Alumni Report: This Grad Lives Her Performing Dreams

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.

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.”


One More Tool in a Parent’s Drug Awareness Arsenal

Reality Party_Simi Valey _march2015-2

Your teen son tells you he’s spending the night at a friend’s house. He doesn’t tell you the friend’s parents aren’t home. Or that there’s a big party planned there that night. Or, worst of all, that there will be a lot of alcohol–and probably drugs–circulating at this party. It’s possible he doesn’t even know all of this himself.

And because you trust your son (and this could just as easily be your teen daughter), off he goes.

As parents, do we really have a clear understanding of what today’s dangers are with teen drinking and drugging? We know the overall scenario–drugs are bad, teens aren’t allowed to drink, and more. But modern partying among teens has far more complicated aspects to it that in decades past.

On Saturday, March 7, Straight Up Ventura County will host its annual Reality Party for Parents in Simi Valley. Straight Up is a youth development organization that works with kids ages 12 to 25 to promote social change through improvisation and interaction with other youth and concerned adults.

Straight Up says this about the Reality Party for Parents: Many adults feel drinking and drug use is a rite of passage and think teen parties are the same as when they were young. Straight Up youth want parents to face the current realities and learn why and how we need adults to help change these dangerous social norms in Ventura County.

To do this, the Straight Up teens create a typical party and act out scenes commonly found at a teen party. Parents “tour” the home and watch scene after scene of what often plays out at a teen party involving drugs and alcohol. After, a panel of teens, educators and public health officials facilitate a question and answer session to offer information and foster greater communication.

Each tour and discussion lasts about an hour and is free, but reservations are required. The tours are staggered between 2 and 6 p.m. and there are seven tours altogether. To register, go to this LINK. Because the tours happen at a private home in Simi Valley, space is limited and the address will be released only after registration is complete. And for those who do attend this event, we’d love to hear your thoughts after. Please feel free to post comments on this blog about your experience.

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Alumni Report: Royal Grad Finds True Calling in Telling Stories

Emilie Mateu on the NBC set of the 2014 Winter Olympics In Sochi. Mateu is a 2009 graduate of Royal High School in Simi Valley. She also attended Sinaloa Middle School and Wood Ranch Elementary School.

She knew she loved to write and tell stories, but Emilie Mateu did not know that she was destined for a life of journalism while she attended Royal High School.

Still, Mateu, 23, credits the lessons learned there in leadership and academic excellence to guiding her into a prestigious university where a love of journalism was born and a satisfying career in broadcast journalism at NBC Sports was discovered.

“Somehow I got lucky,” Mateu said.

Emilie Mateu stands with Kerri Walsh Jennings, the three-time gold medalist in Women's Beach Volleyball. This picture was taken during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Emilie Mateu stands with Kerri Walsh Jennings, the three-time gold medalist in Women’s Beach Volleyball. This picture was taken during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Mateu and her family moved to Simi Valley when she was in the sixth grade. She attended Wood Ranch Elementary School, Sinaloa Middle School and Royal, where she graduated from in 2009.

When she went on to the University of Southern California, Mateu said she quickly knew that she was equal to, if not above, her peers in terms of her academic preparedness for this elite university.

“Looking back I don’t think I could have had a better group of teachers,” she said. “I was taking really hard classes at Royal. I had an AP (Advanced Placement) teacher who would stay after school and give free tutoring. Mr. Dennert used to hold after-school tutoring sessions on the weekend, all things that were above and beyond what was expected of a teacher.”

Besides loading up with AP classes, Mateu became involved in student government and leadership activities at Royal. She also ran cross country track.

“I had a great great experience throughout the school system,” she said. “But the coaches and the teachers I had there at Royal were wonderful. It was a great experience.”

With the beautiful country of Monaco behind her, Emilie Mateu sits in the NBC studio during the Monaco Grand Prix races in 2014.
With the beautiful country of Monaco behind her, Emilie Mateu sits in the NBC studio during the Monaco Grand Prix races in 2014.

At USC, she quickly found journalism to be a natural fit for her talents. In her junior year, she applied for an internship to work at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The NBC producer she worked with there hired her after graduation and now Mateu lives in New York City and works in the Connecticut office of NBC Sports & Olympics. Her main job is to help develop the long-form documentaries and features on the athletes at the Olympics, those behind-the-scenes profiles aired throughout the games on interesting athletes.

“I do all behind-the-scenes. I’m a part of the production group that is putting everything together, going on shoots, organizing footage,” she said.

