Spotlight Schools Newsletter #6 Sept. 21: Los Al Sets Goals; Join the Clubs! & P.E.A.C.E Week

Shining a light on education stories to connect you to your Orange County community.

Shining a light on education stories to connect you to your Orange County community.

Spotlight Schools

Shining a light on education stories to connect you to your Orange County community.

Welcome to the sixth edition of the newsletter from Spotlight Schools, a hyperlocal news network covering education issues in Orange County so parents, students and stakeholders can better understand, navigate and participate in the TK-12 public school experience.

I’m Jeannette Andruss, journalist and founder of Spotlight Schools and parent of two elementary school students in the Los Alamitos Unified School District. The goal is to make this the most valuable addition to your inbox every week. Please send feedback by responding to this email.


Board Adopts Goals & Values

Los Alamitos Unified has new official goals and values.

At its Sept. 14 meeting, the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education adopted a one-page document outlining its Goals & Core Values for the 2021-22 year. 

It’s based on discussions from an annual summertime workshop attended by board members. 

During last week’s meeting, Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver mentioned that part of the motivation of this year’s goals was to communicate what the district stands for, especially in light of societal events that may prompt people to look to boards or organizations to make a statement. 

“And I know the board has tried to stay out of politics as much as they can at times, but we also thought it would be really important as a board, and as a district to identify some of our core values,” Pulver stated and added, “What do we stand for as a district? What are some of the core values?” 

Los Al Unified’s Goals are... 

#1 “Passionately pursue academic excellence from all students by providing unparalleled preparation for College and Career Success.” (This goal has seven subsections.)  

#2 “Cultivate a thriving culture that ensures a caring, inclusive, equitable, safe and student-centered environment.” (This goal has three subsections including the first focused on mental health and wellness.)  

#3 “Foster collaborative relationships and partnerships with students, families, staff and the community.”

#4 “Provide high quality facilities to meet the educational and instructional needs of students and staff.”

#5 “Manage and allocate financial resources to maximize students’ educational experiences.”

Los Al Unified’s Core Values are...

“Care: We foster a culture of kindness where everyone is treated with dignity and respect and individuals seek to understand each point of view.”

“Responsibility: We hold ourselves responsible for consistently maintaining a clear focus on our goals and serving the needs of our students and families.” 

“Equity: We meet the needs of all students through systems, structures, and opportunities that promote success and value similarities and differences of all individuals.”

“Commitment: We are committed to student success where students, parents, staff, and the community are supported through collaboration, reflection, and a focus on continuous improvement.”

Before the unanimous vote adopting the goals and values, board members shared their perspectives. 

Megan Cutuli, first elected in 2000, zeroed in on the phrase “ensure every student” that appears in two subsections in the goals. Under Goal #1 it states: “Ensure every student meets or exceeds grade-level/content standards” in addition to other metrics. Under Goal #2 it reads: “Ensure every student is connected to school through academics, athletics, activities, and the arts.” 

“I remember when we first used the word ‘every’ in front of students. And we were one of the first school districts in Orange County to boldly say that we want every student to truly succeed. And, yes, that's a goal that's way up there but I think that's the goal we really need,” Cutuli said.

Trustee and Vice President Diana Hill commented on equity as a core value and noted that sometimes in today’s society the words “equity” and “equality” can be interpreted in different ways. 

“I just really remember from the beginning of my time in this district and on this board that we always talked about that equity was equal access; was open and equal access to all students. And I think that it's a great example of understanding that all of our students don't come in at the same place or with the same resources ... and some have different challenges than others and it's really giving the students the access and the tools to be able to achieve their very best,” Hill said.  

She brought up the new free tutoring programs now available to Los Alamitos High School students as an example. (More on the tutoring below.)

“I feel like this really says that what we put down we intend to do,” Board President Marlys Davidson said and likened the goals to a contract. She said the district is already fulfilling some goals with targeted intervention to help stem learning loss and the increase of mental health counselors on campus and the establishment of WellSpaces.

Davidson noted that she sees Goal #3, collaborating with the community, as a future focus area.

“I believe that's where we need to keep going now, especially with technology, engineering, robotics and all of that. We really need to connect with the community and get the kids out there,” she said. 


COVID-19 Testing Kits Now Available at School Sites

At-home COVID-19 testing kits are now available at Los Al Unified’s nine schools for students who are deemed a “close contact” with an infected person on campus and are opting to do the “quarantine at school” option. 

Families can contact the school nurse to get the saliva test which can be dropped back off at school to be sent to the lab for results. The tests are being provided by the Orange County Health Care Agency. 

Meanwhile, some school districts in Orange County are still figuring out their testing strategy, reports Voice of OC.  And at least 700 schools in California are using “pool testing,” where nasal swabs from up to 25 asymptomatic students are submitted together for a single PCR test, reports EdSource


  • ICYMI: Yesterday, Pfizer announced its COVID-19 vaccine works in kids ages 5-11 and it will seek U.S. authorization for its use in this age group soon, reports the Associated Press. Meanwhile, San Diego Unified School District will discuss a proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students.
  • A new Twitter account, OCCovidKids, is keeping track of COVID-19 cases across Orange County schools. It shares updates from COVID dashboards from school districts.

