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Audience: Homepage


Posted by: Layla Rosales
Published: 4/25/17

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Mission Vista High School and Rancho Buena Vista High School have been named Gold Ribbon schools by the state Department of Education for outstanding academic achievement.


“We’re super excited,” said Mission Vista Principal Nicole Miller. “I’m just super proud of our programs and our faculty and the experience that they provide to kids every day that are really unique.”


Rancho Buena Vista Principal Charles Schindler said that earning a Gold Ribbon award “is a great honor and a tribute to the staff at RBV for our academic programs we offer all students.”


With the latest round of awards, all three of the comprehensive high schools in the Vista Unified School District have been honored as Gold Ribbon schools. Vista High School won the designation in 2015.


“This is a remarkable achievement that reflects well on the hard work of our students, staff, families and partners,” said Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka.


State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said that the Gold Ribbon schools “are leading the way in embracing our new rigorous academic standards and showing others how to help students succeed on their way to 21st century careers and college.”


The Gold Ribbon awards recognize California schools that have made gains in implementing the academic content and performance standards adopted by the state.


“I look forward to traveling the state to honor these schools and to help share their programs, methods, and techniques that are working,” Torlakson said.


Mission Vista High School was recognized for its programs in math, science, biomedical, engineering, theater, music, visual arts, dance, and Career Technical Education (CTE), Miller said.

The school has 17 CTE courses, from digital art to computer science, taught by professionals who worked in the field they teach.


“Our math program is really unique because we have hour-and-a-half periods, so our teachers really focus on the application of math,” Miller said. “Our kids are really looking at how the math applies to the real world. It’s a lot more than plugging numbers into equations.”


As a magnet school, Mission Vista has a class schedule that allows students to take more electives and advanced classes, Miller said.


The school is on what Miller said is a four-by-four schedule in which students take four courses in the fall semester and four different courses in the spring semester, unlike a traditional schedule in which students take six courses for a full year.

“They do a whole year in one semester,” Miller said.


Because it’s a magnet school, students must apply to attend Mission Vista and Miller said that there is a waiting list at all grade levels. Students are admitted by lottery.


Rancho Buena Vista High School was recognized for its reading and writing program that involves English and Social Studies classes.


The program “prepares students with writing strategies and techniques as well as the analysis skills needed to write complete essays on a variety of topics,” Schindler said. “The nice thing is this award recognizes a built-in program that we have been working on here at RBV for the last five to seven years and has produced very successful student assessment outcomes.”


When the program started, 71 percent of juniors were proficient on state tests that focused on reading, writing and analysis, Schindler said.


By the spring semester in the 2015-2016 school year, 75 percent of juniors were proficient on those tests.









Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/23/17

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Twelve-year-old Rachel Palmer has become a bit of an expert on aquaponics – the process of growing plants and fish in water.


She and her classmates at Madison Middle School have built an aquaponics system outside their seventh-grade classroom with the help of Eco Life Foundation, an Escondido-based nonprofit that promotes sustainable farming.


“It was really fun,” said Rachel, who was a gardening aficionado even before her class got involved in aquaponics. “I like to grow my own food and cook it.”


The system she and her classmates built will grow lettuce and raise koi fish. The waste from the koi acts as a natural fertilizer for the plants, which use the nutrients in the waste and return fresh water to the fish.


“Aquaponics is really just another way to help the environment,” said America Velasco, 12. “You recycle water instead of using new water, using the water over and over again.”


Madison Middle School student Rachel Palmer with the school's aquaponics system as it was under construction.


The project is part of seventh grade science teacher Kristina Morrow’s efforts to take students beyond supermarket shelves when they think about food. “We’re trying to get kids to understand where their food comes from, other than the grocery store,” Morrow said.


Morrow said the class chose lettuce for the aquaponics system because it’s easy to grow, and they chose koi, because koi is a hardy fish that can withstand fluctuations in temperature.


“You could do this with tilapia, or something like that if you want to harvest the fish for food, but we’re not at that point,” Morrow said. “Eventually, once this system is going, we want to build more.”


Not only do students learn about how to grow crops efficiently with the aquaponics system, but they get a taste of what it’s like to be an engineer by designing the system and building it themselves, with guidance from Eco Life, Morrow said. “We had a general idea of what we wanted, and then they helped from there.”


Working with Eco Life, the students “kind of got to go through the design and engineering process, which is something that the new science curriculum really wants to do,” she said.


The students also learned how to collaborate, how to work as a team, and rely on each other, social skills which are critical in college and in the workplace, Morrow said. “We had to research what kind of fish to get, and how to build stuff,” America said. “It was a fun, new experience.”


In addition to the aquaponics, Morrow’s students designed and planted a conventional garden, and have a composting bin outside her classroom.


Principal Susan Ford said aquaponics has been a great addition to the school. “It’s tremendous. It’s teacher initiated and student driven,” Ford said. “We have students who are considering careers in science and biology because of the work they’ve been doing.”


Aquaponics fits right in with Madison’s emphasis on science and technology, Ford said.


She said the school has 13 computer science classes, including classes in digital art, graphic design, coding and digital broadcasting, along with three marine biology classes.

“We have more kids signed up for marine biology than we can provide classes for,” Ford said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/20/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Second-grader Chelsea De Los Santos won’t get a birthday party this year when she turns 8.

She won’t get any presents either.


“For my birthday, instead of getting gifts for myself, I’m going to donate toys to the sick children at Rady Children’s Hospital,” Chelsea explained, reciting a talk she gave to her schoolmates at Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts (VAPA) in the Vista Unified School District.


So far, Chelsea has collected more than 100 toys, everything from dolls to coloring books, said her mom, Cristina De Los Santos. “My living room and dining room are full,” De Los Santos said.


Chelsea’s not finished.


“I want to collect more toys,” she said, standing outside her classroom.


Her mom said that Chelsea would like to collect enough toys so that every child in the hospital will get one.

Chelsea’s adding her own contribution, using part of her $5 weekly allowance to buy coloring books and board games to include in the toy drive


She came up with the idea of a toy drive on her own one night in January, when she and her mother started talking about what Chelsea might want for her birthday, April 20.


“Every year, we have a party for her, usually two parties, one for friends and one for relatives,” De Los Santos said.


This year, Chelsea had other ideas. “I’ve already had lots of birthday parties,” Chelsea said. “I already have lots of toys.”


When Chelsea said that she wanted to collect toys for children in a hospital, “It just caught me by surprise,” her mom said.


To be sure, De Los Santos said that she asked Chelsea over several days in January if Chelsea really wanted to give up her party and gifts.


“She was very, very insistent,” De Los Santos said.

Soon after Chelsea announced her plans and started collecting toys, her teacher, Denise Shaver, gave the class a writing assignment asking students, “If you could do anything to make a difference in the community, what would you do?”


Chelsea wrote about collecting toys for sick children, and the essay prompted De Los Santos to think about expanding Chelsea’s toy drive.


“I thought, maybe I should email Mrs. Shaver, that we’re already doing this, asking if she wanted to get the class involved,” De Los Santos said. Shaver loved the idea.


Chelsea De Los Santos, her mother Cristina, and Vista Academy 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Denise Shaver with a few of the toys collected for Chelsea's project.


VAPA is an International Baccalaureate School, part of a program that encourages children to think globally and get involved in their community.


“International Baccalaureate is all about students taking action,” Shaver said, and Chelsea was sure doing that.

Not only did Shaver’s class take up Chelsea’s toy drive, but it went school-wide, with Chelsea taking one day to make presentations to other classrooms with a simple plea – “Please help me bring happiness, hope and share a smile to the sick children at Rady Children’s Hospital.”


“She did it all herself, I’m so proud of her,” Shaver said, adding, “Chelsea’s a wonderful student. She’s one of the top students.”


Hospital Media Relations Officer Carlos Delgado said others interested in forming a toy drive like Chelsea’s or donating to the hospital can contact Rady’s Children Foundation at 858-966-4015.


Chelsea said there really wasn’t anything in particular that prompted her decision to give up her party and presents.


Smiling shyly, Chelsea said, “I don’t know how I thought of it,” although her family has a history of helping others.

When Chelsea’s 26-year-old sister, Sarah, was Chelsea’s age, the family would hand out boxes of food in their native Philippines, De Los Santos said.


Giving to others is an important value in their family. “It’s better to give than to receive,” De Los Santos said. “It opens your heart to everyone.”


In addition to the toy drive, Chelsea sold 425 boxes of cookies as a Brownie in Vista Girl Scout Troop 1925. She’s also a member of Vista Voices choir, the Music Conservatory at VAPA, and performed in two musicals through the school’s Drama Conservatory.


Chelsea’s not sure why people are impressed by her toy drive. “Really, anyone can do it, any kid,” Chelsea said.


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/11/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


At Temple Heights Elementary School, third graders in teacher George Doyle’s class will welcome their parents to an April open house with a video they created on iPad computer tablets.


With Doyle’s help, they discovered through the Internet how to sketch a self-portrait that will be included in the video, write a script, and how to navigate websites they’d use to produce the video.  


“Most of it, they learned by doing it,” Doyle said. “Sometimes, when you raise expectations, kids can do more than you expect.”


A few doors down, in teacher Ramiro Santana’s third grade class, students were hard at work designing a garden they’re making on a small plot of land outside their classroom.


“They’re researching the kind of plants they want to the point that they were calling Home Depot,” Santana said. “They were learning a lot about what they wanted to put in here, including the cost, and then they wanted a water fountain.”


The students designed and made a solar-powered fountain.

All of this and more was on display during a recent Leadership Day in which Temple Heights showed off the changes it’s making through a “Leader in Me” grant and as an Apple Distinguished Program.


Temple Heights third graders build the solar-powered fountain they designed.


Temple Heights and Monte Vista Elementary School in Vista Unified were each awarded grants of $45,000 during the 2015-2016 school year from Leader.org to train teachers and put into practice a “Leader in Me Program” that teaches leadership skills, such as being proactive, setting goals, and listening before speaking.


Temple Heights also was recognized as an Apple Distinguished Program for 2016 to 2018 for its use of iPads to support personalized learning from kindergarten through fifth grade.


Principal Kim Morton said that it’s taken six years, but every student now has an iPad to use in the classroom, and those in the second through fifth grades can take them home.


“We’re really proud of what we’re building,” Morton said. “We want to offer things that stand out from the traditional.”


With about 650 students, Temple Heights is a neighborhood school serving families who live nearby, but Morton and Assistant Principal Kerry Perez said that they wanted to make Temple Heights something special.


“We feel very passionate about doing something extraordinary out of the ordinary,” Perez said. “We wanted to get at what captures our kids’ hearts.”


As part of that, Temple Heights is piloting a move from traditional teaching methods to personalized learning in which lessons build on the strengths and interests of each student, guided by teachers.


“We just want them to love school. We want them to jump out of bed in the morning and want to get to school,” Morton said. “We’re trying to get away from getting everyone to do the same thing at the same time.”


As part of the Leader in Me Day, students served as ambassadors, showing guests around the school.


Fourth-graders Trevor Cobb and Emily Macias made a point of showing off the unconventional furniture Temple Heights is using, from stand-up desks and bouncy stools to picnic tables and outdoor sofa-like covered seating areas where students can stretch out and work on their iPads. “They help you relax,” Emily said.


Trevor said that he’s fond of the outdoor couches. “We sit in these couches and think,” Trevor said. “We can find our own comfort.”


Fourth-grader Trevor Cobb delivers his self-designed class presentation on an iPad.


Fifth grade teacher Rya Hege brought in some wooden lawn furniture, which has turned out to be the most popular spot in her classroom. Her class is far from the traditional setting, where desks were arranged in rows and the teacher lectured from the front of the room.


Students roam about Hege’s class, iPads in hand, sharing information as Hege guides their research. “They don’t really have an assigned seat,” Hege said. “It depends on the project they’re working on.”


Perez and Morton said the personalized approach to learning is paying off, with improved student reading scores, Perez.

