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Superintendent's Newsletter

February 16, 2024

Dear MBUSD Parents and Community,

I hope this letter finds you well. Today’s issue highlights Pennekamp, Mira Costa students being named National Merit Scholarship finalists, and MBMS musicians embarking on a musical tour at all five elementary schools. 

I wish everyone a relaxing and safe mid-winter break. 

Spotlight on Pennekamp (Special Thanks to First Grade Teacher Maddie Fox and Principal Sharon Witzansky)

First grade students in Ms. Fox’s class warmed up for their phonics lesson by reviewing sound cards with digraphs and blends. The students would chorally say the sound and the student holding the card would guess which letters match that sound. 

After warming up, students practiced substituting beginning sounds to continue to develop their phonemic awareness. In order to practice the long o vowel teams, students “built” words by stretching out the word as they pulled down the correct letter tile to spell the word. Finally, students wrote words and sentences. The lesson concluded with students working in different groups, completing an assignment at their level.

Staff Spotlight: Lauren Walsh | First Grade Teacher

This week, we are featuring Meadows Elementary 1st grade teacher Lauren Walsh, who has worked in MBUSD since 2015. She started her journey here as a 2nd-grade teacher at Pennekamp and then taught at Meadows as a kindergarten teacher before transitioning into her current position. Lauren has been a Meadows Mustang since then and is in her 6th year. Having grown up in the South Bay, Lauren was drawn to MBUSD because of the community, collaborative opportunities, and District size. 

Prior to joining MBUSD, Lauren worked at various educational institutions. She served as a kindergarten teacher at Kabbalah Children’s Academy in Beverly Hills and also worked as a preschool and kindergarten educator at The Brownstone School in New York City on the Upper West Side. She also taught english and history to grades 1-4 at Lycée Français de New York.

Lauren received her Master’s degree in early education and was inspired to pursue her current role because she felt drawn to teaching in K-2 grades. 

“I love connecting with students to build their social-emotional skills set while teaching foundational skills in their early elementary school years,” Lauren said. 

She pursued education because of her life experiences as a student and learner. Lauren says that particularly the challenges she faced in middle school inspired her to become a teacher. As a student, Lauren recognized that not everyone learned the same way and that she wanted to support students who may feel lost in school.

“I became a teacher knowing students learn differently. I wanted to make learning fun and engaging for all students.”

Lauren says her favorite part about her job is making meaningful connections with students, seeing them learn from their mistakes, and the ‘aha’ moments when they understand what they are learning! She enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family in her free time!

Budget Corner

As shared in previous Superintendent’s Newsletters, MBUSD faces challenging budget decisions and will need to engage in staff layoffs at our Board of Trustees meeting on February 28. To better understand the District’s budget, please read this week’s Easy Reader article below.

EDUCATION: Why MBUSD schools are facing budget cuts and layoffs in 2024

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District anticipates reducing expenditures by nearly $11.3 million over the next two years. On January 10, Governor Gavin Newsom released his proposed...

Read More

Please click on the image below to view at full size

Mira Costa Students Bring Home Huge Wins

Read MB News Story Here

FOX 11 News Feature on Mira Costa Students Charlotte Fan and Wyatt Newbill

Charlotte Fan and Wyatt Newbill made an appearance on FOX 11 News during the Good Day LA segment, sharing their entrepreneurial journey. Terreus, their eco-friendly venture, offers a 100% biodegradable alternative to styrofoam. It has garnered attention as part of the national competition “Why Didn’t I Think of That?” by the Intellectual Property Owner’s Education Foundation (IPOEF) in the 13-15-year-old category. 

We also want to recognize Taylor Ryan, another Mira Costa student who participated in the competition in the 16+ category, representing her company, Unstoppable Protective Gear, LLC, which she founded in 8th grade. The virtual contest ended this week on Wednesday, February 14. Winners will be announced on February 29.

Watch the story below as they share their business journey!

All Seven Mira Costa National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalists Become Finalists 

In September, we brought news that seven Mira Costa students were selected as semi-finalists for the academic National Merit Scholarship Program. We found out this week that these seniors have all been named finalists!

Congratulations to our Class of 2024 students:

Kina Desai

Veronica Fish

Charles Hiatt

William Kiely

Naomi Kim

Adam Manasfi

Mia Roman-Wilson

They are part of the less than 1% of U.S. high school seniors who scored the highest on the 2022 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), which served as the initial screen to be considered for the program. 

