Students Return to Middle, High Schools

Photos by Mitch Lehman / TRIBUNE
School board member C. Joseph Chang and Superintendent Jeff Wilson at SMHS

“This is the moment we have been waiting for,” Topalian said a few minutes later as middle schoolers scrambled across the quad and asked directions of their principal.
More than a year since they were sent home due to the COVID outbreak, students were finally allowed to return to campus, albeit with masks and other personal protective equipment in use. More than 200 students returned to the high school and more than 160 showed up at the middle school on Thursday, April 1, which, ironically, coincided with Major League Baseball’s opening day for the 2021 season.
Students in grades TK — transitional kindergarten — though 5th grade already began in-person learning at Valentine and Carver elementary schools in late February and early March, but Thursday marked the first significant return to the SMUSD’s campuses.

SMHS Principal Jason Kurtenbach

The district will follow a hybrid educational model for Huntington Middle School and San Marino High School, which employs a combination of in-person and remote instruction. Students will be included in one of three groups, A, B or C. Students in groups A and B will attend courses in-
person on assigned days and will partake in two days of synchronous online instruction each week. Students in group C will continue to attend school virtually.
After the first two days of in-person instruction, the district went on spring break, which is scheduled for April 5 — 9 with classes resuming on Monday, March 12.
The SMUSD had an incentive to restart in-person learning in order to qualify for government funding: a $4.6 billion COVID-relief learning loss and mental health fund and the $2 billion incentive for opening pool. School districts had to open at least one grade from Kindergarten-5th grade and 7th-12th grade either full-day or in a hybrid model to get the extra money, according to superintendent Jeff Wilson. After April 1, school districts lose 1% per day of their potential funding until they reopen campuses. Districts that don’t open by May 15 will lose eligibility for funding. The SMUSD has yet to receive its allotment of the new money.

HMS Principal Daryl Topalian

“The actual dollars are based on the LCFF [local control funding formula] meaning we get a lot less than other districts,” Wilson said. The monies are from both the state and the federal governments and are considered “one-time money,” which means the district can not count on it as a regular source of funding. There are restrictions in place that the money be used for learning loss mitigation and mental health. 
“There does appear to be limited flexibility in the federal monies but much of the new money must be spent on COVID-related expenses,” Wilson said.
But for at least a day, students were focused less on funding and more on just “fun.”
“My first day at San Marino High School came with some mixed feelings,” said Megan Choa, a freshman who is also her ASB class president. “I was excited to see my friends and meet some teachers with whom I had formed connections during online classes. However, I knew I would miss the comforts of home. I decided to go back because if there was a chance to return to being in a classroom with my peers safely, I knew I had to do it. Stepping onto campus for the first time is a feeling I will never forget. After months of online learning, I guess I forgot what walking from class-to-class was like. Overall, I’m glad to have the opportunity to get my education in-person.”

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Now in his 25th year at The Tribune, Mitch Lehman is Editor and Sports Editor in addition to being the public address announcer for ten sports programs at San Marino High School. Mitch is one of only a handful in the community to receive the ‘Very Special Person Award’ from the San Marino PTA at the annual Founder’s Day ceremony, was acknowledged as a 'Terrific Titan' by the San Marino High School PTSA, was named an Honorary Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Club of San Marino and received a National Honorary Merit Badge in Journalism from the Boy Scouts of America. He has received two independent Pulitzer Prize nominations and in the past three years, Mitch has won seven awards and is a thirteen-time finalist in the California News Publishers Association's Better Newspapers Contest. In 2015, the press box at Titan Stadium was re-named 'Lehman's Loft' in his honor. You can reach Mitch at

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