2014 Long Beach Education News In Review

After more than half a decade of budget cuts, this was the second straight year of headlines about funds being restored to the Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach City College and California State University, Long Beach. The schools have all begun to refocus their efforts on more than just trying to get through the current year’s budget.

Long Beach’s schools also were celebrated this fall as leaders from all three institutions traveled to the White House to talk about the success of the Long Beach College Promise and how it can be a model for other school systems around the country. Long Beach’s City Council also made a motion this year for the city as a whole to be a partner in the College Promise, with an emphasis from Mayor Robert Garcia on universal preschool.

Here’s a look back at some of the biggest education news — from curriculum changes to candidates running and winning open education board seats — that took place in Long Beach this year.

Long Beach Unified School District

North Long Beach students have been in the epicenter of most LBUSD education news.

Those at Jordan High School, for example, are taking classes in the middle of a construction zone as Measure K bond money is being used to make dramatic improvements. Construction started in January and it could take up to 10 years to complete the roughly $136 million project.

Keeping it open during construction has made the project more complex, but education leaders have been enthusiastic about looking forward to the day when the school has a new cafeteria, six new buildings with lab facilities, new athletic playing fields, and renovations to the media center, gymnasium, music building and auditorium.

“The renovation of Jordan, while students are on site, is a huge undertaking,” Measure K projects communication coordinator Vivien Hao has said. “I can tell you that the Board of Education and Superintendent feel it’s a very high priority project.”

Jordan Principal Shawn Ashley said the inconvenience now is going to be worth it in the long run and that the designs are going to be a great benefit to the students in North Long Beach. Administrators are working closely with students to make the process as smooth as possible.

The uptown high school also celebrated some significant academic revolutions this year, launching two new programs: Academic Path to Excellence (APEX) and Successful Training Apprenticeship Recruitment (STAR).

APEX, designed for advanced students who want the opportunity to take multiple AP (Advanced Placement) tests qualifying for college credit, launched this fall. There are about 30 ninth graders in the program now, who are expected to remain there through the 12th grade and potentially pass six AP tests.

STAR, the first such job training program of its kind in the area, is expected to start this spring after recruitment done in the fall. It’s a partnership with the Laborers’ Union to give students hands-on job training. The students could even have the opportunity to work on the construction project being done at their high school.

Also uptown, a joint effort to bring more students to North Long Beach, the Whole Village Initiative, was launched by Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson and school board member Megan Kerr. The pair worked together to form a task force of local leaders to help improve outcomes for students, particular boys and men of color.

Back to Measure K projects, construction also is underway for the new Browning High School (2180 Obispo Ave.) set to open in the fall of 2016. And, progress continues in the rebuild of Roosevelt Elementary (1574 Linden Ave.) and Newcomb K-8 Academy (3351 Val Verde Ave.), with both expected to be complete in the 2015-16 academic year.

Fifteen other renovation projects, ranging from $80,000 to $14 million, were planned to begin in the 2014 year, including the replacement of Wilson High School’s red roof tiles and upgrades to the auditoriums at Wilson and Poly high schools. State-of-the-art security and Wi-Fi systems also have been installed district-wide.

Not a part of Measure K construction, but another noticeable change involved the school board’s decision to rename two existing schools, Burnett and Hill elementary schools, in honor of two local minority women: Bobbie Smith and Eunice Sato, respectively.

A private institution, St. Anthony High School in downtown Long Beach, welcomed its incoming class of 2018 with more than $1 million in retrofits, including renovated science labs. The school added a fulltime priest to its faculty, too.

Just this month, LBUSD’s Board of Education made the decision not to renew New City School’s charter. The K-8 school on Long Beach Boulevard near PCH was not performing up to mandated academic standards, and it will be closed on June 30, 2015. Those approximately 400 students at New City will need to transfer to other schools.

And, Horace Mann Elementary School, at 257 Coronado Ave., celebrated its 100-year history, inviting alums and area residents to visit and tour the mostly unchanged facility.

Besides the physical, one of the biggest changes this year for LBUSD was the official implementation of Common Core standards for math and English. Although the district unofficially started rolling out Common Core in phases, with a trial run last year, 80,000 students this year will take state-mandated tests in those subjects in spring 2015. Common Core replaces state standards that varied widely in content and quality, according to district officials, the goal of Common Core is to teach students to be analytical, and the students’ progress is measured with a mix of multiple-choice questions as well as more lengthy responses.

