Monthly Archives: June 2014

BOARD REPORT: Regular Board Meeting June 24, 2014

Education. School, teaching and educational concept blackboard.

Tuesday’s regular meeting for the Simi Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees is the last of the school year and several important actions were taken by the Board that need to be reported. The full agenda pack with back up materials can be found HERE, as well as the meetings recorded video.

1. (Action Item Educational Services 3.1) The Board unanimously approved the District’s Local Control Accountability Plan for the 2014-15 school year. This plan, newly mandated by the state in 2013, requires all California school districts to provide a three-year goal-setting and implementation plan for each district to follow. Part of the process of developing the LCAP required intensive input from “stakeholders” in the local educational community–students, teachers, parents, administrators and community members. The eight priority areas each District’s plan must address are: student engagement, student achievement, school climate, basic services, Common Core State Standards, access to a broad curriculum, parent involvement and other student outcomes. The LCAP is required before any school district receives funding from the state. More information about the LCAP and the final plan are found HERE.

2. (Action Item Educational Services 3.2) The Board voted 4-1 with Trustee Debbie Sandland dissenting to close Simi Elementary School in the 2015-2016 school year. The school has been operating independently at the Mountain View Elementary campus since February when the Board agreed to close the campus because of safety concerns affecting the entire property. Over the last few weeks, the District began consolidating some logistics. Simi Elementary Principal Kate Snowden was reassigned to Wood Ranch Elementary and Mountain View Elementary Principal Jenny Goldman will oversee both schools this year with the assistance of a dean. Simi Elementary students will continue to be bussed to the Mountain View campus as requested.

The vote also included the Board’s directive that a community-based committee be created to oversee the preservation and future use of the historic property. The front/main building of the Simi Elementary campus was the oldest operating building in the city of Simi Valley, but repairs needed to seismically retrofit were estimated at $6.3 million from quotes obtained a couple of years ago. Additionally, the cost to upgrade the remainder of the property was estimated at up to $4.3 million, again from quotes obtained a couple of years ago.

Closing the campus is estimated to save the District between $350,000 and $400,000 the first year and if the property is repurposed, that estimate drops to $200,000 to $250,000 annually. In 2013-14, about 235 students were enrolled in the school. For 2014-15, about 109 students are expected to remain in Simi Elementary School. More information documenting the maintenance issues at the campus can be found HERE.

3. (Action Item Business & Facilities 5.2) The Board unanimously approved the District’s 2014-2015 proposed budget. With expected revenue of $142 million and expected expenses at $144 million, the District will make up the difference through surplus reserves remaining from the 2013-2014 budget year, leaving a surplus after reserves are accounted for of about $411,000 at the end of 2014-2015. The next two year’s budget estimates also project small surpluses.

Declining enrollment continues to be a factor in the budget with an estimated student loss of 418 students for a projected enrollment districtwide of 17,935 students. There are also increases in some employee health benefits, including a 11.54 percent increase in PPO coverage and a 3.08 percent increase in Blue Cross HMO coverage. To help balance the budget, employees will now pay for some of the medical coverage provided to their spouses under the District’s benefit plan.

But, all potential teacher layoffs–38 total–were rescinded because of the overwhelming response to the District’s early retirement incentive plan (PARS). There will still be three furlough days on the next year’s school calendar and the Kindergarten through third grade class size will be reduced to 26:1.

This is only the preliminary budget and the Board will once again be asked to review a revised budget after the State Legislature and Governor approve a state budget. For more specific information about the District’s budget, go HERE.

4. (Action Item Business & Facilities 5.6) Related to the Simi Elementary closure, the Board also unanimously agreed to look into exterior fencing to protect the front/main building on the Simi Elementary campus. Believing it would be less visibly obtrusive, District staff recommending exploring an interior bracing system to support the walls until repairs could begin on the building, but several community members asked that fencing be considered instead so as to not cause further damage to the building’s walls. The Board agreed and staff will gather estimates and options for different types of fencing.

5. (Action Item Business & Facilities 5.4) The Board unanimously agreed to repair/replace the roofs at the following schools: Atherwood Elementary, Big Springs Elementary, Hillside Middle School, Hollow Hills Elementary, Royal High School, Santa Susana Elementary, Sinaloa Middle School and Valley View Middle School.

