Filling in the Gaps: Simi Valley Ed Foundation

Maria Baro wasn’t wearing make-up.

And it was Ponytail Thursday.

From left, teacher Christieann Rohal (left) and Principal Nora Kuntz (right) enjoy the moment when teacher Maria Baro realizes she was named Teacher of the Month on Sept. 4.

But that didn’t stop a small horde of people from invading this third-grade teacher’s staff meeting with cameras and gifts in order to honor her as Teacher of the Month earlier this month.

Maria, humbled and embarrassed, insisted that any good coming from her efforts was a reflection of the talent and dedication shown by ALL of her co-workers at Crestview Elementary School.

The award is the most recent program implemented by the Simi Valley Education Foundation to help public schools throughout the Simi Valley Unified School District and to honor staff and teachers who do great work. Maria is the first recipient of the award; it will be handed out monthly through the end of the school year.

Founded in 1989 by Lew Roth, a Simi Valley school board trustee for 23 years, the foundation raises money through private donations, corporate gifts and community/special events. The money raised is then returned directly to the schools in the district through grants, scholarships and special programs. Not affiliated directly with the district or any one school, the district does support the foundation, which had donated more than $600,000 through its efforts.

Brian Miller, president-elect of the Simi Valley Education Foundation honors Maria Baro for her work.

Next week, on Sept. 19, another annual fundraising is scheduled. The Tee-Up For Kids Golf Tournament will be held at the Lost Canyons Golf Course. (For more information, go to

In January, the annual Lew Roth Awards Dinner will honor teachers and staff from Simi Valley schools for their contributions. The foundation gathers and evaluates the nominations and the awardees are announced at the dinner.

Another major fundraiser for the foundation is the Celebration of Education Gala, held usually in March, but not yet scheduled for 2015. This is the primary community fundraiser and features a big theme party, complete with auctions and special events.

The foundation also works with many area business to secure grants and donations. Alcoa Fastening Systems, Bank of America and a program that brought together most of the new and used automobile dealers in the city are just some of supporters for the foundation.

One of the biggest impacts the foundation has on local education is found with its Classroom Enhancement Grants.

Last year, the foundation awarded 91 recipients more than $50,000 in grants. Teachers apply for these grants to fund specific classroom needs. Examples include incubators for hatching ducklings, play mats for a kindergarten classroom, maps, books, science equipment, computer software and music curriculum. This is just a small sampling of the hundreds of classroom needs the foundation has supported over the years for Simi’s teachers.

This year’s grant applications are due Oct. 10. The foundation tries to fund as many as possible, and concentrates on those projects/needs that have the greatest impact on the classroom, either by longevity or breadth.

Student scholarships are also given each year, and again, information is found on the website.

Teachers’ Wishes Come True with DonorsChoose

Caroline Hardeman, a sixth grade teacher at Hollow Hills Elementary School, shows off her new class seismograph, purchased through donations over
Caroline Hardeman, a sixth grade teacher at Hollow Hills Elementary School, shows off her new class seismograph, purchased through donations over

Caroline Hardeman is no novice to classroom fundraising.

Over the years, the veteran sixth-grade teacher has proudly pursued any opportunity to help fund different material needs that arise from her ever-expanding repertoire of science lessons. Sometimes the hunt for funds ended successfully and quickly. Other times, it felt like wasted time.

Until she discovered

The clouds parted and the angels sang as much-needed supplies and equipment found their way to Classroom A6 at Hollow Hills.

“It’s so easy,” she said. “Your school community wants to help you and you just have to let them know what you need.”

DonorsChoose is a non-profit company that enables public school teachers (and only teachers) throughout the country to create fundraising campaigns to buy specific classroom supplies through charitable donations.

Teachers “shop” for what they need through Amazon. Then they create a campaign–a webpage on the DonorsChoose site where they write about what they want for their classroom and why, set a funding goal and a time limit. Outreach comes next, with many teachers using Facebook and other social media to get the word out to parents. Some send notes home or ask parents directly.

Donors give directly through the DonorsChoose website, eliminating the need for the schools or districts to monitor the money received. The donations are banked in an account for the teacher and when the goal is met, the teacher can order the supplies and materials directly through Amazon. DonorsChoose handles all of the tax notices; all donations are charitable deductions. Should a goal not be met for a specific campaign, the money that is raised is banked for the teacher to use for other supplies.

In the last year, Hardeman has launched four campaigns, all successful. Her requests included a seismograph ($938), a tectonics demonstration model and lab supplies to teach about earthquakes ($878) and supplies for starting a school garden and compost center ($993). And last month, Hardeman raised $2,051 to purchase an wall-mounted projector for her classroom that replaces some aging equipment.

