Artistic Bonding: Parents Share Class with Students

Margarita and Nicolas Torres look at the charcoal still life drawing he worked on in Susan Selvaggio’s art class at Sinaloa Middle School Tuesday.

Nicolas Torres really likes art.

The 7th grader from Sinaloa Middle School said that drawing is his favorite part of Susan Selvaggio’s art class.

The love of art is something he shares with his mom, Margarita Torres. And it’s the reason why she came to visit his art class this week, at Selvaggio’s invitation.

“He likes art very much,” Margarita Torres said. “I wanted to see the teacher. And I miss school.”

Sitting next to each other, mother and son each worked on their own still life charcoal drawing of the arrangement sitting in the middle of the classroom. They stopped often to compare work and share a smile.

Each year, Selvaggio invites parents to join a class or two with their children.

“I started it a few years ago because I was so impressed by what the kids were doing that I didn’t want to be the only one watching,” she said. “And the kids get so excited about having their parents come.”

On Monday, a handful of parents came to class. Parents had the choice of attending one of several scheduled times.

Jeanette Daghestanian (left), is helped with a drawing technique by daughter Olivia Daghestanian as friend Maggie Sidway looks on.
Jeanette Daghestanian (left), is helped with a drawing technique by daughter Olivia Daghestanian as friend Maggie Sidway looks on.

Jeanette Daghestanian is an old-pro at Selvaggio’s art class. With two older sons now attending Royal High School, Daghestanian has visited art before. With daughter Olivia, she got to come once more.

“I’m involved with the school and I wanted to come and do art with her,” she said. “I came here with my son and I loved it. And I wanted to be here with her.”


While the students sketch and draw, Selvaggio dims the lights so the focal light is on the still life arrangement. There is a cow’s skull, a couple of pots and vases and branches. Students focused on one or two objects in their drawings.

Selvaggio stops the class near the end to demonstrate techniques for how to draw the branches. The rolling-stop motion of the pencil creates breaks in the drawn line that help “build” the branches in a realistic way. Around the class, the students and parents sit fascinated by her demo.


Isabel Lawrence and her mom, Dana, take their art very seriously. Both said art was a favorite class for them. Working side-by-side, Dana Lawrence said her daughter is crazy about art and this opportunity was too much fun to pass up.


Selvaggio walks around the room, offering tips and encouragement to students and parents. Nicholas calls her over to check on his progress.

“First, let me tell you mom how happy I am to have you in my class,” she said to Margarita Torres. “He’s a wonderful students and talented too!”

Drop. Cover. Hold On. The Great California Shake Out At Our Schools


On Thursday morning, the loudspeaker at Katherine Elementary School airs a recorded message telling the staff and students that an earthquake drill has begun.

With the sounds of shaking and crashing in the background, the voice asks everyone to, “Drop, cover and hold on.”

Part of the Great California Shakeout, the earthquake drill was repeated at every campus in Simi Valley, and is one of several types of emergency drills staff and students routinely conduct during the school year.

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Drills are an essential part of campus safety. The more prepared and practiced the school community is during a simulated emergency, the better they will navigate a real crisis, which could include brush fires, earthquakes, criminal activity requiring a campus lock down and other scenarios.

Every Simi campus has an Emergency Operations Plan and every staff member undergoes regular training in the plan’s procedures. The complete plans are housed in the schools’ offices in binders, and each classroom has a flip chart for immediate emergency procedures.

“Every adult is on this campus for them and their safety,” said teacher Lynette LeBlanc as she looked at her Katherine Elementary third-graders during Thursday’s drill.

Besides regular drills, each school has a seatrain, a secure storage area where all emergency supplies are kept. These supplies are inventoried at least annually. Many elementary schools also prepare go-bags for their younger students, which will have drinks, snacks and comfort items. At some schools, parents are given the option to pay a small amount of money at the beginning of the year for the students’ go-bags. Others give parents the option of putting together a go-bag with a specific list of items. At some schools, the PTA supplements the cost of the go-bags when parents can’t afford them.