These schools were identified as having the most deteriorated roofs. The estimated cost to repair these roofs is $2 million and will be paid for through the Measure C4 bond, leaving a balance in the Measure C4 bond account of about $11.6 million.

6. (Action Item Business & Facilities 5.5) The Board unanimously agreed to replace the broken air-conditioning and heating units at the Education Service Center for almost $150,000. Two of the four units in the main building stopped working in April. District maintenance staff will install the new units, which are expected to provide better energy efficiency.

The next regular SVUSD School Board meeting is scheduled for August 5.

Congratulations! Royal High School = International Baccalaureate

Beautiful Female Graduate Holding Earth In Class

For Dr. Terri Leon, it’s been a long three years filled with many plans and meetings.

As of last night, her hard work—and that of her team of dedicated teachers, students and administrators—turned into success for this assistant principal from Royal High School in Simi Valley. She received word that her school was approved to be an International Baccalaureate school.

“When I got that email, it was halleluiah! It is such a long process and our kids and teachers have been working so hard,” she said.

International Baccalaureate, or IB for short, was established in 1968 and currently operates in 3,803 schools covering 147 countries. Royal’s acceptance makes it the 95th diploma program available in California high schools (fourth in Ventura County). IB’s mission is simply to create a better world through education.

For the students completing the two-year diploma program, though, it’s much more. It’s a rich educational experience filled with a lot of opportunity.

Take college, for instance. Dr. Leon said that there is a marked increase in the number of college applications accepted from IB students.

“There’s quite a list of college acceptance and graduation rates that are intriguingly higher with IB students,” she said. “One of the questions asked on college applications is ‘Are you in an IB program?’”

Dr. Leon believes that colleges and universities recognize and respect the level of scholarship and commitment needed for a high school student to graduate from an IB program.

Each school creates its own curriculum (following IB requirements and California standards) and the requirements for getting into the program.

And this is where Royal offers something different from many other IB programs.

Any student showing a sincere desire to participate in Royal’s IB program will be accepted. That includes those students who may have struggled in the past with their grades.

It was a decision made by Dr. Leon’s team of about 30 educators, who were committed to offering IB’s educational advantage to every student possible.

“We understand that students who may be B or C students may actually do better at IB, depending on how they learn and process,” she said. “We are willing to take a student who sits down with their parents and coordinator and expresses that this is what they want.”

That means that the IB teachers and counselors work closely with the student’s other teachers to determine what weaknesses the student might have that need to be addressed.

“We want this to be a program for students; about students. If they are telling us they want to do this, we will help them get through this,” she said.

As far as the classes, IB students will have six IB classes (history, math, science, English, foreign language and an art elective) during their junior and senior years. They can choose a math/science or liberal arts focus, but still need to take all of the classes offered. Each class has an international component to the lessons.

“They have to complete three of those at the standard level, which I liken to an honors class, and three of those at a higher level, where there is a deeper level of study. You take what works best for you. They also need to take the “Theory of Knowledge Class,” which is the core of the program. It ties in all of the different curriculum, and is about how students learn, what are international practices and more.”

Testing in IB classes is more likely to be done through collaborative projects and in-depth essays needing critical thinking and topic exploration as opposed to multiple choice tests and memorization. It’s because of this style of learning that IB might offer better choices for some students over Advanced Placement classes, though both require rigorous attention to material.

“The IB diploma program is really discussion, writing and analysis-based. There is no multiple choice on any of the courses and exams,” she said.

Besides the academic work, IB students are also required to complete 150 hours of what’s called CAS, which stands for Creativity, Action and Service. Action can be participation in school sports. Service can cover volunteer efforts, including those fulfilled in other programs.

Lastly, diploma students write a long research paper on a topic of their choice, like a senior thesis. If all of these requirements are met and the student passes the exams, they graduate with a special diploma from IB, along with their high school diploma.

Royal’s students can also just take classes within the IB program without being on the IB diploma track, Dr. Leon said.

This coming year, 22 students have signed up for the program, a number Dr. Leon said is impressive for such a new opportunity. She said they don’t plan on setting a cap on the maximum number of students Royal’s IB can accept, and long-term plans have more classes coming to the IB program, especially foreign languages, which are limited to French and Spanish right now.

“We will take as many as come,” she said.

