Board Report: Some Management Changes Announced

News concept: Latest News on chalkboard background

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.

Hour of Code: Raising the Bar on 21st Century Skills

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Samantha Finch, an eighth grader at Hillside, makes Elsa skate in Disney’s coding game. The coding assignment is part of her math homework.

Frozen’s Elsa is poised on the ice, waiting for her instructions.

Our student, Samantha, creates a list of commands. If she organizes the list correctly, Elsa will “skate” a snowflake on the ice.

-move forward by 100 pixels.

-turn right by 90 degrees.

-repeat 10 times.

And so on.

When done, Samantha will click “Run” and Elsa will gracefully skate the pattern Samantha commanded on the screen ice. If the pattern is correct, Samantha will move to the next level and continue the game by writing more challenging instructions.

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Yes, this is a game. But what Samantha and many other students throughout Simi’s schools, and the world, are doing is coding. Coding is computer programming, where specific commands are used to tell the computer to carry out actions. Last week, in an ongoing, international effort to promote teaching kids how to code, many of Simi’s schools participated in the Hour of Code.

To help support the effort to teach coding, some of the biggest names in tech, retail and entertainment joined together to create games, classroom apps, tutorials and curriculum that teachers could use to expose their students to coding. During the week of Dec. 8-14, the official Hour of Code organization offered live web chats with celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba to 100 classroom winners. Major corporate sponsors included Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Best Buy, Disney, Google and The Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

From kindergarten through high school, students jumped into these programs–alone or in pairs–to write code and get to the next level. And at many schools, parents were welcomed participants in after-school coding parties.

John Brinkman is a computer programmer. He’s also the father of Theodore, a second grader at Wood Ranch Elementary School.

Dad John Brinkman helps his son Theodore (in orange) and Josh Abugow, work their way through an Angry Birds coding game. Brinkman is a computer programmer. The boys are second graders at Wood Ranch Elementary, which held its Hour of Code on Dec. 8.
Dad John Brinkman helps his son Theodore (in orange) and Josh Abugow, work their way through an Angry Birds coding game. Brinkman is a computer programmer. The boys are second graders at Wood Ranch Elementary, which held its Hour of Code on Dec. 8.

“This is real good,” Brinkman said. “It’s teaching them sequential skills. This is actually how it happens in real life. Well, not with Angry Birds, but otherwise it is. Soon, before they know it, they’re tricked into doing their own video game.”

This week, following the completion of the Hour of Code week-long event, the website had 77,441 Hour of Code events registered. In all, it’s estimated that 15 million students learned an hour of code last week! The games and tutorials weren’t just used on computers. Smart phones, tablets, iPads and other devices were all used with the coding apps.

Here in Simi, the Hour of Code was a voluntary program. Dustin Ellis, Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) in charge of technology, said the turn out was much better than last year with most schools participating in some way.

“Hopefully they will continue on with coding,” Ellis said. “There are several teachers that are taking this on and continuing with it.”

One example is Deborah Ibbott, a fourth grade teacher at White Oak Elementary. Ibbott has made coding a part of her daily instruction with her students. One hour each day is spent on coding to help teach the students computer science. But coding also requires students to know geometry, math, language skills and more, making coding a great Common Core choice for classroom instruction.

For more information on coding, go to hourofcode.com. Disney’s Frozen, the Angry Birds and other code games can be found at studio.code.org. The Walt Disney Co. has more information about its involvement in Hour of Code HERE. A quick search in the iTunes store for “Coding” will also glean a ton of apps for children and adults wanting to learn basic coding.

BOARD REPORT: New Superintendent Named; Trustees Sworn In

the concept of learning

From a new superintendent to new board members, there were many changes welcomed in from last night’s (Dec. 9) Simi Valley Unified School District School Board meeting.

Dr. Jason Peplinski, acting interim superintendent, was appointed by the board with a 4-1 vote (Trustee Debbie Sandland dissenting) to become the permanent district superintendent.

