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School District Meeting Addresses Test Results, Mental Health

By Sam Moskow
The Review

South Pasadena Unified School District’s five principals at the Dec. 12 Board of Education meeting shared plans to improve their schools’ English language arts and math programs, as well as their overall climate for mental health.
The plans, which the Board subsequently approved unanimously, are based on data from the 2023 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress exams and the 2021-2022 California Healthy Kids Survey. Principals collaborated with their respective site councils to align goals and actions with SPUSD’s Local Control and Accountability Plan, ensuring accurate reflection of categorical expenditures.
All five SPUSD schools share the same academic goals: a 2% increase in their respective CAASPP average exam performances.
To achieve that at the elementary level, the three principals pledged to conduct half-day meetings with each grade level to review data, test scores and identify students for watch lists across ELA, math and science classes. The ELA curriculum will instate reading intervention classes using apps such as Lexia, while the schools’ science programs will continue to implement the Twig curriculum.
“We get a lot of ideas from each other, share best practices, and that then leads to the growth of all of our students,” Arroyo Vista Elementary School Principal Emily Blaney said of the planning process between the three elementary schools.
For students who are not meeting standards, the middle school’s targeted intervention strategy offers after-school support and extended-learning classes for subgroups, including a specialized reading and writing elective for struggling sixth and seventh graders. South Pasadena High School will similarly bolster its “Extra Help” centers.
Despite SPUSD’s success in achieving their ELA and math targets, the district fell short of many of their social and emotional goals. Notably, at the high-school level, more than one-fifth of ninth- and 11th-graders reported feeling suicidal in the 2021-22 school year.
Building on their TK-12 Multi-Tiered Systems of Support discussion in November, administrators emphasized their commitment to improving student connections with adults and fostering a culture of seeking support at all education levels.
“That sort of actualization of a student that they are seen, heard and valued on campus, I think is critical for the well-being and development here,” Board member Zahir Robb said.
SPUSD students will take the California Healthy Kids Survey again in January.
“I’m so anxious, as I’m sure everybody else is, to hopefully see a change in this California Healthy Kids Survey — to know at least what we’re doing is having some positive effect,” Board member Karissa Adams said.

Despite uncertainty in future revenue levels, the South Pasadena Unified School District Board unanimously approved the biannual interim spending proposal at its Dec. 12 meeting.
In his presentation, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Dave Lubs described first-quarter expenditures as “trending appropriately,” but advised a few areas could impact future revenues.
The first financial concern pertains to the reduction in the cost-of-living adjustment, projected at 4% for 2024 and 2025, but it is expected to be closer to a 1% COLA. This potential reduction equates to $1.5 million in lost revenues for the district, Lubs said. A mild recession, predicted by many economists for next year, could affect the COLA amount, but Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office is not forecasting a recession in its estimates.
Compounding the financial challenges is the increase in overall health benefit costs. While the typical annual increase is around 4%, this year’s rate is set to be 14%, adding another $1 million burden to the district. To offset these escalations, Lubs said they incorporated a 6% increase into their planning for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 school years.
“We have the tightest budget possible,” Lubs said. “We are in a relatively good place financially compared to other districts, but we still are vulnerable fiscally.”
Net migration patterns, the loss of initial public offering businesses in California and ongoing commercial real estate vacancies also pose fiscal challenges for the state — and thus the district — because tax revenues in these areas have significantly shrunk.
Additionally, the allocation of state funding is tied to enrollment, and at present, SPUSD enrollment has stalled. Despite a boost in elementary school numbers from the new transitional kindergarten class, Lub noted a decline of more than 100 students in middle school enrollment.
“The one thing we do know that will happen is that things will change between now and the January proposal, and then the other thing we know is that they’ll change between January and May,” Lub said, urging close monitoring from the Board.
Superintendent Geoff Yantz echoed Lub’s uncertainties.
“We also know that it’s a presidential election year next November, and so that there will [probably] be a bit more maneuvering and politics that go into the state budget,” he said.

First published in the December 29 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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