To be recognized as finalists, students must have outstanding academic records throughout high school and submit a scholarship application, including participation in school and community activities, demonstration of leadership abilities, employment, and honors and awards received. They also were endorsed by their high school and earned college entrance test scores that confirmed their earlier performance on the qualifying SAT or ACT. 

Our MCHS finalists will now be part of a nationwide pool competing for 7,140 National Merit, corporate-sponsored, and college-sponsored scholarships. Good luck!

MCHS Journalists Achieve Victory in News Writing Competitions

We want to congratulate MCHS students for winning a writing competition in several categories that were part of the Loyola Marymount University (LMU) Journalism Conference. Senior and La Vista Co-Editor-in-Chief Sofia Williams won in the Opinion category, Senior and La Vista Co-Editor-in-Chief Ava Nicols took home a win for Features, and Junior and La Vista Arts Editor Charlotte Levy was recognized in News. 

The conference was hosted by the Los Angeles Times High School Insider program. It also was an educational opportunity as students attended sessions on interviewing, podcasting, and sports broadcasting.

From left to right: Charlotte Levy, Ava Nicols, Sofia Williams

From left to right: Sophia Luckey-LeBosnoyani, Charlotte Levy, Finley Sellers, Seth Pickens, Sofia Williams, Tara Khaleghian, Ava Nicols

MCHS Jazz 1 Brings Home Big Win 

The GRAMMY® Award-winning Mira Costa Jazz 1 Band finished first in the L-1 Large Ensemble Category at the 5th Annual National Jazz Festival on Saturday, February 10, in Philadelphia. 

Director of Mira Costa Bands, Joel Carlson, shared that students participated in the big bands category based on school size and shared the stage with ensembles from the largest schools. Carlson expressed awe at the multitude of ensembles from across the country filling the Philadelphia Convention Center, both in sight and sound. It’s the first time MCHS Jazz has performed at this festival, which was founded in 2020.

Mira Costa musicians were honored and celebrated for their exceptional talents during the event. 

12th Grader Ewan McPhee, who plays the trumpet, won the 2024 National Jazz Festival Outstanding Musician for the MCHS Jazz 1 Band. McPhee’s mastery was further recognized with the Outstanding Musician Award in the large ensemble division. He has played the Trumpet for nine years and the French Horn for four years.

Ewan’s brother, Miles McPhee, who plays the saxophone, was recognized for being selected to be in the National Jazz Festival Diplomat (All-Star) Band directed by Wayne Tucker. 

Ewan McPhee

Miles McPhee with Wayne Tucker

The show highlight was the debut of Mira Costa’s Jazz 1 performance of The “Wacky Big Band Time Machine,” a piece written specifically for Costa’s Jazz students by esteemed jazz composer Drew Zaremba.

Jazz 1 band members include:

Saxophone: Colin Freelin, Morgan Griffiths, Mikayla Grothe, Jacob Handzlik, Miles McPhee

Trombone: Nick Clausen, Chuan Eliezer, Logan Elliott, Shan Kwak

Trumpet: Eva Asiddao, Devan Malik, Ewan McPhee, Colin Mukai

Rhythm: Diego Barrios, Ever Bauer, Gavin Caleo, Christian Camacho, Anthony Imbagliazzo, Jared Manasse, and Christofer Nahlinder.

MCHS Cheer Ranks Top in the Nation Once Again

The Mira Costa Cheer team also took their talents to the national platform by participating in the Universal Cheerleaders Association’s (UCA’s) National High School Cheerleading Championship at Disney World.

Gameday and Traditional teams placed in the top 10 in the nation! The Traditional team secured 6th in the nation and the Gameday team took 7th in the nation. Thank you to our dedicated cheer coaches, Travis Neese and Tim Rivera, for supporting our student-athletes to reach their full potential. Click here for more pictures!

Pennekamp’s Super Literacy Quiz Bowl Returns 

Students at Pennekamp are taking their passion for literacy to new heights! Three highly anticipated Super Literacy Quiz Bowl competition sessions took place this week. This year marked a milestone as more than 104 Dragons participated in the Annual Super Literacy Quiz Bowl, which enhances student literacy and reading comprehension. In order to be part of this optional enrichment opportunity, Pennekamp 3rd-5th graders read from a list of fifteen books before taking part. The event is the culmination of a reading journey that begins for students in September. During the competition, detailed questions challenge students' comprehension of the books they’ve read, fostering teamwork and a deeper love for literature. Participants have to respond to questions within 30-60 seconds. 

