The Coronado Unified District School Board met on Thursday, October 15 at 4 pm at the district offices located at 201 Sixth Street. Community members watched the three-hour meeting live on the district’s website, coronadousd.net, while board members, sitting behind new plexiglass shields, discussed phased school re-openings and equity committee selection criteria, and voiced concerns over a teacher union report and allegations from school board candidates.
Board member Maria Simon highlighted the excitement and relief of students and teachers to be back in the classroom after several visits made to school sites.
“The teachers were joyous to be back in the classrooms with their students,” said Simon, in reference to her visits to Village Elementary and Silver Strand Elementary. “I’ve walked these halls for seventeen years, and I’ve seen a lot of challenges and drama, but COVID takes the cake.”
She commended school principals for navigating “nightmare” logistics with graciousness and professionalism, encompassing the erection of pop-up tents, sanitization stations, am/pm cohort assignments, and more.
Simon went on to chastise the five school board candidates, who she said unfairly blamed teachers for the relatively low number of Coronado High School graduates who qualify for UC and CSU admissions, compared to students from other districts.
“Suggesting that our teachers aren’t focusing on basic core academics, that our third graders aren’t mastering reading, or that we have too many tech gadgets getting in the way…it’s ridiculous,” said Simon. “Our high school students are more than academically prepared and capable [to meet the requirements for UC and CSU schools].”
Simon said that the school board candidates should be well aware that the district has, last March–after much research and study–adopted a “four-by-four” bell schedule beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, which allows CHS students to take eight additional classes over the course of their high school career. She said this move is a “game changer” and will give CHS students the leverage they need to compete for UC and CSU admissions. She encouraged the school board candidates to read the district’s long range plan on the district website.
Superintendent Karl Mueller expressed gratitude for the five members of the community who are vying for a seat on the CUSD School Board, and said they clearly demonstrate sincere concern for the students.
“The level of care, sincerity and concern for the students from the candidates that are running for school board is something we should be proud of, as there are a lot of communities that don’t have such amazing options,” said Mueller.
At this time, Mueller said that the district is finishing up the second week of Phase 2 reopening, whereby 85% of elementary students are receiving in-person instruction, and 15% are continuing to learn with Bridge [virtual learning]. He said the district will continue to be guided by “hopeful and responsible decision making,” and it remains the desire to have students return to campus as quickly and safely as possible, without compromising the continuity of education.
Dr. Megan Battle returned to update the board on reopening plans, whereby CMS cohorts will begin to return to campus. Cohorts include ELD, Literacy Lab, English 8 Foundations, Advanced Art, APA, 6th grade wheel, and academic support cohorts.
An email from a parent expressed dismay that CMS students who chose choir and band for their electives were not included in the current phase of re-opening, and were not yet allowed back to campus in any form. The parent requested that students in these electives—assuming performing is not yet authorized—be invited back to campus in a safe form, giving them an equitable on-campus experience like their peers.
Mueller assured board members that the principals of the secondary schools are busy “combing through student rosters” in all specials and elective courses to try to create these on-campus experiences. He said by December 1, every single student would have an on-campus option.
A recorded report from the ACT (Association of Coronado Teachers) seemed to ruffle some feathers when it expressed teacher concerns over mental health, anxiety over live-streaming [teaching in-person, while teaching remotely to online learners simultaneously], and safety concerns.
“We know that it’s not safe to return in person, which is why many districts around us aren’t planning on returning to their classrooms until next year,” the report said.
CUSD Board President Julie Russell, who earlier commended the four CUSD principals for their work and leadership on school re-openings, said the ACT report “got under her skin.”
“Everyone globally is struggling, everyone is giving 110%, everyone is inconvenienced, yet we are finding that a teacher, who is not a medical personnel, stating that they know it’s not safe to come back to school when our schools are following CDC guidelines, and 85% of our students want to come back, it does not bode well…” said Russell. “Teachers have been designated as essential workers, and it’s time to recognize that and appreciate it.”
Russell later said that some “amazing things” are happening as the result of the current situation, and that she appreciated the honesty and frustration expressed by the ACT report.
Dr. Battle said that there are already two educators that are live streaming in the district, and although there are challenges, it is working.
“[Live streaming] is an opportunity to provide equity of access and a continuity of learning for kids on campus, and at home, and it gives us flexibility,” said Dr. Battle. “We are in consultation with the county office with best practices for live streaming…it is happening in districts around us, and they are doing it, they are experiencing it, and it’s working.”
Dr. Battle said the district is determined to provide resources to teachers to help them live stream with success, and live streaming will be implemented only when appropriate.
Mueller underscored the notion that live streaming is not a “magic solution” and it will not be rolled out blindly. He said it will be implemented strategically for situations that make it achievable.
When it comes to the Equity Action Plan, Niamh Foley, Director of Student Services for CUSD, said the district is moving right along, in spite of logistical challenges presented by the global pandemic. She shared the district is working hard on creating the Equity Committee, although the selection criteria was met with some confusion.
The Equity Committee, to be made up of CUSD staff, students, parents, and other community members, will guide, but not direct, action and initiatives, and exist as an integral resource to help craft future initiatives and policy, according to Mueller. Ultimately, the committee will be made up of 30-40 people, all volunteers.
Board member Esther Valdez-Clayton said she wanted to make sure that the selection of the equity committee reflected the racial issues and different races, a notion underscored by board member Helen-Anderson Cruz, who said that the committee should have representation by those who have been marginalized. Pontes expressed that the idea of creation of the Equity Committee may not be quite as simple as imagined.
When it comes to the hiring of a diversity consultant, a sentiment expressed in several emails by CUSD students and parents, some board members expressed concern. Simon said that their short experience with a diversity consultant was “less than satisfying” and that she did not support spending money on a consultant, and that the members of the CUSD community were better equipped to advise, saying it could “do more harm than good.”
The next CUSD board meeting, scheduled for November 12, will provide valuable updates to CUSD parents, students and community members. Everyone is advised to continue checking updates from the district, and send in comments here.
Video of the meeting can be found here.