Simi Valley School Board candidates 2014 round-up

By Jenniffer Jones

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This year there has been a great deal of change in Simi Valley Unified School District. Simi Elementary School campus, which was build in 1926, was closed and the students and staff were moved to Mountain View Elementary School to share space. Simi Elementary and Mountain View Elementary were two of several schools with low enrollment in the district. Dr. Kathryn Scroggin resigned as superintendent of Simi Valley Unified School District effective June 30, 2014. The current school board voted 4-1 to keep her as interim superintendent until a replacement could be found. Then on September 16, 2014 in a contentious 3-2 vote, the school board voted to relieve Dr. Scroggin as interim superintendent effective October 10, 2014 and appoint Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. Jason Peplinski as interim superintendent, while they look for a permanent superintendent. Dr. Peplinski was appointed assistant superintendent July 1, 2014 from his previous position of Director of Elementary Educational Services at Simi Valley Unified School District.

On June 30, 2014, Arleigh Kidd, a current school board trustee, announced he would not be seeking re-election. Leaving one open seat on the Simi Valley School Board. The current school board voted to revisit the 7-11 District Advisory Committee recommendations to re purpose the schools with low enrollment.

This election year in Simi Valley we have two seats up for grabs in our school board election. While Mr. Kidd is not seeking re-election, incumbent, Jeanne Davis is, along with four other candidates hoping to take Mr. Kidd and Mrs. Davis’ seats. They are Josie Hirsch, Bill Daniels, Elaine Litster and Scott Blough. Let’s take a look at our school board candidates. In addition to this, we intend to publish another article on the candidates’ Common Core views later.

Jeanne Davis – Incumbent

DavisJeanne2Mrs. Davis currently sits on the Simi Valley School Board. If re-elected this will be her third term. Here is a brief background on Mrs. Davis. She received her teaching credential from USCLB at the age of 21. Three months later she started teaching third grade at Berylwood Elementary. She then earned her Communications Handicapped, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Credential and was hired to teach deaf and hard of hearing students at Arroyo Elementary School. The program was then moved to Simi Elementary, where she continued to teach the deaf. She then received her Master’s Degree and worked on her Administrative Credential. She also holds a credential in Adult Education. She taught sign language at night at our Adult Education facility while still working full time for Simi Valley Unified School District. Mrs. Davis became Assistant Principal at Valley View Middle School for three years. She was then Principal at Katherine Elementary. She was also a Language Arts mentor, master teacher for student teachers in both regular and special education, Adjunct Professor at CLU and supervisor of high school students. InDavisJeanneSign 2005, she retired and in 2006 decided to run for school board. She won the race and then was re-elected in 2010.

Why did you decide to seek re-election for school board?

Education is still my passion after 40 years of serving in the Simi Valley. My educational background uniquely qualifies me for the position I currently seek and includes: teacher of both regular and Special Education, Gifted and Talented students, Adult Education, mentor, Vice Principal, Principal, Supervisor of both elementary and secondary teachers and adjunct professor at Cal Lutheran University.

I have always felt a deep commitment to students, teachers, and parents. I look forward to serving the community at large. It is important that all areas of the curriculum be addressed and existing programs and expenditures be closely monitored. Safe schools are my number one priority.  I will continue to be a driving force in setting new policies that bring school and community together. It would be an honor to serve the students, teachers and parents of Simi Valley again.

What are your plans to increase enrollment in Simi ValleyUnified School District? Would you close some schools?

Develop programs at the middle schools that articulate with programs at the high schools like the partnerships between Santa Susana High School and Hillside Middle School. Sinaloa could pair with Royal High School in the International Baccalaureate program or Civics education. Valley View could start a middle school version of the medical Health Academy. We must engage parents whose students live in Simi Valley but are not attending. We need to have extensive conversations to understand what needs are not being met in order to help use that feedback as we create new programs and student opportunities in our schools. We must also market in our District and in surrounding districts as we have many unique programs that could attract students from out of our District.

DavisJeannfactsWhat are your plans to prepare high school graduates for the work place if they decide not to go to college?

