Pandemic, events create dynamic challenges for LAUSD educators

Los Alamitos Unified District Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver said, “I think with this pandemic, that we don’t necessarily always bring the old things into the new."

Amid the chaos emerging from an ongoing pandemic, the superintendent of the Los Alamitos Unified School District told a packed house this week that the State of the District was super resilient, academically strong and prepared for what lies ahead.

For District Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver, Thursday’s address was among the first opportunity he’s had to express his “bold vision for the future.”

Within nine months of being sworn in as superintendent in 2019, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, forced Pulver to face dilemmas no prior LAUSD superintendent had ever seen.

While the pandemic is still a concern, Pulver’s address demonstrated that he believed LAUSD was not only able to grapple with the challenges, but that lessons learned will only make the district stronger in the future.

This year’s in-person State of the District event brought together representatives of top corporate entities, sponsors, LAUSD administrators, teachers, parents, and the public at Clubhouse of the U.S. Navy Golf Course of Valley View.

The event was hosted by the Los Alamitos Educational Foundation (LAEF). Carrie Logue, Executive Director of LAEF, thanked those attending for their generosity and donations to enhance the district.

She said LAEF has donated more than $325,000 to the district since 2015, and an additional $135,000 which included $60,000 for the construction of WellSpaces at two middle schools to enhance student mental health.

“Donations make those things happen,” she said.

Board president Marlys Davidson thanked LAEF for their contribution to the new WellSpaces and briefly welcomed those in attendance, saying her focus will remain on improving mental health resources for students. 

Before beginning what turned into a 45-minute address, Pulver introduced the remaining Board of Trustee members and other VIP’s in the sold-out event.

“I have a loud voice. I’m from a huge family,” he began. “I’m one of 15. So, the only way we were recognized was to be loud, so I might not even need this mic, but I’m going to use it to make sure everyone in the back can also hear.”

Pulver cited the example of Jeremy Anderson, a onetime failing student whose twist of fate brought him to a new school and put him in front of teachers who truly cared to set the mood for his theme of unity, caring and achievement.   

Having teachers who believed in him changed his life, Anderson said in a video projected throughout the ballroom that demonstrated a teacher’s power from the simple act of caring.

“Something inside me said, maybe I can do great things…for them to jump through all these hoops and go out of their way to, kind of connect with me, and make the sacrifices. Maybe it is possible for me,” he says of the experience of having teachers truly believing in him for the first time in his life.

“Our teachers to show up for our kids and believe in them and what a difference that that can make to be a champion for them (students),” said Pulver.

“And so, Jeremy’s story just really reminds us that every single child belongs to all of us,” said Pulver.

“It starts with a dream,” said Pulver “I think any dream starts with a belief. We have to believe that things are possible for our kids and for one another,” said Pulver.

“And we really believe that we are dream makers, that we must help students develop dreams, and a belief that they can achieve them,” he added.

“Our job, as a team, is really to serve the dreams that all of you have for your kids here in this community,” the superintendent said.

“I think with this pandemic, that we don’t necessarily always bring the old things into the new,” said Pulver. “What was prior, we’ve had to abandon that for now. We’re in a new season,” he said again.

“So, we are in this new season, and I think we’re going to be in the new season for several years to come,” he said. “Next year is going to be completely different than this year, but we’re going to have to just constantly take a look,” he said.

“What we’re really focused on is believing in our kids. 100%. That has to be the goal. What we would want for your kid for our kids is what we should want for your kid. Every kid should be able to have access and opportunities and then let them choose,” he said.

Pulver said LAUSD delivers such consistent educational achievement because of its dedicated staff, talented teachers and effective administrators.  “Because of their dedication, their professionalism, their ability to go above and beyond to constantly really go out of their way to support kids to affirm them to lift them up to find ways to connect,” he said.

“We focus on every student every single day,” said Pulver, “and we really need to run towards the students that need us most. We are like first responders to them.”

“And we really want to make sure that we can make our classrooms and our spaces that all of our students are seen and heard and valued,” he said. “We’re one team with one big dream and one vision.”

In addition to the soaring rhetoric, Pulver also gave a substantive and statistical overview of the district.

“This community really had a dream. We were made up of a collection of different school districts, and they really wanted to be able to create a unified focus where our students can really start from preschool TK all the way through 12th grade and so we unified in 1980,” Pulver told the group.

“We currently have 9,140 students, over 1000 employees, nine schools, three beautiful communities, with one mission: to create the very best educational opportunities for our students,” he continued.

“Almost 11% of our students are in specialized service, received special education services, a little over 16% who are social, social, economically disadvantaged, and just shy of just a little over 2% English learners,” said Pulver.

He said the system has an annual budget of about $120 million, and because of the “consistent support of this amazing community,” facilities provided by the $100 bond issue are nearing completion. He said the “state of the art” Aquatic Center was completed last year and the new multi-story 83,000 square-feet STEM building on the LAHS campus will be in use by August.

Also, he announced teachers and administrators recognized for outstanding performance and he said the district has entered into a partnership with Stanford University entitled “Challenge Success.”

“Some people were saying, you know, that we are not the district we were 10 years ago,” said Pulver.

“I said you’re right, we’re not, and I hope we are not the same district in 10 years,” he said, noting that the system must navigate and adapt to the rapidly evolving educational ecosystem, a trend which has only been accelerated by the pandemic. “This is a focus and a core value of ours,” said Pulver, adding the board “did not waver when in challenging times.

He expressed pride in the collective ability of the entire system to pivot during the pandemic and said this nimble behavior will required even more in the future. “For the students and families we serve, we have to constantly keep evolving,” he said. 

The demographics of our district have changed, he noted, but said “the board continues to stay laser focused on what’s best for students and really how to represent in the serve our community.”

He said students asked for an ethnic studies elective, and the administration gave it to them. “We have a bold vision,” he said, telling the packed clubhouse that research suggests setting higher and higher goals pays huge dividends for students.

Pulver lauded student achievement throughout the nine-school district. He said LAUSD is the only school district in California with two national Blue Ribbon schools (see related story), one in each category, the district was the first back in school from COVID and various groups inside the system consistently win  national, state, district and regional awards in academics, arts, athletics and the arts.

“It’s really what our parents want for their kids too,” the superintendent said.  “When we talk about a big bold vision, we want our students to be seen having a culture of feeling cared about, seen, and valued.”

And he said LAUSD parents are amazing.

“I just want to thank our staff, but we’d also be nothing without our parents. Our parents really provide an exceptional amount of support, both financially both through our encouragement, said Pulver.

Pulver cited a quote that he suggested is the foundation of his educational philosophy. “That for us to be able to really touch the minds of students, we have to pass through the heart first. And that is so true.”

“We know there are differences of opinion and diverse concerns,” Pulver acknowledged, but he predicted this “amazing community and talented students will in find a way to come together.

“We will come together as a people, we will come together as a nation, we will come together as a state, we will come together as a city, we will come together as a district and we will come together as schools,” said Pulver.

And, he said, “we will come together as a class and we will value each other.”

“We also want our students to have any dream as possible so that when they leave us after 12th grade, every single door will be open to them,” said Pulver.

“That’s really the job that we have.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct an incorrect byline in the print edition of the Sun News.