LBUSD also is adjusting to the implementation of the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula, hosting public meetings to gather input about how the process should work at the school level since schools will soon have more control of their budgets. The LCFF is the largest change to California’s school finance model in almost four decades, with a planned eight-year transition period beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

Not just schools, but teachers too have something to celebrate when it comes to budgeting. Teachers this year were given a 5% pay raise, following negotiations between Long Beach Unified School District and the Teachers Association of Long Beach. The news followed last year’s pay increase of 3%, which was the first salary increase for teachers in Long Beach in more than five years.

Graduation rates were up for a second year in a row and scholarship awards again broke records this year. Outperforming state and county averages, graduation rates at LBUSD were 80.6% and the dropout rate was 10.8%. Those graduates earned a collective $95.5 million in scholarships and grants.

Elected to the LBUSD Board of Education: candidate Megan Kerr filled the District 1 seat left open by outgoing board member Mary Stanton; incumbent John McGinnis maintained his role in District 3; and District 5 incumbent Diana Craighead ran unopposed.

Long Beach City College

Long Beach City College Superintendent-President Eloy Ortiz Oakley started off 2014 by saying the years of cutting costs are finally over, with the institution able to restore 14 fulltime faculty members in the spring semester.

It was a stark contrast to the previous year, when LBCC was forced to discontinue nearly a dozen career and technical programs and cut faculty members to offset a nearly $8 million deficit. Oakley said at the 2014 State of the College Address:

“Our board and the college’s leadership made difficult decisions to reallocate precious resources and focus them on mission critical services. While difficult, these decisions were necessary not only to maintain the fiscal health of the college, but to focus our remaining resources on programs that serve the majority of our students’ needs and that promote the workforce needs of our regional economy.”

This year, the school was able to begin renovations at Building C, housing the school’s nursing program. It was Building C’s first major overhaul in 45 years, and is slated for completion in late 2015 or early 2016. The upgrade of the 23,000-square-foot building at the Liberal Arts Campus will make Building C a state-of-the-art simulation hospital and training facility. The renovation is expected to cost more than $11 million, paid for with Measure E money set aside for capital improvements.

A new student services building broke ground at the Pacific Coast Campus (a new student services building broke ground the year prior at the Liberal Arts Campus as well). Performing as a one-stop-shop for student services, the new building will cost $23.4 million of Measure E money and take up 31,698 square feet. It is scheduled to be complete in spring 2016.

Fulltime faculty members at LBCC received a salary increase as part of a new labor contract ratified in November. The new three-year contract was effective retroactively to Nov. 1, 2014.

LBCC officials announced in the spring the creation of a new Innovation Fund SoCal initiative to help support startup companies. The first round of awards were presented in May.

And, LBCC celebrated Oakley’s appointment this fall to the University of California Board of Regents.

Three seats were up for grabs in the Long Beach Community College District — areas 1, 3 and 5. Incumbent Area 1 Trustee Jeffrey Kellogg was reelected; LBCC Foundation Executive Director Virginia Baxter took the Area 5 vote; and newcomer Sunny Zia won the Area 3 seat.

Then, to replace LBCC Trustee Roberto Uranga, who was elected to the Long Beach City Council, the Area 2 seat was filled by Irma Archuleta. Archuleta will finish the term and come up for reelection in 2016.

California State University, Long Beach

After CSULB’s rising star, President F. King Alexander, decided to move on to a job in the state of Louisiana in 2013, Long Beach began a nationwide search for a new leader.

The job was temporarily filled by interim Donald Para, but the university finally found its leading lady in Jane Close Conoley, the first female to lead CSULB in its 65-year history. The announcement was made in January.

Originally hailing from New York City, CSULB’s seventh president took her post in July. She was formerly a dean and professor of counseling, clinical and school psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She also served as the acting chancellor of UC Riverside for about seven months.

In a recent interview, she said she is arriving at CSULB at a fairly stable time after years of cuts. The university just enjoyed its largest graduating class and it gets record numbers of admission applications each year.

She highlighted that CSULB has been able to hire 58 new faculty members this year, and the majority were not replacing outgoing members. Also, core changes are being made to modernize general education classes, she said.

Among the university’s notable accomplishments this year, CSULB celebrated the 20th anniversary of the school’s Dance Center; a new dean of CSULB’s College of the Arts, Cyrus Parker-Jeannette, was named; the university welcomed its 20th class of Presidents Scholars; the school’s journalism program gained national accreditation; and CSULB was awarded a $22.7 million grant, the largest in the school’s history, to establish a new research training program; among other accomplishments.

Ashleigh Ruhl can be reached at aruhl@gazettes.com.

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