Thursday, January 26, 2023

CUSD School Board Update: COVID-Learning, Equity Committee and Special Education

The Coronado School Board met on Thursday, November 12 at 4pm at District Offices, located at 201 Sixth Street, marking the last full school board meeting for Board President Julie Russell and Board Member Maria Simon. Newly-elected board members Stacy Keszei and Whitney Antrim sat in the small, socially-distanced audience while the board discussed formation of the Equity Committee, as well as updates on special education, learning and instruction, and more.

The other board members and Karl Mueller, Superintendent of Coronado Unified School District (CUSD), thanked Russell and Simon for their years of dedication to Coronado schools. Simon was also awarded a proclamation on behalf of the City of Coronado and the Coronado City Council: November 12, 2020 is named Maria Simon Day for her service and advocacy on behalf of Coronado students.

Simon used her opening comments to remind new and current board members to follow the board’s guiding documents when it comes to policy, and to not get distracted by “shiny objects.”

Thursday marked Maria Simon’s last regular school board meeting.

“There is a not-so-great history in public education to . . . follow the latest and the greatest, or to respond fast and furiously to the issue of the day, or a recent study, or a movement, or a great cause, or a new technology gadget,” said Simon. “The best thing we can do to avoid getting sidetracked is to create and adhere to guiding documents . . . that is how you move the needle forward in public education, slowly but purposefully.”

Simon also used her final comments to advocate for Spanish language in elementary school, which was cut during the recession. She said the seeds are planted for world language in the district’s long range plan, and suggested that newly-elected Antrim or Keszei champion the cause.

“Remember that one person can make a difference, but not alone,” said Simon.

Board President Julie Russell used her comments to thank the other board members and Superintendent Mueller, and to students, staff, and the community as a whole for using their voices to influence positive change.

“I ask that you continue to let your thoughts be known to the board,” urged Russell. “It is a critical part of our democracy and every one of us truly benefits from dialogue and debate in making what ‘ought to be’ what is, for our children.”

Board President Julie Russell encouraged members of the community to continue to voice ideas and concerns to the board.

Niamh Foley, Director of Student Services, presented an update to the board on special education services. She said that whether via Zoom or in person, the special education staff have been busy combing through every single IEP to make sure the required services are given. She also shared that the district is hiring a board-certified behavior analyst who will ultimately develop a pathway for a registered behavior therapist, who can then allow the school to use in-house behavioral aids instead of non-public agencies.

The board expressed gratitude for the hard work of all the special education teachers in the district, and even broke out in a round of applause in appreciation.

When it comes to the formation of an Equity Committee to advise the board on policy for racial equity in schools, Foley shared that the committee has been formed. Roughly 40 members of the community—including students, parents, and school staff—will meet via Zoom for the first time on November 19th. When asked about the racial make-up of the committee, Foley shared that the committee members were selected based on interest, not race or ethnicity. Board Member Pontes expressed concern.

“I don’t see how this committee can do work successfully, if it’s not a pretty diverse committee,” said Pontes.

Dr. Megan Battle presented a report for Instruction and Learning, and shared that attendance throughout the district continues to be very high.

“The efforts of our teachers and staff is a tribute to this attendance,” said Dr. Battle. “They are making the calls, they are reaching out individually to students who aren’t coming in person, who aren’t attending zoom sessions, who aren’t completing assignments during the week. We are trying to get every child, every day, engaged in learning.”

Dr. Battle asserted that the majority of students are maintaining and excelling in the current learning environment, and the ones who are not are being identified. She said the district is working hard to get them on campus for an experience, or utilizing aids to reach out and assist with remote learning when necessary.

“We know that some of our students aren’t mature enough to necessarily replicate a school structure in their home environment, and they may not have a family member there who can keep them on track, so we are trying to provide that for them,” said Dr. Battle.

The district is also providing non-academic, socio-emotional support and counseling services as well. Board members expressed gratitude for the slow but purposeful reopening, and seemed to accept that this school year will be marked by some form of virtual learning in one way or the other.

“All we can do is continue to do the hard work that we are doing, and do the very best that we can,” said Pontes. “We cannot move the needle on the pandemic. We’re in it, and we’re in it for another four to six months, so, the sooner that everybody out there gets that through their heads, the better we will be able to live at peace with what we are trying to do.”

Of note during Deputy Superintendent Donnie Salamanca’s financial report was a $20,000 anonymous donation to the Brian Bent Memorial Aquatics Complex, which is helping the facility stay afloat during COVID.

Members of the community can watch the full school board meeting here.



Christine Van Tuyl
Christine Van Tuyl
Christine was born and raised in Texas, but moved to Coronado with her family as a teen in 1993. Although initially horrified by surfers, flannels and skateboards, she ultimately grew to love all things So-Cal. A graduate of UCSD, Christine got her first writing job on the KUSI ten o’clock news while simultaneously juggling a reporter position at the San Diego Community News Group. She worked as a public relations professional, a book editor, real estate professional, and a freelance writer before eventually succumbing to motherhood in 2008.A decade later, Christine resurfaced to start the Island Girl Blog, a Coronado lifestyle blog. In addition, she writes a monthly page for Crown City Magazine. Christine loves hanging out with her husband, Ian, and their two spirited daughters, Holland and Marley, who attend Village Elementary and Coronado Middle School. When she’s not working, you’ll find her practicing yoga, spilling coffee at school drop off, meeting friends for sushi, or sailing the Bay with her family and English Bulldog, Moshi. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]