We are actually doing a lot in this area. SVUSD is a leader in the county for Career Technical Education grants (CTE), evidenced by our recent 1.3 million dollar CTE grant award. ROP has one of their strongest programs in our high schools. We can continue to develop pathways that align with regional vocational needs. We could also provide more opportunities at the middle school level for students that show an interest to explore vocational carers. I want our District to develop partnerships with local businesses that have openings that are not being filled due to a lack of skills in the workforce. By working with business we can develop CTE programs that will allow our students to graduate with certifications that will allow them to immediately compete for those jobs.

What technology plans do you have for our schools?

A vision of continued growth in technology is outdated by the time it is plugged in at a school. We need to have a district standard for all classrooms in our District. We should increase the use of chrome books. We are looking at a technology bond for 2016 that will allow us to complete Phases 2 and 3. I believe once fully implemented the technology in our district will be the best in East Ventura county.

We have already begun to implement Phase 1 of our technology plan with a huge roll out including Smart Boards, Wifi connectivity, and most recently Google Active Directory, whereby teacher and students can use a variety of Google Apps to manage and collaborate as never before. I think our priorities should be:

  1. Instructing students how to use online tools ethically and effectively.
  2. Making sure all teachers are supported and trained on these new platforms.
  3. Making sure we have the band width to support all these devices and internet based instruction.

What is your strongest asset to help our school district with all of the changes we have been through?

I bring stability, institutional knowledge, experience as an educator, and a strong working relationship with the district administration that I have gained over my 40 years. My strongest asset is coordinating all the invested parties interests and translating that into instruction that will make Simi graduates among the most competitive and competent students out there. My first responsibility is to the public to make sure the District is operating as efficiently as possible and delivering a superior education to our students. To facilitate this I regularly meet with parents, teachers, students and administrators to hear their concerns. These considerations are always set against the financial reality that we all have to deal with and then we make policy.  Researching and building the right teams to improve our service is my forte.

If elected, who would you vote as the next board President and why?

If nominated I would accept the position as I have served as Clerk of the Board this year and have served as President in the past. But I also believe that my fellow trustees are more than qualified for the position so I don’t feel it would be fair to name just one.

 

Josie Hirsch – School Board Candidate

HirschJosie2This will be Mrs. Hirsch’s third time running for school board  (and Facebook). She is currently Vice Chairman of the ICOC of Simi Valley Unified School District.  The ICOC is a committee that oversees campus modernization spending. Here is a brief background on Mrs. Hirsch. Since 2004, she has owned a business that specializes in budget management and cost reduction for businesses of all sizes. Her company has saved over 4,000 jobs nationwide. She is President of Orphan Audio, a professional recording equipment manufacturer. Mrs. Hirsch has led Royal High School in acquiring new band instruments over the past several years by negotiating significantly discounted prices direct from the manufacturers. In 2010, she along with her business partner, Jan Glasband, created the Nottingham Festival. She is very active in the community as a member of Rotary and is a Girl Scout Leader. She volunteers for Under One Roof and the Boys and Girls Club to name a few. Mrs. Hirsch has been honored with numerous community service and volunteer awards. She has two children ages 6 and 9.  Read: Josie_Hirsch_Postcard_(1)

Why did you decide to run for school board?

I am running for SVUSD School Board because I am a mom, and I know the citizens of Simi Valley deserve more for their money. Our children deserve to feel safe at school.  We can do better. We can do better than the Status Quo of how we manage the education of our children. WE can do better managing our students. We have a lot of problems in this district, too many to list. I know I have an answer to many of those problems. I want to be part of the solution of making our schools better.  Word of mouth can make or break a business. Unfortunately we do not have a lot of community members telling their neighbors that our schools are great yet.  By electing me, Josie Hirsch, to school board, the community will put a plan in motion to change the quality and reputation of the Simi Valley Schools.

What are your plans to increase enrollment in Simi ValleyUnified School District? Would you close some schools?

Closing schools will not increase our enrollment but will fill the schools closer to capacity.  To increase enrollment we need to improve the public image of our schools. This starts from leadership down.  Our district needs to be approachable at every level and our employees must remember they are the face of the district when interacting with the public in either their professional or personal lives.  We must be customer friendly and remember our customers are not only the students and parents, but the the tax payers of Simi Valley.

