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Superintendent's Newsletter

February 9, 2024

Dear Parents and Community,

Today’s issue highlights Pacific, Black History Month celebrations across our campuses, and fifteen Mira Costa student-athletes committing to play collegiate sports.

Spotlight on Pacific (Special Thanks to 5th Grade Teachers Emily Brunick, Morgan Henderson, Stephanie Hubbard, Kristie Rios, and Principal Amanda Vavao)

Fifth graders were thrilled to welcome Pacific parent Nedda Lewers, author of the newly released novel Daughters of the Lamp, to share her new book with our students. Nedda shared part of her novel and guided our aspiring writers through a workshop exercise in the beginning stages of planning their own novels! 

In Makerspace, students completed a fun and unique winter challenge - they designed their own chairlifts. Students worked in groups to see if they could build and successfully attach a chairlift to our Makerspace pulley. Each chair had to include a “skier” built and designed by the engineers. Finally, students tested their designs to see which chairs could carry their skiers to the top of the Makerspace Ski lift. We are grateful to our PTA and MBEF for both of these outstanding programs, which provide enriching experiences for our learners.

Panthers have also been learning some dance moves in their Urban Dance class. Teacher Robert Gilliam, owner of On The Edge Dance Studio, brings hip-hop moves to our dancers as part of our Artist in Residence program. This week, he helped us kick off Black History Month by bringing World Class Master Dance Battler, “Ruin,” to teach our dancers how to “krump” (Krumping is an African American style of street dance popularized in the United States, characterized by free, expressive, exaggerated, and highly energetic movements). Dancers also talked with students about how hip-hop has influenced our modern dance culture over the years. Our 10-week dance program will culminate with a hip-hop performance featuring both teacher and student-choreographed dance moves.

Staff Spotlight: Allison Desfor | Coordinator of Special Education 

This week, we are highlighting Allison Desfor, who serves as a Coordinator in the Special Education department. She joined the staff at MBUSD this past fall and is one of two coordinators in the department. In her position, she primarily provides leadership and support to the special education program staff at our secondary schools. Allison has a rich background in Special Education and has worked at several school districts. Before joining our District, she was a Program Specialist for Special Education in Whittier School District. Her journey includes roles as a middle school Special Education teacher in Redondo Beach Unified for five years and a high school Special Education teacher for five years in Centinela Valley Union High School District. As a South Bay resident, she was drawn to continuing her career in this area.

Allison says she was inspired to pursue her current position because of her experiences that led her to find her passion for working with adult educators. “While I was a teacher, I started taking on leadership roles ranging from being a department chair to PLC lead to curriculum adoption committees. It is through these roles, along with being a UCI Science Project Facilitator, that I found my passion.” 

Allison was inspired to work in special education during her general education credential. It was during that time that she said there was a student in her class who had a moderate/severe disability. The experience of working with this student was so fulfilling for Allison that she pursued credentials in mild/moderate and moderate/severe special education. Her favorite part of her job is working with excellent MBUSD staff and community to better support the needs of students. Outside of work, Allison enjoys baking, hiking, and spending time with her dog in her free time. 

Racist Vandalism Incident at Mira Costa

We are disappointed to share that graffiti depicting a racist slur was found on the Mira Costa campus yesterday. Principal Karina Gerger shared communications with Mira Costa staff, families, and students about the incident. The school and Manhattan Beach Police Department are investigating to find the perpetrator(s). Here is the communication that was shared with families:

We are disappointed to share deeply troubling news. This morning, our campus was vandalized with graffiti containing the ‘N-word’ on a wall near the Mustang Mall. District staff notified law enforcement immediately, and a police report was filed. Maintenance and Operations staff members worked quickly to remove the graffiti.

Racist language and racism are deplorable and hurtful to our entire community. These dehumanizing behaviors will not be tolerated. Staff is currently reviewing video footage to identify the perpetrator(s) who committed this act. We are asking our MCHS parents/guardians to talk with their student(s) to see if they know or have heard anything about this horrible act.

It is extremely upsetting to have had this happen on our campus, especially today, when our 11th Annual Black Scholar’s Union assembly took place, where we honored and celebrated the many historical and current contributions of African Americans to our society.  

