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Governor Newsom Signs Bill To Accelerate California School Reopening

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Classroom LA County School Reopening

Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Friday to reopen California schools with a $2 billion incentive for districts to allow in-person learning for transitional kindergarten through second grade by April 1.

The $6.6 billion budget package aims to accelerate the return to in-person instruction across California and empower schools to immediately expand academic, mental health and social-emotional supports, including over the summer, according to the legislation. 

“To be where we are today, a week or so away, or less than a week away, with many more counties moving into less restrictive tiers, this is the right time to sign this bill,” Newsom said. “It’s the right time to safely reopen for in-person instruction our schools, focusing on those cohorts that are most impacted by this pandemic.”

Public schools throughout the state are set to be allocated $6.6 billion under the proposed budget package. 

$2 billion would fund safety measures to support in-person instruction, such as personal protective equipment, ventilation upgrades and COVID-19 testing. 

$4.6 billion would fund expanded learning opportunities, such as summer school, tutoring and mental health services. 

“Together, the funds empower schools to develop and execute comprehensive strategies to both reopen and expand programs to address the social-emotional, mental health and academic needs of students,” said Newsom’s office. 

All public schools would be required to offer in-person instruction to grades K-2 for all students and for high-needs students in all grades by the end of the month, losing 1 percent of eligible funds every day thereafter if they do not, according to the legislation. 

Schools in the state’s “red” tier or better would be required to offer in-person instruction to all students in all elementary grades and at least one middle or high school grade, or risk the same penalty. 

Together, these requirements help ensure schools begin to reopen as soon as possible, in order to build trust and confidence to continue phased reopenings.

As students return to in-person instruction, all public schools would also be empowered to meet the needs of the whole child. 

The Expanded Learning Opportunities Grants allocate $4.6 billion to local educational agencies based on the equity-based Local Control Funding Formula, with an additional $1,000 for each homeless student. 

These funds would be for supplemental instruction and support for social and emotional well-being. Schools would be able to use the funds for providing more instructional time, such as summer school, and accelerating progress to close learning gaps through tutoring, learning recovery programs, mental health services, access to school meal programs, programs to address pupil trauma and social-emotional learning, support for credit-deficient students and more.

The package would also codify multiple successful state programs to support safe school reopenings:

  • Vaccine Prioritization for K-12 School Staff. The package codifies the Governor’s commitment to set aside 10 percent of vaccines for education workers. This commitment ensures that the state prioritization of school staff, in place since January, is made real in all 58 counties. Since the Governor’s announcement two weeks ago, the state has collaborated with county health departments, the Biden Administration and providers such as Kaiser Permanente to accelerate vaccine access for K-12 school staff starting March 1.
  • Data Reporting. The package codifies data reporting requirements, including requirements for schools to report reopening status and COVID-19 safety measures. These statutory requirements will help build on efforts to increase transparency, including interactive geospatial maps displayed on the Safe Schools Hub.
  • State Safe Schools Team. The package also allocates $25 million to the State Safe Schools Team, which serves to provide technical assistance, oversight and accountability to the over 10,000 public schools in the state. The capacity will enhance the Team’s reach, and the Team will conduct a safety review of any school with two or more COVID-19 outbreaks.

The state’s efforts to accelerate safe school reopenings to date include delivery of three months of PPE and safety supplies to all schools at no cost, direct support to over 1,000 schools in 41 counties to implement COVID-19 testing and direct technical assistance to over 300 school districts.

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CSUN Receives Nearly $3 Million Grant To Support Biomedical Science Students

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CSUN Cal State Northridge
Photo Courtesy of CSUN

California State University, Northridge (CSUN) has been awarded nearly $3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support students studying biomedical sciences with an eye on eventually earning a Ph.D.

The $2,882,538, five-year grant will support a new program, Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (U-RISE), designed to equip undergraduate students with skills that will make them more competitive for entry into graduate programs, according to the university.

Targeting students from traditionally underrepresented communities, the grant includes money to cover 60 percent of the students’ tuition to CSUN, as well as stipends and support for their research projects and attending scientific conferences.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students, who are often the first ones in their families to go to college,” said biology professor MariaElena Zavala, lead director of the U-RISE program at CSUN in a statement. “In addition to the tuition help, the grant allows us to provide the students with stipends to research and attend conferences — all of which can cement a student’s decision to pursue a career in science.

The U-RISE program is administered by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, with the goals of increasing the number of capable, underrepresented scientists engaged in biomedical research and strengthening science curricula and research opportunities at institutions with substantial minority enrollment to prepare students for careers in biomedical research.

“When you’re the first in your family to go to college, getting a Ph.D. can seem like a long way off, and the obstacles can seem insurmountable,” Zavala said, who was the first Mexican American woman in the country to earn a Ph.D. in botany. “A program like this demonstrates that there are people out there who believe in you and are willing to support you as you pursue your dream and that achieving that dream is possible.”

The year-round program replaces CSUN’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC – undergraduates) and Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE – undergraduates and post-graduates) programs, which for more than two decades successfully helped increase the number and capabilities of underrepresented scientists engaged in basic biomedical research.

CSUN’s U-RISE program, led by Zavala and biology professors Cheryl Courtney-Hogue and Ray Hong, starts this summer with an anticipated inaugural cohort of 10 students. In subsequent years, that cohort is expected to increase to 20 students.