“I’m winning grants left and right,” she said. “None of my grants have been online for more than a week.”

One of the best aspects of DonorsChoose is that they’ve formed partnerships with foundations and corporations to help fund specific projects. In Hardeman’s case, three of her four campaigns were partly funded with matching grants, two from Disney and one from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That means that less money is needed from parents and friends to fund a campaign.

“With the matching funds, it’s the easiest thing ever,” she said. “You go shopping online and start small. I donate first (on my own campaigns). You can link to FaceBook from the DonorsChoose page. If you have a parent in the class who wants to let people know, I link to the parent on the PTA website.”

Sixth grade teacher Holly Dye uses DonorsChoose to supplement her English classroom's reading materials.
Sixth grade teacher Holly Dye uses DonorsChoose to supplement her English classroom’s reading materials.

Hardeman’s teaching partner, Holly Dye, used DonorsChoose a couple of years ago to fund a classroom set of mythology books. Thirty-six copies of “D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths” sit proudly on Dye’s shelf.

Dye also used DonorsChoose to buy masks and graphic novels for her classroom.

Currently, only three schools hosting five campaigns from Simi Valley are posted on the website. Requests include math supplies, iPad Minis, books and science materials. (You can search locally for teachers in need.)

Hardeman said it’s important to have good relationships with the class parents, a current email list and to send thank-you notes on time. (The thank-you notes are a requirement of DonorsChoose.)

DonorsChoose supports itself through a voluntary contribution added to the teacher’s campaign. Suggested at 15%, the donation is enough to support the 14-year-old company.

DonorsChoose launched in 2000 when a New York City history teacher, Charles Best, developed a website to collect class donations from others in lieu of continuing to spend his own money on supplies. Since then, DonorsChoose has raised more than $260 million for almost 200,000 public school teachers in almost 58,000 schools. Altogether, 488,139 projects have been funded through DonorsChoose. (For some interesting stats on DonorsChoose, click HERE.)

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SVUSD to Share in $13.5 million Career-Tech Education Grant


Graduation Male Student Have Different  Careers To Choose.

Working with the Ventura County Office of Education, all three Ventura County community colleges and six other school districts, the Simi Valley Unified School District will participate in Ventura County Innovates, a grant-funded project supporting career-technical education.

About $1.3 million of a $13.5 million Career-Technical Education (CTE) grant will benefit Simi’s four high schools and the Adult School over the next three years.

Funded by the state of California through the $250 million Careers Pathway Trust, the CTE grant helps create work-based learning efforts in K-12, community college and adult school programs and courses. The grant also requires collaboration between businesses, organizations and education for the purpose of developing career opportunities for participating students. The end result of all of this is to foster local economies.

One of the grant’s main goals is for students interested in a specific career to be nurtured through the process from school, to college and on into their career. The courses and partnerships created between educators and business leaders to further this goal are called career pathways.

VCOE leaders worked with the school districts, community college districts and many other county education and business officials to identify 15 county industries suitable for merging workforce needs with educational programming. Examples include arts, media and entertainment; health science and medical technology; manufacturing and product development; building and construction trades; and public services. Altogether, Simi will cover some or all aspects of 11 industries participating in VC Innovates.

These industries already have a strong presence in Ventura County and show the likelihood of continued growth over the next decade. The grant’s writers looked at existing career-tech programs in the participating districts and divided the programs into three themes. The first are educational programs that are already in place and can serve a specific industry, but which could benefit from better integration with businesses. The second are partial educational programs that lack the collaboration or needed curriculum to support industry opportunities fully. The third are potential programs that don’t exist but should to complement regional industry needs and growth.

These three themes become the phases over the next three years that the CTE grant’s money funds to improve. The money will pay for staff training, equipment purchases, field trips, coordinators to develop partnerships with participating businesses, and project managers.

So what does all of this look like for students?

Let’s say a student shows an interest in a career in nursing. At the middle school level, courses are being created to support a student’s interest in health sciences as he or she moves into high school. Once in high school, health science teachers will be trained to provide related instruction in nursing, while still accommodating curriculum requirements. Labs will be equipped with needed tools and supplies to support health science instruction. Local medical businesses–hospitals, doctors, labs–will partner with VC Innovates to offer internships, job shadowing, speakers and more in order to give students direct access to their area of interest. High school students deciding to move forward with their career goals will have specialized training available through Ventura County community colleges and possibly with area universities as the program develops, and the training is designed to build upon all the student learned in high school. The community colleges are also working with the local health community to offer the skills and training needed by students for potential of future employment. All of this completes a comprehensive cycle of quality education for those students with a dedicated career focus.

For more information about the CTE grant and VC Innovates as it relates to Simi Valley schools, contact Dr. Pam Castleman after July 20 at