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Response to Recent Attacks on SMMUSD (Letter to Editor)

Jon Kean, SMMUSD school board member, recently had this letter to the editor published in the Santa Monica Lookout and Santa Monica Daily Press to refute some claims made in an op-ed published earlier this month regarding the state of our public schools:

Labor Day is now behind us and as we put those white linen outfits in the closet until Memorial Day we say goodbye to summer and welcome a new season which occurs every two years: the political season.

Clearly, the 2022 election is upon us as can be surmised by the recent appearance of editorials in local papers and social media sites bemoaning the state of (insert public entity here) and (insert elected official name here) who have caused everything bad that has ever happened in Santa Monica.

As a member of the SMMUSD Board of Education, I take special notice of letters and thought pieces that concern our district as even the most negative and biased person can still make a cogent point. Sadly, no such points were made in a recent screed bemoaning the lack of a plan to address learning loss in our schools ("OPINION--Where is the Action Plan to Address Learning Loss," September 6, 2022).

The “author” of the letter is a frequent participant at school board meetings and has been present at numerous presentations concerning this topic, so I am not sure if the letter is due to willful ignorance, a desire to score political points, or perhaps a sincere confusion over what is being done because, to be honest, there are so many programs in place to address learning loss and it is truly hard to remember all of them.

Here is my effort to try to break it down and share some information about how SMMUSD is addressing learning loss with Expanded Learning Opportunities.

14 Expanded Learning Opportunities (and more)

  1. Instructional assistants at the elementary level to assist small group instruction.

  2. After school supervision at identified elementary sites for academic assistance, enrichment, and physical activity.

  3. Continuing the Academic Support Program K-8 providing students with one-on-one personalized support through 2 one-hour weekly virtual academic tutoring sessions for 31 weeks in reading, writing, and/or math. Science instruction will be available in middle schools. This program will target Tier III Socio-economically Disadvantaged students, English Language Learners, and BIPOC students.

  4. Expanded summer school offerings in 2022 and 2023 which will include socio-emotional and mental health services as well as academic instruction.

  5. Expanded opportunities for Tier II English Language Learners, with a focus on academic English, during after school targeted small group instruction.

  6. Technology refreshment program to increase access to updated digital resources to support in-person learning and independent study.

  7. Expanding the Summer Language Academy focusing on English language development.

  8. Continue to provide academic, intervention, and targeted supports for homeless and foster youth.

  9. Support teachers and staff in building capacity and addressing these important goals with academic support, professional time, and increasingly relevant and engaging curriculum development.

  10. Provide teachers with additional after school time to meet as Professional Learning Communities to review evidence of student learning and the ability to adjust instruction and address students’ areas of need.

  11. Expand capacity of in-person mental health services at all school sites through existing programs while seeking increased partnerships with local providers.

  12. Continue to expand parent educational programming including SMMUSD Parent Conference, Latino Literacy Project, and the Parent Project.

  13. Continue partnership with PAPER for all Tier III students in grades 8-12

  14. Implementation of Literacy and Language Intervention Specialists to provide targeted instruction to Tier III students in grades 3-5 during the school day.

This list stops at fourteen, not because there aren’t another couple dozen programs to share, but because fourteen is a good number that hopefully does not overwhelm the reader.

For anyone who wants to see what actually is being done to help students who are in need, this is a good start at understanding district priorities. If one wishes to dig deeper, look at the data.

The district reclassified a record number of English Language Learners last year. Our test scores from last year while being only one indication of student progress, are strong. With districts up and down the state reporting significant losses in all categories, the vast majority of SMMUSD students maintained or improved their learning levels from before the pandemic.

This certainly does not mean that ALL students flourished. We know that many individual students suffered during distance learning, and many are still suffering. Data is used to represent the whole of a district, not an individual. But the list above gives many examples of individual services in place to help individual student with specific interventions and supports.

Many in the community who seem intent on tearing down any district successes often reference the Noguera Report and how the district has accomplished nothing listed in the report (produced in 2016). But a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and merely knowing about the existence of the report is not the same as understanding the report.

Dr. Noguera repeatedly makes the same point: needs must be identified, programs must be created to address these needs, and the district must stick with them and nurture them. Success doesn’t come overnight and bouncing from program to program is death for a school district and its initiatives.

SMMUSD has followed this important advice. We have plans in place to address the most pressing needs in our community while at the same time serving as an elite TK-12 program in the State of California.

There is always room for growth and our district and its school board never rests on the status quo. We constantly look at our gaps and failings and double our efforts to address them while still maintaining our excellent core programs and innovating in a manner befitting SMMUSD and our community.

It's election season. We are not so unlike the nation in which we live. To quote George Costanza on Seinfeld “A lie is not a lie if you believe it.” Sadly, we have people in our community who continue to spread their version of the big lie as if it were backed by truth. But the facts are the facts.

Our district is one of the best in California and that is the result of our teachers, our staff, our administrators, our Superintendent, and yes, our school board. The truth is out there in plain sight.

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