“It’s really about the kids,” Morton said. “You can see how excited they are, and engaged.”



Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/7/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


A Vista High School senior described by one of his teachers as “the real deal” has been named San Diego County March student of the month by the San Diego County Office of Education and San Diego NBC7.


“I never thought this would happen,” Kevin Medici said as he was greeted by cheering friends, teachers and family members at a recent surprise award ceremony at the high school.


Kevin was picked from among thousands of high school students “for making a difference” in his school and the community at large, said Music Watson, chief communications officer at the Office of Education. The monthly award is sponsored by Mission Federal Credit Union.


Among other things, Kevin is an honor roll student, a member of the school Character Leaders program, co-president of the Environmental Club, a leader of the school Buddies Club which works with special needs students, and is a member of the Outdoors Club. He also helps run the campus recycling program and is involved with a variety of off-campus activities, said teacher David Hanlon, who nominated Kevin for the award.


“He is kind, humble, leads by example, and is dedicated to making the world a kinder, gentler place for people, animals and our natural environment,” Hanlon wrote in nominating Kevin.


Principal Anthony Barela described Kevin as “an amazing kid. As a student leader, he’s always there for the benefit of others,” Barela said. “He’s just been awesome.”


Caught off-guard by the recognition, Kevin said, “I’m trying to be the best I can be for others.”


Kevin Medici gives his friends the thumbs-up sign as he's surprised with his Student of the Month award, as his sister, Marissa, looks on.


One way he does that is by helping to put on a prom for students with special needs and by working with a volunteer soccer organization for children with special needs. “He really enjoys helping the developmentally disabled kids, which is nice,” said his mother, Rebecca Medici. “We’re all very proud of him.”


Kevin said that his work with special needs kids is no big deal. “To see them happy makes me happy,” Kevin said. “We should all care for each other.”


Kevin’s sister, Marissa Medici, said that her brother was “one of the most trustworthy people I know.”


“He really does deserve the award because he worked so hard to overcome a lot,” said Marissa, a 2015 Vista High School graduate who’s in her second year at Yale University.


Kevin was an avid soccer player, but was sidelined by two knee injuries. “It limited his playing time and he’s been able to handle that,” Barela said.


Not one to give up, Kevin has taken up track and field as his new sport of choice. He said his motto, taken from the movie, “Rocky,” is “It’s not how hard you hit, it’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”


At home, Kevin is “a very calm person,” his mother said.

“When everything goes sideways, he’s so chill,” she said. “He’s a great presence that way.”


Looking ahead, Kevin said he’s looking at Humboldt State University as a possible college choice and is thinking of becoming a teacher “because I like to inspire people to be the best they can be.”


Asked who his role models were, Kevin said “My mother really inspired me to help others and my sister really inspired me to help the environment.”

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/5/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Vista High School Principal Anthony Barela said that his biggest challenge is “just managing the sheer volume of things that come up.”


Barela has met the challenge so well that he was named 2017 high school Principal of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators Region 18, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties.


“I was shocked, absolutely shocked,” Barela said. “I’m very honored and humbled, but I think it’s more a reflection of the school.”


His colleagues said that the award was well deserved.

Assistant School Superintendent Donna Caperton said that Barela “is one of the best high school principals I have had the pleasure of working with.”


“He is dedicated to serving his students and making sure his students get what they need,” said Caperton, who was among those who nominated Barela for the award.


“He is innovative in his thinking,” Caperton said. “He rolls with the punches and adjusts as necessary.”


For example, Caperton said that when the bleachers in the high school stadium were found to be unsafe and had to be replaced, Barela came up with a plan that allowed the athletic season to proceed while the old bleachers were removed and new ones constructed.


Under Barela’s leadership, Vista High School also won a $10 million, five-year grant through XQ: The Super School Project to expand the school’s focus on personalized learning, with curriculum and classwork tailored to meet the needs and interests of each student individually.


“It started off as a small school within a school. Now it’s blossomed into this beautiful opportunity with this XQ grant, starting with next year’s classes,” Barela said. “With the personalization of learning, it’s really going to play into students’ strengths and passions. They’ll be standing shoulder to shoulder with their teachers learning, going much deeper than they have in the past.”


Barela figures that winning the XQ grant played a part in his selection as Principal of the Year.


While winning the XQ grant was highlighted in the award nomination from his colleagues, they also wrote that Barela, “Actively promotes the development of flexible learning spaces,” advocating “for the redesign of a model classroom equipped with state-of-the art technology, as well as furniture that easily reconfigures to accommodate different student groupings.”


They praised his ability to collaborate with other administrators, teachers, parents and students. “Mr. Barela encourages feedback through staff surveys and community focus group meetings,” they wrote.


His advice to other principals is, “Find balance, because this job is a lot.”


“Find time for your family, find time to stay healthy and surround yourself with a good support network, because being surrounded by good people is a great thing,” said Barela, who has two sons and two daughters – Dominic, Michaelis, Gianna, and Jude.


Despite the demands of being a high school principal, Barela is a volunteer at St. Thomas Moore Catholic Church in Oceanside.


Barela has been principal at Vista High School since 2014. Before that, was principal of Roosevelt Middle School in the Vista Unified School District, as well as a principal, assistant principal, and teacher at schools in other districts.


“It’s a lot of work, but in my humble opinion, it’s one of the greatest professions out there,” Barela said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/3/17

Audience: Homepage


Washington, DC (March 24, 2017) – CoSN today announced that Rancho Minerva Middle School in California’s Vista Unified School District is the winner of the first-ever Digital Equity Student Video Challenge. The school was chosen among more than 50 student groups from across the United States and Canada. 


Leaders and students from Rancho Minerva Middle School were presented with the national award at the ASCD Conference in Anaheim, California on March 25th, 2017. They will also be honored and recognized at the CoSN 2017 Annual Conference, April 3-6 in Chicago, Illinois.


You can see their digital equity story and winning submission here.


“Digital equity is the Civil Rights issue of today in our communities,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “As the contest showed, school district and community leaders are increasingly committed to bridging the digital divide and helping all students be able to learn anytime, anywhere. Congratulations to the students and educators at Rancho Minerva Middle School, Vista Unified School District, as well as each school system that demonstrated their efforts and are making digital equity a top priority.”


For the Digital Equity Student Video Challenge, school systems submitted either a four-minute documentary or a one-minute Pubic Service Announcement on how digital equity is affecting students outside of school – and how the districts are addressing this challenge. The CoSN Digital Equity Advisory Panel launched the challenge to give students the opportunity tell their stories and elevate their voice in the digital equity discussion. 


Rancho Minerva’s winning documentary was developed by a 10-member team that formed two working groups to develop the video storyboard, script, filming, and post-production editing. The video shares how the school’s students and the Vista Unified School District at large are working to connect students outside the school day as well as educating parents on the importance of increased Internet access for learning.


“I am proud of our students for their stellar work on this important project. I am hopeful that educational and community leaders will listen to their voices, which are drawing attention to a critical equity issue for our nation,” said Devin Vodicka, EdD, Superintendent of Schools, Vista Unified School District.


“I could not be more proud of the hard work our students are doing to solve this relevant, real world problem. Many of the minds that worked on this project will directly benefit from the digital equity work in which they have so deeply invested. This is an exciting moment for Rancho Minerva,” said Benjamin Gaines, EdD, Principal, Rancho Minerva Middle School.


To learn more about advancing the Digital Equity movement, please visit: cosn.org/digital-equity.


The Digital Equity Student Video Challenge is made possible through the support of AT&T, Brocade, Filewave, HMH, HP, and Kajeet. 


About CoSN 

CoSN is the premier voice and resource for K-12 education technology leaders nationwide. Serving more than 13 million students in America’s school systems, CoSN provides education leaders with the tools and relationships to leverage technology and advance modern, engaging learning environments. Visit cosn.org to find out more about CoSN’s focus areasannual conference and eventsadvocacy and policymembership, and the CETL certification exam.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/30/17

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


When Linda Guerrero was in high school, a guidance counselor told her she wouldn’t go to college.


“I didn’t fit the profile,” Guerrero said. “I didn’t have parents who were involved. I didn’t have parents who spoke English. I hadn’t been exposed to college.”


But an English teacher took an interest in Guerrero, told her that she could go to college, and that she could have a career.


Guerrero earned her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from California State University San Marcos, became a teacher, then an assistant principal, and is now director of English Language Development for the Vista Unified School District.


She wants to provide the same inspiration to young girls that the English teacher gave her, in part through an April 8 Girls Conference for middle schoolers at Rancho Minerva Middle School.


In November, Guerrero and Rancho Minerva Assistant Principal Nicole Adams formed a Girls Empowerment Club at the school, which meets once a week after school. “At this age, girls are really trying to find their way and come into their own,” Adams said. “We want to empower girls to be themselves, to be strong.”


Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that he was “inspired” by Guerrero’s efforts to help girls succeed. He said the conference “is an excellent example of our commitment to achieve our vision to be the model of educational excellence and innovation.”


A goal of both the conference and the club is to provide role models girls can emulate, to counter some of the negative messages girls pick up from social media and conventional media, and to show girls they have many career options. “I think there’s a fixed mindset on what girls are good at,” Guerrero said.


The conference is meant to dispel that, with women from a wide range of professions talking about their careers, how they got into them, what they might have had to overcome.


“We’re really trying to bring in a diverse group of expertise to be able to share our stories with young girls,” Guerrero said. “Everyone has a story to share, how they got into their profession. Sometimes it’s a straight line, sometimes it’s a zig-zag.”


Sessions also are planned to talk about financial literacy, nutrition, social media, healthy relationships and body image, among other topics. “Our job is to plant the seeds,” said Guerrero, whose own story is one of perseverance.


She was in the first generation in her family to go to college.

Her father, a landscaper, never got beyond third grade in school. Her mother, a homemaker, went through fifth grade.

“My parents just taught me to work hard,” Guerrero said. “I don’t try to sell the story that life is perfect. I try to tell the story that life has ripples and valleys, but it’s what you bring into your life that matters.”


Adams said that she had strong role models in her parents. Her mother was a teacher in an inner city school in Bakersfield. “It wasn’t until I became a teacher, and, now, an administrator that I realized how lucky I was to have someone I could look up to,” Adams said. “I carried on the family tradition.”


Her hope is that the conference and club will provide strong role models for girls who don’t have them. “A lot of the women that are involved in the conference had someone they could look up to and those relationships have lasted for years and years,” Adams said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/28/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Mission Vista High School music teacher Anne Fennell has scored a regional award for innovation from the California Music Educators Association.


“How cool is that,” asked Fennel, who has racked up numerous awards as creative arts chair and instrumental and music composition teacher at Mission Vista.


The CMEA award honors Fennell for showing “excellence in music education, including emerging and digital media” among music teachers in San Diego and Imperial Counties.


In 2016, Fennell was chosen as one of the top 10 finalists for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award and received the CMEA’s SBS Innovation in Music Education Award.


Fennell in 2015 won an “outstanding program” award from San Diego County’s Digital Media Arts Showcase for the music composition program she runs at Mission Vista. She also received a CMEA Illuminating Culture Award in 2013 and an association Southern Border Section Outstanding Music Educator Award in 2008.


“I feel honored to be recognized, but it always and has to be about the kids and what I can do better for them,” Fennell said.  “I believe in lifelong music making and I believe students can be lifelong musicians. That’s the most important thing, finding joy in themselves and finding that joy in the music and sharing that joy with others.”


A classical flutist by training, Fennell said that she performs herself at weddings and other venues.


Vista Unified School Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that Fennell “exemplifies educational excellence and innovation.”

“Her most recent recognition affirms her continued leadership and impact,” Vodicka said. “We are truly fortunate to have outstanding educators like Ms. Fennell who are dedicated to student success.”


Innovation is central to Fennell’s teaching style. “Everything I teach at this school is outside the traditional band,” Fennell said.


For starters, the music composition courses she teaches at Mission Vista are far from typical in a high school curriculum.

