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State of Schools breakfast offers Glendale Unified, community opportunity to rally around schools

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Glendale Unified School District Supt. Vivian Ekchian addresses the crowd at the Glendale Educational Foundation 2019 State of the Schools Breakfast in Glendale on Thursday.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

Over the past 12 months, the litany of bad news and tough circumstances for the Glendale Unified School District has presented several challenges, not the least of which has been a hit to the district’s image.

Glendale Unified and some community members pushed back against the idea of “failing” schools by highlighting special programs, unique honors and bountiful accolades during the 15th annual Glendale Educational Foundation State of the Schools Breakfast held at the Glendale Civic Auditorium on Thursday morning.

“We hear so often that constant narrative that public schools are failing, that there’s issues, and then to have an event like this, where people, the entire community, come out to show their support for our public schools and that community partnerships exist makes it a great day in Glendale,” said Jennifer Freemon, president of the Glendale Unified school board.

Freemon presented a five-minute PowerPoint presentation that featured several awards bestowed to local schools.

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The accolades included Crescenta Valley and Clark Magnet high schools being ranked in the top 3% of public schools nationally, while those two schools and Rosemont Middle earned Distinguished Schools recognition by the state and, just recently, Roosevelt Middle School’s Randy Kamiya won a $10,000 grant from UCLA.

During the breakfast event, Jefferson Elementary School kindergarten instructor Suzanne McDonnell, a 34-year teaching veteran, was presented with a GEF Educational Excellence Award. That acclaim comes a few months after the 54-year Glendale resident and Incarnation School alumna was named Glendale Unified’s teacher of the year.

“I’m humbled to be recognized,” McDonnell said.

“I do not think of myself as doing anything out of the ordinary. We all give so much of ourselves each and every day,” she added.

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The event took place on the one-year anniversary of a brawl at Hoover High School that divided parts of the community and led to a student walkout and the cancellation of the city’s crosstown rivalry football game.

Those concerns, though, were distant to more recent issues.

Last month, the district released a report about declining enrollment, while the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted to transfer a sliver of the district’s territory to La Cañada Unified on Wednesday.

According to Freemon, Thursday’s breakfast offered an opportunity for Glendale to rally behind its schools.

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Glendale Unified Teacher of the Year Suzanne McDonnell, center, stands with Glendale Educational Foundation’s Karen Swan, left, and Marvel Ford, right, at the 2019 State of the Schools Breakfast in Glendale on Thursday.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

“I love this event,” she said. “Seeing how much of the community it brings together, having over 500 people here that are supporting our Glendale schools is wonderful.”

Maybe Glendale High played the biggest role in the breakfast’s success.

Janet Louie, the school’s student-body president and a member of the Nitros historic 2017 CIF Southern Section championship girls’ tennis team, delivered a speech, student Sosie Haboian sang the national anthem and the school’s bistro program made the event’s culinary delights, including egg-and-tomato frittatas.

“I’m so proud of our group, and it’s such a great representation for our school,” said Glendale High principal Benjamin Wolf, whose only sour moment may have come when the USC alumnus sat through a rendition of Crescenta Valley High’s fight song, which is a reworking of “Sons of Westwood,” the anthem for UCLA, which is USC’s archrival.

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“We showed our academics, our leadership, our music program, athletics and our foods program that produces kids who win massive scholarships every single year,” Wolf said.

It was the first educational foundation breakfast for new Glendale Unified Supt. Vivian Ekchian, who said her district can face any obstacle as long as school officials stay focused on students.

“At the end of the day, no matter what bumps along the road will come our way, when we center our attention around what matters to our students, our youth, our next generation of leaders of our country, we say it’s not really a problem, but an opportunity,” Ekchian said. “That’s what we do here.”

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