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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators

Coming back to better

Promoting positive child and youth outcomes

By Krystana Walks-Harper | January | February 2022
Pomona Unified School District has themed our return to full in-person learning as Coming Back to Better. This is our message for the 2021-22 school year as we support students and families in a safe return to school. We are acutely aware of the challenges brought about by the pandemic and are working with students, families and staff to address the needs of our community.
Family engagement is essential in promoting positive child and youth outcomes in education, mental health, health, child welfare and juvenile justice (youth.gov, 2021). One of the priorities in our District Strategic Plan states: “Partner with the Community to Create a Safe and Supportive Environment for Students and Their Families.”
PUSD is a proud member of the Los Angeles County Office of Education Community Schools Initiative. The community schools model is a strategy aimed at disrupting poverty and addressing longstanding inequities. This approach highlights areas of need and leverages community resources so that students are healthy, prepared for college/career and ready to succeed in the workplace and civic life. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and LACOE Superintendent Dr. Debra Duardo visited our community school at Ganesha High School in 2021 to hear from students and to see the impact of community school objectives in real-time. PUSD Superintendent Richard Martinez led the discussion which created an opportunity for students to connect with district, county and state leadership.
Students asked critical questions related to the new learning environment specific to COVID protocols. They also wanted to know how the district would continue to support challenges related to the unique needs of high school students such as college acceptance and career opportunities. They expect a return to normalcy while being sensitive to the needs of a safe return to school.
Communication is an ongoing and critical aspect. We utilize numerous platforms such as our district website, as well as push-out communication through multiple platforms. Parents respond well to text messages, and we have found it to be a reliable vehicle for short-term or reminder notifications. We also use the Parent Connect and Student Connect systems to provide real-time feedback for parents to monitor and provide feedback on student progress.
Information has evolved throughout distance learning and the return to in-person instruction. PUSD hosted several town hall meetings to keep families abreast of the latest developments. We also hosted town hall meetings focused on getting information to the community regarding vaccine availability and included members of our local, medical and educational community to answer questions.
Our Food Services department worked throughout the summer of 2020 and 2021 to provide school breakfast and lunch to all children during school closure and for extended summer periods. Families also received food boxes as available before long weekend periods, particularly around the holidays. We also found that food distribution sites provided an opportunity to share information with families regarding additional resources.
Community health partnerships with city, medical and referral service providers have helped to foster a community of care for our students and families. Our Pupil Resources department and Student and Family Support Center work continually with a variety of stakeholders to provide resources that engender stability for our homeless and foster youth and families. We have a team of social workers, caseworker specialists and counselors. Services include housing referrals, bus passes, groceries and toiletries.
Parents respond well to text messages, and we have found it to be a reliable vehicle for short term or reminder notifications.
Our Parent University has adjusted its curriculum to ensure that families have access to the most current and relevant information. We invite representatives from community organizations as well as district providers who share information ranging from instructional models and technology to internet access, health and nutrition, ESL classes and college visits. Parents are also invited to participate in virtual meetings at every level from Parent Leads, PTA, PTO, to ELAC and Board Meetings.
California PTA has been a consistent advocate for our parents, and they have provided direction and leadership at the local and state levels. What matters most is terms of family engagement is that well-informed, engaged parents make a difference for student success in school and beyond. Additionally, engaged parents take part in all aspects of their child’s education and development from preschool to high school. This successful strategy is based on a shared understanding in a school community that parents are children’s first teachers and are key resources in their education and growth (CAPTA, 2016).
We are a data-driven organization. Parent surveys helped to drive our decisions around learning models that are in use. Parent survey responses have allowed us to gather feedback on anticipated numbers for independent study as well as health and safety questions regarding our return to school.
Coming Back to Better is a statement and also a perspective that demonstrates how much Pomona Unified School District has learned and continues to learn from our students and families. We welcome and incorporate their experiences into a district system that is increasing in its growth and responsibility, and working to make sure that every student has the opportunity to realize their potential. We also understand that academics are dependent on a child’s and their family’s social-emotional health. We must determine “how they are” before we get to “how they learn.”
California State PTA, “Family Engagement In Schools Matters,” 2016. capta.org/focus-areas/family-engagement/.
Youth.gov, “Service Level: Engaging Families as Partners in Decision-Making,” 2021. youth.gov/youth-topics/service-level-engaging-families-partners-decision-making
Krystana Walks-Harper is the assistant superintendent at Pomona Unified School District
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