Monday, April 20, 2015

District Teachers of the Year announced for 2015

Michelle Yepiz from Zamorano Fine Arts Academy, Brenda Mueller from De Portola Middle School and Dr. Ronald Lancia from Mission Bay High School have been named San Diego Unified School District's Teachers of the Year for 2015.

2015 Teachers of the Year These three devoted educators will be honored at the Day of the Teacher celebration scheduled for 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, at Madison High School. More than 140 Teachers of the Year from individual school sites, district Teacher of the Year runners-up, Future Educator Scholars and Mashin and STEM scholarship winners will also be recognized.

“Great teachers make a positive impact on students by consistently creating learning conditions that allow students to meet success,” said Superintendent Cindy Marten. “These three individuals are skillful and passionate professionals who are not only dedicated to improving their own skills but also collaborating with colleagues to create the best learning environment for students. With enthusiasm and purpose, they make a difference every day in the lives of their students and in their school community.”

Yepiz has been teaching at Zamorano Elementary for 11 years. Her teaching method is an active and engaging style, and her enthusiasm to teach helps encourage her students to learn. In addition to teaching, Yepiz organizes an after-school theater class to expose her students to the arts and coordinates an annual school-wide musical.

“I firmly believe in educating the whole child,” Yepiz wrote in her application essay. “My philosophy centers on the idea that the arts are an integral part of education. The arts must be integrated into the curriculum, not as an addition, but as an enhancement to learning.”

Mueller has been a teacher for more than 15 years, 11 of them teaching science at De Portola Middle. She is a Noyce Master Teaching Fellow at San Diego State University, constantly honing her craft as an educator. Mueller’s main focus in the classroom is to foster a safe environment in which students can participate in productive discussions and talk about their ideas.

“She is able to build strong relationships with her students while simultaneously commanding their best effort,” wrote De Portola Principal Ryan Brock. “Students flock to Mrs. Mueller and often speak of her friendly demeanor. Class observations show a high level of rigorous and demanding instruction. Brenda offers the best of both worlds (rigor and relationship), which makes for an incredibly powerful educational environment.”

Lancia has been teaching for 16 years, 11 of which have been at Mission Bay High teaching an array of classes in language arts, film, yearbook and AVID. He treats his student as individuals, and seeks to bring them together in collaboration.

He also developed a program called ACES, or the After-school Center for Excellence and Support, which offers students academic support across curriculum. For Lancia, the program represents four distinct areas of personal commitment.

“Hearts represents the importance of mentorship and service,” Lancia wrote in his application essay. “Clubs represents the club/community effect I deeply value. Diamonds signifies a balanced approach to academics, a notion I’ve appreciated since studying multiple intelligences. And finally, spades represents digging deeper one-on-one and building relationships.”

Yepiz, Mueller and Lancia will go on to the county-wide competition along with the three runners-up for the district’s Teacher of the Year. This year’s runners-up are Mary Lou Baranowski from Lindbergh Schweitzer Elementary School, Simone Kincaid from Creative Performing and Media Arts Middle School and Shirley Miranda from Morse High School.

Every year, one teacher at each level – elementary, middle and high school – is selected as District Teacher of the Year along with a runner-up at each level. Nominees are first selected by their school sites, and then have the option to go through the application process, which includes writing essays, an interview and a classroom observation.

For more information about San Diego Unified’s Teacher of the Year program, contact Jennifer Rodriguez at jcornelius@sandi.net.

What you need to know about lockdowns

School hallway The safety and security of children on our school campuses is the district’s number one priority. It’s unfortunate that schools across San Diego County are experiencing an increase in threats that are forcing schools into lockdown or to take other safety precautions.

The district has emergency plans and procedures in place for various situations, including lockdowns, and schools routinely conduct emergency drills to make sure that everyone is prepared in the event of an actual emergency situation.

It is important for parents to be knowledgeable of these procedures and to know what occurs during lockdown situations. To get a general overview, we have created a list of frequently asked questions relating to lockdowns. Contact your child’s school principal to learn more about specific safety procedures at their school.

