wilson grad crowd (copy)

Stands are packed last spring for the Wilson High School graduation.

When asked what the new school year will bring, Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Chris Steinhauser goes straight to his often-stated number one priority.

Student achievement.

“A new school year is a time of great promise, and that’s especially true in our schools this year for a number of reasons,” Steinhauser said.  “Students who attend our schools tend to outperform their counterparts in California.  We know this because we study the data.”

Steinhauser is beginning his 18th year as superintendent of LBUSD, the fourth largest school district in the state (in a virtual tie for third with Fresno). He said the emphasis on Advanced Placement (AP) classes will continue at Long Beach high schools, along with free AP and SAT tests and more to prepare students for four-year colleges and universities.

LBUSD has a 71 percent college-going rate, public information director Chris Eftychiou said, significantly higher than the state average. Eight high schools have achieved a graduation rate of 90 percent or more.

"In the new academic year, our school district will continue to focus on, and refine, the support and programs that have helped to produce the successes mentioned above," Eftychiou said in an email.  "We’re providing more opportunities than ever to prepare students for success in college and careers, through … more than 40 career pathways at our high schools, and more internships provided in partnership with organizations like the Port of Long Beach and Long Beach CaLL."

When classes begin next Wednesday, Aug. 28, many students will be in more comfortable buildings. Improvements have been made to 522 classrooms on 18 campuses, with some including central air conditioning — pushing closer to the goal of air conditioning in every classroom in the district. Elementary and middle schools with new air conditioning include Barton, McKinley, Lindsey, MacArthur, Keller, Burcham, Webster, Longfellow, Mann, Lowell and Jefferson.

The district's biggest construction project remains the rebuild of the Jordan High School campus. The multi-year project will continue through the school year, with the second semester the target to open two new classroom buildings, a modernized auditorium and library, and a new administration building.

Another issue addressed was safety on campuses, Eftychiou said. That included more perimeter fencing to create closed campuses, security cameras and buzzer-type entry doors. The down side is some school campuses that had been open to the public after classes will no longer be available.

Financially, LBUSD remains solvent despite continued enrollment declines. The state pays educational support based on a per student basis (about $10,300 this year), and Long Beach is expected to have about 72,000 students this year. That's down from a peak of 98,000 in 2002.

This year's operating budget is $931 million.

"Our Board of Education has approved responsible budgets that allow the school district to live within its means, and staff have been disciplined about implementing these budgets," Steinhauser said.

For more information about the district, including registration for new students, go to www.lbusd.k12.ca.us.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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