For Washington Elementary School at the northeast edge of Burbank, the new school year ushered in a new era. The 86-year-old school boasts a new roof, playground, mural and principal.
On Monday, her first day at the helm of the school, Brandi Young, 35, continued a ritual stretching back more than a decade when she taught at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles: She asked the 450 students to kiss two fingers, then touch their foreheads to kiss their brains.
She advised them to read each night, to pick up trash when they found it, and behave so politely on campus that when Burbank residents spot them around town, they might know Washington students as "great little citizens."
With that, a new year had begun at the school that is somewhat of an underdog next to the 10 other elementary schools in Burbank.
In 2012, Washington reported an Academic Performance Index score of 826, making them the lowest achieving elementary school, scoring 68 points below Jefferson — the highest scoring elementary school — and where Young's own education began in 1983.
The granddaughter of former Burbank Mayor Larry Stamper, Young graduated from Burbank High in 1996. She also taught for several years in small-town Morganton, N.C., before her husband and two young sons returned to Burbank last year.
Now at Washington, Young is determined to uplift the school's community by getting more parents involved. On Monday, she took to walking up and down Winona Avenue to shake parents' hands.
"I just felt, I've got to get my face out there and show them this is a new year," she said.
The school's booster club, which once raised funds for the school, disbanded last year. Although parents have told Young about wanting to revive the club, she noted an urgent need to bolster the school's Parent Teacher Assn.
When the school's former PTA President moved out of state in the middle of last year, the group floundered. Aylin Ghookhassian, who stepped in as president, said she quickly became disheartened.
"I helped and helped and helped, and I saw that it was the same five people doing everything. That's not humanly possible to throw a 500-people festival with five people," she said. "It's just ludicrous."
On Tuesday night, when the school gave away 300 backpacks donated by, among others, the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Woodbury University, Ghookhassian encouraged over 100 parents who showed up to join the PTA.
Weeks ago, Ghookhassian roped in 25 parents to spend two hours stuffing folders with paperwork that students took home to parents this week. She has collected dozens of parents' emails in an effort to alert them about duties they can help with at the school.
"A lot of them, it's not their fault," she said of the parents. "No one's taught them this is part of having kids. Yes, it's public school, but with the state funding, [teachers] need parents to help them out. They don't get one minute a day to just breathe."
Almost one hour into the new school year Monday, after the students settled into their classrooms, Young met with parents under the sheltered area by the new mural, providing them coffee and tissues for anyone who might shed tears over their child's first day.
"I had 75 cups for coffee, and we ran out," Young said.
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