Superintendent Marian Kim Phelps showed off Poway students’ immersion into Japanese language and culture at the State of the District event.
First- and fifth-graders from Tierra Bonita Elementary spoke in Japanese and did a dance on the stage at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts.
The Japanese Language Program, which started last year at Tierra Bonita and Del Sur elementary schools, is funded by a $60,000 grant from the nonprofit Japan Foundation, Los Angeles.
Phelps said at the Nov. 17 event that her goal is to have world languages in all the elementary schools — and it looks like she is close to reaching it.
The Avery-Tsui Foundation of San Diego announced in September that it will award almost $1.1 million over five years to fund PUSD’s new WongAvery Global Languages and Culture Program. The program aims to introduce all elementary school students in the district to world language skills and international cultures and to encourage international cooperation and collaboration
The State of the District was a chance for Phelps and her associate superintendents to give overviews of the last year at Poway Unified. They spoke about their achievements and struggles.
Students also got a chance to share their experiences.
Prisha Puntambekar, 17, the district’s student school board member and a junior at Mt. Carmel High School, told the audience about an eighth-grade social studies teacher who inspired her. She went on a one-week trip to the East Coast and Washington, D.C. with this teacher and other students.
“The trip to D.C. changed my perspective on the world,” said Puntambekar, who aspires to attend law school.
She also spoke of her challenges, such as being diagnosed with depression, and her fears that it would impact her studies. But, she said, her school counselor worked with her and her teachers and was open to discuss her issues.
“Children in PUSD are not punished for struggling,” Puntambekar said.
Overall, Puntambekar said she is grateful for her experiences at Poway schools, which she called a “thriving environment.”
Greg Mizel, associate superintendent of student support services, also spoke about mental health. He said district schools have boosted the number of counselors, social workers and psychologists over the past year.
As for student safety, Mizel said PUSD has collaborated with experts to ensure schools are up to par with other schools. Officials have completed a full safety assessment for each school. These assessments showed needs for improvements such as limiting the number of entrances to a school and improving locks and fencing, he said.
The schools have seen success with their “See Something, Say Something” campaign targeted to students, he said. Also, he said, the tipline (1-844-PUSD-TIP) has been successful.
The district won a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association in January for its inclusive practices. With 5,500 students who have special needs, staff members work to embrace their differences, Mizel said. This year also saw the first inclusive practices summit, which brought all the district’s teachers together to work on inclusion issues.
Another program that won a Golden Bell is the Career Technical Education programming. There are two dozen CTE offerings, including public service, transportation and arts, media and entertainment. The programs also offer internships and job shadowing.
One program that was brought up several times throughout the speeches Nov. 17 was the Poway to Palomar College program, which launched in August and allows students to attend college courses while still in high school.
Carol Osborne, associate superintendent of learning support services, shared some facts about the district. Poway schools have a 95.4 percent graduation rate compared to 90.2 percent in San Diego County.
In state testing, Poway also excelled compared to the rest of the county. In English Language Arts, Poway students scored 76 percent while the rest of the county came in at 53 percent. In math, Poway scored 66 percent compared to 39 percent in San Diego County.
Phelps said some highlights of the current state of schools are class size reductions and enhanced tutoring.
One of the struggles, she said, is that of the aging facilities. The average age of the schools is 31 years. It’s not a matter of if the schools need improvements but when, Phelps said.
The state doesn’t provide any maintenance funds, she said. That money generally comes from bond measures.
Of the 42 schools, the largest issue this last year was at Rancho Bernardo High School, where the air conditioning went out during a heat wave at the beginning of the school year. The price tag to fix the HVAC issues is estimated at $8 to $10 million, Phelps said.
Some of the schools have seen upgrades. Solar paneling has been installed at 14 school sites, Phelps said. Another environmentally friendly advancement has been the addition of green buses.
“There’s a lot for us to be impressed by,” Phelps said.