La Cañada Unified sets goals for new school year, says goodbye to longtime employee

La Cañada Unified sets goals for new school year, says goodbye to longtime employee
Paradise Canyon Elementary School office manager Debbie Pierce, center, received a fond farewell at Tuesday's school board meeting from LCUSD Board President Dan Jeffries and Girl Scouts. Pierce retires Oct. 21 after 35 years with the district. (Photo by Sara Cardine)

Given the changes at La Cañada Unified this past year — reorganization of key cabinet-level positions, an overhaul of high school math pathways, a new facilities master plan and programs that aim to redefine student achievement —the superintendent's goals for 2017-18 are relatively few.

On Tuesday, Supt. Wendy Sinnette charted a course for the district throughout the school year, presenting a list of five major goals to school board members.


"I've been up here (before) presenting 25 goals, but this time I'm presenting five," she said.

Sinnette counted the continuation of Challenge Success, a Stanford University program that provides a framework for reforming school campuses and instruction so success means more than getting high test scores, as a top priority in the coming year.


Rolling back La Cañada High School's start time to 8:30 a.m. this year on a one-year basis was one of many changes advocated by Challenge Success. LCUSD is surveying families to collect unbiased feedback on the impacts of the change, before considering permanent change.

Challenge Success also encourages schools to reexamine homework loads at the elementary and secondary levels, so the district plans to establish homework review teams at each school site.

"A heavy load doesn't necessarily equate to a rigorous instructional program, or a rigorous homework program that actually advances student achievement," Sinnette said, promising teams would dig into data and research on the topic.

With a $149-million Measure LCF bond on the ballot in November, Sinnette said it is key to examine LCUSD's facility master plan to articulate how projects will be prioritized, should the bond pass, and what alternative plan might continue progress, albeit on a smaller scale, should the measure fail.

LCUSD will also continue to focus on TK-12 mathematics instruction, paying particular attention to the upper elementary school grades, where the adoption of new textbooks drew criticism from a small group of parents last May, and in grades seven through 12, where different pathways were delineated to accommodate students with different learning levels.

"We have all these really wonderful components, but we continually recenter on the fact that quality instruction and supporting quality instruction are critical," Sinnette said.

Other identified goals included reviewing district-level administrative roles in the wake of a few key change-ups in the past year and preparing marching orders for the LCUSD leadership team on a number of initiatives, including improving strategic communications, examining a transition of third-graders to "all day birds" and getting students more connected and involved with the goings-on of the district.

"We don't have outcomes in mind," the superintendent said. "We just want to do the research."

Seismic safety

Mark Evans, assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, told the board recent major earthquakes globally have highlighted the need to be sure seismic safety plays a central role in modernization projects put forth by the district's facility master plan. Should the Measure LCF bond pass this November, Evans said the district will work with the architect to conduct an analysis of the safety of all district facilities.

Devil’s Gate

Board members updated the public on the progress of the county's effort to remove 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment from around Devil's Gate Dam, a years-long project that will bring as many as 400 round-trip daily truck trips along Oak Grove Drive and Berkshire Avenue. Preparation measures could begin as soon as next fall. Board President Dan Jeffries suggested the board revise a resolution expressing its health and safety concerns with the project and request a clear process for observing and reporting violations or issues to city officials.

Farewell to Debbie Pierce

District officials, administrators and staff bid a fond but tearful farewell to Paradise Canyon office manager Debbie Pierce, who will retire Oct. 20 after 35 years with the district. Colleagues and principals past and present shared memories of their time with Pierce, who was presented with a special plaque of recognition by Jeffries. Girl Scouts from Troop 8701 wished the La Cañada resident a happy retirement and confessed they'll miss her.

Test results released

Earlier Tuesday, La Cañada Unified learned its students were among the top performers on the statewide California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, scoring first-, second- or third-place rankings in five out of seven grade levels in English and in four of seven grade levels in math. Districtwide, roughly 85.86% of students tested in grades three through eight and 11 met or exceeded the state target in English, while 83.53% did the same in math. A 2017-18 California Dashboard report for parents is scheduled to be released this winter, LCUSD director of assessment Lindi Dreibelbis stated in a release.

Twitter: @SaraCardine