What are you plans to prepare high school graduates for the work place if they decide to not attend college?HirschSchoolBd

I would like our district to build a relationship with a makerspace.  A makerspace is a community-operated workspace where people with common interests, often in computers, machining, technology, science, digital art or electronic art; can meet, socialize and collaborate.

What technology plans do you have for our schools?
We need to bring current technology into our schools.  The world has become high tech and our children are excelling in this environment.  The assessments required by the Common Core standards are computerized, so each individual must be somewhat computer savvy to complete them.  The challenge is in finding a way to finance this expansion without a tax increase.  We need to get the budget under control so that we have the means to provide this equipment and software. There should have been a technology plan in place years ago, unfortunately, the district has depended on the 2004 C4 bond, a tax based loan payable over 20 years, to provide.

What is your strongest asset to help our school district with all of the changes we are going through?

My strength is my background and experience.  What I plan to do on this board is directly related to my passion for education. I care about the kids and teachers and their success. I will complement this board because of my experience as a parent, business person and one of the most dedicated people in this community for this job. The unions and administrators have always sought to put their people from education community on school boards, I am here to represent the parents, families and students of Simi Valley. Those are my peers. Obviously they may have more education in terms of their degrees, but it is obvious we do not have financial expertise on our school boards across the state. We have had nothing but an influx of bureaucrats making decisions about OUR community. I am here from the community because I will represent those teachers, families and children.

If elected, who would you vote as the next school board President and why?

We need a board president who understands the status quo is not working.  Someone who will lead the board to make the necessary changes to enact a paradigm shift.  If our schools are to rise back to the levels they once were, as top schools in the state, we need a President who will bring the board together, working towards consensus and allowing discussion to bring new ideas to the dais.

 

Bill Daniels – School Board Candidate

DanielsBillThis will be Mr. Daniels first time running for school board. He is currently a Simi Valley Police Officer. Here is a brief background on Mr. Daniels. He has been a Simi Valley Police Officer for the past 26 years. In 1998, he was selected as Officer of the Year. In 2002, he became a graduate of Leadership in Simi Valley. He is currently responsible for recruiting the best quality officers to protect the citizens of Simi Valley. He has a 15 year old son currently in Simi Valley Unified School District.  See: DanielsFlyer_endorsement1

 

Why did you decide to run for school board?

As the father of a 15 year old special needs child, I have been very active in my son’s education. Over the past several years, I have developed a deep concern over the direction that the Simi Valley School Board has been heading.

With my leadership experience, I feel that I can make a positive impact to get this school district turned around and heading in a positive direction. I will do everything possible to make the necessary changes to return the Simi Valley Unified School District back to its potential as a premier school district within Ventura County. I’m committed to the time and energy that it will take to make the much needed positive changes for not only my son, but for all of children in Simi Valley.

What are your plans to increase enrollment in Simi ValleyUnified School District? Would you close some schools?

First off, declining enrollment is a huge issue and has been ignored for years by the school board. It is estimated that the school district will lose 600 students this year. Losing 600 students is the equivalent of closing an entire elementary school. To break that down even further, the school district will lose 3.35 students every day.

Closing schools will help with the impact of declining enrollment, but not help to increase enrollment. In order to increase enrollment, we must reach out to those families that have left over the past 5 years and find our what this school district was lacking and what it would take to get them back. We must listen to all of those involved. From there, we can develop effective strategies to keep Simi Valley children in our schools. Most recently, some wonderful new programs have been developed such as Royal’s IB option and Hillside becoming a STEAM academy. However, we are still losing over 500 students each year which is why you need to base our programs and offerings on real data acquired by talking with people.

Let’s start looking to be a leader in educations rather then the follower that we have been in the past.

What are you plans to prepare high school graduates for the work place if they decide to not attend college?

The Simi Valley Unified School District needs to develop and invest in a vocational training program. Not every student wants to continue on to college after graduating from high school. At this point, the school district does not offer a vocational program that will better prepare those students for the 21st century workplace. I believe businesses in town and other local communities would embrace the idea of developing an on the job training programs that would cover many different fields of employment.

The Simi Valley Unified School District has recently taken steps to head in the right direction by receiving 1.2 million dollars from the California Career Pathways Trust Fund. This program is allows every high school graduate to prepare for college or gainful employment outside of high school.

What technology plans do you have for our schools?

