May 8, 2020

To our MBUSD Community,
I hope this newsletter finds your family doing well. We have all made the best of the situation that we are in, but our work lives, our social lives, our family lives, and our school lives have certainly been turned upside down. This week's newsletter addresses some of the successes we have to celebrate as well as some of the challenges we are facing.

Teacher Appreciation
Meadows teacher Heather Tuttle made headlines as she wished her student a happy birthday.
Teacher Appreciation
We saw many clever ways for students to convey their thanks to their teachers this week.
I saw a post early in the coronavirus shutdown where someone said, "Our teachers are Apollo 13'ing this distance learning transition." That was a perfect way to put it. With little warning, our teachers prepared and transitioned to technology-based distance learning, rising to meet a challenge the likes of which have never been seen before. And to say they have risen to the challenge is an understatement. I am so impressed by and beyond grateful for their dedication to the students in this district. As Superintendent of our schools, as the parent of a son receiving distance education, and as the husband of a teacher, I have incredible respect for all the tremendous work of every single person who helps our children to learn. I applaud the efforts of our PTA in thanking our teachers, I value the Board and their resolution of gratitude that they passed for California Day of the Teacher , and I know our entire community sends their appreciation for our teachers as well. Thank you!

And a special note to parents: Distance learning has pushed many of you, particularly those with younger children, to co-teach as never before. I have seen so many funny memes and posts about the challenges that you face at home. But in all seriousness, distance learning makes us appreciate even more how all of our teachers are heroes who impact our lives every day.

You have heard me discuss our District's Distance Learning Objectives , which guide our educational practices during this pandemic. I'd like to highlight one objective that I think is the backbone of keeping our students engaged:

  • Teachers will strive to help students regularly connect with their classmates and their teacher. The amount of isolation we are all experiencing during this epidemic presents a major challenge to our social and emotional wellbeing. Our students need methods to help them to remain connected with their classmates and their teachers. Teachers will be using a variety of methods to achieve this.

We are constantly learning from our own teachers in MBUSD, as well as those around the country, and here are some examples of how our educators are helping students stay connected:
  • Regularly scheduled check-in meetings through various platforms (e.g. Zoom, Google Meet)
  • Interactive educational platforms (e.g. Flip Grid, Padlet, Seesaw)
  • Flexible office hours or phone conferences
  • Social engagement activities (e.g. group video chats, written communication/emails to teachers and/or classmates, etc.)
  • Video messages and photo collections from schools to families
  • Messages from principals and teachers to students and families
  • Virtual field trips, movie nights, math nights, storytime, and other after-school events

At Wednesday's Board meeting, the Trustees adopted a resolution on Grading During Emergency School Closures which essentially suspends our existing grading policy and replaces it with one that addresses issues arising from the pandemic. After the Board meeting on April 15, I sent surveys to parents, teachers and staff, and students in grades 8-12. As you can see, different groups felt differently about some of the issues. For example, while high school parents and students felt strongly about a hold harmless provision, teachers at Costa felt very differently. And in the middle school, whereas students and teachers strongly favored Pass/Fail grades, parents wanted to continue with A-F grades. You can see the results here:
Survey Results graph
The Board and I reviewed the comments, and on Wednesday night, they approved the following grading provisions for this semester only.

MCHS : Continue with A-F grades but give students the hold harmless protection of being able to convert any passing grade (A-D) into a P. No student can fall from a passing grade at the 3rd quarter into an F grade.

MBMS : Move to a Pass/Fail system. Teachers will continue to provide feedback on assignments and assessments. No student can fall from a passing grade at the 2nd Trimester into an F grade.

Elementary : Teachers will provide comments on the academic achievement for the first 2/3 of the school year and can provide comments on achievement during this distance learning time as well.

For the full resolution that describes these policies in detail, please click here .

This is a question I get every day. As an administrator who is accustomed to planning for the future, and as fast as all of the information is changing every day, the best we can do right now is explore all options that might be available to us. It's a frustrating time for everyone, and in some cases, extremely concerning. Here are the main issues I am dealing with for next year:

Opening Schools . We are starting to hear conditions that are being recommended by the Department of Public Health and L.A. County for opening school in the fall. Some of these provisions, such as keeping students 6' apart at all times, would make it, in my opinion, virtually impossible to open school. There was an article in the Daily Breeze where I was quoted that provides some detail on this logistical requirement. I continue to speak with a variety of people, including superintendents in the area and around the country, our medical professionals on the Medical Advisory Board , and others to try to figure out what is the best course of action. We all want to adopt policies and practices that maximize safety, but this extended time of distance learning and closure of the economy is having consequences that could take years to recover from. I join the many who are looking for ways to re-open both our schools and our economy as soon as it is safely possible. That being said, Plan B right now is to continue with distance learning in the fall, but we are all actively and desperately seeking a way to develop a Plan A, which will get our students back into our schools and our parents back to work. I will keep you posted as we explore options.

Budget . On the front page of the L.A. Times today, it said that "The pandemic and shutdown will generate a $54 billion shortfall, an analysis shows, meaning deep spending cuts and new taxes may lie ahead." Here is the simple math: as the state of California's budget declines, so do school budgets. We get 70% of our funding from the state, so for every percentage drop that the state sees, we have a nearly equal drop in our budget. We originally planned for a mere 3% increase in our state budget allocation earlier in the year; however, now that has changed into a potential 2-10% decrease, and, according to the L.A. Times, we could experience a 22% decrease. As you recall, we made significant reductions in March that none of us liked. But with the budget the way it looks right now, it is almost certain that those reductions will not be enough. The State has given us no firm details, but I will continue to provide you information as it comes along. I hate to say this, but there is no way around it: we are in for an unprecedented budget challenge. PTA is organizing an advocacy campaign to ask Congress to include schools in the next COVID-19 Relief Package. To submit this form to all senators in California and representatives in Washington, click here .

Construction . Our gym construction continues to move forward. You can see it taking shape if you drive by the campus. It looks beautiful. If you want to see it up close, MCHS Principal Ben Dale is doing weekly video tours that you can see here . Now that the Board has announced that our schools are officially closed for the rest of the year, we are able to actively prepare for our summer construction projects at Grand View, Robinson, and Meadows, which we are now planning to begin on May 26. Teachers in those schools may be working to pack up their rooms over the next few weeks. I thank them for their efforts, and you for your patience, as this may impact those teachers' instructional schedules.
Wine Auction banner
We have never needed MBEF more than we will be needing them next year. The Manhattan Wine Auction, MBEF's biggest fundraising event for the year, is set to go virtual on May 30. MBEF is doing its best to make this virtual event as successful as it usually is in real life. We hope you will raise your glass and your paddle in support of our schools and employees. Two new items to check out NOW are the Raffle for a trip to Cabo and Virtual Wine Tastings to enjoy before the livestream event starting at 7pm. For more details on what the event has to offer click here. Help us make a bigger difference for our schools next year! 
Thank you, and stay safe.
Mike Matthews, Ed.D.
Manhattan Beach Unified School District
325 S. Peck Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310)318-7345, x5900
[310-318-7345, x5902]  []  []