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.


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