For more information about the program, contact Dr. Leon at terri.sterr@simivalleyusd.org or Program Coordinator Kari Lev at kari.lev@simivalleyusd.org. Additional information can be found at the school’s website, and will be updated throughout the summer. The link is here: http://rhs-simi-ca.schoolloop.com.

 

 

 

Simi Elementary School: A 10-Year Timeline and History

Simi El

Simi Elementary School, 1947

On Monday, June 16, 2014, the Simi Valley Unified School District will hold a Public Hearing on the potential closure of Simi Elementary School. This is not a board meeting and no decision will be made at the hearing. The hearing’s purpose is strictly to hear public comment on the issue.

Simi Elementary School has been the topic of many SVUSD School Board meetings and much public discourse for several months, beginning with the District Advisory Committee’s (DAC) request in January that the School Board decide what would be done to repair the front/main building before the DAC makes a recommendation on the school’s future.

Shortly after this, the entire school body was relocated to Mountain View Elementary, amid serious concerns about the safety of the entire Simi Elementary School campus. The physical campus has remained vacant since then, pending further School Board action, but the school continues to operate separately at the Mountain View campus.

The link below will direct you to a comprehensive timeline documenting the history of Simi Elementary School’s physical campus over the past 10 years, beginning shortly after the 2004 passage of Measure C4, the $145 million facilities and technology bond to modernize all of the District’s campuses. This information has been gathered to factually answer the many questions and concerns about how the campus was maintained over the years; what Measure C4 Bond funds and additional monies were spent on maintaining and improving the campus; and how the District and School Board responded to the rapid physical decline of the campus.

Simi Elementary Timeline

Getting Kids to Love Reading at Berylwood Elementary School

All-school assemblies were held each month to celebrate Berylwood's reading milestones. This last assembly was held on June 5.

All-school assemblies were held each month to celebrate Berylwood’s reading milestones. This last assembly was held on June 5.

85,573,779.

It’s a number almost too high to really count.

But that’s what the teachers at Berylwood Elementary School did to determine how many words their students read in total for the school’s Accelerated Reader (AR) program.

During an all-school assembly on June 5, students in every grade of the K-6 school received awards and cheers for their reading efforts.

And not just for AR points. That’s just one part of the year-long campaign the staff launched to improve reading at this Title I school, said Principal Rob Hunter.

Next year, students meeting reading goals will get a T-shirt like this.

Next year, students meeting reading goals will get a T-shirt like this.

Two years ago, the kids, he said, hated reading. His students were more likely to play video games instead of picking up a book to read for pleasure.

Now, 10 months after the start of the reading effort, Berylwood’s students treasure their reading time.

“They take their books to lunch. I see them on the playground reading. I’m even bumping into kids who are too busy reading their books while they are walking,” he said.

It all started just before school began last August when Berylwood’s teachers agreed to participate in a 5-day program, Teaching Readers to Think, on their own time. The program taught teachers about the science of learning—how kids learn best—and how to apply this information in their classrooms.

“We know how kids learn. We needed to remodel how we teach,” Hunter said.

The teachers walked away with a simple philosophy: If we want kids to be good readers, then they have to read, a lot.

Teachers set aside the textbooks with excerpts of literature (because taking in pieces of stories is not the same as reading the entire story) and instead sent kids to read whole books on different topics. The students were allowed to select any books they wanted to read, at their reading level. Their teachers also read aloud to them. There were fun reading nights (one staff member brought in her comedian son and his friends and they read to the kids for an evening), and a lending library was created so every Tuesday students could borrow up to 10 books—in English and Spanish—to read during the week. The school library stayed open longer, and this summer it will be open on four separate days for kids to check out books. Each month the entire school came together to celebrate the reading milestones the students achieved. The students were invested in their reading, Hunter said. They were excited.

The school library will open on four separate days during the summer so students can check out books to read.

The school library will open on four separate days during the summer so students can check out books to read.

It’s also about writing. Teachers tucked away the workbooks normally used to measure reading comprehension. Hunter said that the fill-in-the-blank answers usually required of workbooks don’t encourage students to think about their answers. Instead the school purchased hundreds of blank notebooks and had their students write about the books they read. Students gave reports, wrote reviews and used their writing to support their reading, always showing that they understood the depth and context of what they were reading.

