Welcome our new administrative hires from out of the district

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TIM BEDNAR
PRINCIPAL
HILLSIDE MIDDLE SCHOOL

He started as a business major, but Tim Bednar was drawn to another discipline, which he followed.

“I decided it was a calling to go into education and teach English and coach a sport,” he said.

For many years, Mr. Bednar taught English and coached Boy’s Basketball, mostly at Moorpark High School. Now he leaves his position as Moorpark’s Assistant Principal to serve as the new Principal of Hillside Middle School, a position he said he’s excited to begin.

“When I look at moving to another position, I look at moving to a school that I feel is up and coming. I know that a good number of parents and students want to attend Hillside. And that was a draw for me, people really wanting to be at the school,” he said.

Married for 33 years to his high school sweetheart, Mr. Bednar has four grown children (two boys and two girls) and two grandchildren.

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ANGELICA CHAVEZ
ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL
SANTA SUSANA HIGH SCHOOL

Going to UC Berkeley to become a lawyer was the starting goal for Angelica Chavez. But plans changed after she had an encounter of another kind.

“I started mentoring a girl and I realized I wanted to help kids before they needed a lawyer.” she said chuckling. “I changed my major to history, just in case I wanted to go back into law.”

Fortunately she never had to turn back to the law. Teaching now for more than a decade, Dr. Chavez has been teaching in the Multimedia Business Academy at Oxnard High School. She’s also taught in the Green Technology Academy. Both backgrounds will transition nicely into the specialized programs found at Santa Susana High School, where she will serve as the Assistant Principal next year.

Dr. Chavez said it was Santa Susana’s unique programs that drew her to the job.

“I’m really interested in the wall-to-wall academy structure,” she said.

Dr. Chavez is married and has one son, 19, who attends college locally.

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EDDIE GRIGORIAN
ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL
VALLEY VIEW MIDDLE SCHOOL

Eddie Grigorian is bursting with excitement.

Coming in the Simi Valley Unified School District as Valley View Middle School’s new Assistant Principal, Mr. Gregorian said he can’t wait to get started on what he sees is a perfect fit between his skills and passion and the district’s evolution.

“It’s an opportunity for me to grow,” Mr. Grigorian said. “When I walked into your district office, it was home. It felt right. This is education. Everyone is polite and warm and nice.”

Mr. Grigorian is a former history teacher Chatsworth Charter High School (LAUSD). He’s single (except for his puppy) and committed to helping other people through education.

“I always wanted to help people and motivate others. I feel amazing when I’m able to help someone and to do that every day and to help others reach their goals, it’s amazing,” he said. “With a district that’s growing and moving in the right direction. I want to be a part of it.”

AARON DOBSON
ACTIVITIES DIRECTOR
ROYAL HIGH SCHOOL
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For Aaron Dobson, Southern California means family—being closer to family, enjoying his growing family and working at a school where he said he could tell from everything he read that it was like being a part of a family.

“The more I learned about Royal High School, the more it was a lock for me. There’s so much about Royal online. Even Mr. Derrick having a Twitter account–I just can see this prevailing tone of family and spirit. And that’s a lot like the high school and community I came from in Michigan,” he said.

His wife is also a teacher, a math specialist, and they have two children, a two-year-old daughter and a newborn son.

While currently working as an Assistant Principal for a large elementary school (1,200 students) in Sunnyvale, Mr. Dobson’s background is in high school activities. He said that he grew up in a small town where most of the focus was on local education.

“School was always a big part of my life,” he said. “Becoming a teacher seemed like a natural progression for me.”

Board Report: Some Management Changes Announced

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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.

Alumni Report: Royal Grad Finds True Calling in Telling Stories

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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.”

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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. 

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.”

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

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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.