To call it a staff meeting would be putting it mildly, a teachers' rally of epic proportions would probably be more appropriate.
Last week more than 1,200 staff members, including teachers from the district's 30 schools, childcare and after-school programs along with school board members, faculty and city leaders, gathered on the campus for the 2012 Back to School Convocation prior to the official start of the school year.
During the Sept. 4 event, attendees sat intently inside the jam-packed CHS gymnasium listening to various speakers, including ABC School Board president Olympia Chen, mayors from the cities of Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens and Lakewood, ABC Federation of Teachers president Ray Gaer, and ABC Management Association president Sergio Garcia -- all of whom conveyed words of encouragement heading into a school year that is sure to be full of plenty of changes and challenges.
"This is the first Back to School Convocation for the district since I started teaching 12 years ago," Burbank Elementary School teacher Candace Fitzpatrick told Patch. "I think it is inspiring and helps give all of us some goals and direction on where we're going to be headed this school year and for the next few years."
But most would agree that the highlight of the meeting took place when the district's new superintendent, Dr. Mary Sieu, took the podium for her first public speaking engagement since taking over the position on June 30.
"Although I've been a part of the district for the past 23 years, this is my first official opportunity to begin the school year with you as your superintendent," Sieu said to the crowd. "This convocation allows me to thank all of you for the great work that you've done in the ABC, and I'm confident that we will continue to thrive together despite the budget challenges as well as many of the changes in the years ahead of us."
Sieu went on to share words of gratitude, first thanking the Board of Education for appointing her as the first female superintendent of district, "Thank you for believing that women can also hold up half the sky in a unified school district," she said triggering a storm of applause and cheers from the audience.
Sieu also thanked her predecessor --
"I owe much to Dr. Smuts for leading the district to new heights and providing a strong foundation for us to build on." she said. "Of all the responsibilities in my new role, I pledge to remain committed to what matters most in ABC. My primary responsibility as superintendent is to ensure the highest levels of teaching and learning in our district."
Sharing the Journey That Brought Her to Today
Before delving into the district's plan for the current school year, Sieu shared an inspiring story of a little girl whose parents migrated to the United States after their family was persecuted and robbed of their land and farm in China. In search of a better life, this family of seven moved to a poor neighborhood in Chicago, where they lived in one room because they were too proud to take public assistance.
The little girl, Sieu said, was "inspired, challenged and cared for by teachers in Chicago school system" and with hope she went on to untangle a new language and endlessly devour books from the library throughout her childhood.
"She was absolutely convinced by her parents and teachers that even those that start with almost with nothing in America, that through hard work anything was possible," Sieu said. "The little girl became teacher and devoted her entire life to the field of education ... today she stands in front of you as the new superintendent of the ABC Unified School District."
The story of her personal journey was received with a standing ovation, and once the applause died down, Sieu reiterated her confidence that all district students have the tools to complete high school, continue onto college and enter into great careers.
"I view all of our schools as a portfolio of high quality options for our families in ABC," she said.
ABCUSD Strategic Plan for 2012-2013 School Year
The superintendent then presented the district's five-part Strategic Plan for the upcoming school year, outlining the goals, challenges and accomplishments in each section:
- Academic Excellence for All
- Healthy Students, Healthy Adults
- Parent and Community Involvement
- Effective Resource and Facilities Management
- Professional Growth for All Employees
Some highlights of the presentation included statistics that showed that the district has continued to maintain momentum and demonstrated continued improvement year after year despite budget challenges.
- In 2011 ABCUSD Academic Performance Index was 833, compared to the state's average of 775
- Based on a 2011-2012 student survey, 91 percent of ABCUSD students believe that their high school sets high expectations for student learning
- Based on a 2011-2012 parent survey, 99 percent of ABCUSD parents rated ABC schools with either an "A" or "B"
More Communication From District Expected This Year
Sieu also touched on two new forms of communication that will be put into place this year that aim to cultivate a better relationship with students, parents and the community:
- The distribution of a "District Digest" to the community, parents and civic leaders that will be used to highlight people, schools and events throughout the district
- Three community forums that will help create better awareness of district goals and student achievement efforts -- the first forum will be held on Oct. 9, 2012 at followed by future dates at and Fedde middle schools
Watch: The ABCUSD Common Core Implementation Plan
As part of the district's strategic plan, Valencia Mayfield, assistant superintendent of Academic Services, played an iMovie presentation outlining the district's long-term journey toward implementing the Common Core Standards -- the new national academic standards adopted by the State Board of Education on Aug. 2, 2010, which will replace current English Language Arts and mathematics guidelines in California. (Click here to view the movie presentation.)
Sieu Shares Her Vision for the School District
Before wrapping up the morning gathering, Sieu made a final pledge to those in attendance.
"I look forward to visiting with all of you in your schools and classrooms, you can count on me for one thing ... and that is to listen, and to learn with you as we move forward to together," she said.
"My vision of this district is for it to become a world-class learning organization and my focus will always be on continuous quality growth for everyone -- students, teachers, support staff and administrators," Sieu said. "I pledge to work very hard with you to serve the students of our district and to ensure that we create the best learning conditions for our students -- for every student, in every classroom, every day."
The ABCUSD 2012-2013 school year runs from Sept. 6, 2012 to June 20, 2013.