Free Tutoring for Los Alamitos High School Students 

Students at Los Alamitos High School have multiple options for free tutoring and instructional support this year, Dr. Pulver explained in his Superintendent’s report. He said this effort is in response to parents' requests in surveys. He estimated it’s costing about $150,000 in an ongoing commitment.

What’s being offered? 

  • Free in-person tutoring and instructional support at LAHS from LAHS teachers in all math core courses. This is being offered before and after school. “No appointment necessary, students can just walk right in,” Pulver said.
  • Free 24/7 online tutoring and academic support with credentialed teachers from the company Paper (Japanese and American Sign Language not available.) The service also includes feedback on student essays and writing. Students can connect at 

Speakers Support LAHS Water Polo Coach 

During the public comment period at the Sept. 14 meeting, half a dozen speakers including parents and former players, spoke in support of Los Alamitos High School girls water polo coach, Dave Carlson. 

Last month, Carlson was reinstated in his job as coach and LAHS teacher after being placed on administrative leave during a district investigation, reports The O.C. Register. 

You can watch the public comments here starting a little before the 33 minute mark.

Wellness Initiative  

The district is launching a new Wellness Initiative as part of its increased focus on student and staff wellbeing, explained Board President Davidson in her report.

“The purpose of this initiative is to address the social emotional well-being of all students, staff and families by providing resources, strategies and tools for mental health that can be incorporated into our daily lives,” Davidson said. 

Parents will get a monthly newsletter from district counselors sharing resources and strategies based on a monthly theme. September’s theme is “Wellness.” Students are being sent home with a bookmark that illustrates a breathing exercise that can be done by tracing the outline of a hand. Staff are taking part in Wellness Bingo to promote activities like stretching, spending time in nature and taking a break from social media.


Student Clubs

Students take part in an exercise during a meeting of the Improv Club at McAuliffe Middle School this month. (Courtesy Photo)

There was a rush at Los Al Unified’s secondary campuses earlier this month. Students were rushing to join clubs! Each campus offers students a variety of clubs to join with some meeting during lunch and others meeting after school. 

“Teachers and students work together to come up with their clubs,” McAuliffe Middle School Principal Dr. Ryan Weiss-Wright wrote in an email. “It's a great partnership between staff and students to create opportunities for students to join a club that is interesting to them. Some clubs have been established for years, and some are brand new!”

What Types of Clubs?

  • McAuliffe has 25 clubs this year including the Make A Wish club, which helps grant wishes to children diagnosed with critical illnesses. There’s also the Pickleball club, the KickFlip Club, focused on skate-safety and the Dead Poets Society for aspiring writers.
  • Oak Middle School’s roughly 30 clubs include a Christian Club, a Cactus and Succulent Club, an Engineering Club and an E-Sports club. 
  • Both middle schools offer an American Sign Language Club, an Improv Club, Gay-Straight Alliance Club, an Art Club, a Star Wars Club and a Spelling Bee Club.

Students at Los Alamitos High School also experienced Club Rush this month. 

“If you didn’t see a club you liked this year, no worries,” Los Al senior and student Board representative Will Brandenberger said during his report at the 9/14 meeting. He said it’s easy to start your own club by stopping by the activities office at the high school.


 Griffins Way Coming to Los Al?// Bond Fee Changes // Troubling TikTok Trend 

  • Last night, the City of Los Alamitos was scheduled to consider renaming the driveway street into Los Alamitos High School to Griffins Way. Agenda Item F More info from Patch
  • Homeowners in Los Al Unified could see drop in bond fees Voice of OC 
  • Some Orange County school boards declined to discuss resolutions seeking to drop the indoor mask mandate L.A. Times // Voice of OC 
  • ICYMI: New details on the nascent recall targeting three Los Al Unified Board of Ed Members in my story for The Event-News Enterprise
  • TikTok challenge leads to vandalized school bathrooms nationwide U.S.A. Today 


 P.E.A.C.E. Week // LAHS Football Updates // Free Bus Passes for Kids

  • P.E.A.C.E. Week: A number of Los Al Unified campuses are marking P.E.A.C.E (People Exhibiting Appreciation and Compassion for Everyone) Week. Campuses host student dress-up days, activities and assemblies. At McGaugh Elementary, students will take part in a program known as “Come Walk in My Shoes” where they engage in hands-on activities to understand what it’s like to live with different abilities. At Oak Middle School, students will get together to make friendship bracelets and also view a diversity mural to celebrate differences. At LAHS, students will make peace pledges and send peace grams.
  • LAHS Football: On Friday, the Los Alamitos High School Varsity football team suffered its first loss of the season against Santa Margarita, reports SB Live  and The O.C. Register. The Griffins have a bye this week and have their first Sunset League game on Oct. 1 against Corona Del Mar. 
  • Free Microsoft Software for Students: LAUSD students can download copies of Office 365 ProPlus at no cost. Details are here.
  • Free Bus Rides: Starting this month, kids age 6 - 18 can ride Orange County Transit Authority buses for free with the new Youths Ride Free Pass.

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