“Music composition is never taught in high school. Usually, you wait until a junior in college,” Fennell said.


About 150 students take the composition courses each year, writing their own music. “They read, write and compose at the same time,” she said.


The Mission Vista High School Steel Drum band performs throughout the county each year, and is headed to Hawaii in 2017.


Fennell also has gone beyond the typical high school band by forming a steel drum band, which performs at numerous venues throughout the region, with a trip to Hawaii planned for later this year.


About 130 students take steel drum every year.

Fennell said that she decided to teach steel drum because she thought it was a good first instrument for introduction to music and less intimidating that other instruments.


“We thought, there are too many kids who don’t choose music in middle school, and then they get to high school and they never take it,” Fennell said. “If you’ve never learned music, you can still walk up to the (steel drum) pan and find a melody on it.”


The philosophy that guides Fennell is that, “Anyone can learn music and anyone can create,” especially with the evolving technology of smart phones and computer tablets.


“That’s what’s neat about technology,” Fennell said. “You can create with a touch of a finger.”


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/23/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Teachers, administrators and Classified staff who stood out among their peers were recently honored with Golden Apple Awards by the Vista Unified School District Board of Education.


“Every year, it is a privilege to recognize and honor our amazing employees who serve students, families and our community,” School Superintendent Devin Vodicka said.


“Our award recipients are an incredible group of dedicated and humble team members who represent the best of our profession,” Vodicka said. “I am hopeful that the Golden Apple Award serves as a small token of appreciation for the great work of all of our staff members who are impacting the future through their daily efforts to promote learning opportunities for all students.”


Seven district staff members were honored with the annual award for 2017.


Mindy Ayers of Monte Vista Elementary School


Mindy Ayers received a Golden Apple for her work as a resource teacher at Monte Vista Elementary School, where her coworkers said that she leads by example, “treating everyone with respect.”


Ayers had been an elementary teacher, a literacy coach, and a content support teacher before becoming a resource teacher. “In her daily work, this employee leads professional development in many instructional areas, and is also the lead support provider for Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Induction Program, providing valuable support for our newest teachers,” her co-workers wrote in nominating Ayers for the award.


“She is friendly and helpful to all students, families and staff. She is well-known across VUSD (Vista Unified School District) for being the employee who helps each person feel valued and comfortable, which is so critically important for our teachers who are new to the teaching profession,” they wrote.


“Her upbeat and positive, professional attitude is easily observable as she works with others in her supportive roles. VUSD is most fortunate to have someone of this employee’s caliber to support and guide our new and veteran teachers at Monte Vista Elementary School.”


Susan Moynihan of Madison Middle School


Madison Middle School mathematics teacher Susan Moynihan was honored for being “a positive, enthusiastic, and inspirational math teacher, who cares deeply about each of her students.”


“Her deep care for students and each staff member is exemplified by how she has spearheaded many endeavors that help children learn respect for themselves and others,” her colleagues wrote in nominating Moynihan.


A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and a former military officer, Moynihan was co-creator of the Natural High Club, “which inspires students to remain connected to school, healthy lifestyles, and positive social relationships,” her colleagues wrote.


“Her deep care for students and each staff member is exemplified by how she has spearheaded many endeavors that help children learn respect for themselves and others,” they wrote. “This teacher cultivates trust from others with her strong work ethic, compassionate nature, and high level of integrity. One cannot be around this individual without catching her passion, positivity, and enthusiasm.”


Craig Gastauer of Vista High School


Craig Gastauer, a resource teacher and XQ Internal Director at Vista High School, earned a Golden Apple as “a highly successful teacher” who “is a key leader in the redesign of the traditional high school model,” his coworkers wrote.


“Based on this teacher’s drive and motivation to provide his students the very best every day, under his guidance, a group of students has been selected to be involved in a series of learning opportunities, such as being participants in the Salk Institute,” they wrote.


Praising his “relentless pursuit of excellence,” Gastauer’s colleagues wrote that, “During this school year, this teacher has crafted a model professional development plan for school-wide implementation.”


Rosy Simmonds of Vista Academy of Visual and Perfoming Arts


Receiving a Golden Apple for her work as office manager at Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts was Rosy Simmonds.


Simmonds co-workers wrote that she “exhibits compassion” in her work. “Regardless of how busy the front office may become, she will drop everything she is doing to focus on the needs of students, staff, and parents,” they wrote. “While providing support to others, this employee leaves nothing to chance and truly believes that it is her job to ensure that others can do their job.”


Simmonds is sometimes referred to as “the ‘patrona’ or the boss of the school because of the way she greets everyone who enters the front door,” her colleagues wrote.


They said Simmonds’ cheerful manner “is very refreshing to everyone she meets as she works to build a positive sense of community at her school site,” adding that she “has built effective working relationships with staff on site and across the district as the go-to person for many other office managers.”


Praising Simmonds for having “excellent organizational, communications, and interpersonal skills, her coworkers wrote that, “Her dedication, leadership skills, and hard work sustain high levels of support for everyone so that they can be successful in their jobs.”


Judi Luna of Child Nutrition Services (aka WaveCrest Cafe)


Child Nutrition Services Supervisor Judi Luna was honored for implementing a system for the WaveCrest Cafe at each school that increases the speed of serving meals to students.


“This technology allows students more time to enjoy their breakfast and lunch, so that students can eat and return to class well-nourished and ready to learn,” her coworkers wrote.


“With VUSD being one of the first school districts to implement this new technology, this supervisor installed the technology, and tested and maintained the equipment so the new system would run efficiently.”


Because of Luna’s “myriad contributions over the past three decades,” the award to Luna “is a very well-deserved recognition,” her coworkers wrote.


Doris Shapiro, Nurse at Vista High School


Also receiving a Golden Apple was Vista High School nurse Doris Shapiro, who has worked as a district nurse for 27 years and previously received an award as School Nurse of the Year from the San Diego County School Nurse Association.


Shapiro also was Vista Unified’s teacher of the year in 2001, and in 2004, received the “Honor V” award, the highest recognition given each year at Vista High School.


She coordinated Vista High School’s first blood drive in the summer of 2006, and was one of 39 school nurses from the United States to participate in a Johnson & Johnson fellowship grant.


Shapiro also received a Tobacco Use Prevention Education grant, “which allowed for the implementation of non-smoking, site-based intervention programs and that brings awareness to alcohol-related incidents among youths, such as ‘Friday Night Live’ and ‘Every 15 Minutes,’” her coworkers wrote.


They praised Shapiro for demonstrating “leadership and tireless efforts in the promotion of health care for students, staff, and within our community.”


Heather Golly of Rancho Buena Vista High School


Heather Golly, assistant principal at Rancho Buena Vista High School, collected a Golden Apple “for displaying kindness, respect, and dedication to all students and staff.”


Golly’s colleagues praised her for placing “special emphasis on planning, designing, and implementing professional development in support of instruction, (and) providing teachers with tools to develop critical-thinking skills and the application of problem-solving skills to increase student learning.”


Calling Golly “a truly valuable asset to the Rancho Buena Vista High School Community,” her colleagues wrote that, “This administrator is highly visible and approachable so that she can respond swiftly and appropriately to the needs of others.”

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/21/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


From building insect habitats to testing herbal oils to see how well they battled bacteria, more than 400 students showed off their ingenuity and know-how at a recent Vista Unified School District expo.


“Every year, I am amazed at what our students bring to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Fest,” said Kellie Fleming, a content support resource teacher and coordinator of the annual exposition held this year at Vista Innovation & Design Academy – a Vista Unified magnet school.


“They transform into these experts who talk about their work with knowledge and understanding of what they were able to do and achieve,” Fleming said. “To me, this is probably the most important and rewarding piece about STEM Fest – having our students proudly share their work, interacting with all age groups, on a night that’s all about them.”


Connor Baker and Gavin Humann, second graders at Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math, became experts on insect housing for STEM Fest. They demonstrated how they used cardboard toilet tissue tubes and twigs to create what they called “insect motels” to give moths and other insects safe haven.


“You stuff twigs in here so they can hide from the predators,” Connor said as he jammed twigs into the cardboard tube. “You need to stuff things together so the moths don’t get eaten by chameleons, anything that eats bugs.”


Killing bugs of another kind was the point of an experiment displayed by Jacob Toney, a senior at Rancho Buena Vista High School who hopes to become a chemical engineer doing ground-breaking research.


With bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to drugs, Jacob said he wanted to determine if there were alternatives that would be effective.


According to the results of his experiment, there are. Jacob tested penicillin and several herbal oils to see how well they battled e-coli bacteria. “Cinnamon oil and tea tree oil are at least as effective as penicillin,” Jacob said.


Empresa Elementary Fifth-grader Christian Campoamor's Tiki hut mosquito catcher


Bugs also figured in a STEM Fest display by Christian Campoamor, a fifth grader at Empresa Elementary School, who built a solar power Tiki hut mosquito catcher.


Christian said the bug catcher worked as predicted when he tried it out in his backyard. “We caught two mosquitos,” Christian said. “There’s not that many mosquitos in the yard, mostly gnats,” Christian said.


Rancho Minerva Middle School's marble roller coaster projects.


Nearby, Rancho Minerva eighth graders showed off the work they did to explore kinetic and potential energy and Newton’s laws of motion.


Teacher Desiree Willson gave her students a challenge – build roller coasters out of construction paper that would keep a marble rolling along its course for 15 seconds. “It was a pretty tough challenge, but they did a pretty good job,” Willson said.


Most of the roller coasters on display at STEM kept marbles rolling for five to eight seconds, but the project was a valuable lesson for her students.


“They spent about a month designing, testing and improving,” Willson said. “They learned the importance of testing and improving, testing again and improving.”


Olive Elementary fifth-grader Sheila Sainz faced a different challenge – pick a stressful situation and devise a way to ease the stress.


Her challenge – picking the right clothes for a night out. Sheila’s solution, as illustrated in a drawing she displayed, was to have a robot that would pick out just the right outfits, although she didn’t actually build a robot. That’s a challenge for another day. “It helps people, because they don’t know what to wear,” Sheila said.


STEM Fest attendees generate energy on the Schneider Electric "Green Bike."


For the more athletically inclined, Schneider Electric provided a stationary bicycle hooked up to a light that shined brighter and brighter, the harder students pedaled.


The idea was to show kids a fun side to engineering, and maybe spark their interest in the field, said Valerie Houchin, a Schneider account representative.


By riding the bike, “They understand, they’re helping generate electricity,” Houchin said. “I want them to know, you can do your part to save energy and create energy.” The company has donated the bike to the school district. “It’s going to travel from school to school,” Houchin said.


In choosing VIDA as the site, STEM Fest was returning to its roots. The district’s first STEM Fest in 2014 was at VIDA, which was then Washington Middle School, but has since been transformed into VIDA.


STEM Fest is open to all Visa Unified students.


“We don’t have any specific requirements to exhibit, other than they must be safe and do no harm to anyone,” Fleming said. “Students are welcome to work on anything that incorporates STEM, including the arts.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/17/17

Audience: Homepage


Vista USD Unveils New State Evaluation “Dashboard”

Test Score Measurement Replaced With 11 Indicators For Measuring Performance


Vista, CA | March 14, 2017 – “Schools and students are more than test scores,” states Vista Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka. “The new LCFF Evaluation Rubrics and the California School Dashboard will give a more comprehensive look at district and school performance.”


On Wednesday, March 15th, the state will publicly introduce this new “Dashboard” means of measurement. As it does, Vista USD has established its own set of resources to explain the new measurements to students, staff, families and the communities served by the district. VUSD’s “Dashboard” resource page can be found here.


These new reports replace the old California accountability system called the Academic Performance Index (API). The Dashboard ​provides a way to track district and school performance through multiple measures of performance, a method far more comprehensive than simply using student scores on standardized tests.


