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LCUSD mulls how to meet math goals, keep kids safe from risks of media, online publicity

The La Cañada school board examined Tuesday how district students learn and apply mathematical principals, particularly at the elementary school level, exploring a superintendent’s goal related to math instruction in the coming school year.

La Cañada Unified Supt. Wendy Sinnette delivered a progress report on meetings that have taken place among school site administrators, teachers and parents in the 2017-18 school year and shared concerns and recommendations collected so far.

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“There’s a real necessity to refine, improve and celebrate math instruction,” said Sinnette, who began working at LCUSD 17 years ago. “When I came to the district, the charge was to fix the math program — we’re still here, but we’re making progress.”

The superintendent outlined the result of talks between district officials and parent members of the Elementary Math Working Committee. The will of the group, she said, was to explore opportunities for children with advanced math proficiency to accelerate their learning beyond their grade level.

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Parents indicated a desire to observe their children’s math instruction, explore individualized and digital learning programs, prioritize computational fluency and create more math-based after-school activities.

Longer-range suggestions included creating student study teams to devise individual learning plans for accelerated students and hiring an upper elementary math specialist. Sinnette said she was pleased by the collaboration with parents and wished to pursue low-hanging fruit among the recommendations, but emphasized budgetary, staff and facility limitations.

“We want to be the best comprehensive public school district we can be. But there are limitations and there’s going to be some things we can’t deliver,” she said.

Elementary school teachers, Sinnette added, indicated they need more time to attune instructional practices with recently adopted textbooks. Parent and committee member Stacey Boland said she understands it takes time for new things to gel but didn’t want to wait too long to put programmatic improvements in place.

“I’ve got one child. This is his experience, and I’m not willing to sacrifice his entire experience for some future generation to have a great one — we need to make the best of what we have all along the way,” Boland said. “I’m hoping [this] is a step in a journey we’ll keep following.”

Board members favored someday hiring a math specialist who could work equally with proficient and struggling students. They also expressed a willingness to accommodate parent observations of math classes. Board member Ellen Multari suggested possibly piloting a class where parent volunteers were allowed to participate in lessons.

“There are models out there that can allow our parents who are interested, available and capable to lend their talents,” she said. “If you could maybe have one teacher at a site pilot that in their classroom … they could get some real-time data on whether or not it’s meaningful for our students.”

Board members also emphasized a need to consider the needs of students at all proficiency levels, rather than focusing narrowly on children wishing to accelerate.

“As a district we have responsibility for all our students. We can’t just look at one area and not necessarily look at other areas,” said Board President Kaitzer Puglia.

Sinnette suggested elementary school principals work with teachers to develop site plans to create programmatic approaches appropriate for their campuses, inviting parents to participate in the process. She also recommended committee meetings continue to evaluate progress as programs were implemented.

Board reviews online communication, media polices

LCUSD Chief Technology Officer Jamie Lewsadder introduced three board policy revisions regarding what student information can be shared with the media through district-sponsored social media sites and on LCUSD’s own website.

“We’re really working toward the goal of having clear policies … and also clearing up pathways to conversations,” Lewsadder said. “It seems that keeps coming up over and over again.”

Parents used to indicate only once whether they wished to “opt out” of having their children’s names and images portrayed in area media coverage. Now, permission is sought and updated annually.

Lewsadder said the same privacy and permissions needed to be applied to district and teacher websites — where articles, photos and student interviews may be viewed by the public — and social media accounts representing LCUSD and its schools. Social media training for employees might be appropriate.

“This is our first attempt to kind of tackle an issue that exists that we don’t have reference to,” Lewsadder said.

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