There’s so much happening in our schools and the lives of today’s students – from stressful academic demands to social-emotional well-being. So, we thought it would be a perfect time to have a discussion with the superintendents who are guiding Beach Cities’ school districts: Patricia Escalante (Hermosa Beach City School District), Dr. Michael Matthews (Manhattan Beach Unified School
District) and Dr. Steven Keller (Redondo Beach Unified School District). Here are highlights of the roundtable conversation.
Q: Since each of you were in school, how has life changed for K-12 students?
Escalante: “Social media is the obvious (difference), but kids in my day still got feelings hurt. It was maybe more passive-aggressive because people would talk behind your back or send notes about you. With social media, everything is so instant. We only had CBS, NBC and ABC. No cable TV, no 24-hour news cycle.”
Matthews: “When I went to high school there was actually little pressure about which college to go to. None of my friends talked about it, my parents didn’t talk about it. But that is one million degrees different right now. (Life) was much lower key when I was in high school. No social media, so I didn’t know what I was missing out on. I’m sure it was a lot, but I didn’t have social media to remind me about all that.”
Keller: “Technology obviously is ubiquitous now, in every shape, matter and form. Computer labs were just starting when I was in high school; now everyone’s got a device. It’s a different game. Access to information is real-time, and that has its pros and cons. If you are a great parent, though, it can actually serve you well.”
Q: Are Beach Cities kids under more pressure to get into the best colleges?
Escalante: “Short answer: yes. But, I think our kids are hungry for a deeper understanding about themselves. They are no longer thinking that they’re just born a certain way – they are learning they have control. But they are under a lot of pressure. The pressure to go to the “sweatshirt colleges” is real in our community and it’s a lot to put on kids, especially the ones who don’t fit into that pigeonhole. Those kids need to know it’s okay to take a different pathway to success; it’s beneficial to think outside of the box and be creative. These are the conversations we need to be having as parents and teachers with our children.”
Matthews: “To Pat’s point, a key piece of research is set to be released from Stanford in the next week that essentially shows the lifetime income differential between the top 200 colleges in the country is marginally different. That means whether you’re going to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale or the University of Arkansas, your income isn’t going to vary much, on average. Assuming that’s what the research shows, I can’t wait to share that with the community.” (To read the report from Challenge Success, click here)
Keller: “Rather than base the whole college process off the question of: How much money will I make when I graduate?, I urge our kids to focus on becoming better, more informed citizens. Make a better use of your time on earth; try to make the world a better place. And if money follows and capitalism thrives, then great. That’s the honest conversation I’m having with our kids and the community – and I think our community understands the importance of it.”
Q: How has the relationship between health and school evolved over the years?
Matthews: “We don’t need to do a lot of pushing to have our students striving to be the very best academically. They’re already doing that on their own. Our job has transformed into turning this quest for excellence into a quest for student wellness. It’s a push we’re making with teachers, counselors, parents and students. And Beach Cities Health District is a big partner for us. I’d say we now focus as much on student wellness as we do on academic excellence. It’s a giant change.”
Escalante: “The conversations between the three districts have become more frequent, richer and more focused on the wellness for kids. We are operating with like minds and have support from each of our boards. It’s more powerful when we can work together and have common frames of reference and language around wellness for kids and expectations. And I agree with Mike about BCHD…We truly see the health district as an absolute working partnership to support total well-being. I’m sure all three districts feel that way.”
Keller: “I totally agree with Pat and Mike. The whole focus on social emotional well-being – our kids being physically fit, having great nutrition and academics – are all pieces and values we believe in and transfer to the 20,000 South Bay kids that we serve. It’s just who we are as people. The heavy lift is for the teachers and staff and Beach Cities Health District to systematize and implement. But that’s a good place to come from, where you believe in it before you even start.”
Q: How would you describe your district’s relationship with Beach Cities Health District?
Matthews: “BCHD has been a great partner for us, but they’ve also pushed us. The health district is singular in its focus, so they always come to us with programs to support areas of need, like social-emotional wellness. They push us to be better and it makes us healthier.”
Keller: “Our staff, kids and parents benefit from the longevity of the synergy we’ve had with BCHD. Kindergarteners come in and are, for lack of a better word, indoctrinated into our well-established culture of physical and social-emotional health. It’s not all about test scores; it’s also about their health and their family’s health. So, I think that our relationship over the last decade has been very helpful. People move here expecting this relationship, expecting BCHD to be involved. I think parents are well aware of it, and, hence, our enrollment has increased over the last 12 years. I think it’s partially because of our relationship with Beach Cities Health District.”
Escalante: “In 2012, BCHD came to me in my first year as superintendent with MindUP, a program designed to teach children how to regulate negative emotions and their internal decisions by teaching them mindfulness practices and how their brains work. Initially, we were worried about appearing too new age, but we ended up launching it, having success with it and are now a California Distinguished School because of it. MindUP is a great example of how BCHD has given us a lot of different tools to approach our students’ health more holistically.”
Q: You seem to be in sync philosophically; do you have strong working relationships with one another?
All: “We do, yeah.”
Keller: “I’ve been here the longest (since 2006) and for me (collaboration) started when Mike became superintendent (in 2010) … I never really connected with Hermosa until Pat came along (in 2012). It’s reached the point where we all even know each other’s kids.”
Matthews: “Steven invited me to lunch right when I came in, and then we both met with Pat when she came in. (We now) call each other, text each other, meet together and do some planning. Also, whenever there’s a question or an issue, we respond to each other immediately, and I’m grateful for that.”
Q: Here’s a fun one: Which is the best high school in the Beach Cities?
Escalante: “I’m staying out of this one … (laughing).”
Matthews: “Here’s what I’ll say, we’ve got great school districts. You can’t go wrong. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Keller: “Ten years ago, I would’ve said it depends on what you are looking for in a high school, and I’d have described two different schools – one more focused on academics and ours more focused on the whole child. But that’s no longer the case. Mike changed that when he was hired because he understands the value of the whole child approach. So, I agree completely with what Mike said. You really can’t go wrong.”
Q:The three of you wound-up in the South Bay, but where did each of you go to high school?”
Keller: “I went to South Torrance High School.”
Escalante: “I went to Palos Verdes High School.”
Matthews: “I went to high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. So, we’re all pretty local.”
Read more in the latest edition of our LiveWell Magazine.