The Dashboard looks at 11 indicators and determines a district’s or school’s performance based on the current rate and whether there was improvement over several years. Those indicators are: chronic absenteeism, suspension rates, graduation rates, student performance in English language arts and math, parent engagement, school climate, progress of English learners, college and career readiness, implementation of state standards, and basics, such as teachers, materials, and facilities.


For all of these measures, districts will be able to see overall student performance and filter the results for particular groups of students, such as English learners.


Says Vodicka, “Initial results from the first LCFF Evaluation Rubric indicate that Vista Unified is showing good performance. The district showed growth (called “change”) in all but one indicator, with the greatest improvement overall in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Our graduation rate has increased by 3.1% to move up to 93.1%. The suspension rate declined by 0.6% to an all time low of 3.4%. Our goal is to use these tools to continuously improve our efforts to ensure every student succeeds.”


When the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) was implemented by the state of California in 2013, school districts received more freedom with how they could spend their money in exchange for a different level of accountability. As part of the budget planning process, school districts are now required to develop a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). Our LCAP, written with parent and public input, identifies our goals, actions and services and how we will measure student progress.


To read Dr. Vodicka’s summary of Progress and Accountability,  click here.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/14/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


An eerie photo of an 11-year-old girl appearing as a shadowy figure on a darkened walkway, and a photo of a tattoo artist intently focusing on his work won two Vista High School seniors regional photography awards and a place in a national competition.


Isaac Tapia and Tyler Bobadilla-Wright were awarded the top prize of gold keys in the 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a non-profit based in New York that provides recognition and scholarships to high school students.


Their photos will be entered in the alliance’s national competition.


Vista High School seniors Kaylee Hughes and David Maynes were honored with silver keys for their photographs.


“I’m really proud,” said teacher Laura Olden. “This is the first year we’ve ever been awarded gold in the competition and we’ve got the most (photographs) we’ve ever had in the competition.”


Isaac Tapia's photo, "Scary Ghost," was awarded a gold key.


Isaac’s photo, entitled “Scary Ghost,” is meant to portray a haunting Halloween spirit. “I feel like when you see a ghost picture, most of them are the same,” Isaac said.


To get a different look, Isaac posed his sister, Anna, at night wearing a filmy dress, standing on a walkway outside his family’s apartment. The image of Anna is blurred, giving it an other-worldly effect, while the background is clear and in focus. Isaac shot the photo at slow speed while his sister moved back and forth.


“Isaac’s ghostly image was taken around Halloween, using a slow shutter speed,” Olden said. “There was quite a bit of planning, and some trial and error to get the effect he was looking to achieve. For Isaac, this image was a little different from his typical work, but he was able to experiment and with planning and executing a setup shot, and controlling technical aspects of an image for a more creative effect.”


“It took me almost an hour to get this picture,” Isaac said, experimenting with the timing of Anna’s movement. “She got a little frustrated,” Isaac said, adding that, because it was dark, “She was very scared.”


Isaac judged the end product “pretty OK,” and said he was surprised to win a gold key.


As much as he loves taking photos “to capture the moment,” Isaac said that he’s planning a career as a barber, partly because he’s gregarious and likes chatting with people, and, “It’s fun.”


Tyler Bobadilla-Wright's gold key winning image, "Permanent Story."


Tyler said that his photo, entitled “Permanent Story,” was, in a way, a tribute to tattoo artist Juan Ortiz, who is the subject of the photo. Ortiz “kind of motivated me to keep going on my photography,” Tyler said.


The photo shows Ortiz intently focusing on inking a tattoo on the left arm of Tyler’s 23-year-old brother, Justin. The photo is meant to show “someone doing what they love,” Tyler said.


“Tyler’s work often captures a moment that tells a greater story and this image is a prime example. He was able to capture the moment of his brother, Justin, getting a tattoo, but the angle of the image puts focus on the tattoo artist, Juan,” Olden said.


“You can see the pride Juan takes in his art as he works on Justin’s arm. Tyler used a wide angle setting to include the setting of the studio and showcase Juan’s own tattoos. The closeness of the shot makes you feel as though you are right there in the studio with them.”


Taking photos is one of Tyler’s loves, and he plans to take photography classes at Mira Costa College, but isn’t sure if that will lead to a career in photography.


“I definitely want it to always be a part of me,” Tyler said. He said he was “pretty honored” to get a gold key. “For them to look at mine as one of the top images was pretty cool, I thought,” Tyler said.


Kaylee Hughes image, "Shake," garnered a silver key award.


Kaylee said she was going for a mysterious and dark look in her photo, “Shake,” of classmate Guadalupe Barajas, shaking her head back and forth, her long hair creating a blurry image.

“I just had her start moving around to get it blurry,” Kaylee said. “I didn’t know what I was really expecting when I took the picture.”


Olden said Kaylee’s photo “is a graphic exploration of motion through the use of slow shutter,” adding that, “The subject’s movement is expressive and Kaylee’s use of space and the graphic line create a simple yet bold image.”


When she entered the competition, “I didn’t really expect anything from it,” Kaylee said. “I thought it was really cool when I saw I got the silver.”


Kaylee plans to major in cinema in college, although she’s not sure where. “I want to do editing for videos or directing or producing, probably like movies,” Kaylee said. “I have a lot of favorite movies. I think my favorite one that I recently saw was ‘La La Land.’”


"Shadows Cast," by David Maynes, was granted a silver key award.


David’s photo, “Shadow’s Cast,” shows three forks leaning against a white board. “The shadow of it kind of looks cool, kind of like an abstract idea,” said David, who also specializes in taking family portraits.


“It’s such a simple picture, I thought people would look at it and forget it,” David said. “When Mrs. Olden told me I got silver, I was pretty excited.”


The photo “shows David’s creative approach to a common object,” Olden said. “In his abstract image, he explores light, creating a dual image of the forks and contrasting shadow,” Olden said.


David often carries a camera with him, looking for people and things to photograph, and is hoping to turn his interest into a profession. “I want to go into photography as a career in the future, work for a magazine or something like that, or have my own photography business,” David said. “When I first started, it was not really a big thing to me. Once you take that first picture, you get hooked.”


The winning students shot their photographs in color, but printed them in black and white. “It’s more moody,” Olden said.


David said he likes black and white for the classic look it creates. “I like the old-fashioned look and style,” David said. “You see a lot of old photos in black and white.”












Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/7/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Crystal Flores was one of about 150 people who sampled everything from glazed roast duck to sweet and sour cabbage with beans at Vista High School’s recent Farm to Fork dining experience.


She said she was delighted by the wide array of dishes. “I’m trying things I never tried before,” Flores said. “The quiche was fantastic, really, really good.”


Started in the 2013-2014 school year, Farm to Fork is a chance for students in Vista High School’s agriculture and culinary arts programs to showcase their work.


Culinary students prepare the food they serve at the event, using produce and meats raised and grown on campus by students in the agriculture program.


“This is the kind of program we need for our kids,” said Board of Education Trustee Rosemary Smithfield. “I love everything about it.”


The menu included cider-brined turkey sliders with cranberry mayonnaise, pulled pork sliders, beef roast, baked ham, beef meatballs in marinara sauce, stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, broccoli with garlic butter, Asian ramen coleslaw, golden and red beets, beef heart and barley stew, garlic braised beef shank, lamb burger sliders, pork chops, lamb chops, grilled pork shoulder steak, radishes and carrots.


Trustee Cipriano Vargas was partial to the lamb. “It’s delicious,” said Vargas, a Vista High School graduate who took the agriculture course, but before Farm to Fork was part of the program.


Vargas, who is a teacher, said the agriculture courses helped him hone his public speaking skills as he gave presentations to various groups explaining the program.


About 100 students are in the agriculture program this year, said Sara Benner, the teacher in charge of it. “What they get at this particular event is pride,” Benner said of Farm to Fork. “They get to show off what they do behind the scenes.”


he same goes for the 120 students in the culinary arts program, said Chef Kim Plunkett.  “They’re so proud and energized,” Plunkett said. “At the end of an event like this, they can say, ‘We did a good job, we wowed everybody.’”


Senior culinary student Mario Santiago, 17, said that he likes the reaction he gets when people sample the food. “I just like seeing them smile when they eat the food, that’s what I like most,” Mario said.


Senior Jennifer Quinonez said that she likes collaborating with the students in the agriculture program. “It brings the classes together,” Jennifer said.


Senior Mansera Martinez, 17, a student in the agriculture program and vice president of Future Farmers of America at Vista High School, said she likes showing off the skills students learn in the culinary and agriculture programs,


“We’re able to promote both programs and show how we take it to the real world,” Mansera said. “We’re also able to educate the public about what we do behind the scenes.”


Senior Valerie Wolf, 18, president of Future Farmers of America, said that she likes Farm to Fork because it it’s a chance to see how the work she does “turns into something people actually enjoy.”


Kevin Jackson, whose son, Tyrik, is a culinary student, proclaimed the Farm to Fork to be “awesome.” “I think it’s great,” said Jackson, a sentiment shared by Tyrik’s grandmother, Twanda Dortly. “I didn’t have to cook it, that’s the main thing,” Dortly said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 3/3/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Rancho Buena Vista High School has, for the first time, fielded a team in robotics. Calling themselves, “Robohornz,” 16 RBV students built a robot that will challenge machines from more than 50 other schools in a regional robotics competition.


“It’s exciting, but at the same time, scary,” said sophomore Ivan Chavarin.


The Rancho Buena Vista team will take to the floor at the Del Mar Arena March 9-11 in the 11th San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Competition, presented by Qualcomm.


Founded in 1989 in Manchester, N.H., FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a national not-for-profit organization aimed at inspiring interest in science and technology.


The goal of the Rancho Buena Vista High School team is to get Sparky, their robot, to roam about the floor, scoop up balls about the size of grapefruit and deliver them to a bin.


Sparky also must slide a gear about the size of a small dinner plate onto a peg; when that’s done, it must climb a four-foot rope and hang suspended from a bar at the end of the rope.

Robots from more seasoned teams also must toss the balls into a tower, which is about eight-feet tall, to complete their task.


Sparky isn’t quite up to that challenge, said Dadre Rudolph, who teaches robotics and computer science at Rancho Buena Vista, and was the team’s lead mentor. The other mentor was Matthew Young, a guest teacher at Vista Unified and robot enthusiast. “Just making it to the competition and having a robot that works is a tremendous accomplishment,” Rudolph said. “It’s a big learning curve.”


Sparky is a box on wheels, a little larger than a milk crate, measuring 40 inches by 36 inches by 2 feet.


Working with a FIRST starter kit that came with a chassis, controls, drive motors, wheels, gear boxes and miscellaneous electronics, the Rancho Buena Vista students had to come up with their own design and make the rest of the robot body for Sparky.


The team had a tight deadline - exactly six weeks to design and build Sparky under the FIRST competition rules, and they were working right up to the end of the last day. After that, Sparky had to be bagged up and put aside until the competition date. “It actually took us a lot of trial and error,” said senior Andrew Garcia.


Evidence of the error part was scattered about Rudolph’s classroom, with discarded robot sections lying on desks and page after page of designs that didn’t pan out. “It does get very frustrating,” said freshman Justin Rodriguez Salazar, “but once we actually get it, it’s fun.”


That trial and error is a big part of what Rudolph hopes her students take away from building Sparky and the competition.

“They experience the whole engineering process and see how many iterations you have to do,” Rudolph said. “It’s an excellent lesson, not only for engineering, but for life. Keep going. Things are going to fail, but just keep going.”


Most, but not all of the Robohornz members are students in Rudolph’s robotics class. “I have some kids on the team who were not in my class at all, they just came in and said, ‘I want to be part of the robotics team,’” Rudolph said.


To be on the team, students had to be interested in robotics and willing to work hard, including during lunch breaks, after school, and on weekends. “They didn’t have to have any experience, be good at building or anything,” Rudolph said.


