By Haley Sawyer
After an unprecedented virtual school year, Michele Kipke passed the gavel to Ruby Kalra this week to lead the local board of education as it navigates the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kipke’s peers on the South Pasadena Unified School District board tipped their caps to her Tuesday night, thanking her for the steadiness she showed when the pandemic shut down districts nationwide, disrupting programming and fiscal planning.
“After serving so many years on the board, I think your experience was perfect for this time that we’re in,” said Superintendent Geoff Yantz. “We couldn’t have asked for a better partner and collaborator in this time. Unbelievable amount of time you spent in the school and school business while maintaining your professional life as well as spending time with your family.”
In addition to seeing the district transition to distance learning this year, Kipke was part of critical decision making regarding Measure S and Measure SP projects. She also found herself working long hours in pandemic response in her roles as a pediatrics professor and research vice chair at USC Keck School of Medicine.
“When I assumed this honor a year ago, none of us could’ve imagined what this year would look like,” Kipke said. “I couldn’t have done it without being a part of such a strong team.”
Kipke was honored with a plaque for her service and gifted each member of the board with a copy of the book “Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve.”
Kalra, as the outgoing board clerk, assumes the role of president for the next year. Zahir Robb was named as the new clerk.
Board member Suzie Abajian, who was reelected last month, was sworn in again, as was Patricia Martinez-Miller, who returns to the board after a pause of many years. Abajian, a former South Pasadena teacher, enters her second term on the board. Martinez-Miller, a longtime educator in the Los Angeles Unified School District, previously served on the board from 1989 through 2001.
Additionally, Kalra and Kipke will serve as the board’s liaisons to the city of South Pasadena.
The board was forced to recess its meeting Tuesday after running into its 10 p.m. cutoff time and failing to extend the meeting by vote. A wealth of public comments — 95 were reported — and a hefty agenda forced this decision; the board addressed 18 comments before turning to a handful of presentations and then recessing.
The board picked up the meeting on Thursday, after the Review’s press deadline.
Together, the school board will continue the journey through difficult times. After receiving clearance from Los Angeles County, board members will have to make the impactful decision of when it is safe to return to in-person instruction while closely monitoring how distance learning is being executed and how it can be improved. Most of the public comments Tuesday were to air concerns about these plans.
Additionally, the board will continue efforts to sell the location of the current district office at 1020 El Centro St. and purchase property at 1100 El Centro for new offices after two prior deals fell through.
The topic was discussed in closed session on Tuesday, meeting, but no updates were given in open session.
The board will return to its regularly scheduled meetings with the first meeting of the new year on Jan. 12.