Even though the middle and high schools accommodate many more students, they also stock a two-to-three day supply of water and rations.

All emergencies are monitored and coordinated with the district office. The district’s senior staff collaborates with emergency service agencies (police, sheriff, fire) during emergencies, and maintain emergency communications systems. Regular training through FEMA and other agencies is required and the district holds drills, too.

One of the biggest concerns for parents during an emergency is getting to their children at a school site. It’s important to remember that a school’s staff will do everything possible to protect their students. Here are some tips for handling a crisis during school hours:

  • PLEASE REMAIN CALM! Every staff member at every campus regularly trains in emergency procedures for numerous scenarios. They will do everything possible to keep your child(ren) safe, and they are prepared and equipped to stay on the campus for several days if needed.
  • PLEASE DON’T CALL THE SCHOOL. The phone lines need to be kept open for emergency calls. In some types of emergencies, like earthquakes, phones lines are often “shut down” in order to ease emergency communications. The district’s website,, will post emergency information on its home page for all of the schools. The local media will also be updated with status changes. The city of Simi Valley maintains an emergency radio station, 530 AM, where damage reports and updates are reported. Please also know that students will be asked to turn off their cells phones until the principal or lead administrator at the school sites advise otherwise. As soon as it is safe, students will be able to contact parents through text messages or calls.
  • PLEASE DON’T IMMEDIATELY DRIVE TO THE SCHOOL. The extra traffic can impede the ability of emergency vehicles to get to the school, and, in certain types of emergencies, can place you in danger. Please stay at home or at work until you are given instructions from the school.
  • REMEMBER THAT YOUR CHILD(REN) WILL ONLY BE RELEASED TO THE ADULTS YOU LISTED ON YOUR EMERGENCY CONTACT LIST! It’s important to update this information through Aeries each year. Whoever comes to the school to remove your child(ren) will be asked for identification and will have to sign the child out. Never take your child from the school without signing out with the staff member in charge! School staff are constantly counting heads to make sure they have all of their students with them.

As of this year, all students in Simi Valley schools are required to have their information updated through Aeries, the districtwide computer system for managing student information and grades. At the beginning of the school year, parents were asked to log on to Aeries to complete the permission forms and Acceptable Use Policy for tech devices, to update insurance and medical information, and to designate emergency contacts for each student.

The medical and emergency contact people are especially important to have updated each year in case there is a crisis event. Each school site has staff on-hand to help any parent or guardian who might have trouble using Aeries, or who doesn’t have access to the Internet. Having each student’s information in Aeries allows faster access to a student’s information during an emergency. It’s that important.

The district is currently revising its Parent Emergency Information pamphlet and will soon release it to school sites and post it on the district’s website and school websites.

The Game of the Season: Simi vs. Royal

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The City Championship pitting Simi Valley High School and Royal High School was held on Friday night at the Simi Valley High School Stadium.

This annual fun-filled grudge match culminated a week of campus spirit events at both schools. Royal hosted its “Beat Simi Week” with each day dedicated to a theme. Monday was “Beat Simi In Our Sleep,” AKA Pajama Day. Tuesday was “Royal’s At the Top of the Food Chain,” and students dressed as animals.

Simi’s equivalent was the “Simi Valley versus Royal Week,” and included “Simi Super Heroes Day” and “They Wish They Were Pioneers Day.”

Come Friday night, both schools were charged through with spirit. Simi’s stadium held masses of maroon and gold Pioneers almost completely filling the home side bleachers. Royal’s green and gold Highlanders came complete with green and gold tights and tons of grease paint. Signs lined the home side with good-natured insults aimed at the visiting Highlanders. The Highlanders came prepared with their own signs proclaiming “Royal Valley” and other jabs.

Oh, and there was a football game. A really good football game. While the score stayed close through most of the quarters, Simi seemed to have an edge on Royal, proven by the nail-bitten fourth quarter’s final turn-over, which led Simi to a 14-10 win, its first over Royal since 2011.