Along with Ivan, Andrew and Justin, Robohornz team members are seniors Andres Madera, Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Gomez; juniors Raymond Harding, Olivia Garcia, Grace Ehm, Erik Marquez and Angel Mendez; and sophomores Aiden Colin, Tod Manotharauk, George Zavala, and Kaitlyn Chavez

Support for the robotics team came from a $6,000 grant from NASA and a $2,850 grant from Qualcomm.



Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/28/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Charlene Smith never imagined herself becoming a school principal, but the former accountant’s assistant, who doesn’t like attention, was named elementary school principal of the year by a group of her fellow educators.


“I feel good for my team, because I feel like they’re getting the recognition they deserve as well,” said Smith, who was singled out as a top administrator by the Association of California School Administrators Region 18, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties.


Since December 2011, Smith has been principal of Monte Vista Elementary School in the Vista Unified School District.


It’s a job she never sought, but is happy she was chosen for it.

“I believe I’m here to serve the community, and I take great pleasure in creating opportunities for the students and their families that might otherwise not happen,” Smith said.  “It can’t be about you. It’s about serving others.”


She’s been a teacher, an elementary school reading specialist and an instructional coach in Vista Unified at Casita Center for Technology & Math and Monte Vista.


When Monte Vista’s principal left at mid-year, “I was asked to fill in as an interim principal for the rest of the year,” Smith said. “It was quite an honor, so I took it. The rest is history.”


Smith’s colleagues said that the history she’s made at Monte Vista has been remarkable.


“Charlene has completely transformed Monte Vista in her six years as principal,” Monte Vista Assistant Principal Sheryl Schmidt wrote in nominating Smith for principal of the year.

“She has offered the hope of college to students and families who never dreamed it would be possible,” Schmidt wrote. “She is the epitome of professionalism and efficiency, while also being the most nurturing and compassionate leader one could meet.”


Under Smith’s direction, Monte Vista in 2015 earned membership in the No Excuses University Network of Schools, a nationwide organization that promotes the notion that higher education should be an option for everyone.


As part of that, flags from colleges and universities across the country hang outside the doorway of every classroom and each class adopts a college or university as their own, learning about the schools.


“Students whose lower economic status might have made college seem foreign and unattainable before, now proudly chant their class’s adopted college fight songs and wave their college flags proudly,” Schmidt wrote. “Parents whose educational careers stopped in high school, are now able to understand college application processes and scholarship possibilities for their children.”


In October, Monte Vista hosted a career fair open to students from throughout the school district to inspire students to think about what careers they might want to pursue.


During the career fair, students posed for photographs of themselves dressed in cap and gown, holding a frame that said what year they would graduate from college.


“These photos inspire students and their families to become lifelong learners who believe in themselves, and stop at nothing to achieve their goals,” Schmidt wrote.


Assistant Superintendent Matthew Doyle, in writing to support Smith’s nomination as principal of the year, said that she “is highly respected among teachers and administrators across the district and county.”


“She is known not only for her knowledge and expertise as an educational leader, but loved by all for her cheerful, respectful personality,” Doyle wrote.


Sharmila Kraft, district executive director for elementary schools, wrote in support of Smith’s nomination, that she is “a hands-on principal who makes a difference at Monte Vista Elementary.”


“As a principal, it is not always what you know, but how you deal with people,” Kraft wrote. “Charlene is effective in building relationships. Teachers truly respect her opinions and appreciate her open door policy. Parents feel their children are treated fairly and respectfully and with the best interest of their child in mind. Students know she is an advocate.”


Growing up in Ohio, Smith initially thought that she might go into teaching, “Then, as I got older, starting in high school, I wanted to be an accountant,” Smith said.


Working for a certified public accountant changed her mind, adding, “I learned that sitting behind a desk was not for me.”

Moving to California 24 years ago, Smith got a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and her teaching credential from California State University. She became a teacher at Casita in 1995. “The only two schools I ever worked at were Casita and Monte Vista,” Smith said.


As much as she loved teaching, Smith said that the principal’s role suits her. “When I was a classroom teacher, I could impact the students in my class, but now, I can impact so many more students,” Smith said. “One of the great things about Monte Vista is, we are like a big family. It’s very rewarding,”


Smith starts her school day greeting every student as they come to school, giving hugs, high-fives and smiles. “I want them to feel love when they walk onto this campus, and I want them to feel safe,” Smith said.


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/24/17

Audience: Homepage

by Ray Huard


Kelly McKinney is a woman on a mission: to ramp up the high school courses in Vista Unified School District that give students the training to go to work when they graduate or move on to college.


“We learned from the community that they’re asking for this,” said McKinney, who was appointed district Career Technical Education (CTE) coordinator in July. “The community said, ‘why don’t we have more of this?”


More is on the way.


The district this year added five courses to its CTE curriculum, including computer science, theater stage technology, medical terminology, and a medical course for students interested in becoming paramedics or emergency medical technicians.


Vista USD robotics students design and create machines as part of their CTE classes


CTE is the modern take on what used to be known as vocational education, McKinney said, but it’s been retooled with many CTE courses offering college credit at Palomar College.


“They can absolutely take this and go on to college, but not every kid is college-bound,” McKinney said. “CTE gives kids hands-on experience that can lead directly into a career.”

One thing that makes CTE courses different is that they’re taught by professionals who worked in the field before becoming teachers.


“These courses are not typical textbook courses, so you want kids to know what’s happening in the industry. It’s not theory-based, it’s practical,” McKinney said. “In order to be a CTE teacher, you have to have industry experience. You have to have at least three years of actual industry experience.”


Vista Unified offers about 52 CTE courses in the 2016-2017 school year, and about 2,200 students took a district CTE class in the prior school year, McKinney said.


The courses cover a wide range of subjects, from agriculture, culinary arts, and pre-engineering to video broadcasting, computer gaming and web publishing.


By taking a CTE course, students can get a taste of a career that might be of interest but not to the point that they’re ready to commit to it, said Michael Gomez, a CTE guidance counselor on special assignment.


“It goes both ways,” Gomez said. He’s seen students who found their passion through a CTE course while others might decide that a different career might better suit them. “It gives them that experience,” Gomez said.


Vista High School's award-winning Culinary Arts class is part of the district's CTE offerings.


As the field changes to adapt to current trends, the attitude toward CTE is changing, McKinney said.


“We’re trying really hard to change people’s thought process to think of this as a way to explore options,” McKinney said. “Right now, the buzz is that we need more CTE in the nation. It’s kind of a pendulum swing.”


Vista Unified’s drive to increase it’s CTE offerings comes as CTE is marking its centennial nationally, and February is national CTE month as school district’s across the country highlight their CTE programs.


“That’s kind of cool, that it’s been around for 100 years,” McKinney said.


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/21/17

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


High school student Joseph DelVal discovered he had a knack for writing music. “I played music a lot, but I never really thought about composing,” said Joseph, a senior at Rancho Buena Vista High School.


Classmate Alyssa Maloney created a one-woman theatrical performance of a scene from Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” done in the style of German playwright Bertolt Brecht.


And a group of elementary school students from Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts (VAPA) had the audience clapping, cheering and swaying as they did a dance routine combining music from bygone eras, from the Charleston of the 1920’s to a disco number straight out of the movie “Saturday Night Fever.”


Their performances were all part of a recent presentation outlining the Vista Unified School District’s International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, which stresses learning with a global perspective and encourages students to explore subjects beyond what they might otherwise choose.


“It really pushed me out of my comfort zone,” said Joseph, who said that the IB higher level music course he’s taking helped him develop a new talent in composing music. “When I started doing it, I found I was really able to communicate things that I wasn’t otherwise able to communicate,” Joseph said. “I felt the IB program was really worth it.”


Founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968, the IB program works with about 4,585 schools worldwide, according to the IB website, www.ib.org.


Vista Unified offers the IB program in grades 11 and 12 at Rancho Buena Vista High School, Vista High School; in grades six through nine at Vista Magnet Middle School, and at elementary schools Casita Center for Science, Technology & Math and VAPA.


“We have a district that’s fortunate enough to have a K (kindergarten) through 12 (12th grade) program of IB, which is pretty rare, said Tess Kim, a content resource teacher who organized the IB Community Night with fellow teacher Carolyn Thom at Rancho Buena Vista to acquaint parents and students with the IB program.


“Any child that cares about the world, who wants to have an impact on the world – this is certainly great for them,” Kim said.

The IB program is rigorous, but meant for any student who wants to challenge themselves, Kim said.


Among other things, the IB program requires students to take a second language and emphasizes critical thinking over memorization. “We really want our students to think about what they want to learn about and go research it,” said VAPA Assistant Principal Benjie Walker. “We give them that opportunity to really personalize their learning.”


Rigorous doesn’t necessarily mean more homework, several students said during panel discussions on the IB program. They have to take responsibility for completing several projects and the work can pile up if they procrastinate or don’t budget their time well.


A big advantage of the program is that it better prepares students for college, and gives them an edge getting in and staying in, said Michael Pink, IB coordinator at Vista High School. “They are overwhelmingly more likely to graduate with a four-year degree than the average student walking onto campus,” Pink said.


Another enticing aspect of the high school IB Diploma program is that students are often able to apply IB coursework for college credit. In some instances students have earned two years’ worth of college credit upon graduation from high school in an IB Diploma program.


VAPA librarian Philomena Romo said that all three of her children went through the IB program and it made them more confident as adults.


An integral part of the IB program is making presentations in front of classmates and others, which Romo said has made her children comfortable with public speaking.   “Because of this program, they view life differently, they’re more big picture – aware and caring,” Romo said. “They’re not afraid to ask questions.”




Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/9/17

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Shanghai sixth-grader Youan Xi said she was surprised to see every student at Vista Magnet Middle school working on computer tablets. “In the class, they use computers. We never use computers,” said Xi, one of 14 Chinese middle school students who spent a week going to classes at Visa Magnet.


Zhao Jing, an English teacher in Shanghai and one of two chaperones accompanying the students, said she, too, was surprised to see Vista Magnet students using computer tablets in class. At her school, “Teachers may use laptops or tablets in the class, but not the students,” Zhao said.


She said students at her school have computer labs as part of their curriculum, but she was struck at how the Vista middle-schoolers did much of their work independently, with teachers guiding them, but not lecturing them. “In China, maybe the teacher talks too much,” Zhao said.


Zhao and her students were getting a taste of the personal learning approach Vista Unified School District has adopted as championed by Superintendent Devin Vodicka.


Rather than all students learning the same thing at the same time, lessons are tailored to play to the strengths of each student individually. They use the computer tablets to research and solve problems. “This way is better, because the kids enjoy the class,” Zhao said.


She also was impressed that time is set aside during the school day for reading. “Our emphasis is always have a book ready,” said Vista Magnet Assistant Principal Steve Post, who organized the Chinese students’ visit.


Post said it was particularly fitting that the Chinese students spent a week at Vista Magnet because it is an International Baccalaureate (IB) School, offering a curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking and global involvement.


“As an IB school, here we are, being international, building bridges globally,” Post said. “We’ve been learning from them about some of their culture and they’ve been learning about American culture.”


Several Vista Magnet students who spent the week as guides for their Chinese counterparts said it was a learning experience. “Everybody was wanting to meet them and ask them questions,” said eighth-grader Kayla Megerdichian, 13.

“They’re from another country, another world to me,” Kayla said. “In their own way, they’re just like us. They’ve got their phones that they play on.”


Carrie Haynes, a Vista Magnet language arts and history teacher, said that the Chinese students fit right in with her other students. “Students are students around the world,” Haynes said. “They have the same mannerisms, the same questions.”

One difference she did notice was that, “Our students in America, I think, are more casual.”


For instance, she said one of her students went to hug one of the Chinese visitors, who was a bit surprised by the gesture. The proper greeting was a more formal bow, Haynes said.


The Chinese students were fairly fluent in English, although Haynes said, “Google translator was a lifesaver for me” when her class was going over Medieval Europe and the Chinese students could go online to get a translation to what she was saying and take notes.


Vista Magnet art teacher Roger Royster said, “It’s been really fun to watch our kids interact with them.”