But in between the Olympics, which happen every two years, Mateu works on other major sports events.

“They have us rotating around on other sports, helping on other parts of the company. I was working on Formula 1 car racing for a while and the Tour de France this summer,” she said.

Earlier this month found Mateu in Glendale, Arizona, where she helped develop stories for Cris Collinsworth’s game coverage.

Emilie Mateu stands with Al Roker and Meredith Vieira of the Today Show. She met them both while interning at NBC during her junior year at USC.
Emilie Mateu stands with Al Roker and Meredith Vieira of the Today Show. She met them both while interning at NBC during her junior year at USC.

“This was my first Super Bowl experience. It was crazy. I clocked over 120 hours that week, which is insanity,” she said. “It was just really exciting to be there. You see the (empty) field and it’s hard to connect that this is where the Super Bowl will be. A lot of these people have been doing these for so long. I’m still pretty young in the industry. It’s all still pretty new to me. We were all proud of the work we did.”

Mateu’s parents, Julie and Mickey, still live in Simi. Her younger sister, Sophie, (also a Royal grad) attends Brown University and is studying abroad this year in South Africa.

About her experience in Simi Valley’s schools, Mateu said she only has the highest praise to offer. When asked what she might advise other students as they work their way through school, she said to actively try hard and be nice.

“Try harder to be nice to other kids and try harder to do as well as you can in class,” she said. “A lot of work can seem totally unnecessary (like when do I ever use calculus in my daily life?!), but it totally influenced my work ethic, which applies to every aspect of my life. And being nice may seem like a silly thing to suggest, but it seriously has such an impact on other people and yourself. Overall, it’s difficult to feel like what you do in high school and at a young age matters, and I probably tried ‘too hard’ at times, but it’s all of the little things that add up to determine what college you’ll get into, what kind of friends you’ll make and what kind of person you become. Nice, hard-working people are ultimately the ones that succeed. Trying hard always pays off in one way or another.”

Did you know that you can receive all of our Simi Valley Schools updates in your email inbox? Simply sign up on the upper right hand corner of the home page for email notifications and that’s it. Also, we’re on Facebook and Twitter. Click on the icons and they will take you directly to our social media pages.



Multi-ethinic arms outstretched to ask questions.

Dear SVUSD Community:

We need your help.

As you may already know, California school districts are mostly funded by a new state formula called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). One of LCFF’s mandates is that we issue an annual “goals” plan for our district. This is called the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). Last year was the launch of LCAP, and, based on the work by a special committee made up of all kinds of district stakeholders, as well as answers from a comprehensive survey on our district’s needs, we developed a five-part plan with three-year benchmarks that we are required to work toward. Then, each year, we repeat the survey to mark our progress in our community’s eyes.

This is where you come in.

The link below will take you to the 2015 LCAP Survey. Since we already have our goals in place, this year’s survey is much simpler. It should take less than five minutes to answer. Please take this SURVEY and help us to do the best possible job for our students. If you’re interested in last year’s survey and results, you can find that information at the link below as well. The survey is confidential. We are required to provide a breakdown of what kind of stakeholder answered the survey based on your response, but we don’t know who answered. There is a separate link on the same page for a SPANISH SURVEY.

Thank you very much for your help. This notice will also be circulating through the community and directly to parents through ParentLink.

Tracking Success at Royal High School’s Stadium


Royal High School’s stadium proudly welcomes home games for the rest of the year with the opening of the new track and field.

Under construction for about six months–about two months longer than first scheduled to accommodate some project additions–the new synthetic turf field and new track were celebrated at a ribbon cutting ceremony Monday night by students, staff and parents. The ceremony was part of the Future Highlander Night that the school hosts every spring to introduce prospective students to the school’s athletic programs and honor the school’s senior athletes who have signed their Letters of Intent for college.

The $2 million project originally included only the replacement of the field’s turf and the resurfacing of the track. But because the project went out to competitive bid and came in with a price tag less than expected (about $1.85 million), the Simi Valley Unified School District School Board approved the addition of replacing the entire track as well, said Bond Manager Anthony Joseph.

Principal Keith Derrick, Director of Secondary Education Deborah Salgado and Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Dan Houghton all helped cut the ribbon for the new track on Monday. Salgado and Houghton were both former Royal principals.
Principal Keith Derrick, Director of Secondary Education Deborah Salgado and Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Dan Houghton all helped cut the ribbon for the new track on Monday. Salgado and Houghton were both former Royal principals.

