I’m writing in response to Kat Blandino’s September 6th opinion piece “Where is the Action Plan to Address Learning Loss?”
SMMUSD Board member Jon Kean has already thoroughly delineated the school district’s many efforts to help students with Expanded Learning Opportunities, so I will simply note that, as a parent of a student in the district, the many emails I get from Santa Monica High regularly include information about tutoring, counseling and other initiatives to assist students in need.
Ms. Blandino appears to be aggrieved that SMMUSD closed schools and went to online learning in the fall of 2020. I’m not sure what option district leadership had but to follow the Covid-19 safety rules laid down by the LA County Department of Public Health. And I’m glad they did so, to keep our kids and their families safe from the risk of infection. Was it challenging to have kids at home learning virtually? Absolutely, and I’m sure there will be repercussions for many years. But it was a better approach than the Florida model of requiring in-person instruction and banning mask-wearing requirements.
She also seems peeved that the district didn’t move quickly enough to restore in-person classes, but there were at the time plenty of families who were reluctant to send their kids back to campus. In fact, a district survey from that time revealed this division in sentiment in our community, as 1804 respondents wanted to return for in-person instruction and 1800 preferred to remain in distance learning. Embracing diversity means acknowledging there are often a diversity of opinions and to my mind the district leadership did an excellent job, based on significant outreach and polling of parents, to develop options for those parents who wanted their kids back in class and for those who were more risk-averse.
Ms. Blandino laments that “SMMUSD leadership decided to direct vital resources away from students and education and focus on real estate ventures,” calling them “vanity construction projects.” This to me is the most puzzling of her complaints. SMMUSD, like many government agencies, has access to two types of funds: revenues for day-to-operations and capital dollars from bonds to pay for new infrastructure. It is patently illegal to use bond funds to cover operational costs, so I’m not sure why Ms. Blandino thinks the monies spent on buildings could have been used to enhance instruction in the classroom. Furthermore, I happen to believe our school board can walk and chew gum at the same time and can address both operational and infrastructure needs simultaneously. Finally, about those “vanity projects.” Ask any kid on an upgraded campus if their ability to learn has been enhanced by moving from trailers and other temporary facilities to state of the art classrooms. Stop a student leaving Samohi and ask if they prefer classes in the new Innovation and Discovery Buildings over those in the cramped, airless rooms in the older Language Building. Let’s remember the mission is what’s best for the kids and their education, not for older alums who reminisce about the good old days in the 1960s.
I think we need to acknowledge that Superintendent Drati, his staff and the Board of Education have done a fine job during trying times of addressing the pandemic crisis while creating a curriculum and facilities for a 21st century public education which is among the best in LA County. They deserve the continued support of the voters of Malibu and Santa Monica.
Ted Winterer, Co-Chair, Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS)