By Julia Shapero

Arcadia Unified School District is among the top 1% best school districts in America, according to school and neighborhood review website Niche.

Niche recently released its 2021 Best School District Rankings, with Arcadia Unified receiving distinctions at the national, state and city levels. Arcadia Unified was also among the top eight best school districts in California and top three best school districts in Los Angeles, according to a district official.

“For me, and I know I can speak on behalf of our board and our team, it is a wonderful validation of something that I think is kind of unique to Arcadia,” said Superintendent Dr. David Vannasdall. “From the boardroom to the classroom, we have a deep commitment to living out our shared values every day, in everything we do.”

The district uses culture audits, in addition to looking at test scores and surveys, Vannasdall said. He added this practice is fairly unique for a school district.

“We have an outside organization, in our case it’s UCSD, some professors that come in, and researchers, and they examine us, explore, do interviews, survey and find out  ‘Do we do what we say we do?’” Vannasdall said. “And are we living out our values?’

He added these audits allow the district to figure out the best areas to put money, time and resources and continue to improve.

Ryan Foran, chief communications officer for Arcadia Unified, said over the past couple years, the district has also been focusing on providing students with emotional support.

The district has added four to five full-time counselors in recent years and now has a full-time counselor in every school, Foran said. He added the district had also opened wellness centers on its campuses.

Arcadia Unified is providing services, such as webinars, to parents, who are particularly stressed due to the pandemic.

“I just think that it’s been great to see so much support for students and staff and our parents,” Foran said. “We put a lot of resources into that and the benefits have just been great so far.”

Vannasdall added that while the distinction is a wonderful validation of the district’s work, it is going to be a challenge to maintain.

“You don’t just get to rest and say, ‘Well, what we’re doing is working so that’s going to work next year,’” he said. “Things are changing, our students are changing, our parents are changing, and we have to continuously ask the right questions, and be willing to be open to reflect on what we’re doing, what’s working, what’s not and improve.”

One of the areas the district hopes to continue to improve upon is equity, Vannasdall said. He added that they hope to dive deeper into equity and bias training to examine institutionalized racism.

“That’s just an area right now that so many of us are grappling with, and not just in schools, but in society,” Vannasdall said. “And so we feel a responsibility (because) we have the ability to have those conversations and to grow in that area as an organization.” n