Pennekamp Super Literacy Bowl Quiz Winners!

There were many firsts this year with the Super Literacy Quiz Bowl! All five MBUSD elementary schools will be hosting their own event. This is also the first year that Pennekamp’s 5th graders had a themed reading list that focused on environmental and conservation topics. 

The Bowl is a delight for everyone involved. Families attend to cheer on the teams, and students who don’t participate encourage their fellow students enthusiastically during the competition. Thank you to MBEF for supporting the program this year through the educator grant! The funding is used to purchase reading materials. 

The game was created by Pennekamp parent Jiyeon Im and former school librarian Barbara Siegemund-Broka in 2017 at Pennekamp. It’s been a passion project for them as, over the years, the Bowl has only grown with more student and parent participation!

Grand View’s first Literacy Bowl took place this past Monday! Robinson and Meadows Elementary schools will be launching their events later this year.

What I Need (WIN) Lab in MBUSD

As part of our Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) process, each elementary school has implemented a dedicated 30-minute Intervention and Extension block known as What I Need (WIN) time during the school day, ensuring that students' academic needs are addressed. This year, to enhance this approach, MTSS Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) Patti McCullum and Elementary Teaching and Learning Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) Brittany Brashear introduced a WIN Lab initiative districtwide. This year, Meadows Elementary was selected to host the first WIN Lab.

WIN Lab provides an invaluable opportunity for classroom teachers to observe their peers in action, fostering discussions on best practices for delivering Tier 2 instruction effectively during WIN time.

In this collection of photos, you'll witness the dynamic interplay of teacher instruction, collaborative efforts among educators, and student engagement, all representative of our commitment to fostering a supportive learning environment tailored to every child's needs.

Skill and Will: Why Showing Up and Giving the Best Effort is the Most Important Thing for Students to Do

As a follow-up to our story last week regarding the state CAASPP test and how scoring well can benefit students and families, we now turn to a discussion of “skill and will.” This phrase is used in education to describe two very different contributors to student performance, especially on tests. “Skill” refers to what students have learned and practiced in their classes, and in MBUSD, we have many indicators that point to our students having very well-developed skills, usually at or above what is expected for their grade level.

“Will,” on the other hand, describes student effort and motivation. If students try their best on the test, we get a more accurate score representing their skills. Of course, the opposite is also true, and when students do not take the test seriously, we get inaccurate data that underrate what the student has actually learned.

A good way to look at these tests is an opportunity for students to show off all that they have learned. They do not need to stay up late studying the night before–we discourage that. Instead, the ingredients for success are a good night’s sleep, a complete breakfast, and a positive attitude. If all students try their best on these tests, MBUSD schools will rise even higher in local and national rankings. Also, we get detailed score reports after the test to see in which areas students may have had more challenges, and use that data to drive professional development for our staff. It is a win-win for everyone when students give their full effort.

In our next article, we will look at specific test-taking strategies that students and families should know after the mid-winter break. Especially with “computer adaptive” tests, there are very specific techniques that can boost everyone’s performance. 

MCHS Students Participate in Peaceful Sit-In to Combat Hate

Mira Costa’s Black Scholars Union, Latino Scholars Club, and Asian American Club planned and hosted a sit-in on campus this week in Mustang Mall during lunch to denounce hate.

Students and staff came together in solidarity against a recent act of vandalism on campus last week. The "N-word" was found written on a wall near Mustang Mall. The gathering was a symbolic way to show support for all school community members. 

The vandalism incident is under investigation.

MBMS Band and Orchestra Tour Elementary Schools

MBMS Orchestra and Band students toured all five elementary schools to introduce and excite students about the musical opportunities that await them at MBMS. This experience for the middle schoolers is also a highlight as many return to their former elementary schools and showcase their talents and hard work.

Under the guidance of Instrumental Music Director Denise Haslop, who led the band students, and student teacher Emma Surdilla, who directed the orchestras, the students delivered lively performances of well-known music from Batman, Mission: Impossible, Despicable Me, SpongeBob, Barbie, and even a Jaws mashup with Baby Shark. Each piece also featured an MBMS student conductor!