“If you want them to master language, they have to write,” Hunter said.

Berylwood’s success this year is measurable. Taking the average reading level for all 480 students from the start of the last school year to now, the school has increased its reading level by two years, in 10 months!

This summer, Berylwood’s teachers will once again give up some of their summer vacation to focus on math. Hunter’s passion for teaching is contagious, and the results are empowered teachers working with engaged students.

“I love working in a school like this,” he said. “It’s like working in the emergency room. But you have to have the best teachers. And we have the best teachers.”

 

Learning Should Be Fun: A Day at Park View’s Kindergarten

Kindergarten Teacher Joyce Leas works with her young students on a counting game during a recent Game Day at Park View Elementary School.

Kindergarten Teacher Joyce Leas works with her young students on a counting game during a recent Game Day at Park View Elementary School.

It’s the end of the school year at Park View Elementary School in Simi Valley and the school’s two kindergarten classes have come together for a morning of fun.

In a busy, color-filled room, one group of students plays a dice game with partners, while another works on counting games and still another practices math through playing cards. And the group along the room’s side wall? They are at the computer stations where the children play learning games.

The computer games are a  favorite activity among the students.

The computer games are a favorite activity among the students.

It’s Game Day and the 27 kindergarteners of Joyce Leas and Teri Smyres’ classes don’t seem to notice, or mind, the educational value embedded in each of the games they play. Instead, they interact with each other while their teachers, and the three room volunteers, encourage them to work together to find the answers. And the grown-ups never seem to stop encouraging their young charges.

With three volunteers in the class, the students receive a lot of guidance and attention.

With three volunteers in the class, the students receive a lot of guidance and attention.

When you visit Park View’s campus, the first thing noticed is that the children wear uniforms. White and navy polo shirts and navy bottoms dominate the landscape. It’s the only school in the Simi Valley Unified School District that requires its students to wear uniforms, a change instituted under Principal Anthony Karch two years ago.

“The idea came partly from a parent, who is also a teacher here, who previously worked at a district with uniforms. It also came from a sense that our students needed to get a little more serious about the business of school,” Principal Karch said.

Park View is a Title I school, which is a Federal designation identifying a school with a high percentage of students coming from low-income families. Because poverty can be a barrier to a child’s education, the school receives extra funding for its students, which translates into added services and resources to help the children learn and succeed.

Learning should be fun!

Learning should be fun!

Principal Karch said that in the first year of the uniform policy, which 90 percent of the parents voted to implement, there were no significant changes in attendance or discipline issues fielded by the Principal Karch. But this year, the changes have been dramatic, and Principal Karch said he believes that uniforms are a big part of the improvements.

“Two years ago, we had 85 incidents of students coming to see me for discipline issues. This year we dropped to 55. That’s a 35 percent drop. And this year, our attendance has been phenomenal! We’re number 6 out of 21 elementary schools for good attendance,” he said.

“You can never say that the uniforms is the sole reason for the improvements; there are other factors. But it helps. And it’s just a nicer look. I love it. Today we had Principal’s Day, and one of the students thanked us in his letter for the uniforms. He said, ‘It’s so much easier for me to dress in the morning.'”

Park View also has a deep connection with the arts. Students in grades 1 to 6 who are at grade level or above in their school work can become part of the drama program. Two plays are produced annually by the students. Kindergarteners take dance classes and all of the students enjoy the school’s art program, Artist in the Classroom, where working artists come and work with the kids.

IMG_0674

Kindergarten Teacher Teri Smyres gets very excited when her student figures out the answers.

With almost 300 students, Park View is a smaller school compared to others in the district. Principal Karch said most of those attending, about 70 percent, come from the surrounding neighborhood. But there is room for more students, especially in kindergarten, which is an all-day program. While there are more students already enrolled in kindergarten for next year, Principal Karch hopes to bring in even more.

Applications are still being accepted for kindergarten and you don’t have to live in Park View’s neighborhood to attend. Classes will end on Friday, but the school’s office will remain open until June 26. For more information, call the school at 805-520-6755 or stop by the campus at 1500 Alexander Street.

IMG_0708

All of the students at Park View wear uniforms.

Kindergarteners enjoy separate recesses from the school's other grades.

Kindergarteners enjoy separate recesses from the school’s other grades.