Strong academic performance, healthy child development initiative gaining in La Cañada schools

Strong academic performance, healthy child development initiative gaining in La Cañada schools
The La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation presented a $2 million check to La Cañada school officials Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Sanderson)

School board members celebrated student achievements at the district meeting Tuesday evening, when the board also took a closer look at the direction of the district's Challenge Success initiative to balance student wellness and emotional health.

One highlight of the evening was the annual delivery of a large presentation check representing funds the La Cañada Educational Foundation has raised in the prior school year. This year, the check was in the amount of $2 million.


In a special report, the school board learned that while the recently announced scores on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) remained stagnant for a third year, La Cañada public schools continued to produce strong academic performance, especially at one of its elementary schools, according to the state Department of Education.

La Cañada Elementary School stood out in the results. In English, 96.62% of LCE students met or exceeded the state targets and 95.51% did so in math.


Lindi Dreibelbis, chief director of assessment, research and consolidated programs, said La Cañada schools scored in first, second and third place in the state in five out of seven grade levels tested in English. In math, four out of seven grade levels were in the top spots, while sixth-graders took first place in English.

"LCUSD continues to jockey for top honors with the San Marino and Piedmont City unified school districts," she said.

In LCUSD, 85.86% of students met or exceeded the state target in English. Nearby San Marino Unified led the top-achieving districts with 90.05% of its tested students meeting or exceeding the targets in English. In math, San Marino achieved 85.81%, and La Cañada came in at 83.53%

The highest LCUSD achievement came in fourth-grade math with 89.97% of students meeting or exceeding the state target. Also in math, all grades except 7 and 11 had more than 60% of students scoring in the "exceeded" category, the highest possible score. Third and fourth grade math scores have shown the most consistent improvement in the district for the last three years, according to Dreibelbis. Students exceeding the standards have grown more than 16 and 7 points, respectively, in those two grade levels.

At Palm Crest Elementary School, the highest scores were in sixth grade English at 91.43% and math at 86.67%, with more than 70% of students in each subject scoring in the "exceeded" category. Paradise Canyon Elementary School has seen its already high scores improve in math each year over the last three years in grades 3, 4 and 5, as well as in grade 6 in English. At La Cañada High School, the highest score in English was in eighth grade, at 87.03% of students meeting or exceeding the standards — a continual growth over three years. Juniors dipped slightly in both English and math, but are at 86.42% and 79.42%, respectively, of meeting or exceeding the state standards.

If there was one area where students struggled on the assessment, Dreibelbis said, it was in the listening category, which is an audio-only portion. School board Vice President Kaitzer Puglia said she did not think it was a problem with listening but the engagement from listening.

Supt. Wendy Sinnette told the board she is proud of the students' performance and grateful for their continued hard work, as well as efforts by the teachers. She said administrators and teachers can use the test's metrics to improve curriculum

Also at Tuesday's meeting, and juxtaposing the meeting's energy and focus on achieving high academic results, the district's new executive director of pupil and personnel services, James Cartnal, said he can share numerous anecdotes of how students' pathway to success is narrowing over the years, and students are stating they do not have time to learn at school when they have to spend that time getting high grades.

Last school year, the district held a career day-type of event called Challenge Success, where high school students and students in grades 7 and 8 heard from dozens of professionals in a wide variety of industries. In the 2017-18 school year, Cartnal said La Cañada continued as partner schools in the Challenge Success program. As a shared action plan, the Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences will be given to students in grades 7-12 and assemblies will be organized to share more details about the initiative. The goal is to create a three-year, site specific implementation plan.

"I am genuinely optimistic," Cartnal said. "I haven't received much resistance. This is about healthy child development."

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the board unanimously approved an updated resolution with the city citing their concerns about the Devil's Gate Reservoir sediment removal and maintenance project, which is proposed by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District to remove between 2.4 and 4 million yards of sediment and debris from the reservoir over a five-year or longer time period. Board President Dan Jeffries said the school district continues to work with the city's common interests and the county on addressing air emissions, traffic congestion and noise pollution.

Cake and refreshments were served at the start of Tuesday's board meeting to celebrate La Cañada Elementary School kindergarten teacher Mandy Redfern having been recognized as one of 16 Los Angeles County's Teachers of the Year for 2017-18. Ten LCHS students were also recognized for being National Merit Scholar semifinalists. Those students are Cora J. Wu, Arjun Aron, Veronica Backer-Peral, Yolanada Hu, Erica J. Lee, Christos Menemenlis, Harrison B. Min, Blake Northop, Matthew C. Randolph and Averi D. Suk.

Matt Sanderson is a contributing writer to Times Community News