School Boards in Action: 5 Questions with Linda Salomon Saldana, Downey USD

Linda Salomon Saldana, trustee, Downey Unified School District

What did your district do to foster learning recovery and educational advancements during the 2021–22 school year? What do you have planned for the 2022–23 school year to continue this progress?

We realized our 22,000 students needed so much more than just learning this past year, they needed social and emotional help in order to thrive once again.  First, the academic piece for elementary and middle schools, we identified students in need, increased our interventionists(?) and added a categorical teacher so students received the one-on-one help they needed. At the high schools, our counselors worked on grade recovery through summer school and upping teacher hours for tutoring.

For the social-emotional needs of our students, Downey Unified onboarded 17 full-time clinical school therapists and increased hours of service provided by several community agencies to provide outpatient mental health to our elementary, middle and high school students. All staff has gone through SEL training called Capturing Kid’s Hearts in order to connect with their students and identify those in need. And at each of our middle and high schools the mental health need was so large that we created wellness centers on each campus where students could go for counseling, a safe space and resources. Last school year, we had 6,640 walk-ins to our centers.

Plans for 202223 are to continue to support our students’ academic, social and emotional wellbeing.  We are continuing with the support of interventionist and categorical teachers at the elementary and middle schools while increasing counselors and tutoring opportunities at the high schools.  Furthermore, Downey Unified has just hired more full-time clinical school therapists in preparation of our student needs at the start of the new school year.

What summer extended learning opportunities are your district offering?

We increased our summer school offerings and have the largest number of students enrolled in DUSD history. Our elementary summer program, called STEAMWORKS, reinforces learning and prepares them for the upcoming school year. Secondary schools are using summer school for grade recovery and electives advancements for our students. A few years ago, DUSD aligned its graduation requirements with the University of California’s A-G requirements. Summer school is helping us get our students back on this trajectory post-pandemic closures.

Please describe the current morale in your district. What is the board doing to improve or maintain it? What types of professional development priorities or supports do you have planned for teachers and staff?

By the end of May, all staff, from administration to teachers to on-site support, barely made it across the finish line. Staff and students were exhausted. We ended the 202122 school year with beautiful graduation ceremonies and end-of-year festivities that we hadn’t seen in over two years, but it felt like everyone inched across the finish line. Back in August 2021, staff and students alike were so excited to start the school year, but we all realized we were out of shape for the demands of a typical school year, let alone a school year where contact tracing and masking and behaviors were going to dominate. As a board, we have acknowledged the work of all our staff, the strain and their exhaustion.   We have thanked them for their dedication to our students and families and have given them the support they have requested. SEL training, extra staff on sites and flexibility of requests — with our student needs at the center — has been our focus.

What are some ways the district is sharing positive news and/or support with families and the community?

Sharing our good news is vital. When the surrounding community knows what we are doing for our students and of their successes, it keeps our enrollment up and maintains the support of our community for passing bonds. DUSD has two communication specialists (one is bilingual) who manage our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. They support all of our schools, which each has their own social media account, and we rely heavily on the good relationship with our local paper the Downey Patriot. Most recently, wrapping up this school year, we put out two mailers to all our residents.

What is a recent book/television show you enjoyed?

One of my favorite television shows/series is “Call the Midwife.” It is a BBC show on Netflix about a group of midwives in Poplar, England from the 1950s-60s. It’s a beautiful story, telling about human struggle, achievements and relationships. My three children, 17, 14 and 10, as well as my husband, do not like the show because they re-create at-home births in each episode. I find the strength of humanity in every episode inspiring and get lost in its beauty.