Monthly Archives: August 2014

CHAMPS: Sinaloa’s Unique Approach to First Week Back

 

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Many things were the same at Sinaloa Middle School’s first day last Tuesday.

Parents navigated a crowded parking lot when dropping their kids off at school.

Teachers welcomed in new students to their classrooms.

And lessons were taught.

But not quite the same lessons as other schools dive into on the first day. At Sinaloa, for the second year, CHAMPS was the curriculum for the first day, and the rest of that week, for students.

“I wanted every kid to go home with the same first day of school experience,” said Assistant Principal Shanda Weaver.

CHAMPS is an educational program that teaches students how to be successful in school. The acronym CHAMPS stands for: Conversation, Help, Activity, Movement, Participation and Success.

CHAMPS is used in in all three Simi Valley middle schools, but how Sinaloa implements it is different. During the school’s first week–four days–the teachers teach CHAMPS. Each period, every grade receives the same lesson based on the CHAMPS curriculum. Students learned about study skills, school rules and what resources are available to help them with academics and other issues. All of this is done through guided exercises and games.

One example is the ice-breaker where students drew a colored stick from a bag and answer a specific question. Purple asks about your passions. Green is for your best character trait. Orange is your best book and so on.

Students were also taught the Sinaloa SABER Code. SABER stands for: Start each day with a positive attitude, Achieve, Believe, Endure, Respect and Succeed. And then there was THINK before you speak, where students are encouraged to build others up with their words, which should be Truthful, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind.

 

At the end of each day, an all-school rally was held where fun team-building games and events where hosted. On the first day, students and staff divided into teams and representatives came to the stage where they held a race to see who could empty a box of tissues, with only one hand, first. Then Principal Diana Janke was “anointed” as a champ herself, with a bucket of water.

Principal Diana Janke gets a little wet as her staff celebrate her coaching style.

Principal Diana Janke gets a little wet as her staff celebrate her coaching style.

Janke said that every year, almost two-thirds of her students are new to Sinaloa, which has 6th, 7th and 8th grades. She said that while teachers last year weren’t so sure about the change in what they normally handle during the first week, that she believes having the students really understand what’s expected of them, and also understanding the structure of the school, helped.

“It did make a difference,” she said. “Our suspension rates were down, a lot.”

She’s not sure if there is a direct measurable connection between using CHAMPS and the suspension rates, but she believes the students felt more focused and connected to their school.

Back to School in Simi

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Liliana Vasquez couldn’t wait to meet her new teacher.

The 5-year-old excitedly held her mom’s hand while crowding around Laura Hofmann’s kindergarten classroom door. Her dad, Jesus Vasquez, was just as excited. His daughter is attending Santa Susana Elementary, the school he and many members of his family attended when they were young.

“She couldn’t wait,” he said Tuesday. “It’s such a great school.”

This was just one of thousands of scenes played out between parents and kids at campuses throughout Simi Valley yesterday as teachers and staff welcomed students for the 2014-2015 school year.

Many changes come with this school year. Through the district’s successful effort to balance its budget, more than 100 employees took advantage of an early retirement incentive offered last year. That means there are new faces, or old faces in new places, to be seen at every school. Three principals, Kristen Hardy of Vista Fundamental School, Keith Derrick at Royal High School and Jerry Block at Hillside Middle School, are brand new to Simi. Several first time principals, assistant principals and deans are also at the helm of some schools.

Besides staffing, teachers and staff welcomed new computers into their offices and classrooms. Over the summer, the Information Technology Department was busy installing computers and upgrading systems at every school site. New computer labs have been or are being outfitted at all of the schools. It’s all part of the first phase of the district’s $7.8 million Technology Plan.

Some school sites also received physical changes over the summer. Construction is finishing up at Sinaloa Middle School where portable classrooms were installed at the back of the campus and new hardscape and greenery replaces a dirt yard. Mountainview Elementary School had some of its Measure C4 bond work completed over the summer. Aging roofs are being replaced at several schools as well.

Students have new educational opportunities, too. At Hillside Middle School, S.T.E.A.M.–science, technology, engineering, art and math–is the new word around campus as the school offers programs to complement what’s found at Santa Susana High School. A new dance studio, piano studio and a refurbished stage were all completed over the summer.

Sixth-grader Caden Kooarik, and his mom, Beth, were excited on their first day of middle school.

“We’re trying Hillside because of the new programs,” Beth Kooarik said. Caden said it’s the science and technology aspect he’s looking forward to.

Royal High School starts its International Baccalaureate program this year, along with the Junior ROTC. The Ronald Reagan Citizen Scholar Institute continues its innovative program to inspire youth leadership.

Simi Valley High School continues to expand its offerings at the Medical & Health Careers Academy and through its career-technical education (CTE) programs.

Over the summer, Santa Susana High School was named a Demonstration Site for Arts, Media and Entertainment for the California Department of Education, establishing it as a model school for its programs.