Mrs. Haslop and Ms. Surdilla shared information about the instruments and the experience students gain through music training. MBMS will host a Music Open House for parents and students on Saturday, March 2 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the new music building to further engage families and students. You can RSVP for this event here. Later this month, the Choir programs will visit elementary schools for their annual performance tour on February 29.

Please visit our website here to learn more about the diverse music pathways we offer from elementary to high school!

Panthers Celebrate Lunar New Year 

Students at Pacific Elementary got creative as they made Chinese paper lanterns, felt fabric fortune cookies, and origami boats to immerse themselves in the cultural traditions of Lunar New Year. The event was planned by parent Lisa Port and was hosted by the PTA.

Panthers also tried snacks and fruit. This educational opportunity taught students about celebrating and embracing diverse cultures. 

Robinson Students Celebrate Black History Month

There was a special Black History Month assembly at Robinson this week celebrating African American culture and unity. The unique event took students through a musical learning experience with sing-alongs, skits, and poetry. The skit incorporated parents and students, featuring a scene of students playing basketball with one another and encouraging a sense of belonging.  

The assembly was led by Robinson dad, Cletus Bradley, who also wrote, produced, and directed the musical compilation.

Grand View Students Harvest Produce for Cafeteria Kitchen

Gators recently enjoyed their harvest from the school garden during lunchtime. Through the District’s Garden-to-Cafe Program, students across the District are empowered to grow and harvest produce at their school gardens. This initiative kicked off this school year to educate our learners about the importance of fresh farming practices and sustainability. Along with Grand View, Meadows and Pacific Elementary schools have also harvested produce. Click here for more photos.

District Green Committee Announces Valentine’s Day Contest Winners

Students across our elementary schools participated in a sustainable art contest! They submitted Valentine’s Day homemade cards made from household items. 

The winners are: 

Luca A. - Meadows Elementary

Hamilton H. and Sterling H. - Grand View Elementary

Rose W. - Pacific Elementary

Grace B. - Robinson Elementary 

“This is MBMS”

If you have an incoming 6th grader, you won’t want to miss the annual “This is MBMS” event. RSVP now!

MBEF Grant Brings Renowned Author Susan Verde to MBUSD

MBUSD is collaborating with MBEF for an exciting event coming to our community! New York Times Best Selling Author Susan Verde will be visiting Manhattan Beach on Wednesday, February 28. She will spend the day at all five MBUSD elementary schools to kick off our Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Week with Transitional Kindergarten through second graders. She will share her newest book, Who I Am: Words I Tell Myself. This will inspire students’ importance of positive affirmations and celebrating self-love. 

Susan is a children’s author, and her books have landed her in the international spotlight for using literature to help everyone cultivate empathy and kindness. In addition to the school visits, MBEF will host a community event at 5:30 p.m. at Mira Costa High School. The event is free and open to all families and community members, including students. Susan’s presentation will be for all ages.

To secure your spot, please RSVP to attend by clicking the button below. We are grateful to MBEF’s Educator Grant Program and our MBUSD Library Resource Specialists for making this possible. You can find the event flyer here. Pages: a bookstore will be there with signed copies of Susan's most recent book, Who I Am, as well as many of her other titles available for purchase.


Join the MBUSD Team! 

We are hiring classified and certificated staff. We’re looking for individuals passionate about helping students discover the joys of learning and creating a safe and engaging learning environment. If you are looking for a meaningful career with excellent benefits, flexibility, and stability, MBUSD is the place for you!

Highlighted Job Openings for the Week are: 

Director of Fiscal Services


Food and Nutrition Assistant

ASL Interpreter

For all other job opportunities, please visit here.

Share Stories with Us! 

Do you have a good news story idea? Share it with us! There are great stories to be told across the District, from stories of accomplishment, perseverance, and noteworthy events to academic excellence unfolding in our classrooms. Please share a story with us so we can share it with our community!

Stories submitted are often shared in our publications, on social media, and with our local media partners.

Submit your story here!
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The next Superintendent’s Newsletter will be published on March 1.


Dr. John Bowes
MBUSD Superintendent
Manhattan Beach Unified School District

325 S. Peck Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
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