Shanghai fifth-grader Zhang Ziyuan, 10, said that he was fascinated by the classes at Vista Magnet, and liked the food in the school cafeteria.


Asked what the biggest difference was between the Vista classes and his back home, Ziyuan said, “My school is more boring.”


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 2/2/17

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Something as simple as furniture is a sign of a school district on the move. So said Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka as he reviewed progress made during his first five years as superintendent of the Vista Unified School District.


“We’re swapping out furniture that stays in one spot, and we’re moving to the more mobile options, flexible types of settings, so that we can adapt the environment, based on what we’re trying to do with learning,” Vodicka told district workers at a recent Professional Development Day.


Check out a classroom in the Vista Unified School District and there’s a good chance it will be noisy, kids will be moving around working in teams, and they won’t be sitting at stationary desks.


That’s just part of what’s happening as the district moves to personalized learning in which classroom lessons are tailored to the needs and interests of each student, building on their strengths.


“This is the thing that has drawn a lot of attention to our school district,” Vodicka said. “When we talked to our kids, they said they wanted to have more ownership in their learning. They didn’t want learning to happen to them. They wanted to have choices, they wanted to be more active. And so, we said, ‘great, we’re going to work on making your learning more personal.’”


A big part of that shift is developing lessons that show how what students learn in school applies beyond the classroom.

“When most of us went to school, we spent a lot of time just filling out work sheets and doing school work that had very little connection to the world outside of school,” Vodicka said. “What we want to see is our students taking what they learned and applying it to make the community a better place, make the world a better place.”


When that happens, students see school as an exciting place.

“Their level of engagement goes up. They’re more interested in learning, and there’s a whole host of positive outcomes,” Vodicka said.


Students also are being encouraged to speak into the pace of their learning.


“For a long time, students all got the same thing in the same way at the same time,” Vodicka said. “Whether they’re learning quickly or slowly, we’ve been treating them the same. That doesn’t necessarily work for any of us.”


Along with the acclaim Vista Unified has gotten from other educators, parents satisfaction with Vista Unified schools is rising, according to district surveys.


“Parents are observant,” Vodicka said. “They’re not going to tell you what they think you want to hear. They’re going to tell you what they experience and what they’ve observed, so this is really good validation of our hard work.”


Besides getting a review of the district’s progress from Vodicka, teachers and other school workers broke off into separate sessions for training in a variety of topics.


Some non-teaching workers got everything from healthy cooking tips to CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) while teachers got hands-on training on a new computer system for grading papers to creating lessons to meet new science teaching standards.




Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/31/17

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Perseverance paid off for a Vista eighth-grader, who dreamed of sending a science experiment into space.

Thirteen-year-old Evie Currington is among five Vista Magnet Middle School students whose proposal to study the effects of microgravity on the regeneration of a type of flatworm was chosen to be included on a mission to the International Space Station later this year.


“I remember sitting in my chair when they announced it, it was amazing,” Evie said. “The whole day, I was just smiling.”


Principal Anne Green said the entire school erupted in a burst of celebration when the word came through that, for the second straight year, a Vista Magnet team’s experiment made the cut for a trip to the Space Station.

“I think the whole school was stamping their feet,” Green said. “I’m just beaming. I’m so proud of our girls.”


Working with Evie in designing the experiment were 7th grader Isabella Ansell, 12, and 6th-graders Sydney Wagner, Isabel Camacho, and Charlotte Currington, all 11. Charlotte is Evie’s sister.


They were competing against teams from Vista Innovation & Design Academy and High Tech High North County.


The Vista Magnet’s team was picked because their proposal was well documented, built on earlier research, and was aimed at ultimately solving a real-world problem – how to prevent astronauts from losing muscle and bone mass while working in the microgravity environment of the space station, said Dan Hendricks of Open Source Maker Labs, which oversaw the competition. “It was very thorough, all the way through,” Hendricks said.


The Vista Magnet students got advice on the project from Eva-Maria S. Collins, an assistant professor of physics and biology at the University of California San Diego. She is providing the worms for the experiment.

“It’s really cool,” Isabella said of her team’s success. “I always loved the idea of working with scientists up in space.”


Isabel said developing the experiment was “a really good learning experience, and my mom said it looks good on a college application.”


There was a time when Sydney wondered why people were so interested in outer space. “I don’t think I’ve ever been able to sit through a space movie,” Sydney said. “When I heard about the project, I thought, maybe this could get me interested.”


Now, she’s eager to see how the experiment turns out.

Charlotte said she was inspired by Evie and wanted to work with her. “It’s exciting,” Charlotte said of being part of the winning team. “It’s something that won’t happen every day. It’s good to think I get to see my experiment go up in space and see the results.”


Evie led the Vista Magnet team as the principal investigator.


As a sixth grader, Evie worked on a different proposal for a space station experiment involving flat worms, but that one fizzled.


The winning proposal in that competition came from three other Vista Magnet students – Karsyn Lee, Vitoria Arseneault and Lexie Kondo. Their experiment, which was sent to the space station last year aboard a Space X rocket, showed that organic strawberry seeds could germinate in microgravity.


Rather than give up, Evie worked with her new team to refine the experiment for the new competition. “I definitely learned to stick with things,” Evie said. Working on the Space Station experiments “opened my eyes to the sciences.”


“In fourth grade, I wanted to be a lawyer,” Evie said. “Then, I thought, maybe I don’t want to sit at a desk and write essays.” These days, her interests are leaning toward a career in science or engineering.


“I have no idea what type of science,” Evie said.

Her teammates have similar career choices in mind.

Isabella wants to become an astrophysicist, and said that one of the reasons she enrolled in Vista Magnet was because of its emphasis on science and math. She’d like to go to Princeton University because it has a strong astrophysics program and is hoping to work for NASA.


“I want to be part of the team that puts people on other planets,” Isabella said. “I want to be part of the Mars team.”


The experiment the team devised will send to the space station 10 headless Dugesia Japonica worms to see if they’ll grow new heads, as they do on Earth.

The worms will be in a 6-inch clear plastic tube containing water in one section and formalin, a preservative, in a second section.


After approximately three weeks on orbit, space station astronauts will release a clamp, allowing the preservative to mix with the water and worms.


The project is part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), which is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the use of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/27/17

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Michaela Jackson said she wanted classes that would dare her to think critically. “I wanted to challenge myself,” Michaela said.


Alexander Kriksciun wanted a curriculum that gave him a taste of the freedom he’ll have in college to choose what he studies.

Bryce Picton wanted courses that looked “at broad concepts rather than individual facts.”


The three Rancho Buena Vista High School seniors are enrolled in the school’s International Baccalaureate diploma program.


Rancho Buena Vista’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program along with IB offerings at Vista High School, Vista Magnet Middle School, Casita Center for Science, Technology & Math and Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts (VAPA) will be explored at a 5 p.m. Jan. 31 International Baccalaureate Community Night at Rancho Buena Vista High School.


“This night is really focused toward the community and parents who are interested in International Baccalaureate and want to find out what it’s all about and what advantages it gives their child,” said Carolyn Thom, a resource teacher in the Vista Unified School System who is organizing the event with Teresa Kim, also a Vista Unified resource teacher.


“There will be examples of students’ work, then we will break out into panels and students who graduated from the International Baccalaureate program will be talking about how it helped them in college or whatever occupation they have,” Thom said.


The Community Night is open to parents from other school districts and private schools as well as Vista Unified and baby-sitting services will be available, Thom said.


Founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968, the International Baccalaureate Program works with about 4,585 schools worldwide, according to its website, www.ib.org.


Rancho Buena Vista High School and Vista High School offer the IB Diploma Programme for students aged 16 to 18, Vista Magnet offers the Middle Years Programme for all of its students, and VAPA and Casita are in the process of being certified for the Primary Years Programme for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.


At the high school level, students can take the full Diploma Programme to earn a separate IB diploma when they graduate, along with their school diploma, or they can take a selection of IB courses and receive an IB certificate in addition to their school diploma, said Melissa Neumann, Rancho’s IB and Advanced Placement program coordinator.


The IB program encourages students to look at issues from an international perspective. The work is demanding and requires students to take more and more responsibility for what they study as the progress through the grade levels.


“I love the program because it’s really well-rounded,” Thom said. “It’s very inquiry-based so students are finding things that are interesting to them and they do a lot of their own research and it’s very global.”


In keeping with its global perspective, the IB program requires students to study a second language starting at the elementary school level, and connects students in Vista with students from around the world, Kim said.


For example, students at Vista Magnet one year had a video conference call with students from a village in Peru, exchanging notes on their differences and similarities. The Vista students also raised money to help buy books for the Peruvian students.


“Really, the IB program is looking for opportunities to connect students to a global community as often as possible,” Kim said.

Although the work is rigorous, the IB program is meant for “anybody who’s willing to work hard in school,” Neumann said, adding that, “You have to be disciplined, hard-working.”


Michaela, the Rancho Buena Vista senior, said she gets “a little more homework” in the IB courses than she would otherwise, and the work also is more complex.


“It definitely does take a lot more of my time,” Michaela said.

Classmates Bryce and Alexander said they don’t notice more homework, but agreed that the work is more challenging.

For example, in high school, students pursuing the Full Diploma are required to write a 4,000 word essay on a topic of their choosing from within a broad category, Neumann said.

A student interested in math might write an essay related to math, while a student more interested in film can write about film.


Another requirement of the Full Diploma, known as Creativity, Action and Service (CAS), requires students to work on a project that benefits the larger community.


Alexander said that for one class, he chose to work on an essay about Woodstock and the counter-culture of the 1960’s.

“That’s a time in history I’m really interested in,” Alexander said.

For his CAS project, Alexander is working on a “Write for Rights” letter writing campaign through Amnesty International.

Bryce is helping to organize the school’s second annual poetry slam as his project.


Michaela said she helped put together an international film festival to “kind of bring more culture on campus.”


Just as with Advanced Placement (AP) courses, students can get college credit for IB courses they take in high school, Neumann said.


Research from the IB organization also has shown that students who take IB courses do better in college.

Rancho Buena Vista, which has offered IB courses since the school opened in 1987, this year expanded the number and variety of IB courses it offers and was chosen as the host of the exposition to highlight its programs, Neumann said.


“We wanted to showcase our IB program at Rancho Buena Vista,” Neumann said.


Newly added courses include higher-level psychology, standard level design technology, higher-level film and standard and higher-level dance, Neumann said.


The school also is looking at further expanding its IB program in the future. “What we’re trying to do is create a pathway for more students to complete the IB Diploma Programme,” Neumann said. “We’re trying to make it more accessible.”







Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/24/17

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


When San Diego County school official wanted to overhaul the way schools respond to threats on and off campus, Jeff Geyer of the Vista Unified School District was among those they turned to for help.


Geyer, the district’s safety and environmental manager, had long felt that schools needed options beyond going automatically to a hard lockdown, especially if the threat involved something like a police chase near a school that didn’t directly involve the campus.


In a hard lockdown, an alarm is sounded and teachers, students and administrators run to the nearest room, close the door, turn off the lights, hide, and wait for an all-clear to be sounded. They can’t leave the room, even to use a restroom.

That makes sense if there’s someone on school grounds with a gun or other weapon.


“Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s an off-campus threat,” Geyer said. “There’s a police chase near a school or police activity near a school.” In those cases, Geyer and others felt that something less dramatic would be sufficient.


Working with law enforcement and school officials from throughout the county, Geyer helped develop what they’ve dubbed a “secure campus” option.


“Representatives from 46 school districts and every law enforcement agency in the county were involved in developing the program,” Geyer said.


The idea is to keep off the school grounds anyone who could pose a threat, and to keep students in a safe environment.

After determining that no one on campus poses an immediate threat, school officials would lock the gates so no one could enter school grounds from the outside.


“The goal of this is to keep whatever’s going on out there, out there,” Geyer said.


