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L.A. Teachers Union Approves School Reopening Agreement



Classroom LA County School Reopening

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) members have approved an agreement on the reopening of schools for in-person and hybrid instruction.

The vote was 89% in favor of the return, according to UTLA Communications Director Anna Bakalis.

A total of 20,413 ballots were cast from March 18 through March 21, with 18,127 members voting yes, according to UTLA officials.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board unanimously approved the agreement on March 11.

“Every step of the way, UTLA educators have kept our students and communities safer, from the call to close down schools early in the pandemic to holding the line against an unsafe return,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said. “While the improving COVID-19 situation is still fragile, we believe this agreement puts LAUSD on the path to a physical reopening of schools that puts safety first.”

The agreement provides for a hybrid model combining online and in-person instruction, with students remaining in small, stable cohorts while on campus to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to the LAUSD.

Preschools, elementary schools and services for students with learning differences and disabilities are set to reopen by mid-April, with secondary schools opening by the end of April, according to the district.

The plan includes daily in-person instruction for elementary school students in a hybrid morning/afternoon model while maintaining the option for students to remain in online-only instruction, according to the LAUSD.

Secondary students are expected to continue with daily online instruction, along with the opportunity to return to campus for peer interaction, social-emotional learning and lessons for college and career exploration, the district said.

Full-day, in-person instruction is returning for preschool students, according to the agreement.

The district aims to maintain current teacher assignments whenever possible.

All students and staff will be tested for COVID-19 before their return to campus, and weekly COVID testing will be provided thereafter, according to the LAUSD.

Masks and social distancing are required for students, staff and visitors at schools, according to the guidelines.

Los Angeles Unified has already invested more than $120 million to upgrade air-filtration systems, procure adequate stocks of personal protective equipment and add extra custodial staff, according to district officials.

The LAUSD is also providing social-emotional supports for all students and additional professional development for teachers.

Meals will be provided for students at schools, whether they are receiving in-person or online instruction, according to the district.

The district is aiming for a mid-April in-person return for grades TK-6 and an end of April or beginning of May physical return for grades 7 through 12.


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



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



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



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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