We take pride in our school and the diversity of our campus. I know the vandalism does not reflect the values of our school, our staff, or the students we serve. Mira Costa High School and MBUSD strongly denounce any form of hate and racial intolerance. At Mira Costa, we continually work to create acceptance and a strong sense of belonging for all of our students, staff, and families. Most importantly, we are focused on the well-being of our students and on providing a safe and positive learning environment for everyone. 

We cannot state strongly enough that the “N-word” is a direct statement of hate. As a community, we must stand united against such conduct. We will continue our investigation, working with the Manhattan Beach Police Department, and update our community as we learn more information. 

This hate crime is detrimental to the core values of our District and has no place on our campuses or community. As a No Place for Hate District, we honor and celebrate student diversity within MBUSD schools. As Dr. Gerger stated, we vehemently condemn hate and racial intolerance. We remain committed to fostering acceptance and belonging for everyone in our community. It takes all of us to prevent, respond to, and combat hate. 

Budget Corner: Ten Things to Know about the MBUSD Budget

Please click on the image below to view at full size

Board of Trustees Approves New Courses at Mira Costa

At this week’s Board meeting, two new college prep courses were approved by MBUSD Trustees for the 2024-25 school year. MCHS Vice Principal Raeann Marti presented the new courses, which included Writing for College and Beyond, and World Music. 

The Writing for College and Beyond course satisfies UC “B” English requirements and was proposed by Mira Costa English teacher Keely Sweeny. The course will be open to 12th graders and will meet the need for students to receive more explicit instruction on how to approach and write non-fiction texts. 

The World Music course fulfills the requirements of the UC “F” Visual and Performing Arts. Scott Hughes, the District VAPA Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) proposed the course, and it will provide all MCHS students with access to UC-approved music courses without prerequisites. This course will serve students in grades 9-12. 

You can learn more about the overview of each of these courses here

Black History Month Celebrated Across District

In celebration of Black History Month, our families, staff, and students came together to honor African American History and achievements. At Grand View Elementary, the PTA hosted its annual event recognizing African Americans' central role in American history and providing further exploration of significant historical figures and events.

Attendees were treated to performances of beatboxing, breakdancing, African drumming, poetry read by 3rd grade aide Nela, and Principal Grings sang “Right Here” by SWV! There were hands-on activities from attendees filling out “I Have A Dream” cards engaging participants, hand drum making, and coloring sheets featuring famous African American figures. Educational exhibits featured a Black History Month book display and a reading area for visitors, including Pages: a Bookstore bringing books to showcase. An interactive red and green light obstacle course represented Garrett Morgan’s invention of the traffic light, and there were Mancala games. Once again, Beastie Boxing attended the event this year and hosted boxing and athletic exercises.

Special thanks to the Grand View PTA for sponsoring this event and to the parents who made this event possible, including Lauren Accordino, Monique Roth, Stephanie Stewart, Cris Naoe, and Shannon Anderson.

Robinson Elementary hosted a family art night in honor of Black History Month. Principal O’Sullivan and parent/substitute teacher Mrs. Kish taught an art program to families inspired by South African artist Esther Mahlangu.

And speaking of the arts, African Americans in the Arts was the theme for Mira Costa’s Black History Month celebration this year. The Black Scholars Union hosted its 11th annual Black History Month assembly that shared highlights of influential African American historical figures and commemorated them through engaging games and boards created by students. 

The assembly spanned the Mustang Mall, and there were sections hosted by students educating others about the integral role of arts in African American History and cultural preservation. The assembly showcased literature, dolls, art, dance, music, and fashion. A variety of delicious foods was offered during the festive event!  

A door-decorating contest will take place throughout the month, as classroom doors will feature African American artists and art. On February 27, there will be a Poetry Contest with live judges. Thanks to the Black Scholars Union students and staff, including Janet Allen, Daniel Cashman, Maddie Hutchinson, Lindsey Valbuena, Alondra Nicholson, Connie Porter, Jamison Hughes, and Lyla Floyd.

8th Grade Visits Museum of Tolerance

MBMS 8th graders took a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance this week. The visit aimed to promote a Climate of Care at MBMS. The immersive experience also aligned with students reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Maus, which is part of their English curriculum this year. Thirty chaperones and staff also were part of this enrichment opportunity. Maus was adopted by the MBUSD Board of Trustees as an 8th grade core novel in June 2022. 