We’re posting a link here to an exceptionally made student video featuring highlights from the game. PLEASE NOTE that this was produced by Alex Martinez, a senior at Simi Valley High School, so it’s just a little one-sided. But, it’s so well done that we just had to show it off. If any Royal students know of a similar video produced from their perspective, email Jake Finch at and we’ll share the love.

And we’d like to say a special “thank you” to all of our sponsors for the game, and especially to Simi Valley Hospital, which now offers free concussion screenings for all of our players.


We Need to Know: What Do YOU Want in a New Superintendent?

Multi-ethinic arms outstretched to ask questions.

With the retirement of longtime superintendent, Dr. Kathryn Scroggin, the Simi Valley Unified School District is searching for a new superintendent. At a special board meeting last Tuesday, the SVUSD Board of Trustees instructed a survey to be developed and sent out to all possible stakeholders in the district. The purpose of this survey is to help identify the most pressing issues facing our district, along with what YOU feel are the most important traits and needs to consider in a new district superintendent.

The link below will take you to the survey. Please take a few minutes to answer the survey and make your voice heard. The submissions are anonymous; we will not know who sent them. The information given will be compiled and presented to the Board of Trustees to help them with the search.


If you don’t want to miss any news published here about Simi Valley schools, please sign up for email notifications in the upper right hand area of this page. We usually post District news one to three times a week. Any questions or article ideas? Contact Jake Finch at Also follow us by “liking” our Facebook page, or on Twitter. 

Hillside Middle School: New Programs Come Together in Harmony

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School’s been in session more than a month, and students at Hillside Middle School are settled into classes. But things aren’t looking, or feeling, exactly the same as they did last year around the campus.

Music, always a prominent part of Hillside’s culture, has expanded to include the sounds of piano keys and string instruments. PE uniforms now include leotards as dance has been instituted at the school. The technology courses have grown to offer web design, programming and digital photography. Drama class brings with it the promise of a refurbished stage for future performances.

And then there are the students, more of them, drawn to the new programs and promise of preferred enrollment at Santa Susana High School, Simi’s well-known arts and technology magnet school. Altogether, the school’s enrollment has increased to 805 students this year. That’s 108 students more than last year, 20 of whom transferred into the district from other districts and others who have returned to Simi Valley Unified from private schools and home-schools.

It’s not just the classes that are new to Hillside. Principal Jerry Block left the ocean breezes of Malibu High School to usher in Hillside’s STEAM program. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math and helps define the school’s expanded focus.

It was the lure of the new programs that tempted Block to Simi Valley, he said.

“I’ve always believed in authentic hands-on education for kids,” he said. “I think kids learn best when they are passionate about their classes and can apply what they know. I knew Simi was looking at doing some innovative things, and this is closer to home for me.”

The programs at Hillside were inspired by the successful programs found at Santa Susana High School. With this partnership in place, students at Hillside will have preferred enrollment at Santa Susana High School. Staff at both campuses collaborate to ensure that the middle schoolers are well-prepared for the unique offerings at the high school.

Dr. Jason Peplinski, assistant superintendent of educational services, said that similar partnerships are being developed between Valley View Middle School/Simi Valley High School and Sinaloa Middle School/Royal High School in the near future.

“There are already developing partnerships with the STEM initiative between Valley View and Simi Valley High,” he said. Simi Valley High School has the Medical Health Careers Academy along with other specialized courses in health, science and technology.

At Royal High School, the Jr. ROTC, Ronald Reagan Citizen Scholar Institute and the newly formed International Baccalaureate programs all have the potential to form a middle school partnership with Sinaloa Middle School.

Hillside’s program changes answered the greater demand from parents for middle school opportunities, and Block said that this year’s changes are just the start. Other opportunities being developed include three-day science camps, a robotics club and expanded science courses. He said all of this has generated a lot of enthusiasm among students and staff.

“Staff keeps coming up with great ideas,” Block said. “They’re very anxious to see the programs grow.”