As we seek to make our students both college and career ready, it is no doubt that technology will play a significant role in their education. Our schools have recently piloted one to one devices in many schools and are working to ensure there is a computer lab on every campus. Unfortunately in talking with school employees, much of the technology has been pushed into schools with little support or a solid implementation plan. I hope to continue the rollout of new hardware such as ipads, laptops and student accessible wifi, but more importantly, I want to ensure that the needed support and training is available with each rollout so that this is not a wasted investment.

What is your strongest asset to help our school district with all of the changes we are going through?   

I don’t think I can limit my strongest asset to just one thing. I think I have many strong assets that will help get this school district turned around and heading in a positive direction.

Those assets are:

  • A proven leader in Simi Valley as seen by my work with the Simi Valley Police Department, Leadership Simi Valley, and local Special Olympics programs.
  • Dedicated – if I commit to something, I always devote whatever time, energy, or resources it takes to get the job done.
  • Integrity- I always strive to do the right things for the right reasons.
  • Tremendous problem solver- Always looking for ways to make things run more efficiently. My most recent example would be bringing a new health insurance program to the City of Simi Valley that will save the city and its employees hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Team player – Always willing to go out of my way to help others.
  • Good listener – Always willing to listen to both sides of a situation to come up with the best resolution for all.
  • Always give 110% – I don’t believe in just going through a motion to get something done. I will always give my best effort the first time.
  • Great people skills – I base much of my success on my ability to have positive interaction with all of those that I come in contact with. I have the ability to work well with difficult people and still come up with a positive resolution that meets everyone’s needs.

If elected, who would you vote for as the next school board president and why?

I would have to take a long hard look at the makeup of the board at that time. I would evaluate the pros and cons of each trustee (including myself) and determine which trustee has the ability to bring the board together as a team and work towards common goals that are in the best interest of the school district. This will be a very important decision because if the wrong trustee is selected, it would divide the board and make moving forward very difficult.

 

Elaine Litster – School Board Candidate

ElaineHarp2014AThis will be Mrs. Litster’s first time running for school board. She is currently works for Royal High School. Here is a brief background on Mrs, Litster. Her education is M.A. in Urban Planning (UCLA), B.S. in Economics (BYU), A.A. in Interpersonal Communications (BYU-ID), Presidential Scholar, Spori Scholar, and Langloise Scholar. She worked as an admissions counselor for Boise State University. She was a 7 year teacher at Centers of Learning in Northridge, California. She was PTA president at Justin Elementary for 2 terms, she is currently Justin’s Parliamentarian. She has written and received grans. She is currently president of the American Harp Society, Los Angeles, California, which was named chapter of the year. Prior to being president of the American Harp Socitey, she was Board Director and on the Financial Advisory Committee. She owns SafeChecks with her husband. They have five children in Simi Valley Unified School District. Three are in middle school with two in high school. Read: Litster Brochure

Why did you decide to run for school board?

Simi Valley is a wonderful community with very strong schools.  As my five children have been involved in Simi’s public schools I have witnessed many positive programs, but also areas needing improvement.  I worked in the schools as an employee (staff at Royal), as a PTA officer (president at Justin), as a volunteer (after school music program director) and I learned even more about the district.  I believe my unique background (B.S. in Economics, M.A. in Urban Planning, University admissions counselor, high school teacher, etc.) could help guide our district to solid financial footing and increased academic excellence.  I want to make a positive difference and realize the best way I can influence positive change is by serving on the School Board.

What are your plans to increase enrollment in Simi ValleyUnified School District? Would you close some schools

It will take a multi-faceted approach to bolster and increase enrollment.  We need to immediately take steps to retain the students in the district.  This can be done by an emphasis on customer service, recognizing that parents with their students are consumers and we need to provide excellent service from the greeting at the office to excellent counseling information.  We need to aggressively market our schools strengths locally and in surrounding communities.  We need to reach out to our home school community.  I would empower Pablo Leanos, Assistant Principal at Monte Vista, to research ways in which home school students might take credits or classes (such as a math class) at a public school.  This cooperative relationship will lead to increased ADA and district revenue.  Increasing our academic standards and performance will increase our district enrollment.

What are your plans to prepare high school graduates for the work place if they decide to not attend college?

