First published in the Oct. 1 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
School board member Suzie Abajian, who less than a year ago was handily re-elected for a second term, will resign this month because she is moving out of the South Pasadena Unified School District.
Abajian said in a letter to the community that she will leave the SPUSD Board of Education on Wednesday, Oct. 13, after her final meeting with the board the previous night. She noted in the letter that she made the announcement with regret and that serving the community had been “a great honor,” but added that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of family and “it has become clear to me that I need to devote more time and attention to my own family at this time.”
A former educator with the SPUSD, Abajian was first elected to the board in 2015; her platform emphasized closing the opportunity gap among students and developing a school culture that was more inclusive for students. She touts the district’s expansion of its dual-language immersion program and the implementation of the 9th-grade multicultural literature course into the curriculum among her achievements.
“I am thrilled that more of our students can see themselves reflected in the curriculum,” Abajian said in her letter. “I have continually pushed for culturally/linguistically responsive, LGBTQ positive and inclusive pedagogy throughout our district and pressed for the creation of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee to ensure that we continue keeping ourselves accountable to these ideals.
“My hope is that the board will carry on this work and that our district continually strives to become more welcoming, culturally responsive and equitable for all students,” she added.
The school board is expected to decide in a forthcoming meeting whether to call a special election or to make an appointment to fill the remainder of Abajian’s term.
During Abajian’s tenure on the school board, the district passed its facilities bond measure as well as a parcel tax, helping to fund a series of facilities improvements and construction projects. She saw many of these projects through to completion, and this year the district finally closed on a long-awaited new main office and on selling its historic former location.
After the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Abajian frequently advocated for programming to address students’ mental health and wellness as they engaged in remote instruction for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year and for most of the subsequent year. The district opened all doors to standard in-person instruction this school year, with a bevy of policies and equipment being utilized to mitigate potential spread of COVID-19.
“I believe that we are in a much better place now,” Abajian said. “We know how to do schooling in this new reality. We know how to keep people safe as we provide high-quality instruction and social-emotional support for our students.”
Abajian served as board president in 2018 and was likely to have been selected for the role again in 2023. Congresswoman Judy Chu in 2018 named Abajian one of the women of the year in her district. Last year, Abajian was re-elected to the board with a leading 7,968 votes and was to serve through 2024.
Abajian added she was confident in the continued leadership of her peers on the board and of SPUSD Superintendent Geoff Yantz.
“We have an incredible leadership team and phenomenal teachers and staff who continue to provide our students with engaging educational experiences regardless of the challenges of the day,” she said. “We have amazing and resilient students who are able to reflect and act on the world with kindness, compassion and mindfulness.”