materials.
The district also implemented an “opt out” process for elementary school students where parents can restrict their children from checking out library books. The student still participates in library and classroom reading activities, but is unable to bring books home from the library. Parents can opt their child out by notifying their site principal in writing, and can opt their child back in at any time.
“We want to make sure that if a student is opted out, they don’t feel bad, so they still get to go to the library and see the library, and participate,” said Brook Reynolds, executive director elementary instruction. “If other students are checking out books, students who are opted out can go to a table to read widely accepted books that are part of the school curriculum.”
PUBLIC COMMENT POLICY
The recent meeting was the first to implement the Board’s updated public comment policy. One update pertained to public comment cards, which must now be submitted prior to the start time of the meeting and, once the meeting begins, the Board will not accept any additional comment cards.
Other updates reintroduced by Freemon focused on ensuring visitors’ security and safety and prohibited certain items from meetings, such as handheld signs and flags. More information on the policy can be found on the district website under Board policy 9323.
Said Freemon, “I will share my own personal disappointment. I know we want to make sure we are hearing from everybody and we are hearing the issues that are concerning — the things that they’re not sure about, the questions — but it is disappointing when folks come up and are using this space to just denigrate others. There’s really no purpose in that, when they are coming up for [from what I heard], just to be defaming and mean toward other folks and that’s really disappointing that that’s where some of the discourse has gone.
“We can have policy discussions, we can have very strong disagreements on what is happening at our schools or what we think is happening at our schools, but it’s sad to me to see this is where that discourse continues to kind of stay.”
During public comment, one speaker urged the Board to provide better safety for parents and children who want to attend future meetings.
“This is not what Glendale used to be. Eleven years in Glendale Unified District and never in my life have I felt so stressed out to come out and speak here.”
The speaker, using a translator, accused someone of assaulting her at a May Board meeting, which resulted in a physical altercation and the arrest of three people. Fighting back tears, she urged the Board to prohibit future potential aggravators.
“A new year has begun and I’ve found it very important that the safety of parents is a priority when we come here and present ourselves to the Board meeting to speak about things that are worrying, concerns about our children, when we have people from outside Glendale Unified District threatening us, bullying us, it’s pretty much terrorists. They want to terrorize parents to not come.”
First published in the September 16 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.