The field trip provided a hands-on learning experience integrated into their classroom lessons. Thank you to MBEF for making this trip possible through a grant supporting historical literature and cultural experience. 

District Leaders Attend Summit Hosted by The Jewish Federation 

I attended an Education Leaders Summit along with Public Information Officer Hibah Samad, MCHS Vice Principal Raeann Marti, MBMS Vice Principal Katie Cavallaro, and Literacy Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) Taylor DiBernardo at The Jewish Federation on Wednesday. The opportunity gathered school staff, administrators, and District leaders from the Los Angeles region to learn about understanding, embracing, and including Jewish students in their school communities.

Speakers shared the history of Judaism, understanding the Jewish identity, and a closer look at modern-day antisemitism and classic antisemitic tropes. Throughout the day, there was a dialogue about divisive topics education leaders commonly face today. 

Supporting Diverse Student Needs 

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) are complementary frameworks tailored to address the diverse learning needs of students. Teaching with a UDL framework allows students an equal opportunity to succeed by offering flexible ways of accessing material and demonstrating knowledge.

MTSS interventions and strategies span subject areas and support tiers, encompassing much of what UDL advocates. UDL emphasizes varied approaches to keeping students engaged and motivated throughout their learning journey. 

Recently, a team of Teachers on Special Assignment, including Patti McCullum, MTSS TOSA, Brittany Brashear, Elementary Teaching and Learning TOSA, and Chuen Ng, STEAM TOSA, shared insights and information about UDL with educators at Grand View and Pennekamp schools, aiming to equip them with practical tools and practices to implement in their classrooms. Thank you to Patti McCullum for this story.

The Early Assessment Program (EAP): How the state tests can save students time and money in college with high scores in high school now

As a follow-up to our story last week regarding the importance of the state CAASPP test for our schools, we now turn to a direct benefit to students and families for higher performance.

For any current 11th grade student who may end up attending a CA State University (CSU) or a CA Community College, the upcoming state tests in math and English are an opportunity to test out of lower-level college classes. Any high school student who performs at the level of “Standard Exceeded” is automatically exempt from placement in these lower classes in college, and performing at the level of “Standard Met” exempts a student if they also earn a C- or better in a 12th grade English or math class.

This opportunity is part of what is called the Early Assessment Program (EAP), and you can read more about it briefly here, or extensively here. This is one of many reasons why we encourage students to put forth full effort on these tests. It can help students choose more classes in college and only take a lower-level course there if it is truly needed.

Next week, we will talk about the difference between skill and will, and how ALL students can do better on these and other tests with specific practices to cultivate motivation.

Mira Costa Student-Athletes Commit to Playing Collegiate Sports 

The second Signing Day celebration took place this week at Mira Costa’s Athletic Complex. Students, families, and staff filled the gym to cheer on student-athletes as they committed to playing their sport in college. Mustangs were recognized by their coaches for their dedication and hard work during the event. For Signing Day pictures, visit here.

Congratulations to the following athletes: 

Marco Bottene - Soccer- University of Pennsylvania

Mya Clarke - Soccer - Cal State Bakersfield Gilmer Grant - Soccer - St. Lawrence University Owen Lagerwey - Soccer - University of North Carolina Asheville

Kina Desai - Rowing - Duke University

Owen Franck - Cross Country, Track & Field - Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Parker Stickney - Cross Country, Track and Field - UC Santa Barbara

Reese Leonard - Football - Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Michael Sultemeir - Football - UCLA

Alito McBean - Baseball - San Diego State University

Maddox McEwen - Water Polo - UC Irvine Gwendolyn Pidd - Water Polo - Biola University

Juliana O’Brien - Softball - Columbia University

Sarah Shurtleff - Softball - Merrimack College

Kate Trudgen - Softball - College of the Holy Cross

Learn more about each athlete in the MB News Story here.

