By Elysse James
With 2021 firmly in the rearview mirror, Capistrano Unified Superintendent Kirsten Vital Brulte took a moment to reflect on the past year and discuss her expectations for the future.
During the pandemic, Capistrano Unified was among the first — and one of the largest in the state — to reopen its doors to students in September 2020. By the spring, CUSD students accounted for 25 percent of all students in school statewide.
The District spared no expense when it came to making sure students, teachers and staff were safe on campus and CUSD’s early work to open schools enabled the District to perfect protocols and procedures when it came to following state and county health guidelines. The District was also one of the first to invest in counseling and ensure that school counselors were available at every school site to help support students and their families.
“We realize that mental health is of great concern and our goal is to provide social emotional supports for every student to ensure successful academic outcomes in the future,” Vital Brulte said.
When CUSD opened in August 2021, most students had already returned to campus the prior spring. Still, starting the school year together, in person, was very exciting, Vital Brulte said. The district is operating as normally as possible while following state and county safety guidelines.
“Our students were thrilled to be back and our teachers, classified staff, and administrators were excited to open the doors and see young people face-to-face,” she said. “We’ve had a great school year.”
As CUSD begins a new semester, and a new calendar year, the District is continuing its quest to support every child and maintain its focus on social-emotional support for students and adults.
“We need to be mindful of how these last almost two years has deeply affected everyone,” Vital Brulte said. “We’ve learned during the pandemic to focus on one day at a time and that we will adjust our operation as necessary – keeping our focus on serving our 43,000 students and their families. We will continue to ask each other for grace, patience and compassion as things constantly change.”
Pandemic federal stimulus funding has allowed CUSD to invest even more into schools and classrooms.
“We will continue to focus on how we can support every child as we use the additional state and federal funds to invest in young people and improve learning outcomes,” Vital Brulte said.
The District’s investments include:
- The District has added 300 teachers, speech pathologists, psychologists, counselors, and classified staff. CUSD has improved its student-to-counselor ratio and its ratio is nearly 50% better than the state average.
- The District reduced class sizes and hired credentialed elementary PE teachers, allowing elementary teachers more time to review student data and plan interventions when needed.
- CUSD has hired paraeducators to support elementary physical education, combination classes, and transitional kindergarten, while the District’s Elementary Multi-Tiered System of Support Specialists (designed to support student mental health) works to support student intervention and enrichment.
- CUSD’s middle schools have added additional intervention opportunities to support students who have fallen behind in their academic classes.
- Middle schools have increased the funding for math, English language arts, and English language development teachers to attend professional development.
- The District also used these funds to purchase 35,000 new Chromebooks. Every CUSD student in pre-kindergarten through high school is able to have a device.
Along with the multitude of investments and opportunities created by the District, there’s one thing that’s remained consistent: CUSD’s commitment to give students the tools to succeed in the classroom and in life.