Gabriela Montenegro gets a photo of her son, Damien Gutierrez, 4, at Germain Academy in Chatsworth, CA, Monday, August 14, 2023. Monday was the first day of classes for the new year at LAUSD. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
It’s the first day back at school and the Los Angeles Unified School District is pushing to have as many students show up as possible, as safely as possible.
Last academic year was marked by a string of tragic traffic incidents and high rates of chronic absenteeism. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is hoping that by improving safety near schools and expanding the district’s bus service, more children will return to classrooms this year.
“Walking to school should not become a traumatic experience for our students,” said Carvalho. “Los Angeles Unified will continue to work to ensure that our students can make it to school safely, so they are ready to learn.”
Getting kids to school safely is a top priority as children continue to suffer from pandemic-related learning loss, and their average daily attendance has not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. This year, Carvalho has set a goal to boost average daily attendance by 5% and increase the number of students using buses by 50%.
While his goals are ambitious, district officials did not appear daunted on Monday morning and expressed a fresh sense of optimism as students returned to classrooms across Los Angeles.
“I love when I see everybody smiling. The kids are so happy to be here and the parents are so happy also,” said LAUSD Board Member Scott Schmerelson as he greeted families at Germain Academy for Academic Achievement in Chatsworth. “Learning in person is the most important thing I can think of, especially after the pandemic.”
The district is working closely with the City of Los Angeles to implement traffic safety measures and ensure all students can take advantage of in person learning. In recent months the L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) has created more School Slow Zones at 45 campuses and installed new speed humps at 28 schools.
“We must do more in order for the students of Los Angeles and their families to feel and stay safe,” said Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass in a Sunday evening statement. “I am working with Superintendent Carvalho to ensure that we confront and address the vehicular tragedies, substance abuse and other incidents that we have seen near and in our schools.”
The city has funding for about 500 crossing guard positions, but filling those posts has proved challenging due to the short hours and limited pay. Last year there were about 200 vacant crossing guard jobs. LADOT has made a concerted effort to fill the empty posts, and hired 77 new guards in the last fiscal year.
Schmerelson said on Monday that he would like to pursue a motion in which the school board would shift direct responsibility for crossing guard positions to the district.
“We have so many people at school every single day who are volunteers, or three-hour or four-hour aides would love that extra job of being a crossing guard,” Schmerelson said, “and they live here, and they know the kids, and they don’t have to travel across the city.”
Ensuring safety near schools is especially important as the district welcomes thousands of new four-year-old students through its expanded Transitional Kindergarten (TK) program.
Transitional Kindergarten is an optional program to provide young students with early instruction in literacy and numeracy, as well as important opportunities for socialization. In 2021, state legislators passed SB 130 which requires school districts to offer TK to all four-year olds by the 2025 to 2026 school year.
LAUSD has decided to jump two years ahead of schedule.
On Monday morning, Gabriella Montenegro brought her son Damien Gutierrez to Germain Academy for Academic Achievement for his first day of TK.
Gutierrez is a week away from his fourth birthday and would not be eligible for TK in many other districts, but got to enroll at LAUSD thanks to its new expansion. He already benefited from participating in the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s Head Start preschool program last semester, so Montenegro felt like enrolling him in TK was a no brainer.
“In Head Start he was coming home with a brand new fact every day ‘like this is a rhombus, this is a square’,” she said. “He was really learning quick, so I was interested in more schooling and was happy to find a TK program that would take him.”