Successes and accomplishments formed an overarching theme at the Tuesday, April 13 Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) Regular Board of Education Meeting. At a time when other districts are coping with severe learning loss that may never be recovered, the agenda showcased positive strides made under difficult circumstances. From Academic Decathlon medals to innovative mental health programs to newly announced graduation plans, the meeting was full of what Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy described as “a lot of really good things coming our way.”
The positivity was tempered a bit by the still-lingering effects of a contentious Special Board Meeting held on April 8 that generated extensive community reaction. During that meeting, the Board voted 3-2 to amend guidelines that determined how members are appointed to the Finance Committee. (The Finance Committee acts as an independent body that advises the Board regarding the District’s financial interests and operations.) Board members Tristen Walker-Shuman, Noah Margo and Dr. Amanda Stern voted in favor of amending the guidelines.
“The practice did not match the policy and we were just putting the house in order,” Margo told the Courier.
Board President Rachelle Marcus and Board Member Mary Wells voted against amending the guidelines. They noted, among other things, that the guidelines had been revised without objection on March 9.
“From a governance and a Board operations standpoint, we need to have consistency. We cannot, one month later, change the rules because somebody doesn’t get what they want,” said Wells.
The net effect of amending the guidelines was to give Walker-Shuman, not Wells, the right to appoint a Finance Committee member at this time. Wells would have made the appointment (and indeed already had a candidate chosen) had the guidelines remained in place.
When asked about the heated exchanges that took place during the April 8 meeting, Walker-Shuman told the Courier, “I’m not trying to execute a power grab I have pretty strong beliefs. I think it’s important for all Board Members to work together in a collegial way.”
Good News on the Agenda
On the heels of the April 8 Special Meeting, the Superintendent’s Report on April 13 provided a welcomed bit of uplifting news.
“We’ve had a fantastic and sensational opening at both of our secondary schools. We are officially reopening in a very successful way, and it’s been great to see everybody,” he said.
Bregy spoke about two mitigation efforts underway at the district: vaccinations and testing.
“We were fortunate to receive allocations from L.A. County and provided a second dose for those that needed it. Any staff member who wanted it was able to get it,” said Bregy.
In the area of testing, the District has gone beyond what is required by the most recent Public Health order from the county.
“We are testing staff and also any students that become symptomatic and athletes that are back in games and competitions. Hundreds of tests are all negative,” he said.
Bregy added that his “expectation is that we will be back full time every day in the fall.” And, in perhaps the most exciting news for students, graduation and promotion will take place in person this year.
“We are working with L.A. County to ensure a physical ceremony June 8 for 5th grade promotion, elementary school on June 9 and high school on June 10. What we don’t know right now is the actual capacity. We do know that we’re in a good spot to be able to have a large group gathering,” said Bregy.
The Board also took time during the meeting to recognize the victories of this year’s Academic Decathlon team. Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) Social Studies Teacher, Academic Decathlon Coach Ann Marie Fine congratulated all the students who medaled in last month’s event.
Mental health was also in focus, with a presentation by BHHS Wellness Counselor Ali Norman-Franks. She gave an update on innovative and well-received programs at the NormanAid Wellness Center (NAWC). Founded by Norman-Franks, the NAWC is one of the nation’s first school-based mental health centers. It offers weekly and short-term counseling services, crisis management and wellness programs. The NAWC counseling team provides services for the entire student body, parents, staff and on average has over 2000 individual counseling sessions every year. It also offers educational programs, including Wellness Wednesdays, “Make Today Well Lived” The Podcast and MonthlyAid to raise awareness of the importance of mental and emotional health.
Norman-Franks explained that during the month of April, the NAWC will explore four core practices essential to building healthy relationships: Allyship, Love is Love, Acceptance and Respect. She also shared a poignant film, created with staff, students and KBEV, in which BHHS students and teachers share the importance of being an ally.
Business of the Board
In addition to touting success with student programs, the Board considered a number of business matters. Those items included the completion of Measure BH and Measure E Financial Audit Reports, as well as brief comments from the auditors. The Board also discussed an amendment to its agreement for asbestos and lead abatement monitoring services at El Rodeo School.
Also on the agenda was a resolution “Denouncing Xenophobia and Anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander Sentiment Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Affirming the District’s Commitment to the Well-Being and Safety of Asian Americans.”
Wells, a Japanese American, spoke in support of the resolution, which passed unanimously.
The agenda also included appointments to the Facilities and Construction Advisory Committee and the Finance Committee, which had been the topic of contention at the April 8 meeting.
At the close of Tuesday’s meeting, the Board did, in fact, address the April 8 meeting. Earlier in the public comment period, caller Daphna Hollander, Psy.D., took the Board to task for the tone of the April 8 session.
“It’s one thing to disagree, but it’s another to disagree in such a disrespectful and harsh manner,” said Hollander. She described the treatment of Marcus, in particular, as “both disrespectful and demeaning.”
“I’m looking forward to focusing on the issues of our district for the betterment of our students and our community,” said Margo on Tuesday. Walker-Shuman added, “[I]t is really important to move forward from clear missteps.”
After the meeting, Wells told the Courier, “I would say that if we don’t call things out we’re not going to get change.”