Monthly Archives: March 2015

Just Another Moment in Time at Township Elementary

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This year is a special year at Simi Valley’s Township Elementary School as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

And what better way to celebrate a milestone anniversary than with a time capsule?

Then tie this event into curriculum, and we’ve got a perfect Common Core lesson.

This year, student teacher Linsey Jassem has worked with Martha Nissen’s 4th and 5th graders to help them learn about timelines and how events develop over time.

As part of a Scholastic News article, Jassem decided to have the students bring items to create a time capsule for the campus. Students brought in menus, small toys, a 2015 penny and other small items commonly used. The PTA even donated a Township shirt and all the students wrote notes to whoever opens the capsule.

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After wrapping everything carefully and sealing the box well, a district landscaper dug a hole just the right size near the front of the school. A class picture was taken and placed in the box. Then it was time for the students to wave good-bye to their treasures!

Back in the classroom, the students predicted what people will think when the box is opened in 50 years.

They will also work on creating a map to remind future employees that something special is buried on the campus.

“Everyone is invited to the opening of the time capsule at Township Elementary’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2064,” Nissen said. “Save the date!”

(Thank you Mrs. Nissen for providing the photos and information about what your class is working on!)

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Alumni Report: This Grad Lives Her Performing Dreams

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One poster for the new First Wives Club features Tessa Grady.

 

Tessa Grady makes her living singing and dancing on Broadway stages. Her life is the dream of so many young performers.

And while she had a strong foundation in her trade, performing in regional theater groups, like the Cabrillo Music Theatre, it wasn’t until the 21-year-old found her way back into the classrooms at Santa Susana High School in Simi Valley that she developed a wider range of skills that makes her more marketable for producers today.

“The teachers told me you’re going to do everything differently,” Tessa said. “They stretched me. I said, ‘I’m an alto.’ Mrs. (Bevin) Abbe said, ‘You’re going to be a soprano.’ I thank her every day because I’ve played multiple roles as a soprano, and I never thought I could have that range.

“It was the same with the drama and dance classes,” she continued. “They would throw things at you, not just to make you uncomfortable, but to put variety in your skills. No performer can be successful if you only do one thing well. That’s what the teachers there already knew, that you’ve got to do it all.”

Tessa, now based in New York City, but currently working in Chicago in a new musical, First Wives Club, had been mostly homeschooled until high school. Her mom, Ginny Grady, knew that her extraverted daughter needed more people around her.

“I did my best to keep her socialized, but I saw that she needed a bigger pond to swim in,” she said.

Living in the Conejo Valley, Ginny Grady discovered Santa Susana High School and thought that between the school’s performing arts focus, small size and strong reputation for excellence, it was the perfect fit for her daughter.

“Santa Susana is an amazing school and it was the perfect transition for Tessa,” she said.

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Tessa Grady in Annie on Broadway.

Tessa comes by her talent naturally. Her mother still works in theater, and has helped produce and direct shows at Cabrillo and even Santa Susana, after Tessa graduated. Tessa’s father, Don Grady, was a child actor who played the role of Robbie on My Three Sons. He went on to become a Mousketeer for the Mickey Mouse Club and stayed in the industry working, on the music side, until his death from cancer in 2012.

Ginny Grady said her husband wasn’t keen on Tessa’s theater ambitions and wouldn’t allow her to have an agent until she was 16.

“He saw that she had that spark and performing gene in her,” Ginny Grady said. “But he had his childhood cut short. I really appreciated that view that he brought into this aspect of it. It made her more grounded.”

So Tessa honed her skills locally and at school until she graduated. Then, with her parent’s blessing, she gave herself one year to work before she would apply to college.

TessaGradCrop“I had gotten signed with my talent agency my last year at Santa Su. I went into classes and training (vocal and dance) to make sure I didn’t fall behind. But that whole first year I worked in California. I was consistently booked. The next fall came around and I was trying to fill out my applications but I was so busy working I couldn’t find the time to fill out the applications. I said, ‘Wait a second. This is what I’m doing.’”

She decided to keep performing until she wasn’t getting any work. That has yet to happen. Instead, she received a call about two years ago for an audition in New York for Mama Mia! Of course she would go, she told her agent. She always wanted to live in New York.

But just as she was leaving, another call came in saying that the producers of Annie were very interested and could she audition for them? Annie, on Broadway! That was her dream.

She auditioned and they hired her almost immediately. Her role was the aspiring actress who walks through the stage singing while Annie and Daddy Warbucks are touring the city, a short but very sweet solo for this first time Broadway performer.

Annie folded about six months later and Tessa went on to land a role in the ensemble of Cinderella. She also served as the understudy to Cinderella.

Did she ever get to fill in for the star?

“They kept bringing in celebrities to be Cinderella. And they were never there long enough to get sick so I could take over,” she said.

Still, it was an amazing show to work on. It, too, closed about six months later, but Tessa was able to land more roles, never being out of work for long.

The hope now is that First Wives Club will take off in Chicago and work its way back to Broadway.

Learning life skills are an important part of high school as well, and Tessa says that Santa Susana’s teachers didn’t short-change her on those either.

“I think that high school teachers especially give you a chance to realize that people aren’t just going to let you pass through life with a smile and some charm,” she said. “They are teaching you that if you don’t pay your bills, buy your groceries, send in the paperwork and do your taxes that there are going to be consequences. I didn’t realize how much those lessons are worth until I came to New York. This stuff is important. These teachers are teaching you. They’re going to put their foot down and be hard on you because you’re going to be ready for life. That’s the best thing they give you.”

 

Board Report: Some Management Changes Announced

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At a special board meeting tonight, the SVUSD Board of Trustees approved and announced some management changes beginning in the 2015-2016 school year. Dr. Stephen Pietrolungo, current principal of Simi Valley High School, will take on the position of principal at Monte Vista School. Monte Vista is the district’s independent study/homeschool program and it has seen steady enrollment growth over the last several years as some families seek more flexible education options while still following state curricular guidelines. Board President Dan White called Dr. Pietrolungo’s appointment “exciting,” and said that the growth of Monte Vista’s programs was a big part of the district’s overall strategy for growth in the future. By expanding the independent study programs offered through Monte Vista, the district hopes to see more increased enrollment. Currently the school is led by Dean May, who is also the principal of Apollo High School. May will remain as Apollo principal. Plans are also in place to relocated Monte Vista to the Abraham Lincoln Elementary School campus next year. Dr. Terri Leon, the current assistant principal at Royal High School, will be moved to Valley View Middle School as assistant principal. Under Deborah Salgado’s leadership at Royal, Dr. Leon oversaw the application and approval of Royal’s new International Baccalaureate Diploma School designation. Patti Myszkowski, the current assistant principal at Hillside Middle School, will assume Dr. Leon’s place at Royal. Nicole Perryman, the current principal of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School (which will be closing at the end of this school year) will become dean at Sinaloa Middle School. Dr. Jason Messinger, current dean, will be reassigned to a classroom next year at a school as yet to be determined. Stacy Walker, the current principal at Justin Elementary (which will be closing at the end of this school year) will be reassigned to a classroom next year at a school as yet to be determined.