“I think we saved several hundred thousand dollars by this bidding process,” Joseph said. “We just would not have had the money without this starting point.”

Competitive bids for the original project from five bidders ranged from $1.85 to $2.5 million, Joseph said.

The project’s money came from the Measure C4 Bond, which was passed by voters in 2004 and paid for facility and technology upgrades throughout the SVUSD. With most of the bond’s $145 million spent, this is likely the last large-scale project to be done on one site, though there are several remaining projects at various school sites scheduled for the near future.

The new Royal track under the rising moon Monday night.
The new Royal track under the rising moon Monday night.

Since the bond’s passage, every SVUSD campus has received facility improvements and technology upgrades. Bigger projects include the Performing Arts Building at Santa Susana High School, the stadiums at both Simi Valley and Royal high schools, extensive infrastructure improvements to utilities at all campuses, WiFi at every campus, the launch of the first phase of the District’s technology plan, which includes iPad and ChromeBook pilot programs, computer labs at all schools, new roofs, new air conditioning and heating units in aging campuses and much more.

“We’d like to thank all of you, as a community, for passing the bond that allowed us to do this project,” said Royal Principal Keith Derrick.

The Royal field project encountered delays from the addition of the new track and the discovery that the stadium’s lighting system needed to be relaid under the track and field, said Joseph, which pushed the completion date out about two months.

Back in October when the finishing touches were being done to the new Royal field.
Back in October when the finishing touches were being done to the new Royal field.

But on Monday, with the bright green turf and red track shining proudly under the setting sun, only praise could be heard for the project’s success.

“I firmly believe that our students deserve not only the best in instruction, but also in facilities,” said District Superintendent Jason Peplinski at Monday’s ceremony. “And we now have a field…that is worthy of our students’ talents and efforts.”

Simi Schools News Notes

Boy Holding A Newspaper

We’re starting a new feature this week. News Notes is designed to share with our readers the things that have recently happened around our district. There are so many wonderful  things going on in our schools and this feature will allow us to share even more than we already do.

Simi Valley High School concluded its Spirit Week last week by raising $1,655 for needy families in our community! That money will be used to purchase $5 gift cards (331 total) which will be distributed by the District office to the families. Last year, this effort raised about $600 between Royal and Simi Valley High Schools. The difference this year was that Simi Valley High School made it a competition among students to raise the most. WAY TO GO SIMI STUDENTS!!! The link HERE is to a delightful YouTube video the students put together of Spirit Week. 


All of the students participating in the Avanti International Business Challenge stand with Simi Valley Mayor Bob Huber in front of Air Force One on Jan. 14 at the Reagan Library.
All of the students participating in the Avanti International Business Challenge stand with Simi Valley Mayor Bob Huber in front of Air Force One on Jan. 14 at the Reagan Library.

Eleven business students from several classes at Royal befriended 10 visiting students from Brazil and together they competed in a week’s worth of real-life business marketing competitions. The competition culminated on Jan. 14 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum with the blended student teams presenting their Marketing Plans to a panel of judges, who work at participating businesses including WalMart, Best Buy and Honda, to name a few. The Royal students participating included: Christian Crum, John Gerber, Hayley Hunt, Courtney Knudsen, Jenna Ohler, Robert Ota, Oge Pena, Chantel Petty, Jordan Rivera, Sierra Schraml and Jacob Solzberg. The winning team included Robert, Jacob and Jordan, along with Brazilian students Andrea Madureira Simoni and Gabriel Severo Rios.

Chris Bucci, Jeffrey Hinkle, Luke Pacifici and Jorge Preciado stand with Principal Keith Derrick and Band Teacher Lisa Pate at the Jan. 13 School Board Meeting.

Four students from Royal High School were honored this month for recent band achievements. Three, Chris Bucci, Jeffrey Hinkle and Jorge Preciado beat out several thousand auditioners to land spots on the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade. And Luke Pacifici was selected as All American Drum Major and participated in the Queen’s Parade on New Year’s Day in London. Way to go!! 

Every Simi Valley school will offer various events on their campuses to introduce new families to the schools. Whether a child is just entering kindergarten or transitioning into middle or high school, or even moving into the District, there is a school that fits every child’s needs. Go to the link HERE for a flier with a complete list of events.

Melissa Albertson accepts her Lew Roth Award for Certificated on Jan. 23. She was one of six awardees being acknowledged for their outstanding contributions to students in Simi Valley Schools.
Melissa Albertson accepts her Lew Roth Award for Certificated on Jan. 23. She was one of six awardees being acknowledged for their outstanding contributions to students in Simi Valley Schools.