Simi’s high schools will benefit from a state CTE grant awarded last spring (more than $1 million over three years) to increase these programs and create pathways from high school to college or career training and then into careers. Local businesses will partner with educators to provide internships and other support to students following CTE pathways.

The changes will continue as staff and teachers at every Simi school look at their programs, evaluate what works and what needs to be added, while also implementing the new Common Core State Standards.

Dr. Jason Peplinski, assistant superintendent of Educational Services, said every new school year brings excitement and renewed energy, but the changes coming this year, from new technology and equipment to staffing and programs, have many in the district smiling.

“We’re off to a fantastic start!” he said.

 

Welcome to the 2014-2015 School Year!

Back to school - blackboard with pencil-box and school equipment

Dear Simi Valley Schools Community:

Welcome to the 2014-2015 school year! This year we have an eye to the future as we identify ways to make progress toward the goals that were adopted by our Board of Education in January. Together we are working to maintain a focus on student learning and achievement, to foster strong parent and community involvement and to maintain fiscal integrity for the District. Throughout the year, we will be communicating with our employees, our parents and our community regarding progress being made in each of these goal areas.

As part of the focus on student learning and achievement, we are implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) district wide. Last year teachers received training on strategies for using the standards in their classrooms. They are ready to move forward as they work with their students to teach and encourage them to communicate, collaborate, be creative and think critically. Students will be prepared to be competitive in a global society. Information regarding the implementation of the CCSS can be found on the district website (SimiValleyUSD.org) and each school’s websites. There are resources there for parents, which can be helpful in supporting a student’s education at home.

In addition to implementing the CCSS, this year we are proud to introduce new programs at Royal High School. Royal will begin offering International Baccalaureate (IB) classes this fall. RHS is one of only 95 schools in California authorized to offer the prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. Royal will also launch the Air Force JROTC program this fall. The JROTC program provides instruction in air and space fundamentals and focuses on the development of responsibility, character and self-discipline.

Other new programs are being introduced at Hillside Middle School. This year Hillside becomes a School for the Performing and Technical Arts. Over the summer a dance studio and a piano studio were added at the school, and the school’s stage was completely refurbished to accommodate quality student productions. Exciting new classes in technology are being made available to students. Hillside’s new focus has generated enthusiasm and excitement for the year ahead.

Our Board of Education continues to look at ways to redesign and repurpose our schools to meet the needs and interests of all students. Teachers, classified staff, parents and the community are encouraged to discuss innovative ways to bring new programs into our schools as we prepare our students for the future. Generating and discussing ideas such as these is just one way that parents and the community can be involved as our partners in education.

Over the summer we have made great strides in the area of technology and are close to completing Phase I of our District Technology Plan. Thanks to the efforts of our Technology and Custodial staffs, the following work has been completed:

  • 1,277 new lab and administration desktop computers have been installed.
  • 760 new teacher, counselor and principal laptops have been set up and distributed.
  • 826 existing computers have been re-imaged with Windows and Google Chrome and are ready for installation in elementary classroom.
  • Approximately 1,625 older computers have been removed from schools.

Technology projects currently in progress include:

  • Computer lab network wiring and electrical at 14 elementary schools.
  • Installation of 603 computer lab computers at elementary schools. Installation of 826 classroom computers at the elementary schools.
  • Installation of new computer tables at all school sites.

This aggressive rollout of technology over the summer will support instruction and provide our students with opportunities to use technology to expand their educational experiences.

In addition to the technology efforts, this summer also saw the start of many bond modernization projects. These projects were made possible with funds from Measure C4, the school improvement bond passed by Simi Valley voters in 2004. Various projects are underway and on track to be completed this month at 16 campuses throughout the district. As we approach the end of funds available through Measure C4, we remain grateful to the citizens of Simi Valley for their continued support of education in our community.

In our ongoing effort to maintain the fiscal integrity of our district, this year we will continue to look at ways to right-size our district for continued fiscal health. Our Board of Education will revisit the recommendations of the District Advisory Committee (DAC) regarding potential school closures. They will continue to monitor enrollment to gauge the effect of declining enrollment and will seek ways, as was previously mentioned, to implement new programs that focus on areas of interest to our students and parents. The Board will also consider ideas for repurposing campuses that are not fully utilized. Birth rates and business trends within our city will be studied to better determine the impact on our enrollment from companies that either close or reduce their work force.

As we look toward the future, we will continue to look for ways to collaborate with our parents and our community. From the Simi Elementary Restoration Committee (looking to restore the historic building on that site) to the Surplus Property Committee, surveys and other efforts aimed at gathering input on a variety of issues, we value your participation with us as we look toward the future. Like you, we are excited about the 2014-2015 school year, which we know will be marked by many successes for our students.

We wish you the best as we begin the new school year!