Rather than run to any room when an alarm is sounded, students and teachers would go to an assigned classroom, lock the doors, but not hide. Teachers could go on with their lessons, and students could go to the restroom with an adult escort. “We want to avoid all the traumatic stuff,” Geyer said.


If there is a threat on campus, such as someone with a gun, then schools go to hard lockdown. The new protocols call for more training on what to do, even in a lockdown.


For instance, if there’s a clear escape route, take it, Geyer said.

“If you know where a shooter is, and you can get off campus safely, run,” Geyer said.


While improving schools’ response to threats is critical, Geyer emphasized that the odds that any school will face an active threat are remote. The chance of someone being the victim of a school shooting are more than one in three million, Geyer said.


In Vista Unified, Geyer is working with Michelle Walsh, coordinator of student services, and school police resource officers to form two to three three-person teams to train administrators, principals and teachers on using the new protocols.


“We have to be prepared,” Geyer said, a motto he’s lived by since becoming a Boy Scout in St. Peter’s Troop 731 in Fallbrook. To this day, Geyer never leaves home without packing an emergency kit in his truck, including food and blankets.


“My scoutmaster and several other adult leaders were Marines, so we did a lot of self-sufficient/survival type camping in remote four-wheel drive-only accessible areas,” Geyer said. “I learned to love off-roading and camping, with a heavy respect for military, law enforcement and hunting/defense weapons.”


Geyer also was an active CB radio fan. “Magic Dragon was my handle,” Geyer said.


Working with other CB’ers, Geyer was part of a radio communication system during law enforcement search and rescue missions. “Back in the ‘70’s, nobody had cell phones,” Geyer said. “We would four-wheel drive to the top of a hill and be relaying messages.” These days, Geyer said, “I’ve really found my passion in this emergency preparedness world.”


Colleagues said Geyer is a joy to work with. “I just like being around him because he has a great attitude, a great personality,” said Tim Ware, school intervention manager at Oceanside Unified School District.


Ware and Geyer have similar responsibilities in their school districts, and the two often share ideas and tips. “He has one of those attitudes that’s infectious, to strive for excellence,” Ware said.


Shari Fernandez, Vista Unified’s director of elementary curriculum and instruction, said Geyer’s concern for school safety goes from pushing for security cameras and improved fencing at schools to walking the paths children follow to school to look for any obstacles they might face.


“I know of very few districts that are putting the effort that Jeff is putting in in Vista schools,” Fernandez said.


Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that Geyer “is a tremendous contributor to the safety of all students and staff. He has established a leadership role throughout the county as a result of his commitment to his own professional learning and for his thoughtful and compassionate approach.”


A 1976 graduate of Fallbrook High School, Geyer worked for his brother as an electrician while in school and continued in the trade after graduating, owning his own business for a time and working for several others companies, including Souther/Birtcher Development, where he became project manager/superintendent.


He got a job with Vista Unified in 1991 as an electrician, and slowly worked his way up to his current position in 2012. His wife, Tanya, is the health/attendance technician at Temple Heights Elementary School.


Two years ago, Geyer went back to school. He’ll receive a bachelor’s of science degree in homeland security and emergency management this month from National University, graduating magna cum laude.


“As I immersed myself in my new passion – school emergency preparedness and safety – I found that I have something to offer both law enforcement and school folks,” Geyer said.


Geyer said that he’d been thinking about going back to school, and when National University offered a degree program that involved emergency preparedness, he jumped at the chance. “I decided I needed to have the requisite education and diploma,” Geyer said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/13/17

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Make graduation cards for eight-graders.


Give out free hugs.


Hand out notes of kindness to random people on campus.


Paint a mural.


Those were just some of the suggestions students at Roosevelt Middle School came up with to make theirs a kinder campus.


The suggestions, written on Post-it notes and pasted up in the school library, were part of an exercise the students went through recently as part of Rachel’s Challenge, an international program aimed at making schools safer, where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect and where students feel more connected to their school.


Roosevelt Middle School students paper a column with ideas of how to make the school friendlier.


Rachel’s Challenge gets its name from Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed in the Columbine High School shooting of April 20, 1999.


Rachel’s father, Darrell Scott, created Rachel’s Challenge to continue the work Rachel started with simple acts of kindness, which her classmates said had a profound impact on their lives, according to the program’s website, rachelschallenge.org.


Roosevelt Middle School is among about 23 schools in San Diego County that have signed up for the three-year program, said Rachel’s Challenge Presenter Fred Lynch. The goal is to get the program in about 40 schools in the college.


Although curbing aggressive behavior and bullying is the aim of the program, “We hardly every use the word bully,” Lynch said.

“Our whole goal is pro-compassion, pro- caring,” Lynch said. “It’s really cool to be kind. That’s our model, making it cool to be kind.”


Rachel's Challenge presenter / coach Fred Lynch speaks with Roosevelt students about creating a pro-compassion, pro-caring campus.


The program started at Roosevelt with a November rally at the school led by Lynch. Subsequently, the school formed a Friends of Rachel Club, where about 50 students meet monthly to come up with ideas for promoting kindness on and off campus.


The Post-it notes were part of that.


“It’s really creating a positive culture on our campus,” Roosevelt Principal Elise Ochenduszko said. “Middle school is really a challenging time for children." Emotions run high, and “sometimes we see that coming out with kids being mean to each other.”


With the program in place for little more than a month at Roosevelt, there aren’t any hard numbers on how well it’s working. “I certainly notice more kids wanting to take ownership of the school,” Ochenduszko said.


A key part of the program is getting kids to feel connected with each other, with their teachers, and with their school, Lynch said.


Among other things, teachers were trained to bring Rachel’s Challenge into their classrooms with short, simple lessons by connecting with their students. They do that by talking about things like the scariest movie they’ve seen, their favorite pizza topping, their most embarrassing moment, and asking the students to do the same.


“What it really builds over a period of time is this net of connective-ness,” Lynch said.


For an upcoming “Challenge Day,” students will spend six hours combining physical activities with sessions designed to get to know each other, Lynch said. “All the kids are blown away by how many kids are like them,” Lynch said.


The idea is, that when students learn about each other, they realize they’re more alike than different and they are more likely to treat each other with respect. “Not only do the kids feel safer, but we see the grades increase, we see the fighting decrease,” Lynch said. “Our ultimate wish is to create safer, more connected schools.”


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 1/10/17

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


The soup was yummy – loaded potato, with bacon, cheese, chives and sour cream made and served by culinary art students from Vista High School.


Better yet, it came in colorful ceramic bowls, each one a different work of art, hand-crafted by students at Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA), a middle school in the Vista Unified School District.


And to top it off, the $495 raised selling the soup-filled bowls at $5 each went to the North County Food Bank as part of an “Empty Bowls” project organized by VIDA art teacher Heather Williams, who was looking for ways to connect student art projects to real-world issues.


PTA President Kim Hilder and her son, Eric, sample the clam chowder made by the VHS Culinary Arts class. 


Empty Bowls is an international program run by the nonprofit organization Imagine Render, which lists its mission as creating “positive and lasting change through the arts, education, and projects that build community.”


The idea is that people buy a meal in a bowl to raise money for organizations that fight hunger, like the North County Food Bank, and they keep the bowl as a reminder of the empty bowls in the world.


“I love that they’re giving to the Food Bank,” said Kim Hilder, president of the VIDA PTA (Parent Teacher Association) and the Del Norte PTA. Kilder's 13-year-old son, Eric, is an eighth-grader at VIDA. “It warms my heart, just like this soup will warm me.”


The soup and bowls were served up as part of a recent VIDA exposition that included displays of a wide-range of student projects, from underwater robots that dove and surfaced in the school swimming pool to live drama and music performances.


VIDA Principal Eric Chagala said the idea was “to share with the public and the parents the work the kids have been doing.”

The Empty Bowls part of the exposition fit nicely with VIDA’s design-thinking curriculum, which stresses learning by doing, said Williams, a founding faculty member of VIDA.


“Everybody knows education has to change from the teacher standing up there, talking,” said Williams, who was a founding faculty member of VIDA.


Connecting the student’s creativity with a community issue was a hit with Amy McGuire, whose daughter, Chloe, is a seventh-grader at VIDA. “We got here early because we were excited about the opportunity for feeding the hungry,” McGuire said as she sampled some soup. She proclaimed it “very delicious.”


Jessica Garcia with daughter Brooklyn, enjoying their soup and hand crafted bowls.


Jessica Garcia, a substitute teacher at Vista Unified’s Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math elementary school, said she was impressed by the collaboration between the VIDA art students and the high school culinary students in making the bowls and the soup.


“What a great combination, to get everyone working together,” said Garcia, whose daughter, Joelle, is a seventh grader at VIDA, and daughter, Brooklyn, is a fifth-grader at Casita.

The soup “tastes like what you’d get in a restaurant,” Garcia said. She liked the ceramic bowls so much that she bought four of them.


Chef Kim Plunkett, who created the culinary program at Vista High School, said that her students took the idea and ran with it. “They made it at school today,” Plunkett said on the day of the exposition. “I gave them the recipe and that was it.”


Vista High School Culinary Arts students serve their creation.


VIDA seventh-grader Lindsey Huezo, who made two bowls, liked the idea of linking her art work to a community issue.

“It will help people who are hungry,” said Lindsey, 12. “I think the money will help a lot.”


VIDA sixth-grader Belen Martinez, 11, said the project was “really cool. I get to show my imagination by making bowls. It’s really fun.”


Her father, Marcos Hernandez, was impressed with the bowl Belen made. “It’s fantastic,” he said as he got in line for soup.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/23/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Tuba player Teresa Anderson felt from the start that this was going to be a special year for the Rancho Buena Vista High School Marching Band.


“We all kind of just clicked a lot better this year, and we all knew how to put emotion in whatever we were doing, and we all knew exactly what we were doing,” said Teresa, a 17-year-old junior who helped the 220-member band take top prize as the KUSI-TV marching band of the year for San Diego County.


‘It’s like a really great achievement,” Teresa said. “We all worked so hard, and we’re all like a family, and to just be able to be known for something that we all love is just incredible.”


Band director Eric Weirather said that being chosen “has definitely been fantastic,” adding “I’m proud of my kids and their hard work. They deserve it.”


The Rancho Buena Vista High School marching band in action.


Drum major Taylor Anderson, 16, a junior who also has played the flute, said that band members just seemed to click. “This year, in particular, our band has just been very motivated,” Taylor said. “I’m really proud of our band this year. We couldn’t have done it if all the members weren’t devoting hours and hours to this program.”


Senior Mason George, 17, said he and others who are in their final year with the band, “can’t quite comprehend” being named the top marching band in the county. Mason attributed the band’s winning performance to teamwork and collaboration among veteran players and newbies.


“The staff and the students just coordinate so well, and a lot of the upper classmen were able to teach the lower classmen,” Mason said.


In presenting a winning performance, the Rancho Buena Vista Marching Band does a lot more than march.


“We always like to tell a story, to draw the audience in to what we’re doing,” said Weirather, who’s been at Rancho Buena Vista for 17 years. “It’s all about the audience, making sure it’s a very entertaining show.”


This year, the band’s performance, entitled “Once Upon a Time,” told a “storybook tale,” in which band members created an actual storybook prop with the help of band parents, Weirather said.


During the performance, which featured an appearance by three witches, “Our color guard would come in and out of the storybook,” Weirather said.


Ending with a quote, “good always overcomes evil,” the performance “was kind of a traditional children’s story,” Weirather said. “A lot of people fell in love with the show, including the students.”


In addition to being chosen Marching Band of the Year, the Rancho Buena Vista band has received several other awards this year, winning tournaments throughout Southern California.


The RBV Color Guard performs with the band to tell their story.


“Our hard work has paid off a lot,” said senior Emilia Spagnuolo, 17, who performs in the band color guard. “We’ve had a really successful season.” Emilia said that this year’s players built on the work of those who were in the band in previous years.


“I always tell the color guard that each class before us has contributed to putting us where we are now,” Emilia said. “We get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.”