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Dr. Peplinski began his teaching career in Lancaster, California, where he taught Spanish and led the choir at Quartz Hill High School. He came to Ventura County through Moorpark High School in 2000, where he taught Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish and served in several different leadership capacities.

The Simi Valley Unified School District welcomed Dr. Peplinski in 2004 when he accepted a job as the assistant principal of Royal High School. From there, he served as principal of Abraham Lincoln School in Simi (2007-2009), Moorpark High School in Moorpark (2009-2011) and then Santa Susana High School from 2011-2013.

In 2013, he accepted the position of Director of Educational Services at the district office. In 2014, he was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services. In October, Dr. Peplinski agreed to serve as the Interim District Superintendent, following the retirement of Dr. Kathryn Scroggin. A national search for a permanent superintendent was conducted and the Board of Trustees interviewed three other candidates in November.

Dr. Peplinski earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the Central Michigan University in 1997, a Masters of Arts with Distinction in Educational Administration from CSUN in 2003 and his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from California Lutheran University in 2014. He also served as a Regent for the CLU board from 2012-14.

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Two new school board members were sworn in at the meeting. Trustees Scott Blough and Bill Daniels won the two open school board seats at the November election. Trustee Arleigh Kidd did not run again and Trustee Jeanne Davis was defeated in the election.

Trustee Blough works in finance and Trustee Daniels is an officer with the Simi Valley Police Department. Both have children in Simi schools and have been active in other community efforts.

The annual reorganizational meeting for the board was also held tonight. Trustee Dan White was elected board president and Trustee Blough was elected as clerk of the board.

Brad Torti, one of the District’s four Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSA), was named the new assistant principal of Santa Susana High School. Mr. Torti is a former Royal High School English Language Development teacher. He’s worked closely on the District’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and several other related projects.

In other business, Assistant Superintendent Ron Todo presented the First Interim Fiscal report for the District, showing that the District is fiscally solvent for the next three years, as is required by the state. The entire report can be found HERE.

The Board took another step closer to closing and repurposing two schools by scheduling the public hearings required for the process. Abraham Lincoln Elementary School will have its public hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. and Justin Elementary School’s hearing will be held on Thursday, Jan. 8 at 6 p.m. Both schools have been in declining enrollment for several years. Lincoln has 241 students and Justin has 216 students. Closing each school could save the District up to $250,000 each year for each school. Earlier this year, the Board voted to close Simi Elementary School, after the aging facility proved to have extensive repairs and renovations required for student use. Right now, a special committee is looking at options for using the property.

It’s a Sticky Situation But Somebody’s Gotta Do It!

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How many rolls of duct tape does it take to adhere your principal to the wall?

About 19, if you’re Aldo Calcagno.

As principal of Arroyo Elementary School, Calcagno was asked if he would help inspire the students by becoming the reward for the PTA membership drive. If the students brought in at least 200 PTA members, Calcagno agreed to be taped to the wall.

“I tried to offer even more of an incentive by telling them they could tape me to the wall upside down if they doubled the membership goal,” he said.

He figured it would be hard enough for the kids to meet the goal since last year, the membership drive only brought in 82 people. But his students had other ideas.

Teacher Jennifer Johnston watched as her students cheered and chanted while Calcagno was secured to the wall, one strip at a time.

“The kids are really excited,” said the 5th/6th grade teacher. “I think he’s a really good sport. Based on last year, we didn’t think they’d reach (the goal).”

PTA President Jennifer Wade found the idea to tape the principal to a wall in a PTA magazine. It took five adults, including Wade, to tape Calcagno up in under an hour.

Tony Karch, principal of White Oak Elementary School, looked on as his friend slowly found himself locked into place. There might have been just a dash of worry in Karch’s eyes.

“I was in a dunking tank about a week ago, but that’s nowhere near as crazy as this,” he said.

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.

Simi Elementary School: A 10-Year Timeline and History

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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.”