Sincerely,

Dr. Kathryn Scroggin

Interim Superintendent, SVUSD

Surviving Kindergarten: A First-Time Parents’ Guide to The Big Day

Kindergarteners at Parkview Elementary School last year.

Kindergarteners at Parkview Elementary School last year.

She’s MY baby.

And now I have to share her with world, and trust that she will be well-cared for.

That’s what kindergarten felt like for me nine years ago as I prepared to take my five-year-old to her first classroom.

Yes, she attended preschool for two years a couple of days a week. But this was different. This was the beginning of something new, something that was going to last for many years to come.

School.

Come tomorrow, many other families will experience similar bouts of worry, excitement, loss and chaos, especially those first-timers, as they bring their children to the doors of kindergarten and leave them for several hours. And children may, or may not, also experience anxiety and fear as they approach their classroom.

We went to a couple of our wonderful kindergarten teachers, Laura Hofmann and Candace Teal from Santa Susana Elementary School, to ask what parents and kids can do to prepare for kindergarten? After 28 combined years of teaching mostly kindergarten, they had a lot of offer:

1. Bring your kids to the school before the first day. Let them see where the playground is, where their classrooms will be and more. “If we’re here, we’re happy to meet them,” Laura says.

2. Be excited for them! School and learning are fun! This is a big step for all of you, and it’s up to parents to set the tone.

3. Step out a typical class day for them to the best of your ability. Tell them about the different things they will learn, the friends they will make, the fun activities they will do. Answer their questions as best you can. Sometimes what we think is not an issue at all is a huge issue for a child, like where the bathroom is or what they will eat for lunch.

4. There are plenty of books about starting school. Hunt them down and read them to your kids before school starts. Here are a couple of examples:

Splat

Curious George

 

 

 

 

 

Bears

 

5. Do attend any parent orientations offered. Most schools do schedule these right before school starts and it helps our level of anxiety to know what can be expected.

6. Tuck a photo or hand-drawn picture in their lunch bag. If they have a favorite pet or stuffed animal, make this your picture, and write a simple note on it for them.

7. Know that your teachers are ready for high emotions. Laura and Candace bring in extra adults (not room parents) to help during those first few days.

8. Do leave your children at the classroom door. Don’t walk in with them and don’t hang around the windows where you can be seen. There is truth to the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” and Candace says that many children do calm down and settle into their classroom much easier if mom/dad are not around.

9. If a teacher is faced with an inconsolable student, they will call you. It happens rarely, our teachers say, but they will call.

10. Schedule a playdate for yourself with a friend right after drop off (and having a friend going through a similar time is a blessing). Go to coffee or lunch. Be distracted until it’s time to get your child from school.

11. For some children, it may be a day or two before anxiety kicks in. Make sure you’re on alert for the first week or two.

School is a huge change for a child, but we can help them, and us, find the joy and fun in their new adventure.

Tapping Into Tech: Simi Schools Move Forward with Tech Improvements

Crestview Elementary School's Computer Lab

Crestview Elementary School’s Computer Lab

Back-to-school isn’t just about students returning to the classroom. It’s also about the teachers and staff who work at the schools. This year, all of Simi Valley Unified School District’s teachers and school-site staff will receive technology upgrades, as promised by Measure C4, the 2004 school bond that included technology and campus improvements.

This almost-completed first phase of the District’s $7.8 million Technology Plan has seen the following changes and improvements, with most of these happening over the last two months:

  • New computer lab and administrative computers (1,277 total) are installed;
  • Teachers, counselors, assistant principal and principals have all received new laptop computers (760 total);
  • 826 existing computers have been upgraded with Windows and Google Chrome and are in the process of being installed in elementary schools;
  • Every Simi campus has been been switched from the Novell network to Microsoft Active Directory;
  • About 1,625 outdated computers have been removed from the schools;
  • 14 elementary campuses are receiving computer lab upgrades, including network wiring and electrical;
  • 603 computers are being installed at elementary computer labs; and
  • New computer tables are being installed at every school site.

Along with these changes, the District is developing board policies around the use of portable computing devices (laptops, tablets, iPads). Last spring, 40 teachers from throughout the District participated in an ongoing pilot program using iPads and Chrome tablets in their classrooms. This 1-to-1 program was developed to help the District determine how these devices are best used in the educational process, and no one has a stronger voice in this than the teachers teaching with the devices and the students learning with them. Almost 2,000 devices were distributed to classrooms throughout the District at all grade levels and subjects. The information gathered as a result of the 1-to-1 Pilot is being evaluated and will be used to determine the next steps.

All of these efforts are part of the District’s three-phase Technology Improvement Plan that was approved by the SVUSD Board of Trustees in May 2013. The goal is to make our District campuses “Schools of Tomorrow,” where the technology brought into our schools remains relevant and sustainable while best serving our students and staff.