By Jill A. Baker, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools
There’s nothing like the real thing.
As I visited schools this week, gone were the “virtual hugs” and elbow bumps that marked the start of last school year. Instead, real hugs, high-fives and beaming smiles contributed to a great sense of optimism expressed by teachers, parents, students, support staff and community members alike. If you missed our first-day video, you can still enjoy it here. The reunion of our students and teachers seemed to breathe new life into the cities of Long Beach, Lakewood, Signal Hill and Avalon.
Few scenes reinforce just how much our schools mean to people than when a tearful parent drops their child off for the first day of kindergarten. That moment is always a poignant reminder that together we share a responsibility to give our children their absolute best chance at success. We fulfill this responsibility by meeting children where they are, and then taking them where they need to be, no matter what challenges life throws at them. Within the first few days of school, I saw many clear instances of our teachers and other staff taking this approach as we strive for both excellence and equity. Teachers, for instance, took the time to work on relationship building, learning about their students and sharing a little about themselves before easing into instruction.
This school year holds such great promise. We’re doing more than ever to help students recover emotionally and academically from the societal difficulties of the past two years. Among our new programs is full-day kindergarten, which has received such positive feedback from parents. Our Wellness Centers are expanding beyond high schools to include all middle schools, providing more students a place to pause and seek any help or resources they may need to help navigate the middle grades. Many other forms of academic and emotional support have been carefully planned and backed with significant resources.
Although some of our COVID-19 restrictions have been eased in line with guidance from health officials (for instance, masks are recommended but optional), rest assured that several other COVID-19 prevention measures remain in place and are summarized in our Back to School Guide that we recently distributed. I also acknowledge that we’ve started the school year during a heat wave. We continue toward completely air conditioning all schools, and we’re about 75 percent of the way there. In the meantime, we've activated our systems to minimize the effects of high temperatures over the next few weeks. That includes an early morning ventilation system in our schools that are not yet air conditioned. In classrooms that are not yet air conditioned, staff will work with the principal to rotate through spaces that are cooler, to minimize outside play, to leave classroom lights off and to place fans in classroom spaces. Students are welcome to bring their water bottles from home (if they don’t want to drink water from the drinking fountain) and will be encouraged to hydrate during the day.
This week was a big deal, as evidenced by the various news media outlets that joined us at schools to capture the excitement of the real thing. More importantly, this week was the start of a great journey.
Thank you to everyone who makes this journey possible, and best wishes for the new school year.