By Zane Hill
Shant Sahakian will lead the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education through what everyone hopes will be the end of the coronavirus pandemic, after he rotated in as school board president this week.
After spending the past year as vice president, Sahakian now takes the reins from Armina Gharpetian, who led the district through the majority of the pandemic. Board member Nayiri Nahabedian was selected as vice president, positioning her for board leadership next year.
“I take this responsibility very seriously, but I’m very mindful that we’re a team of five and, ultimately, we work together with our superintendent to achieve all the goals of the district,” Sahakian said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Our community has experienced a major stress test over the past year that I think nobody wanted to experience. We have witnessed the strengths and the vulnerabilities in our society. To anyone in our community who has lost a loved one, we wish our heartfelt condolences to you and your family.”
Sahakian will guide the board in wrapping up a school year that began with remote instruction and gradually pivoted in 2021 to a hybrid model that brought some students back to classrooms for part of the week. He and his peers will then have to figure out what the 2021-22 year will look like as the state and nation continue to emerge from the pandemic thanks to widespread vaccination.
With that in mind, Sahakian had an idea of what he’d like to keep working on: continuing progress on race, equity and inclusion issues in the district; expanding mental health support, bolstering resources for special education; keeping the digital divide closed; and monitoring any developments in the coronavirus.
“Today the majority of our students have chosen to learn from home, but as was mentioned, the full and safe return of in-person instruction for every student — student who chooses to learn on campus — continues to be our ultimate goal,” he added. “Health and safety and meeting the academic, social and emotional needs of each and every one of our students continues to be our top priority.”
Board members heralded Gharpetian for her steady hand this past year. She summarized on Tuesday the major decisions made in response to the pandemic — “Do you guys have five hours to hear me out?” she quipped — and admired how the district’s stakeholders came together to address those issues.
“Living through the pandemic for an entire year has clearly changed my perspective about life and has made me realize how much we take things for granted and how important the health and safety of our community is,” she said.
Amid the occasionally chaotic journey, during which the district made multiple agreements with unions, pioneered “learning pods” to provide childcare, provided free meals for all kids who needed them and brought student-athletes back to fields for conditioning, Gharpetian perhaps most lauded achieving a one-to-one ratio of Chromebooks and internet access for its students.
“I consider this one of the silver linings of the pandemic,” she said. “It would have probably taken us multiple years to get to a one-to-one ratio of student devices, but we were able to accomplish that in a couple of months.”
Sahakian indicated that the district was likely to adapt some of the pandemic-related policies as permanent fixtures of a district that has dedicated itself to rethinking its approach to education and focus on equity.
“We must build on the things we’ve learned during the past year and we must emerge as a stronger school district and stronger community for it,” he said. “I know working together as a team and one family, I’m confident that we will succeed on behalf of the most valuable assets in our community: our children.”