First published in the Aug. 13 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Days away from the first day of school, Matt Hill, superintendent of the Burbank Unified School District, drove to work with a sense of excitement.
“I’m just checking in on everybody to make sure we’re ready for Monday,” he told the Leader Thursday morning.
The superintendent seemed certain that the Burbank Unified School District is prepared for the upcoming school year after navigating through a coronavirus pandemic that forced schools throughout the state to temporarily shut down and pivot to remote learning over two years ago.
“This is the first time in a couple of years that it feels like the start of school again,” Hill said. “We’re not trying to figure out independent learning and health protocols — we have those systems in place now. So, we’re getting back to focusing on teaching and learning.”
Though COVID-19 transmissions have gone down in Los Angeles County after a summer surge, the health of students and employees remains a priority for the district with the emergence of monkeypox.
“We definitely have the systems and plans in place, but we know COVID can change at any time,” he said. “Health conditions are something we’re constantly monitoring, whether it’s COVID or now monkeypox. We want to make sure we’re current and constantly improving our plan.”
Having had experience in establishing health protocols the past few years, Burbank Unified was able to work toward improving instruction this year and expanded its services to having more 4-year-olds on campuses enrolled in transitional kindergarten.
The district is also offering more science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“The thing is, last year was still an open question. We were planning on returning in person, but we didn’t know how long that would last,” Hills said. “Now, we know we are back in person, and we have a lot of innovation that we learned [during the pandemic], such as increasing [the use of] technology in the classroom. And that level of comfort for students and employees keeps rising.”
Establishing relationships between teachers and students is critical early in the school year, as well as those between district officials and employees. Hill has taken time to meet some of the new faces as schools experienced quite a bit of turnover the past few years with teachers, administrators and classified staff leaving the district.
Hill said Burbank is not alone in experiencing such turnover.
“We’re seeing through various articles that a lot of people have taken the last two years to pause and reflect on what’s best for them professionally and personally,” he added. “We have seen transition. What I will say is, we have a good balance of promoting from within and attracting new talent. I had an opportunity to meet and sit with all the new administrators and teachers, and I love their ideas and what they’re bringing to the district.”
On Monday, Hill will perform his annual ritual of visiting every school site throughout the week.
“Seeing kids again interacting with each other and teachers — that’s why I do this work,” Hill said. “I just want to make sure I enjoy those moments.”