Pioneering the New Advanced Placement Capstone Program

Education and learn concept: pixelated words knowledge is power

Simi Valley High School was selected to be one of about 400 schools across the country to trial the new Advanced Placement (AP) Capstone program.

The program “provides students with an opportunity to engage in rigorous scholarly practice of the core academic skills necessary for successful college completion,” according to the College Board, which manages all AP programs. https://lp.collegeboard.org/ap-capstone

Students taking AP classes earn college credit by passing nationally standardized tests in each of the AP classes they take. Students also receive 5, 4, 3 or 2 points associated with their Grade Point Average (GPA) for an A, B, C or D versus the 4, 3, 2, 1 GPA scale when taking a regular course. Because of this, many students taking multiple AP courses graduate with GPAs above 4.0.

Nationally, there are 37 AP classes offered across the major academic disciplines. Simi Valley High School offers 18 different AP classes, which is consistent with AP offerings at other high schools in the area. For a complete list of SVHS’ AP offerings, go to http://www.svhs.simi.k12.ca.us/APandHonors.

AP Capstone

In its pilot stage, AP Capstone has two purposes. First, it offers students interested in learning more about AP courses the chance to learn the skills and academic regimen required to take almost any rigorous academic course successfully. Second, it allows students who have taken several AP courses the ability to demonstrate their readiness for completing high-level college work by writing an advanced research paper.

Two courses make up AP Capstone: AP Seminar and AP Research. AP Seminar is designed to “complement and enhance the in-depth, discipline-specific study experienced in other AP courses,” according to the College Board. It focuses on independent research, detailed analysis of specific issues, collaborative teamwork and developing communication skills. Students will investigate real-world issues from different points of view, gather and analyze information from various sources to develop credible and valid evidence-based arguments.

In AP Research, students refine the skills learned in AP Seminar by conducting independent research in an area of the students’ own interest and by writing a 5,000-word research paper. Students who take three AP courses receive a certificate of completion for AP Capstone, and students who take more than three AP courses receive an AP Capstone diploma.

The Benefits

There are four major benefits for AP Capstone. First, students who have never taken an AP course will be well prepared to take additional AP classes by successfully completing AP Seminar. The primary difference between AP classes and regular classes is not the difficulty of the material, but the skills and discipline needed to cover the increased amount of material in an AP class. By completing the AP Seminar class, students should be ready to take AP level courses.

Second, students successfully completing three or more AP courses will prove their ability to do high-level college work to their prospective colleges. Also, because the AP Research report results in a 5,000 word mini-thesis, these students will have a tangible result that can help them get into a top-level school, a graduate program or land their first post-college job.

Third, AP Capstone students will learn what it means to think critically. The AP Seminar course is essentially a college-level course in critical thinking. The course has five units:

  • Question and Explore
  • Understand and Analyze Arguments
  • Evaluate Multiple Perspectives
  • Synthesize Ideas
  • Team, Transform, and Transmit

As students go through the units, they complete what the College Board considers to be a QUEST associated with learning how to think critically. Usually they do this by choosing their own topics, which leads to the final benefit.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the most motivated students will have the opportunity to explore topics they are most interested in and to take responsibility for a project from inception to completion. This helps to build self-confidence in their abilities as well as a real satisfaction in doing a job well done. This shouldn’t be underestimated. Students often say that they feel regimented in courses they’ve been forced to study, and that the material boring or irrelevant to their lives. AP Capstone will let them choose areas that interest them, which should lead to increased satisfaction in high school.

Who Is It For?

AP Capstone is great for:

  • College bound students interested in taking their first AP Class;
  • College bound students who plan a comprehensive AP program; and
  • Students in career pathways interested in doing their own in-depth career-related research.

Finally, AP Capstone has one unintended benefit. It fits beautifully into the increasing focus on Career Technical Education (CTE), which has gone way beyond its former focus on technical and trade-oriented careers. CTE today encompasses 15 different major career areas and, quite literally, hundreds of separate career pathways. The overwhelming majority of these pathways leads directly to college, not into a technical or trade training program. For more information on CTE, see our career website: SVHSPathways.com.

When Does It Start?

AP Capstone will start next fall with at least two sections. It will be taught by Loren Dacanay, who currently teaches Chemistry, and Stephen Caswell, who currently teaches Intro to Business, Business Law, Computer Applications and the freshman MAP class. The program is ideal for students interested in any academic discipline or career pathways.

-Our sincere thanks go to Stephen Caswell who wrote this article for us on AP Capstone. 

WE NEED YOUR HELP, PLEASE!

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

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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:
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. 

ROYAL HIGH SCHOOL:

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.

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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!! 

DISTRICTWIDE:
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.

SANTA SUSANA HIGH SCHOOL:

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!

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 http://www.svef.org

UPCOMING EVENTS

CRESTVIEW ELEMENTARY SCHOOL:
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.

SANTA SUSANA HIGH SCHOOL:
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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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“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!”

Help.