A. Garcia / SFVS

Students and parents in the Los Angeles public and charter schools began fall semester classes this week.

Nine-year-old Sebastian Valenzuela spent much of his summer practicing his favorite sport – swimming – but is now back in school.

This week, he started the fourth grade at Lankershim Elementary School in North Hollywood, a new school for him.

“I feel very excited. A little bit nervous. It’s a new school and there’s a lot of new things,” said Valenzuela, who speaks perfect Spanish and English, something his parents have stressed since he was young.

And dual-language learning is something that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) – which began its 2018-19 school year this week – is also trying to spearhead.

“We are starting the school year in the East Valley with more students attending dual language and magnet programs than ever before,” said LAUSD Board Member Kelly Gonez, who represents LAUSD District 6, which encompasses most of the northeast San Fernando Valley.

“Schools serving the highest-need students are getting more resources to better support great teaching and learning. This is going to be a strong year of learning [in Board District 6],” she added.

Valenzuela and the more than 650,000 other LAUSD students had reasons to be excited, and perhaps nervous, as they started the new school year.

Opening Day

Andrea and Gael Santiago, ages 9 and 5, posed with their new clothes and backpacks before the electronic sign at the entrance to Lankershim Elementary School.

The kids were all smiles as their parents took photos with their cell phones.

It was Tuesday, Aug. 14 just before 8 a.m. and the Santiagos were feeling a mix of emotions.

Andrea is entering fourth grade and knows the school well. But it was the first day at the campus for Gael.

“We hope everything goes well for our kids,” father Jaime Santiago said. “We’re nervous. It’s his (Gael) first day here.”

Parents and their children throughout the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles ended their laidback summer routines to head back to classrooms.

For parents, it was a day to wake up early and take their kids to school.

Antonia Bonilla did so for her two older daughters, who attend Walter Reed Middle School, before heading a few miles away to deliver her youngest, 5-year-old Ana, to her first day of kindergarten at Lankershim Elementary School.

“We’re happy that they’re getting back to school. This is a great school,” Bonilla said as she led Ana into the campus. “She has a lot of fun here in the school.”

Elizabeth Olivares did the same for her daughter Celeste, 7.

She said she tried to make the young girl read during the summer “so she didn’t forget,” but was glad school was back in session.

“It’s back to running from one place to another. It’s a new year of learning for us all,” Olivares said.

Celeste was also happy to head back to the classroom as she talked with other classmates.

“I’m excited to see my new teacher,” the second grader said.

Potential Showdown with Teachers

There’s a new Superintendent — Austin Beutner, who on Tuesday crisscrossed the entire LAUSD, visiting numerous schools, chatting and welcoming students along the way.

“Our mission is to make sure every student who enters LA Unified as a kindergartner, by the time they finish high school is prepared for a 21st Century career if that’s the path they choose,” Beutner told reporters during a visit to the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center near downtown Los Angeles.

Beutner and the district enter the school year facing the possibility of a teachers’ strike. United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing district teachers, declared an impasse in contract talks last month, leading to the appointment of a state mediator.

The union has been asking for 6.5 percent salary increases, along with steps to lower class sizes, reduce standardized testing and implement “accountability measures”’ for charter schools. The district has offered ongoing 2 percent salary hikes, along with a one-time 2 percent bonus and a $500 stipend for materials and supplies.

Should mediation fail to bring the sides together, a fact-finding period will follow, after which the union could potentially call a strike.

Beutner said the district is committed to working toward a resolution.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure our schools are open every day,” he said. “It’s the safest place for our students to be. It allows the parents to go to work and support their families. It allows our students to keep learning, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”

Safety Around Schools

The new school year also means more traffic around campuses. So several members of the Los Angeles Police Department San Fernando Valley Traffic Division were on hand at Lankershim Elementary School, giving some warnings for infractions. Several parents received one, mostly for not wearing a seat belt, rolling past a stop sign, or parking at a red-painted curb.

Detective Bill Bustos said more than 300 people have died and nearly 400 were injured in accidents around schools in the past 10 years, the majority of the accidents occurring in the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

He encourages people to leave home early, put down their cell phones and make sure they arrive at their destinations on time and safely.

“The new school year means everyone’s routine changes and this is going to affect traffic everywhere in the City of Los Angeles,” Bustos said. “Even if you don’t have a student at home, you will be affected.

“Your child can’t receive his education if he doesn’t get to school safely,” Bustos emphasized.

Mario Guevara, who was taking his son Matthew to his first day of fourth grade, noted that parents should slow down when driving by a school.

“Everybody’s in a hurry. We’re all a little tired,” Guevara said. “Everyone needs to pay attention.”