Regardless of whether or not a student chooses to attend college, the student should be taking coursework that allows that option.  An increased emphasis and availability of A-G classes allows all students the greatest after-high school options.  That being said, there are other decisions that can be made to better prepare our students for the workforce.  Our high schools should include some type of a volunteerism requirement for graduation.  (We are one of the few districts in the area that doesn’t have this.)  Requiring our students to spend time in the community working with charitable and non-profit organizations will broaden the horizons of our students and expand their skills.  Further, greater access to industrial arts curriculum, technical/vocational classes, and local business internships can develop workplace skills and better prepare our students.  We also need to ensure that students are aware of vocational coursework offered by Simi’s Adult School.

What technology plans do you have for our schools?

This past summer the district made great technology strides, with installing 1277 new lab and administration desktop computers, distributing 760 new laptops to teachers, counselors and administrators, and re-imaging 826 existing computers.  On-going is the installation of hundreds of more computers in elementary and middle school computer labs.  See http://www.simi.k12.ca.us/superintendent.  All of these are positive steps, but it is the integration and the effective usage of technology that is critical.  The district needs technical staff available to guide and assist users, starting with the teachers.  Seamless connectivity between technical devises is critical, i.e. smart boards linked to computers, internet connectivity available wherever needed, tablets with meaningful apps/software.  Further, effective technology communications is paramount.  (We need to actively implement the communications proposal presented to the district by Stephen Caswell, SVHS.)

What is your strongest asset to help our school district with all of the changes we are going through?

My strongest assets are excellent people skills, my formal education, and my work experiences that will effect positive changes.  I am not afraid to jump into a thorny issue, communicate with all the stake holders and produce a workable solution.  I am always respectful of others and recognize the best solutions come through collaborative efforts.  I have the financial background to analyze budgets and guide the district to strong financial footings.  My children have attended public schools, private schools, charter schools, and been home schooled.  We chose Simi Valley public schools, and I can communicate the advantages and strengths of that choice.  Having taught in the classroom and having worked on staff, I understand the concerns of both certificated and classified district personnel.  There is not just one solution that will bring our district to prominence, it will be a series of effective changes that can help the SVUSD re-emerge as one of California’s finest school districts.

If elected, who would you vote as the next school board president and why?

Generally, the school board president is selected from one of the senior board members.  I anticipate that there will be two new trustees elected to the board, which means Rob Collins, Debbie Sandland, and Dan White would be the contenders for the next term of school board president.  I believe Rob has generally done a good job as board president.  I am mindful, however, that many parents and teachers have felt frustration with the handling of the retirement and rehiring of our late superintendent.  The Board President, whomever that will be, will work closely with the new superintendent.  It is important to elect as board president someone who is best suited for the ongoing interactions with our new superintendent.  It must be someone that is respectful and mindful of role of the superintendent and the entire district, while recognizing the need for autonomous Board guidance.

 

Scott Blough – School Board Candidate

BloughScottThis will be Mr. Blough’s first time running for school board. He is currently a Commercial Lending Officer at a bank in Westlake. Here is a brief background on Mr. Blough. He has an A.A. in Arts from Moorpark College. He then enrolled at the University of Arizona with a double major in History and Political Science. He interned at the US Department of State in Washington DC, He has a MA in Public Policy and Administration. He was Chair of the Mobile Home Rent Mediation Board, Simi Valley Neighborhood Council, the Simi Valley General Plan Advisory Commission, Simi Valley Gang Task Force, Ventura County Pollution Control District, and the Simi Valley Unified School District’s Bond Oversight Committee. Mr. Blough has been the past president of the Simi Valley Police Foundation, Treasurer for the Santa Susana High School Booster Club, two time International Service Chair for the Simi Valley Sunrise Rotary club. He served as Controller of the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival and he is a two time Paul Harris Fellow. He wrote the budget that helped bring in over $150,000 for local Simi Valley charities. He currently has three children ages 7, 4 and 1. His oldest child is currently enrolled in Simi Valley Unified School District.

(we will publish answers to our questions if/when Mr. Blough responds)

 

Jenniffer Jones has a child in the Simi Valley Unified School District. She was on the Local Control Accountability Plan Committee (LCAP) for Simi Valley Unified School District and is currently in the PTA in charge of programs at her daughter’s school. MORE

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