Pasadena Unified’s Graduation Plans Go Before School Board Today

How does a high-school senior complete graduation requirements amid school shutdowns and remote learning during the coronavirus crisis?

The Pasadena Unified School District school board is about to get some details.

The PUSD board is scheduled to meet remotely on Thursday, with one of the items on the agenda being an update on the progress that 1,034 seniors across the district’s six high school are making toward one major graduation requirement – the “Graduate Portfolio and Defense” – in these most challenging times.

Besides 220 academic credits and 40 hours of community service requirements (the latter having been modified in these days of social distancing), seniors are also required to submit a “defense” in order to earn their diplomas — and students’ progress toward that requirement will get the spotlight at Thursday’s board meeting.

According to the PUSD’s website, the defense presentation “is an opportunity for students to showcase their academic achievement and proficiency in the 4 C’s (Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication & Collaboration), and to reflect on and refine their learning and growth. The defense/project allows the student to communicate information and present effectively in multiple formats. Throughout their four years of high school, students will select their best work samples, complete a reflection for each piece, and upload /store in their portfolio.’’

So how’s it going for the Class of 2020 – with schools closed, a class facing logistical challenges like no other class ever?

As outlined in a “status report” from Dr. Elizabeth J. Blanco, the district’s chief academic officer, “As of April 17, 2020, all high schools are supporting their students toward meeting this graduation requirement.”

“Currently, 61 percent of our students have met the requirement and we are confident the remaining students will also be just as successful,’’ the memo goes on. “On each campus they have notified students who need to complete this requirement.’’

Blanco’s update expressed concern that some students do not have Chromebooks or Internet access, and that, “We might need to revisit the completion of this requirement for students who do not have access.’’

Meanwhile, in a separate email to board members, Blanco said, “All graded Reflection Papers, Research & Creativity Artifacts were due (to) site coordinators by April 17th. Special circumstances and considerations were handled on a case by case basis with intention of no harm to students. The timeline has been extended as necessary and we are working with schools to help students complete their defense.’’

In that separate email to board members, Blanco also said, “Any students who have special circumstances due to unforeseen COVID-19 related events will be considered on a case by case basis and approved through site administration.’’

As for community-service hours, also required for graduation, “Given current events during the 2019-2020 school year, we will suspend the requirement of the completion of 40 community service/work-based learning hours for those seniors (ONLY) who have not submitted all 40 hours by March 16, 2020,’’ Blanco’s note to board members said.

And as for the particulars of students’ defense presentations, according to Blanco’s memo, “Students can record a Google Meet and share their slides with Site Coordinator, to be graded at a later time. Students can present within a live Google Meet with a live panel, to be graded live. Students can Screencastify and share with their site coordinator, to be graded at a later time.”

“All defenses will still be graded by three-panel members, there will be a variety of site staff used as panelists,’’ she wrote. “At this time, we will use community members on an as-needed basis.”

And the memo added, “Any students who are challenged with using the appropriate tools will be considered on a case by case basis.”

Some unspecified number of students “have not responded to any communication from their school sites,” Blanco wrote.

But, she added, “We will develop a district letter to send to each of these families.’’

The school board is also expected to take up a resolution under which solar-paneled structures would be erected at 12 PUSD sites. The solar structures would, according to a staff report, save the district some $4.8 million in energy costs over the next 25 years.

A staff report recommends that the board adopt the plan, which is a scaled-down version of an earlier, similar proposal that was scrapped amid uncertainty over the long-term future of some PUSD sites.

The new plan calls for a company called California PV Energy 3 to design, construct, install, maintain, and own and operate the power-generating structures — at no construction or maintenance costs to the district. The district would then enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the company for 25 years.

The solar structures would not generate all the energy needed for each PUSD site, so the district would pay two energy bills each month – one to California PV Energy, the other to either Pasadena Water and Power or California Edison – but ultimately the district would save money, the staff report said.

The estimated savings would be around $4.8 million over 25 years, based on an estimated 4 percent rise each year in the cost of energy.

According to the staff report, “Benefits of the agreements include: reducing district dependence upon SCE and PWP … contributing to a cleaner environment … reduced cost of energy … (and) the construction of shade and parking structures.”

At the end of the 25-year agreement, according to the staff report, “The district can: 1) exercise an option to extend at pricing negotiated at the time; 2) purchase the systems based upon a formula; or 3) cause the systems to be removed.’’

The PUSD sites where the solar structures would be erected are: Altadena Arts Magnet Elementary School; Elliot Arts Magnet Academy; Field Elementary School; Hamilton Elementary School; Jackson STEM Dual Language Academy; John Muir High School Early College Magnet; Madison Elementary School; Pasadena High School; Sierra Madre Elementary School; Sierra Madre Middle School; Webster Elementary School; and Willard Elementary School.

The board will meet remotely under “Safer at Home” guidelines in place during the coronavirus crisis. The public portion of the meeting begins at 3 p.m. Thursday, with live streaming available at