School’s been in session more than a month, and students at Hillside Middle School are settled into classes. But things aren’t looking, or feeling, exactly the same as they did last year around the campus.
Music, always a prominent part of Hillside’s culture, has expanded to include the sounds of piano keys and string instruments. PE uniforms now include leotards as dance has been instituted at the school. The technology courses have grown to offer web design, programming and digital photography. Drama class brings with it the promise of a refurbished stage for future performances.
And then there are the students, more of them, drawn to the new programs and promise of preferred enrollment at Santa Susana High School, Simi’s well-known arts and technology magnet school. Altogether, the school’s enrollment has increased to 805 students this year. That’s 108 students more than last year, 20 of whom transferred into the district from other districts and others who have returned to Simi Valley Unified from private schools and home-schools.
It’s not just the classes that are new to Hillside. Principal Jerry Block left the ocean breezes of Malibu High School to usher in Hillside’s STEAM program. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math and helps define the school’s expanded focus.
It was the lure of the new programs that tempted Block to Simi Valley, he said.
“I’ve always believed in authentic hands-on education for kids,” he said. “I think kids learn best when they are passionate about their classes and can apply what they know. I knew Simi was looking at doing some innovative things, and this is closer to home for me.”
The programs at Hillside were inspired by the successful programs found at Santa Susana High School. With this partnership in place, students at Hillside will have preferred enrollment at Santa Susana High School. Staff at both campuses collaborate to ensure that the middle schoolers are well-prepared for the unique offerings at the high school.
Dr. Jason Peplinski, assistant superintendent of educational services, said that similar partnerships are being developed between Valley View Middle School/Simi Valley High School and Sinaloa Middle School/Royal High School in the near future.
“There are already developing partnerships with the STEM initiative between Valley View and Simi Valley High,” he said. Simi Valley High School has the Medical Health Careers Academy along with other specialized courses in health, science and technology.
At Royal High School, the Jr. ROTC, Ronald Reagan Citizen Scholar Institute and the newly formed International Baccalaureate programs all have the potential to form a middle school partnership with Sinaloa Middle School.
Hillside’s program changes answered the greater demand from parents for middle school opportunities, and Block said that this year’s changes are just the start. Other opportunities being developed include three-day science camps, a robotics club and expanded science courses. He said all of this has generated a lot of enthusiasm among students and staff.
“Staff keeps coming up with great ideas,” Block said. “They’re very anxious to see the programs grow.”