On Jan. 23, six people connected with Simi Valley Schools were honored for their work at the annual Lew Roth Awards dinner. Dan Houghton, Assistant Superintendent of Personnel, was named for Management; Melissa Albertson, a teacher at Santa Susana High School, was named for Certificated; Paul Schott who works in maintenance at the District office was named for Classified; Cathy Perry, who works as a paraeducator at Royal High School, was named for Special Education; Annette Morgan, who currently works at Berylwood Elementary School, was named for Volunteer; and retired district superintendent, Dr. Kathryn Scroggin, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. These awardees were chosen from nominations received from coworkers, friends, family members and students.


Teacher of the Month Karen Hazelwood from SSHS stands with incoming SVEF President Brian White. Principal Wendy Mayea on left.
Teacher of the Month Karen Hazelwood from SSHS stands with incoming SVEF President Brian White. Principal Wendy Mayea on left.

Congratulations to Karen Hazelwood of SSHS who was named January’s Teacher of the Month by the Simi Valley Education Foundation!

The SVEF will host Movie Magic: Celebration of Education on Sat. Feb. 28. The annual gala is the Foundation’s main fundraiser for the year. All proceeds earned are given back to our public schools through teacher grants, scholarships and special projects. Please consider attending this wonderful event! For more information, go to


Crestview’s Cougar Chorale will host a Winter Concert on Thurs. Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. Featuring singers from grades 1-6, the concert is free and open to the public. Crestview is located at 900 Crosby St. For more information, call 520-6715.

SSHS will host “An Evening with Four American Heroes” on Wed. Feb. 11 at 6 p.m. Working with the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center, the Ronald Reagan Library and the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, SSHS’s School of Accelerated Academics will hold this second Distinguished Speaker Series event in the Performing Arts Center. Speaking will be Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Rascon, Captain Thomas G. Kelley, Sergeant Gary B. Beikirch, and Command Sergeant Major Gary L. Littrell, Congressional Medal of Honor award recipients. These officers are among the 76 living Medal of Honor recipients. The powerful event is free to the community. Students, parents, and other community members are all invited to attend. Seats are limited and cannot be reserved in advance of the event. The school is located at 3570 E. Cochran St.

Did you know that you can receive all of our Simi Valley Schools updates in your email inbox? Simply sign up on the upper right hand corner of the home page for email notifications and that’s it. Also, we’re on Facebook and Twitter. Click on the icons and they will take you directly to our social media pages.

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

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.


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 Disney’s Frozen, the Angry Birds and other code games can be found at 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.


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.


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.

Giving Up Is Not An Option: Program Confronts Suicide With Students


In Simi Valley this year alone about 50 teens will try to take their own life.

Two will succeed.

That’s a statistic that no one wants to experience in reality.

We know that our teens today face many formidable challenges and even the most stable family can find itself with a child who suffers so much they consider the ultimate action–taking their own life.

That’s why the Simi Valley Police Department and Student Support Services in the Simi Valley Unified School District have organized Suicide Prevention assemblies for all middle and high schools in the District.

The assemblies began last month at Valley View Middle School and continued this week at Hillside Middle School. Next week is Sinaloa Middle School’s turn and all of the high schools will have their assemblies scheduled after the Winter Break.


Det. Dan Swanson of the SVPD investigates homicides. At Hillside on Thursday, Swanson delivered the same powerful message of turning despair into hope as class after class came to the cafeteria to hear his presentation.

“Let’s be blunt,” he told Chris Kuske’s and Matt Kingsbury’s 8th graders. “If you kill yourself, you just die. The consequence is that you will leave a blast radius in your family and friends and community and you won’t even know.”

The fix, he said, it to talk about your problems, even those too big to see an end to.

“Nobody ever fixes a problem in a secret society,” he said.

His message was aimed at kids who might have or might be considering suicide, as well as their friends who may know about someone who is thinking about suicide, or who show any of the warning signs.

When it came to the potential for someone to take their own life, he urged friends to not worry about breaking confidences or making someone mad. The bigger issue is to get help, and fast.

“Better a mad friend than a dead friend,” he said. “Don’t ever worry about giving up a friendship; worry about saving a life. Life comes first.”

Everyone has value, Swanson said, no matter what they’ve heard. People can be mean and life is difficult, but these are not excuses to give up trying, especially when it comes to getting help.


“Getting help is brave,” he said.

