Families gathered at Palisades Elementary School to see their children off for their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 15, and were welcomed by teachers and front office staff, including Principal Rebecca Bailey.
Before the start of the 2023-24 school year, the elementary school hosted its inaugural Welcome Back WAVES barbecue to ensure parents are well-informed ahead of the school year.
The barbecue offered an opportunity for families to reconnect, meet new families and learn more about Palisades’ vision for the new school year, Bailey said.
“I’d say well over 300 people attended, and it was the first time Palisades had ever done anything like that,” Bailey said. “Parents were able to get a lot of information about Chromebooks and PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support) and all of those different things and visit different tables, and it was just really good and then connect with each other.”
Bailey added that the barbecue set the tone for the school year.
“We really want to focus on developing connection, community and then celebrating the wonderful things that are going on here,” Bailey said. “So, that’s our kind of motto this year: connection, community and celebration.”
This year, Palisades is focusing its attention on improving attendance through its new “You Belong Here” campaign.
“It’s kind of a ‘so glad you’re here’ type thing,” Bailey said. “We really want to help our families get here regularly and on time, because when they don’t, what we’re seeing is that it really impacts students academically.”
“So, there are gaps in learning and socially, emotionally,” Bailey continued. “They’re kind of outside the loop with their friend group. Anxiety is on the rise anyway in our kids, and not being here consistently and on time, I think, only exacerbates that.”
Bailey added that this year, the school is also working to promote community among the kids and families.
“The pandemic was hard on kids, and they need to learn to be kind to each other again and having that time outside of school and away from routine and expectations combines with all of the outside influences has made it really hard on kids,” Bailey said.
Compared to last year, however, Bailey noted that she thought the school was going to “be way ahead of our start last year.”
“The whole school experience is kind of back to normal, and all it is really now is just kind of catching kids up,” Bailey added. “We did a lot of that last year, and our scores looked great. As a matter of fact, we at Palisades didn’t really experience that much learning loss.”
Brad Shearer, assistant superintendent of School Leadership and Instruction for Elementary, noted that the school district has ensured that there’s dedicated time for intervention in its schedules to ensure that students receive all the help they need.
“We saw good results on our test scores this last year, especially among our socioeconomically disadvantaged kids; we actually saw a 10% increase in how they did compared to overall and compared to how the others did,” Shearer said. “So, it was really nice to get some good data.”
Shearer added that through CUSD Cares, which provides services for students who require more care and attention, including sensory rooms and counseling, the school district is able to focus on the social and emotional impact of the pandemic.
“We have a very big emphasis this year on CUSD Cares and really focusing on student well-being,” Shearer said. “There’s still that reality that their worlds were turned upside down, and so just making sure people are taking care of themselves, we’re asking questions and making sure people are feeling good.”
“I think this is going to be a great year,” Shearer continued. “We’ve got a great team of teachers, principals, support staff. It feels like this is one of the most normal years we’ve had in a while.”
Bailey added that this year, the school was “leaps and bounds ahead” in terms of academic, social and emotional learning.
This year was Bailey’s first day of school at Palisades after starting as principal in October 2022. After having the summer to prepare for the coming school year, Bailey noted she’s looking forward to spending time in the classrooms and getting to know the students.
“It’s the best part of the position, for sure,” Bailey said. “Last year, I started in October, and we hit the ground running. So, I think this year will be a little bit of a change from that, and I’m excited about that.”
“We’re going to have a fabulous year,” Bailey continued, “and we’re looking forward to all of the wonderful things that we can bring.”