CUSD board works to keep pace with changing environment
Like most everyone in public education in the U.S., the last 22 months have been trying for newly minted Claremont Unified School District President Steven Llanusa.
“The board has been dealing with the COVID crisis over the two years with as much flexibility as can be expected in a situation that is constantly changing,” Llanusa said.
Much has been written in recent weeks about the absolute gut punch the Omicron variant-related surge has delivered to students, administrators, staff and teachers across the U.S. Student mental health issues are spiking, and teachers, staff and administrators are losing hope, as some districts return to distance learning. Generally, everyone is running on fumes, and burnout is an increasingly worrisome issue. The COURIER asked Llanusa how the CUSD Board of Education is holding up.
“I don’t think that the board has considered our morale, or that we’ve had an opportunity to, because we’re too busy trying to take care of the morale of the staff, students, families that are in our school district,” he said. “Those are our priority.”
Like so many folks the COURIER has spoken to over the past 22 months, Llanusa said the pandemic has upended all previous expectations of what his job would entail.
“I never envisioned education having to take place in a situation like this, although I do envision education taking place after a time like this,” he said. “At this point we’re knowing that the ‘after’ is coming, but we are too busy planning for the ‘during’ to give it much thought. We’re trying to marshal resources to cover classes on a day-to-day basis.”
Both CUSD Superintendent Jeff Wilson and Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources Kevin Ward have told the COURIER over the past two weeks the ability to put teachers in classrooms to cover for COVID-affected colleagues is a top concern when determining whether or not schools are able to remain open for in-person instruction. Llanusa concurred.
“That’s the truth,” he said. “We as a district are struggling to make sure that every class has an adult teacher in it. If that means principals take over classes, or people at the district office travel to schools to take over classes, we are working as we can to be sure no student’s education is harmed, or is harmed as little as possible.”
Llanusa was hopeful CUSD staff and teachers used the recent three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend to get some much needed rest.
“I hope that our district personnel are getting a chance to recharge their batteries, because they’ve been not only covering classes, but once students have gone home then they’ve gone back to their offices to do their regular jobs.”
Llanusa also singled out teachers, whom he said “have also been going above and beyond to keep the schools open by subbing during their prep periods at the secondary schools and taking extra students at the elementary schools when colleagues are out sick.”
Perhaps the biggest non-COVID news out of the school board is, like the recent Claremont City Council action in which the body switched from at-large to district elections, the CUSD Board of Education is in the final stages of implementing an item approved way back in December 20, 2018 to transition to “by-trustee area” elections beginning with this November’s contest.
The mapping process began in August, 2021, and proposed final maps for the five by-trustee areas were reviewed at this week’s board meeting, which took place after press time Thursday. If no alterations were requested, a final approval vote will take place at the board’s February 3 meeting. If changes are required, the measure will be considered at its February 17 assembly.
“Our priority is to make sure that every elementary school has at least two board members representing it,” Llanusa said.
Claremont’s seven elementary schools all have attendance area maps. Those maps indicate the school a child is to attend based on where their home is located on the map, and will not be affected by this board action. The intent with the new trustee area maps is to split these attendance areas substantially between board members in order to maximize representation.
“For example, an elementary school may have two or three board members in its attendance boundary,” Llanusa explained. “So the areas are created such that they overlap different attendance boundaries.”
The goal is to avoid a situation in which one school has just one board member, Llanusa said, so that each of CUSD’s 10 schools “knows the board cares about them.”
It’s been a challenge.
“It has because I think it’s a different outlook than the demographers have had from other districts,” Llanusa said. “But we’re being very conscientious that even though we’ll no longer be elected at large, we care at large.”
The district’s three secondary schools — El Roble Intermediate, Claremont High and San Antonio High — will not be included on the by-trustee area maps because they are district-wide facilities and do not have attendance boundaries. Each member of the board will represent them equally.
In other news, the board began meeting in person again in September 2021 after more than a year of virtual quorums. A couple of months later, back when the virus appeared to be in retreat, the public was invited back into the boardroom to participate in person, with COVID masking protocols, and the Zoom option continued.
Thus far, the Omicron variant-related COVID surge hasn’t altered that plan. The five board members’ seats and audience seating are arranged for social distancing, Llanusa said.
There was a resolution on this week’s meeting agenda put forth by CUSD Superintendent Jeff Wilson “To adopt Resolution No. 09-2022 Continuing Board of Education Authority to hold virtual meetings pursuant to AB 361 for the period January through February 2022,” but Llanusa was doubtful it would be adopted.
“I mean, why would we go virtual when our own teachers don’t?” he asked. “There’s a consensus among the five members that we’re doing what we can to support the teachers.”
Other action the board has taken since September includes several discussions about the proposed sale of the former La Puerta school property and its impact on CUSD; examination of the district advisory committee on racial equity’s recommendations to the board regarding CHS’s school resource officer; and recognition of then outgoing board president Nancy Tresser-Osgood’s work she did over her term.
More information on the CUSD Board of Education, including upcoming meetings, is at https://www.cusd.claremont.edu/board.