Swanson also talked about self-harming–cutting and other behaviors. He showed graphic pictures of someone’s arm and another person’s thigh that were both permanently scarred by cutting.

“It fixes absolutely nothing,” he said. “Remember that you control your pain. Transferring it to another part of your body is not helping it.”

Students were encouraged to stay behind after each session and talk with a counselor or Swanson if they wished. Principal Jerry Block also had counselors in the school’s library during lunch on the days of the presentation so that students who were hesitant to approach counselors in front of their friends would have a more private option.

Block said about five students came the first day. And each session saw a handful of students stay behind to speak to someone.

Many of the kids were crying as they listened to Swanson speak. Some held hands with friends. All seemed to take the message seriously.

Swanson provided each student with a card to keep in a pocket or wallet. On it were many area resources that any student can reach out to get help, whether they know someone who us suffering or if they are suffering themselves.

“There are people out there who care,” he said. “Don’t you dare give up on yourself!”



Parents Get Set Up for Piloting iPads

School children using digital tablet outside

Over the next few weeks, about 600 parents and guardians will return to school to help launch the Simi Valley Unified School District’s iPad Pilot Program, which is part of the bigger SVUSD Technology Plan that has brought major changes to Simi’s classrooms during the last two years.

In its second year, the iPads only spent about six weeks in the classrooms last school year, said Reina Bejerano, program coordinator for technology at the District. But that was enough to get the teachers, parents and kids involved with the program excited about what they were doing.

“I was happy to see how excited the kids were, and how engaged and excited the parents were,” she said. “It created a level of excitement in the classroom you don’t usually see.”

There are 23 teachers participating in the pilot program that covers 16 elementary schools and Hillside Middle School. The teachers span from kindergarten to sixth grade and two of the teachers have Special Education classes. Each teacher’s class will receive an Apple TV, iPads for each student and supporting equipment (power strips, chargers, etc…).

In turn, the teachers have been given guidance and suggestions for how to use the iPads, but no mandates. Bejerano said that the point of the pilot is to see how these devices will enhance learning and how easy it is for the teachers–many of whom had no prior iPad experience–to adapt to them.

“Each teacher and each principal set their own visions and goals that were particular to their schools about what they wanted to accomplish with the iPads,” she said.

One teacher set three goals for the iPads’ use in her classroom. They would be used as learning tools (through apps and the Internet); they would help instill independent practices to increase knowledge; and they would serve as a means to differentiate instruction, meaning that lessons and practice work could be tailored to each child’s needs and abilities.

There are many kinds of apps available through the iPad that help supplement classroom experiences, including some already familiar to the teachers and students, like EveryDay Math and Accelerated Reader. Others apps help with classroom management, test-taking, instant quizzes and presentations. Then there are the websites, like Khan Academy, which provides bite-sized video tutorials on specific standards. (How to multiply fractions is one example.)

Throughout the year, Bejerano will regularly visit classrooms to see how the iPads are used and also to offer additional monthly training to the teachers.

So why are the parents coming to school? The way Apple sets up the iPads, each student must have an account with Apple exclusive to the school (existing accounts won’t work for this). To do this, Bejerano and her team are hosting tech nights at each school to guide parents through the set-up process. This also gives parents a chance to ask any questions about the iPads and their use.

Last year’s parents were at first skeptical about the iPads and had many questions about expectations and access. But, at the end of the school year, every iPad was returned in good working order and parents overwhelmingly told the teachers the iPads helped their children learn better.

Internet access with the iPads is only through WiFi. Every Simi campus received improved WiFi over the last year and most of the iPads will remain in the classrooms. Bejerano said that the teachers and principals have been given the option of having students take the devices home with them. Most seemed hesitant to do this, but Bejerano believes that as teachers and students become more adept at using the devices, more will go home with the students.

What parents do need to understand about the iPads is that when they are used at school, the District’s Internet filters are in place and students are restricted from accessing questionable Internet sites and content. But, when the iPads or any other Internet accessing device are home, those restrictions are no longer in place. Students receive training in digital citizenship at the start of the school year, but parents must be vigilant about how their children are using the Internet, Bejerano said.

It’s not just iPads that are being piloted. ChromeBooks are also in use at every grade level throughout Simi’s schools. But, Bejerano said, the ChromeBooks were simpler to set up and use and they’re also kept solely in the classroom.

At the end of the school year, Bejerano and others involved in the District’s technology programs, will evaluate the pilot programs and use the information gleaned from the effort to help guide the District into the next phase of technology expansion.