2016-08-19 / Front Page

Simi Valley Unified rings the school bell

District’s 17,600 students return to class
By Hector Gonzalez

STAR TREATMENT — Sixth-grader Emilio Juarez, 11, high-fives teachers as he walks the red carpet at Sinaloa Middle School on the first day of school Wednesday. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers STAR TREATMENT — Sixth-grader Emilio Juarez, 11, high-fives teachers as he walks the red carpet at Sinaloa Middle School on the first day of school Wednesday. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers Cars and minivans were lined up Wednesday morning in front of Katherine Elementary School, where Principal Jamie Snodgrass stood waving at the entrance gate.

Children with new school clothes, backpacks and haircuts smiled and waved back as Snodgrass personally welcomed each of her 370 or so students and their parents or guardians to the first day of school in Simi Valley Unified School District.

“It’s gone very, very smoothly this morning,” Snodgrass said between her greetings.

This year the start of classes at the K-6 school was made easier, Snodgrass said, by a “meet the teachers” get-together she held Tuesday afternoon in the school’s quad area, where parents and kids got acquainted with the teachers a day early.


‘GO SABERS!’—Teachers and staff at Sinaloa Middle School welcome students as they walk the red carpet onto campus. ‘GO SABERS!’—Teachers and staff at Sinaloa Middle School welcome students as they walk the red carpet onto campus. “I think it helped,” the principal said. “The parents felt very comfortable meeting their children’s teachers in a more casual setting.”

About 100 parents attended Tuesday’s event. They first stopped to check posted lists of classroom assignments, then walked over to introduce themselves to their children’s teachers.

“It’s a very good idea to be able to meet the teacher early and know what to expect for this school year,” said Maria de la Cruz, who got to meet and talk Tuesday with Cindy Panczel, her daughter Maribel’s kindergarten teacher.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever done it, and I actually like it,” Panczel said. “It’s more casual, and the kids won’t be so nervous tomorrow because we already met.”


T-SHIRT CANNON—At left, Royal High teacher Rich Letus throws a T-shirt off the roof of the multipurpose room during a surprise pep rally for students on the first day of school Wednesday. Below, students try to catch a shirt. 
Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers T-SHIRT CANNON—At left, Royal High teacher Rich Letus throws a T-shirt off the roof of the multipurpose room during a surprise pep rally for students on the first day of school Wednesday. Below, students try to catch a shirt. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers The meet-and-greet was a different approach to the start of the school year, SVUSD spokesperson Jake Finch said.

“Usually the elementary schools post the class assignments the night before and the students don’t get to meet their specific teachers until the next morning, first day,” she said.

Katherine Elementary also started the new semester with some physical upgrades, including new play equipment and modernized restrooms.

It was one of 26 school sites spruced up over the summer as the district used about $24 million from its 2004 Measure C-4 bond to pay for new air conditioning; playground paving; upgrades to buildings like fresh paint, roofing and sewer systems; and new fencing and landscaping around campuses.

‘A systematic approach’

Big changes will be felt inside classrooms, too.

With a budget of $ 164 million, the approximately 17,600-student district begins the 2016-17 school year with four new counselors, three new principals, two new assistant principals, three new psychologists and 32 new teachers, including its first credentialed Mandarin language teacher.

Hired over the summer, the new instructors fill critical vacancies created by resignations and retirements, Finch said.

The district also made progress over the summer in putting in place a standard instructional program for classrooms.

Called “Classroom Instruction That Works,” the program delineates tried-and-true strategies teachers can use to “add to and polish the tools in their instructional toolkits,” according to the program’s introductory chapter.

MEET YOUR MASCOT — In addition to meeting their teachers, Katherine Elementary students and parents snapped photos with Crocodile, the school mascot, played by Melanie House, at a special meet-and-greet Tuesday evening on the Katherine Street campus. JAMES SHORT/Acorn Newspapers MEET YOUR MASCOT — In addition to meeting their teachers, Katherine Elementary students and parents snapped photos with Crocodile, the school mascot, played by Melanie House, at a special meet-and-greet Tuesday evening on the Katherine Street campus. JAMES SHORT/Acorn Newspapers Dozens of teachers received training in the course over the summer, bringing to more than 80 the number of district teachers certified in the program.

“This is giving us a systematic approach with regards to classroom instruction that we haven’t had for quite some time,” Superintendent Jason Peplinksi said at an Aug. 9 board meeting, where he officially welcomed parents and students back to school.

Rigorous classes

High school students were busy over the summer, too. Hundreds of them took Advanced Placement preparation classes in summer school, and 10 new sections of AP courses will be offered this year among the district’s three high schools.

More than 300 students who never took an AP class before are taking one or more this semester, Peplinski said.

“We’re excited to see how these more rigorous classes affect the students’ educational paths,” he said.

More than 14,000 new Chromebooks will be delivered to classrooms within the next few weeks, the superintendent said, as soon as technicians complete upgrades to the district’s computer network.

Also this year, two new positions were created to beef up the district’s student support services division, “an already very busy department,” Finch said in an email.

The division provides information on the district’s health services, home teaching, inter-district permits and student records, and also oversees the district’s special education programs.

Getting kids safely to and from school will receive extra attention this year following an accident in May that killed 9-year-old Angel Zevallos as he walked home from Madera Elementary School. Police said the boy was playing with his sister when he fell from the sidewalk into the street and was struck by a car.

This year, the district has visits by Simi Valley Police Department officers scheduled at every campus, Peplinksi said.

“Apart from our usual bicycle safety program, they’ll be doing discussions with the students on how to get to and from school safely,” he said.

Peplinski also had some advice for parents on helping their kids succeed this year.

An example: Provide a “safe, well-lighted, consistent place for study.”

“Get involved in your school community,” he said. “First support your school’s PTSA, then become an active member of your child’s education.”

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