New school year begins, many challenges still loom

Friends embraced, counselors distributed schedules and administrators provided directions Monday as Burbank High School swelled with students for the first day of the school year.

“I couldn’t sleep,” said 14-year-old freshman Jasmine Castillo as she ascended the front steps. “I stayed up until four in the morning.”

The scene at Burbank High was replicated at campuses across the district this week as they opened their classrooms for the start of the 2011-12 academic year. A preliminary count has total Burbank Unified enrollment numbers at about 14,690 students, officials said. While that figure will fluctuate in the coming weeks, it is comparable to last year’s enrollment of 14,763.

The school year will be the second under Supt. Stan Carrizosa, who came on board in July 2010 following a tumultuous period during which his predecessor announced his resignation after just six months on the job.

At the time, some stakeholders questioned the vetting process that brought Carrizosa to Burbank, but school board members said that he has since more than proven himself. The superintendent has engineered in recent months a series personnel moves that will mean new faces in some key administrative positions.

In addition to Principal Hani Youssef, who took the helm of Burbank High in July after serving as assistant principal under Bruce Osgood, Carrizosa named internal candidates Jennifer Meglemre and Stacy Cashman as principals at Roosevelt Elementary School and Jordan Middle School, respectively.

He also reactivated and filled the position of director of elementary education and hired a new director of technology, but opted not to replace outgoing Assistant Supt. Gabe Soumakian, who announced his departure earlier this month, in order to save money.

“There is a level of teamwork that I haven’t seen since I have been in this district,” said school board member Larry Applebaum. “Stan has got these people working and humming together in a coordinated fashion, and it is really exciting to see that. We have a lot of really good people.”

Carrizosa will also oversee the reopening of John Burroughs High School Memorial Field scheduled for spring 2012. The refurbishment of the field is the final component of an $18.5-million, three-phase modernization of athletic facilities at Burroughs and Burbank high schools, and Jordan Middle School.

Memorial Field is getting a complete facelift, including an all-weather track, new bleachers and a new concession stand.

But the coming year holds plenty of challenges. Burbank Unified continues to face an uncertain financial future amid the ongoing state budget crisis.

“We don’t know what is going to happen with the budget at the state [level] in January,” school board President Ted Bunch said. “We could be hit with more significant cuts. And we still have our $5.5-million structural deficit we have to take care of.”

And contract negotiations with the Burbank Teachers Assn. stalled earlier this month after parties could not agree on furlough days, class sizes and freezing automatic pay increases, among other points.

“The teachers don’t want to go there, but I think the mid-year cuts are coming and I think we need to do what we can,” said board member Debbie Kukta.

At Burbank High School on Monday, students were focused on the new classmates, teachers and upcoming coursework. Seniors said they were particularly excited about end-of-the-year traditions, such as grad night, prom and graduation.

“I told my mom this morning, ‘This is my last first day of school,’” senior Stephanie Diaz said.

[This story was updated Tuesday at 4:45 p.m.]

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