Where is the Action Plan to Address Learning Loss?

By Kat Blandino

As our children start their 3rd week of school, it’s business as usual over at the SMMUSD district office and school board.

There has still been no mention of a plan to address the learning loss students are experiencing after the school closures during the last two years. Instead, our current school board and Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati continue to focus on anything but education and further continue to neglect the needs of our students.

In the fall of 2020, our schools closed. Children, families and teachers were left to figure out the realities and struggles of remote learning with little to no leadership from the district.

Unlike many other districts in our country and state it soon became clear that SMMUSD’s focus was not on getting students back to safe, in person learning as soon as possible.

It was at this time parents and students began to unite and demand a plan. Teachers were scrambling to put together an online curriculum, children were struggling with the challenges of virtual learning and parents were wondering just how much more they could sustain.

During this time SMMUSD leadership decided to direct vital resources away from students and education and focus on real estate ventures.

When our children desperately needed a plan of action to address the mounting learning loss, the incumbent school board members focused their attention on purchasing a $21 million new district office. THIS was their priority during a time when all attention should have been on creating an education plan to address the learning loss and get students back to in-person learning quicker.

In a recent study, Thomas Kane, an economist and faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University states that elementary schoolers might need up to three years to fully recover, while middle schoolers might need five years.

He also concluded that Black and Hispanic students had lost four to five more weeks of instruction than white students had. There is an outpouring of studies since the start of the 22/23 school year on the effects of learning loss and our district not only remains silent on the topic but is denying it’s very existence.

Here we are in 2022 and I must ask as a concerned parent and Santa Monica voter, where is the action plan to address learning loss? The Superintendent and School Board continues to focus on their pet projects, real estate ventures, saving their seats and requesting police presence outside of school board meetings -- meetings that only returned to in-person a month or so ago with very limited numbers for public attendance.

The school board is clearly more concerned with silencing any kind of critique from parents during an election year than working collaboratively to create solutions that can benefit all students. The school board has even gone so far as to limit the time for public comment and change from Zoom to a Webinar format, where only the board can see who and how many are in attendance.

This year our neighborhood title 1 school John Muir was also left to rot while $1.13 billion in bond money was spent on vanity construction projects. The Muir community had alerted the school board for years about the mold and structural damage plaguing their school and making their children sick.

The displaced Muir community is now too fearful of retaliation, an all-too-common occurrence in our district, to risk speaking out about the discrimination they have experienced.

It is time, now more than ever, to address the leadership crisis our public schools are facing by electing a new majority to our school board on November 8.

Kat Blandino is chair of A Brighter Future (ABF) PAC and a Santa Monica Voter with two children in District schools.

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