What is a lockdown?
Lockdowns are defined as the act of confining students and personnel in a secured location until the emergency or threat, such as police activity, is over. Faculty and staff are instructed to lock all doors and windows leading into the classroom or office, including interior doors that connect with other rooms, and close all window coverings. Students and staff are directed to hunker in a corner or safe area, away from doors and windows, and maintain silence. Instruction is halted. Doors are to remain closed and locked, and nobody is allowed on or off campus until the lockdown is lifted.

A modified lockdown may also be ordered in which all of the above are adhered to with the exception of hunkering in a safe area and halting instruction.

Who decides if a campus should go into lockdown?
A principal, site administrator or any public safety official may order a lockdown. These individuals may also deactivate a lockdown after consultation with all agencies involved if it is a multi-agency event.

Under what circumstances are lockdowns put in place?
The following events may be grounds for a lockdown or modified lockdown: nearby police activity, threats to the campus or any individuals on the campus, natural disaster or environmental hazard.

What occurs during a lockdown?
Once a lockdown has been ordered, the administration will notify staff and students through whatever mechanism the school site has pre-selected to use for notification. This could be an intercom, email to staff, group text to staff or bells that ring a specific way for lockdowns. Once issued, the custodial staff will help comb the campus for students who may be walking outside the classroom, and either return them to class or bring them to a safe area.
The principal or designee serves as incident commander and works with School Police and/or San Diego Police during the lockdown. Site administrators have instant communication with school police dispatch via police radio. Information is quickly relayed from officers on scene to Dispatch. Mobile staff members are equipped with site based radios and officers on scene have the capability to communicate with mobile staff equipped with site based radios.
Staff hunker down in a safe room. Teachers take attendance, secure the classroom and then hunker down. The principal or principal designee will keep staff updated on the situation as it progresses, which teachers will share with students, as appropriate. Students are advised not to be texting at this time, however, if they do, the preferred message is the message that is coming from the teacher with factual information.

While students and staff are safe, the lead police agency monitors the situation. Once officials determine the campus or surrounding area is safe, the lockdown will be lifted and all staff and students are notified. Parents will be notified as soon as possible that the lockdown is lifted, especially if action by them is needed.

Can anyone enter or leave campus during a lockdown?
No, nobody is allowed on or off campus during a lockdown.

How long is a typical lockdown?
A school can be on lockdown for anywhere between 15 minutes and five hours. On average, they last approximately 3 hours.

What is the difference between a lockdown and shelter-in-place?
A shelter-in-place is most often used during an environmental hazard when it’s necessary to keep students indoors. In this situation, schools are advised to seal all air vents, doors, windows and HVAC vents with duct tape, in addition to following all lockdown procedures.

When will parents/guardians be notified about a lockdown on their student’s campus?

The school site makes every effort to communicate with families within the first 30 minutes of a lockdown, either by phone, email or text message (if available). Please keep in mind that the school’s first priority is to keep students and staff safe during this time. If communication is not forthcoming from the school, please do not come to the school site or call School Police. Know that your student is safe and that as soon as time permits, school staff will communicate the necessary information to parents and if/when action may be needed on your part.

In addition, follow San Diego Unified on Twitter and Facebook, as the district is making every effort to post updates about lockdowns that occur throughout the district. If your school has a Twitter feed, follow that, too.

If you have not yet opted-in to receiving text messages via SchoolMessenger, please make that effort so that principals have the option to communicate with parents via text message. Click here for more information.

What should parents do when they hear there is a lockdown at their child’s school?
Please remain calm and do not come to school. If there is police activity at or near the school, you may be putting yourself in danger by coming to the school. Refer to the district’s or school’s Twitter feed and await direction from the school site.

Can parents pick their child up after a lockdown is lifted?
Yes, parents may pick-up their child after the lockdown is lifted. If the lockdown lasts past dismissal time, the school may use a modified dismissal in which teachers escort students to the front of the school and oversee the dismissal process. If a traumatic event has occurred, the school will initiate a formal Reunification Process.

When is the formal Reunification Process initiated?
If there is a traumatic event after which it’s decided that no more instruction will occur that day, a formal reunification process will be initiated. The school will make a call to parents asking that they come pick-up their student. Two areas will be setup: one for the parent to request their student, the other for them to pick-up their student. Staff and police officials will identify the child, get him/her from their classroom and release them to parents/guardians. Parent identification is required to pick-up your child.