In addition to the financial support, the students will receive training on how to be principal investigators (lead researchers) on research projects, be paired with faculty mentors, and work on a long-term research project. They also will attend and present at scientific conferences and participate in professional development workshops.

“We want to make sure they have everything they need so that they can hit the ground running when they get into graduate school,” Zavala said.

Zavala also is a co-author of a paper, “Broadening the impact of plant science through innovative and inclusive outreach,” that recently appeared in the journal Plant Direct. The paper provides a guide for increasing science outreach in the field of plant biology.

She and her co-authors are hoping to renew interest in the field of plant biology, which is going to become more and more important as the world grapples with the impact climate change has on global food supplies and medicine.

“When people think about science, they often don’t think about plant science,” said Zavala. “People don’t understand how absolutely important plants are to their well-being. In addition to their aesthetics, plants are at the center of our food chain, and 70-80 percent of all drugs have their origins in plants.”

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Granada Hills Charter Wins 8th Academic Decathlon Championship

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Granada Hills Charter Decathlon
Photo Courtesy of Granada Hills Charter

Granada Hills Charter High School captured its eighth United States Academic Decathlon championship on Saturday.

The team scored 52,656.7 points out of a possible 60,0000 to claim the title, according to the school.

“Like last year, this competition was a big shift for everyone involved,” said team coach Alina Lee. “It was important to focus on maintaining our momentum without our normal face-to-face interactions. Our program is built on teamwork and accountability so keeping the sense of connection among our students was a top priority. I am really impressed how well everyone responded, and I’m very excited for our team.”

This year’s winning team of students is Dwaipayan Chanda, Eunice Choi, Joshua Choi, Rachel Heo (alternate), Chloe Hyun, Aroa Kim (alternate), Justin Kim, Hirusha Liyanage, Anthony Mercado (alternate), Jasdeep Sidhu, and Zorex Villadelgado, Jr. The coaches are Alina Lee, Linda Kang and Amy Contreras.

The theme of this year’s Academic Decathlon season was “The Cold War,” requiring students to study subjects within that context. Students compete in seven subject areas including science, literature, art, music, social science, economics and mathematics. 

Topics included the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union, music from the era and a focus on Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. The competition includes multiple-choice exams in each subject, as well as essays, interviews and speeches.

As part of the competition, each school enters a field of students from the following GPA categories, – “A” students (honors), – “B” students (scholastic), and – “C or below” (varsity). GHC decathletes placed within the top three in the highest individual scores in all categories: Jasdeep Sidhu (1st overall honors) and Dwaipayan Chanda (3rd overall honors); Zorex Villadelgado, Jr. (1st overall scholastic) and Hirusha Liyanage (2nd overall scholastic); and Joshua Choi (1st overall varsity) and Justin Kim (2nd overall varsity).

“I know everyone on the team worked very hard under extremely trying conditions to prepare for the competitions, so we all are excited for their success,” said Brian Bauer, executive director of Granada Hills Charter. “In a normal year, the unexpected challenges of Academic Decathlon go beyond learning about the topics and honing skills for the 10 different events. There are challenges of making time for all the preparations, of staying focused and determined and facing odds that can feel daunting. This year’s team again demonstrated the perseverance needed to compete at such a high level, and they deserve this victory.”

Next year’s competition will focus on a topic very familiar to Californians: water. The science subject will focus on marine biology and the art area will look into watercolor painting and water as a subject of art.

“I’m always amazed by how much the students learn and how dedicated our coaches are,” Bauer said. “I’m sure all the students will take what they’ve learned with them as they go on to college or enter the workforce – or come back to finish their high school experience with us next year.”

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LAUSD Board To Offer Interim Superintendent Position To Megan K. Reilly

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Classroom LA County School Reopening

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board has chosen an interim superintendent after the current school chief Austin Beutner announced he stepping down in June. 

The board is expected to offer the position, commencing on July 1, to Deputy Superintendent Megan K. Reilly. The official action will follow at an upcoming meeting, according to the district. 

The board has full faith in Ms. Reilly’s ability to sustain the District’s efforts to support students and families and ensure a seamless transition,” the LAUSD said in a statement. 

Reilly has served as Deputy Superintendent of Business Services and Operations since June 2019. In that capacity, she oversees the critical business components that make the school district run: human resources, finance, facilities, transportation, information technology, school safety and others. 

During the pandemic, Reilly has been integral to the success of the Grab & Go meal distribution centers, the distribution of devices and hot spots to students and educators, and meeting the complex demands of the reopening of schools. 

Reilly has a long history of service to the school district, having previously served L.A. Unified from 2007 to 2017 as its chief financial officer. Immediately before rejoining the district, she was the chief business officer for the Santa Clara County Office of Education. She also previously served as executive director of business at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Beutner wrote a letter to the LAUSD board this week saying he is not going to renew his current contract which is set to expire on June 30.

“I will remain focused on the task of ensuring that schools reopen in the safest way possible while helping in a seamless leadership transition,” the letter said. “I believe the next superintendent of Los Angeles Unified can be found amongst the current team and she or he will be well placed to continue the progress at this critical time.”

In May 2018, Beutner became superintendent of the LAUSD and suggested his replacement should come within the district. 

“The leadership ranks of Los Angeles Unified have never been stronger and I know you share my gratitude for the commitment of the women and men who answer the call to serve in public education,” he wrote. 

Reilly is expected to become interim superintendent on July 1. 

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