Photos by MCHS Student Noki Lam

In the News| MB News Features:

Mira Costa Girls Kick Off Big Soccer Weekend With Win

Read the Story Here 

Photo by Gil-Castro Perez | Daily Breeze Contributing Photographer

Manhattan Beach Schools, Parents, Students Lead in 'Green' Initiatives

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District has worked since 2012 to instill resource efficiency and sustainability education into the fabric of its eight schools. In the past dozen years, MBUSD has emerged as a trailblazer, earning a gold medal in the California Green Ribbon District competition and being honored by the US Department of Education as a National "Green Ribbon" district.

This year, that commitment has grown more extensive, as MBUSD parents, leaders, and students have made new inroads in conservation and the elimination of waste.

Read the Full MB News Story Here

All District Orchestra Festival

The Mira Costa auditorium hosted the annual All-District Orchestra Festival that brought 350 musicians together in a seamless performance. Mira Costa High School Orchestras Director Peter Park says the night is a broader view of the valuable MBUSD music programs offered to students. Elementary students performed under the direction of Orchestra Director Janet Johnson. MBMS students were directed by Denise Haslop, and Mira Costa musicians were led by Orchestra Director Peter Park. The festival featured the following music groups:

Elementary Schools:

Fifth Grade Combined Orchestra

Honor Orchestra

Manhattan Beach Middle School:

Cadet Orchestra

String Orchestra

Chamber Orchestra

String Ensemble

Mira Costa High School:

Philharmonic and Sinfonietta Strings

Chamber Orchestra

Symphony Orchestra

The performance highlighted the sequential music programming MBUSD has to offer at all grade levels. I am always impressed by the hard work and dedication of our students! It was a fantastic event!

Don’t forget that the All District Band performance will take place next week on Thursday, February 15, at 6:30 p.m. in the MCHS Auditorium. The event is free.

Manhattan Beach Rotary Recognizes Mira Costa Musicians 

Twenty-four student musicians from Mira Costa performed recently in the 15th Annual Manhattan Beach Rotary Solo Competition. We want to congratulate all of the students who participated. Students ranked in strings and wind division categories for grades 9-12.

All award winners will be recognized at the Rotary Awards Breakfast on Monday, April 22, at the Westdrift Manhattan Beach Hotel. Additionally, each division's first-place winners will perform solo at this event. We appreciate the Manhattan Beach Rotary for supporting our students! 

Robinson Elementary Kicks-Off Kids Heart Challenge 

The American Heart Association visited Robinson Elementary this week to remind students about the importance of a healthy lifestyle to keep the heart strong. They emphasized eating healthy, physical activity, and sleeping well.

The assembly was in conjunction with the school's official American Heart Association Kids Heart Challenge kick-off. It focuses on helping students improve their health and raising life-saving donations for the American Heart Association to help kids with special hearts. Students participating in the challenge will receive hands-only CPR training through the AHA’s partnership with the NFL.

Over the past ten years, Robinson families and students have raised $100,000! February also marks American Heart Month. 

“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. It 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.


7th Annual MBUSD International Day is Coming Up! 

The International Day Committee is calling on families to be part of the 7th Annual MBUSD International Day that celebrates our families’ diverse cultural heritage! Attendees embark on a global journey by visiting the booths showcasing traditions, flavors, games, clothing, and much more!

Our families and students are the highlight of the event, and it’s a great time to connect with the MBUSD community. Throughout the event, there will also be music and dance performances. If you would like to participate, fill out this interest form.

Last year, we had 25 countries represented. For all International Day information, visit here. Thank you to MBEF for sponsoring this event!

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


ASL Interpreter

For all other job opportunities, please visit here.

Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) Meeting | Thursday, February 15

Click on the image below to view flyer

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!

Stay Updated! Download MBUSD App!

If you haven’t downloaded the MBUSD app, please do so!

You can go to an Apple or Google Play store to download the app by searching Manhattan Beach Unified or MBUSD. Once you download it, you will see a home page asking you to set up the schools you would like access to and announcements from, including the District.

You can toggle between the District and each school site screen from the top of the app. All elementary school sites have the same buttons, while MBMS and Mira Costa’s features cater to our families and students there. The app offers 42 languages from which to choose. You can update your app settings, and you can learn what is happening at the District and school site level every morning by push notifications! 

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The next Superintendent’s Newsletter will be published on February 16.


Dr. John Bowes
MBUSD Superintendent
Manhattan Beach Unified School District

325 S. Peck Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
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