How can parents learn more about the safety procedures setup at their student’s school?
Each school site has a Site Emergency Response Plan that outlines all safety procedures. The Ed Code requires this plan be updated every year. Around October, schools should hold a meeting for staff and parents to review the plan, provide input, establish expectations for both staff and parents in the event of an emergency and discuss any safety concerns.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

$119,000 donation from Masons of California supports reading and scholarship programs

San Diego-area public schools received a generous donation of $119,000 from the Masons of California that will provide funding for reading and scholarship programs at San Diego Unified schools.

The Raising a Reader program teaches children literacy skills and fosters a lifetime love of books. Since its inception in 2011, more than 50,000 children in California public schools have benefited from the Masons’ investment in this literacy program.

 Mason's donation
 Masons' Russell Charvonia, Supt. Marten, Nick Serrano from
Councilmember Gloria's office and Principal Nash
The Investments in Success Scholarship Program gives deserving high school seniors who demonstrate exceptional qualities despite home or community obstacles a chance to complete a college education. This year, the California Masons will award more than $600,000 to more than 325 Investment in Success scholars.

Superintendent Cindy Marten and Madison Principal Richard Nash accepted the check from local Masons who serve on the Public Schools Advisory Council during the Public Schools Month Kickoff celebration held at Madison High School on April 9.

The Masons of California are committed to making a difference for public education, and have helped make public education a focal issue in California since the introduction of Public Schools Week in 1920. This statewide celebration, now known as Public Schools Month, takes place each April. This year, the fraternity held events throughout California with statewide donations amounting to more than $760,000.

Preparing for new assessments for students in grades 3-8, 11

Beginning this month, San Diego Unified students in grades 3 through 8, along with those in grade 11, will join students across California in taking new online assessments that will serve as an additional tool to identify how prepared our students will be for college and careers by the time they graduate.

Boy at Computer Since the things we want students to know and be able to do have changed, state assessments have had to change as well.

These new measures, named "Smarter Balanced" assessments or tests, are aligned with our new Common Core State Standards, which were designed to encourage critical thinking, analytical writing and real-world problem solving. These are skills students will need to be successful in school and in life.

Moving forward, the new assessments will provide more information quicker, allowing educators more time to plan professional development and fine-tune curriculum. Interim assessments can be used by teachers throughout the year to monitor student progress and identify specific student learning needs.

The new assessments were created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a collaborative, state-led group comprised of educators, researchers, policymakers and community groups. These assessments are a tool in a larger plan for ensuring high-quality teaching and learning in every school. The plan also includes higher academic standards, more decision-making in the hands of schools and communities, and more resources dedicated to schools and students with the greatest needs.

How Can Parents Help Prepare Children for the New Assessments?

Learning doesn’t end in the classroom, and parents can help provide support and a home environment that will help children succeed at school.

With new academic standards for English and math and new assessments aligned with them, it’s more important than ever for parents and schools to partner to make the most of students’ time in the classroom.

There are a number of ways parents can help students prepare for these new assessments.

A good start is to run through one of the practice tests available on www.smarterbalanced.org with children and ask them to explain their reasoning as they select answers.

To encourage children to think critically as called for in the new standards, parents can ask their children to analyze whatever they are reading and to back their answers up with information from the book.

Other strategies that can be helpful, depending on a child’s age, include reading to them or encouraging them to read, discussing their day at school, playing word games, helping them understand academic vocabulary, setting high expectations, focusing on the process rather than the answer, encouraging them to see math in the real world and asking them to explain why they think a certain answer is correct.

Helping children learn important computer skills such as typing and mouse control can also help them navigate the online assessments.

More fundamentally, it’s important to have a space and schedule that are conducive to learning. This can be accomplished by creating a quiet place for your child to study; setting aside uninterrupted time every day for your child to concentrate on reading, writing and math; and sitting down with your child at least once a week for 15 to 30 minutes while he or she works on homework. During the actual testing period, make sure your child gets plenty of sleep and eats a healthy breakfast.

What Will the New Assessments Look Like for Students?
The exams will be completely online and feature a variety of different types of questions. There will be fewer multiple-choice questions and more short answers and extended responses that will require a deeper understanding of key concepts. The computer-based testing will include embedded supports that will give all students the opportunity to fully demonstrate their knowledge and mastery of the state standards.

