2016-10-07 / Schools

Vista named Blue Ribbon School

Elementary campus one of 29 in California to receive honor
By Michael Aushenker

California education officials agree that Simi Valley’s Vista Fundamental Elementary School is, indeed, “fundamental” to the state’s educational system.

Last week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced that Vista was one of only 29 California schools to receive the prestigious National Blue Ribbon School honor this year as well as the sole Simi Valley Unified School District campus included.

The designation is awarded to schools where students achieve high learning standards or are making notable improvements in raising test scores among various subgroups of students.

The California winners were among 279 public schools and 50 private schools nationwide. In the program’s 34-year history, nearly 8,500 schools have been deemed National Blue Ribbon awardees.

Vista is only the third SVUSD school in the district to earn the award, according to Superintendent Jason Peplinski.

In a Sept. 28 statement, Torlakson congratulated the state’s honorees.

“This recognition for California is a testament to the hard work of our educators, administrators and communities to prepare our students for both 21st century careers and college,” he said. “We must keep our momentum going because we have much work to do.”

Nominated by their chief state school officers nationwide, winning schools in the National Blue Ribbon program took into account student scores and graduation rates, as well as ability to close the achievement gap between individual groups of students, such as English language learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged pupils.

Next month, Peplinski and Director of Elementary Education and former Vista principal Kathy Roth, along with current principal Julie Ellis, will represent Vista at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“This honor has been built on what’s been going on for many years,” Ellis said.

She credited her predecessors, Roth and Kristen Hardy.

“(Roth) was pivotal in having this become a STEM school. It’s the collaborative effort of all the stakeholders,” Ellis said, referring to faculty and parents alike.

“Team Vista” has a motto: “Together Everyone Achieves More.”

Ellis, who became principal two years ago, said that philosophy has led to continued success in academic performance over the years.

She also singled out longtime teacher Irene Zelman, who initiated the application before retiring last year. She taught third, fourth, and fifth grades at Vista for 23 of 25 years of her career (her first two were at Township Elementary).

When reached at her new home in Walnut Creek, Calif., the 34- year Simi Valley resident recalled how she seized the opportunity to apply for the Blue Ribbon honor when she realized Vista finally qualified, based on its high test scores from the California Assessment Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) in 2015.

“It’s a huge application. It’s over 10,000 words. I lived and breathed that application for weeks,” Zelman said, laughing.

It was worth the extra work, she added.

“Yeah, my last year, I felt I’m going to give it my all because I feel Vista really deserves this award,” Zelman said. “I’m so happy that I was given the chance to show my love for the school and how deserving it was.”

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