School Boards in Action: 5 Questions with Ami Gandhi

Ami Gandhi, board member, Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District

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

There have been many great programs that the district implemented to foster learning recovery. One such program is Air Tutors, which is a free tutoring program that was available to all children in the district. Some students were identified by their teachers for participation, while parents also had the option to enroll their child. Air Tutors worked by grouping students together by grade level and subject to provide after-school support. Another program to aid in education recovery was the Jumpstart Program, which was a two-week program offered during the summer. Students could attend either in person or online. Jumpstart was offered to all students prior to coming back to school, to help both students that may have been falling behind, as well as for those families who felt their child would benefit from gaining a head start. Over 700 children participated in this program.

The district provided an opportunity for teachers to hold office hours for their students, which were held either before or after school, giving students a chance to connect with their teachers outside of school hours. Students could “drop in” to ask questions or get additional support. Elite Hours was a program by teacher invitation only for those students who needed a little additional support. Students could revisit lessons to catch up or strengthen their understanding on concepts to gain confidence. There were also intervention classes offered during the school day for both reading and math. Kids that were identified as needing additional support could be pulled out of their regular class and work in a smaller group setting.

What summer extended learning opportunity programs is your district offering?

The district, through the Peninsula Education Foundation, will offer summer school for any child that would like to enroll at all three levels of schooling (elementary, middle and high school). The program will provide students with both academic and enrichment opportunities to supplement summer school offered by the district. Coursework will mirror the curriculum by grade level. The district will also have remediation summer school for any high school students that need high school credit or remediation of a course to meet A-G credit.

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?

The post-pandemic year has been a challenging yet rewarding one. However, the district and staff are trying their best to work with one another in maintaining and improving morale. We believe this is an important priority for the community. In addition, morale seems to be very high amongst students and teachers who are thankful to be back in school, with live learning and interacting with their peers.

Support for teachers and staff includes a district-operated teacher credentialing program for new teachers and those teachers who would like to become administrators in the district. The district also supports teachers and provides growth opportunities, year-round, for those teachers that would like to advance or grow in specific academic areas. In addition, this summer we are providing professional development to teachers in writers workshop to train them to better implement a writing program to improve writing skills throughout the district. Overall writing skills were severely impacted during the pandemic and this program will be crucial to reverse learning loss. There will also be training over the summer for professional development on any new curricular adoptions. This was extended to the summer so that teachers have enough time to learn the new material and do not have to be pulled away from students. Lastly, mental health services are available not only to all our students, but for all staff as well. This has been a crucial area of concern post pandemic and the district wanted to make sure mental health services were available to all.

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

There are weekly emails sent out by the superintendent, in addition to weekly newsletters from all the principals. Information is also shared through PTA meetings, social media and the superintendent’s state-of-the-district report. School board meetings are live streamed to the community. Lastly, we have a school board member that hosts weekly virtual coffee meetings to engage with the community and answer questions.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I have lived in Palos Verdes now for five years and absolutely love it here. I have two young kids that attend school in the school district, making my role on the board even more important to me. In my free time, I truly enjoy spending time outdoors with my family. A few of our favorite activities include hiking the many beautiful trails PV has to offer. We also appreciate our close proximity to the beach, spending time on the beach or riding bikes on the boardwalk from one pier to another.