After logging on to a computer, students will answer questions of the two-part assessment in clusters. Students will be able to flag and return to questions they weren’t sure about.

There will be about 60 questions in the first part of the assessment. Depending on whether students answer the questions correctly or not, the test will adjust with easier or more difficult questions.

Students will then take the second part of the assessment. This portion includes the performance tasks, which will require students to complete more in-depth projects that demonstrate analytical skills and real-world problem solving. This portion will typically be given over a two-day period.

The English portion is expected to take a total of between four and 4 ½ hours, depending on grade level, and the math portion is expected to take between three and four hours over the course of a few days.

Universal tools, designated supports and accommodations are available to students with disabilities, English learners and other students as needed.

What Will the New Results Look Like?
When parents get results from the new statewide academic assessments, they will look very different from the results of the past.

Within a couple months of students taking the new online assessments, parents are expected to get printed copies of the results. Online reports may also be available.

These printouts will include scores presented in a totally new way. Students will receive an overall score as well as placement in one of four tiers: “standard exceeded,” “standard met,” “standard nearly met,” or “standard not met.”

The new assessments are aligned with new, more rigorous content standards in English and math, raising the bar for all students and requiring a deeper understanding of key concepts.

Considering the increased rigor, it should not be surprising if fewer students score within the top tiers on the testing spectrum. This does not mean that students have fallen behind or learned less. It simply means that we’re expecting more from them and aligning what’s being taught in the classroom with what they will need to know and be able to do when entering college or the workforce.

The new assessments are fundamentally too different from the old exams to make any reliable comparisons between scores from previous assessments and new scores. Rather, this year’s results will establish a baseline for the progress we expect students to make over time.

The results from these assessments are only one source of information we will be using to monitor student progress. Teachers will also gather other valuable information about each student’s learning through classroom assessment and daily student work.


A letter from Superintendent Cindy Marten has been sent to all of our families, advising families about the new Smarter Balanced testing and the role the test plays in the wider set of assessments used to monitor student performance. (View the letter here)

For more information about the assessments, visit our Testing websitehttp://www.sandi.net/testing or the California Department of Education’s CAASPP website.

San Diego Unified showcases Farm to School Program for national audience

As part of a national food services conference, more than 60 school district representatives, members of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and members of National Food Service Management Institute took a trip to Crawford High School to observe San Diego Unified’s Farm to School program in action.

Attendees were welcomed by Gary Petill, the director of San Diego Unified’s Food Services department.

“We all know about the challenges of the stigma associated with school food over the years,” said Petill. The meals served at schools across the district do not look like the typical school lunches of the past. They are colorful, with vibrant hues revealing the focus on serving fresh fruits and vegetables.”

As part of their trip, attendees had the opportunity to tour Crawford High’s garden and kitchen facilities.

Crawford High has implemented a Garden to Café program, allowing fresh produce to be grown and harvested on site and served in the cafeteria. Members of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) run internships at Crawford High for students to work in the garden, gaining job experience and learning about nutrition.

 Crawford Garden to Cafe students
 Pictured: Jomar, Susan, Shafie, Pawlay and Irene

This afterschool garden club allows for students like Susan, Irene, Pawlay, Jomar and Shafie to participate in a social activity while growing various crops such as lettuce, spinach, radishes or kale.

“It’s interesting because when I came here, it had been three months that I’d been in the United States,” said Jomar, a junior. “I wanted to compare gardening here to in the Philippines.”

Crawford High has a prep kitchen that services the surrounding school campuses in addition to its main campus. While touring the kitchen, attendees were able to meet some of the San Diego farmers who sell organic crops to San Diego Unified.

Some of the more surprising foods served to students include kabocha squash, cremini mushrooms, jicama and kumquats. George Edwards, an attendee from New York City’s Department of Education, explained that even though these foods may be unusual to serve to elementary school students, children can easily learn to like them.

“Yes, kids are picky.” said Edwards. “Adults are picky. Sometimes it’s easier to convince a child to try something new as opposed to an adult. Usually it takes one child, and the rest seem to follow.”

To conclude their trip to Crawford High, the attendees were served a California Thursdays lunch. This meal, presented by the Center for Ecoliteracy in collaboration with San Diego Unified, features California-grown food and includes a Mary’s Chicken drumstick.

The Major Cities Training Symposium by NFSMI was an opportunity for individuals from food services departments in school districts across the nation to exchange ideas and information. Crawford High and San Diego Unified served as an example of a successful and innovative Farm to School program.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

San Diego Unified students stand out at Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair

Students from 13 San Diego Unified schools took home awards, including the Senior Sweepstakes award, after competing in the 61st annual Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair held at the end of March.

More than 650 students in grades 7 through 12 attending school in San Diego or Imperial counties entered projects in this year’s fair. Topics of entries ranged from animal science, biochemistry and computer science, to mathematics, medicine and health science, microbiology, and electrical and mechanical engineering.

Projects were judged and winners were selected in either the senior division, which covers grades 9-12, or the junior division, which covers grades 7-8.

Chloe Kuo This year, La Jolla High School junior Chloe Kuo was named the Senior Sweepstakes – ACFEA winner for her project on ways to improve movement on manual wheelchairs. Kuo created a prototype wheelchair that featured a hands-free, voice activated locking and unlocking mechanism for the axels that allow the user to use one hand to propel both wheels at once, then unlock the axels using a voice command to operate them separately.

Kuo, a tennis player, was inspired to create the wheelchair after playing a round of wheelchair tennis. She was recognized for her win by the San Diego County Board of Education at its April 8 Board Meeting, where she described her inspiration and showed how here wheelchair prototype works. http://stream.sdcoe.net/wc/boardmeeting040815/ (starts at 32:35)

Other sweepstakes winners and runners-up include:
  • Sebastian Mellen from Mt. Everest Academy - Junior Division Physical Science Sweepstakes winner and RED Award recipient (Project title: MathSuite: An Innovative Android App that makes Dreaded Calculations... FUN!)
  • Ananya Rao, Marshall Middle School - Junior Division Life Science Sweepstakes winner (Project title: Comparing the effects of natural and chemical oil dispersants on brine shrimp)
  • Janie Kim, Scripps Ranch High School - Senior Division Life Science Sweepstakes Runner-up (Project title: Developing a Contact Lens Solution with Increased Antimicrobial Activity).
  • Laurel Norris from Marshall Middle School - Junior Division Life Science Sweepstakes Runner-up (Project title: Swimming in Sweetness The effects of artificial sweeteners on Daphnia)
Twenty-five students, and three potential alternates, from San Diego Unified have been qualified to enter the 64th annual California State Science Fair (CSSF) to be held in Los Angeles on May 18-19, where they will compete against an expected 1,000 students in grades 6-12 from 400 schools throughout the state for awards totaling $50,000.

Additionally, 17 students from the district have been nominated to participate in the Broadcom MASTERS national competition, a Society for Science & the Public affiliated science and engineering fair that represents the top 10 percent of students in grades 6-8 in the United States.

Marshall Middle School was a stand-out this year with 20 first place winners, 16 CSSF Qualified entries, two CSSF Wait List entries, 15 Broadcom Nominated entries, one Junior Division Life Sciences Winner, one Junior Division Life Sciences Sweepstakes Runner-Up, and 14 second through fourth place winners.

Other notable schools were Wangenheim Middle School with 22 first through third place winners, Morse High School with 25 second through fourth place winners and De Portola Middle School with 15 second through fourth place winners.

Two San Diego Unified teachers were also recognized at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair. Shirley Miranda, AP computer science and robotics teacher at Morse High School, was named the Senior Division Science Fair Teacher of the Year and Dan Grendziak, 8th grade physical science teacher at Wangenheim Middle School, was named the Junior Division Science Fair Teacher of the Year. Science fair students nominate their teachers for this award and the Student Advisory Board of the Science and Engineering Fair selects the winners.

For a complete list of winners, please visit the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair website.

Nation’s School Districts Take A Seat At San Diego Unified’s Table

Farm to School IN THE NEWS: Food service officials from 30 school districts from across the country on Thursday stopped by Crawford High School for lunch. The officials were there to learn about San Diego Unified School District's farm-to-school program. The Department of Agriculture brought the school food bosses to San Diego for a symposium hosted by the National Food Service Management Institute. Read and watch more from KPBS.