It’s been about 10 years since Rancho Buena Vista was last honored as marching band of the year, Weirather said.

“It’s not about winning for us, it’s about the experience for the students and their hard work and their work ethic,” Weirather said. “The other thing that does make our school special is our parents, we have amazing parents.”


Looking ahead, Weirather said that he may enter the band next year in the competition to be in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. He said Rancho Buena Vista last marched in that parade in 2003. “It’s a whole heck of a lot of work, but I think it’s good to do it,” Weirather said.


He’s also looking for more opportunities for his students to perform. “We’ve gotten a lot of exposure, that’s really my goal, to get out in the community, and let as many people as possible hear the kids’ hard work and musicianship,” Weirather said. “If somebody wants us to play for something, we very rarely say no, especially if it’s for a good cause.”



Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/22/16

Audience: Homepage

Click here or on the image to see the 10 News story about the Talent City kickoff


An innovative partnership between the Vista Unified School District, the Vista Chamber of Commerce, and local Vista businesses was launched on Tuesday, December 6th. Local media including 10 News (ABC), The Coast News and LaPrensa were on hand to tell the story.


The program is designed to develop Vista into a “Talent City,” where local students receive practical, hands-on experience in priority work sectors in the area.


Dubbed “talent experienceships,” the event, at local business Solatube, Inc. is the first in a series of opportunities for the district and the private sector to work together in building a Talent City in Vista. The overall goal is to build talent readiness aimed at graduating students that are immediately employable in careers aligned to the region’s priority sectors, as outlined by the San Diego Workforce Partnership:


- Advanced Manufacturing

- Clean Energy

- Health Care

- Information & Communication Technology

- Life Sciences


“This program is an exciting new step for Vista’s schools and students to gain direct, practical experience of what employers need from their current and future workforce,” said Vista Assistant Superintendent of Innovation Dr. Matt Doyle. “And local businesses have the opportunity to see the intelligence and innovation from students already in the community.”


Adds Vista Chamber of Commerce CEO Bret Schanzenbach, “The Talent City campaign is a fantastic opportunity for Vista’s business and educational communities to collaborate to bring opportunity and value to employers, students and the entire community. Developing home grown talent for our city’s businesses only strengthens our community and showcases why Vista is a great place to live, to learn and to work.”


To see a short documentary of the Talent Cities launch produced by the Rancho Minerva Middle School video team, click here.


The day saw the Principal, a teacher and five students from each of VUSD’s five middle schools participate at Solatube. After learning about the company and what they do, students learned about various job functions, including manufacturing, marketing and engineering.


Solatube then identified a Project Challenge for the students, connecting them with the company’s day-to-day operation. Students self-selected into teams based on their strengths and interests and designed and presented a plan to addresses the challenge. Students will follow up their experience by reflecting on what they learned and how it relates to career readiness.


A further aspect of the "Talent City" program will see students learn about and begin to demonstrate essential skills, and they will receive badges as part of a district personal learning profile. These badges will eventually form a skills transfer pipeline in North San Diego County. Vista Unified will prepare a holistic (anonymous) report for local HR and entrepreneurial leaders on the skills and talents students have developed during their schooling in Vista Unified.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/13/16

Audience: Homepage

Click image above for more information.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/12/16

Audience: Homepage

Click here or on the image above to play the video.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/7/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Don’t take no for an answer and don’t let people say you can’t do anything.


That was the advice that U. S. Air Force Reserve pilot Jengi Martinez gave students during a recent career fair at Madison Middle School in the Vista Unified School District.


She was among dozens of professionals from a beekeeper and a body builder to a race car driver and a lawyer, who told the students how and why they got their jobs, and what their work entailed.


The idea behind the fair is to inspire kids and let them “see how many opportunities there are,” said Principal Susan Ford. “This helps link what they’re doing in school with something in the future,” Ford said. “We’re spending a lot of time talking about careers. We have to. That’s the way to get students engaged in education.”


Seventh-grader Tess Moya made the rounds of several displays set up around the school courtyard, where students could talk to people in a variety of professions. “I just like asking questions,” Tess said between talking with Martinez and heading over to a booth staffed by FBI agents. “I’m thinking about doing something that involves action,” Tess said.


Classmate Nickolas Barbera said he’s already got a career in mind – becoming a firefighter like his father. “I kind of want to follow in his footsteps,” Nickolas said. “It’s what I want to be when I grow up.”


Seventh-grader Yahaira Baroja said she was thinking about joining the Marines or becoming a nurse. “I like to help people and make them feel better,” Yahaira said.


Seventh-grader Holden Manno said he was thinking about becoming a Marine or a rap music artist.


Military service was a key career step for Crystal Salumbides, a lawyer in the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office who served in Iraq. “I was one of those kids that kind of struggled. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get it,” said Salumbides, who enlisted in the Army when she was 19.


Salumbides said she became a lawyer after serving as a paralegal in the U.S. Army JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corps and getting a law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law after she got out of the Army. “There are a lot of things the military can offer,” Salumbides said. “There may be some people who need a little discipline and that’s what I got from it.”


But before recommending the military to students, Salumbides said, “I always want to know what their end goal is. If someone wants to do art, the military probably isn’t for them.”


Having a career fair for middle schoolers is a good idea because it gets them thinking about what they might want to do, she said. “Granted, things will change,” Salumbides said. “The main thing is, they stay in school and finish their education. Then, the options will be open to them.”


Martinez, who flies huge C-17 cargo planes and is also a certified airplane accident investigator, said she wanted to be a pilot since she was 16 and saw the military as a way to reach her goal. “Our humanitarian missions take us all over the world,” said Martinez, who’s also flown combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’ve taken fire engines, trucks, you name it, we take it.”


Martinez is particularly keen on encouraging girls to aim high in their career goals. She said that of the about 14,200 pilots in the military, only 683 are women, and fewer than 50 are fighter pilots.


“Barriers are continuing to be broken,” Martinez said. “Surround yourself with people who are positive, who are goal oriented.”

San Diego filmmaker Keith Russell told the students to “create and dream big.”


Growing up in what he described as “a pretty trying neighborhood” in Chicago, Russell said, “I was told I wouldn’t make it, I wouldn’t amount to anything. I was going to be another statistic.”


After spending nine years in the Marines, Russell said he found a new career after going to film school in Los Angeles. “My message to you is, if I did it despite all the challenges, I know all of you can do it,” Russell told the Madison students. “If I can do it, then you can do it.”


For those who might be considering a career in law enforcement, Jason Omundson, a crime prevention specialist with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, suggested that they might consider joining the Sheriff’s Explorer Program when they turn 16.


“It gives them the experience,” Omundson said. “They can go on ride-alongs with deputies. They wear the (Explorer) uniform. They go to a (training) academy, just like the deputies do.”


In addition to giving Madison’s 1,150 students insight into a wide range of careers, Ford said that the fair has given the school a valuable connection to the community.


“I think it’s energizing for presenters,” Ford said. “It’s something we want to continue. We don’t see any downside.”








Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/6/16

Audience: Homepage


by Ray Huard


They took on professional engineers.

They took on college students.

And they beat them all.


A team of nine computer science students from Mission Vista High School in the Vista Unified School District took first place in their category in a recent AT&T Mobile computer programming hackathon from among 10 teams comprised of 100 programmers.


Hackathons are computer coding competitions in which teams build mobile apps, which are presented to judges with prizes awarded for the best apps.


The competing teams included professionals from companies such as Intuit, Qualcomm and Intel and students from several universities.


“We were thinking we’d give it a shot and try to learn something,” said Luke Harvey, a member of the Mission Vista High School team.


With a hackathon theme of “Smart Cities” for their category, the task of the Mission Vista team was to design and implement a cell phone app that had practical uses for the city of San Diego, and they had to do it with a computer coding system they’d never used before, and they had to do it all within 24 hours. “It was definitely a big challenge,” Luke said.


Joining Luke on the Mission Vista team were Alan Krause, Tyler Cook, Isaac Howard, Allan Garcia, Ryan Green, Annora Jones and Andrew Yates.


The Mission Vista High School Hackathon championship team


Their teacher, Jeffrey Yee, said it was the students’ perseverance and determination that paid off.


“Where a lot of kids would give up, not knowing the technology, they actually spent hours learning, going on the Internet finding examples, trying to learn this technology to win,” said Yee, who teaches computer science as part of Career Technical Education (CTE) at Mission Vista.


“I’m definitely surprised that they performed so well, but I’m not surprised that they could go out and learn something fairly rapidly,” Yee said. “I would hire them if they were actually looking for a job.”


The students created an app called SD Connected, which works on Android cell phones, to allow people to find information describing city events like concerts, sport matches and festivals. “You can sort it by type, date and time of day,” Andrew said.


The app also enabled people using it to find their polling places on Election Day.


“A lot of us had done some coding, but we had never made an Android app before,” Luke said. “It was really difficult for us, because we had never programmed an Android before.”


Team members worked around-the-clock. “Most of the students slept for only a few hours, spending most of the time focused on completing the app,” Yee said.


Along with the first place finish, the Mission Vista team received a prize of $500 in Amazon gift cards and a tour of the San Diego City Cybersecurity Division led by Gary Hayslip, chief information security officer.


“The hackathon would have been a success even if they had not won, but winning was the icing on the cake and confirmed that they could perform at the highest levels,” Yee said.


The students plan to refine their app over the coming months as a project for their high school computer programming club.

As exhausting as the hackathon was, Andrew said that given the chance, he’s ready to go to another hackathon. “When the opportunity comes up, we’re always here to grab it,” Andrew said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 12/1/16

Audience: Homepage


Don’t tell Tina Shinsato you can’t do math.


“If you have the ability to think, you have the ability to do math,” said Shinsato, a math teacher at Rancho Buena Vista High School. “You might not care to do it, and that’s your choice, but in no way are you incapable of doing math,” she said.


That kind of drive and determination rubs off on Shinsato’s students, and led the California Mathematics Council to give Shinsato its annual George Polya Memorial Award in November.


Named after a renowned Stanford University mathematics professor, the award is given to one educator who has shown excellence in teaching math over a sustained period of time.


“I appreciate and I’m honored by the award, but it’s an award for the people I work with,” said Shinsato, who has been teaching math for 23 years, nearly all of them in Vista Unified.


“My ideas aren’t original. I’m a communicator,” Shinsato said. “My ideas were taken from a lot of people. The award represents all the people I’ve ever worked with.”


Shinsato’s colleagues said that she’s too modest.


“I cannot begin to count how many high school students she has masterfully guided through math class,” said Renee Kollar-Bachman, a close friend and head of the Rancho Buena Vista math department.


“Everyone knows she’s already an incredible teacher, but she’s always thinking about how to make what she does better,” Kollar-Bachman said. “I kind of want to be like her when I grow up. She loves the outdoors. She loves camping. She owns an RV (recreational vehicle) so she’ll go on one-to two-month treks in the summer. She also makes you laugh when she knows you need to laugh, even if you’re going through a sad time or an angry time.”


Rancho Buena Vista Principal Charles Schindler said Shinsato “is a champion of all students learning math. We are fortunate to have such a professional at RBV, not just for our math program, but for all students and staff members,” Schindler said. “We at RBV are extremely proud of Tina’s accomplishment and award. It is well deserved as she is a champion of math at RBV and for the district.”


Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that the Mathematics Council recognition of Shinsato was “a well-deserved award. “We are incredibly fortunate to have talented and dedicated teachers in Vista,” Vodicka said. “I am pleased to see Ms. Shinsato recognized for her contributions. Students describe her as an energetic teacher who is genuinely interested in ensuring that all students develop a thorough understanding of mathematics.”


Shinsato said she was drawn to math “for the problem-solving aspect.” “I like that it’s hard and takes perseverance,” Shinsato said. “I like that I can have both success and failure.”


A 1989 graduate of Southwest High School in San Diego, Shinsato earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of California San Diego and a master’s degree in mathematics from California State University San Marcos.

In college, she initially majored in engineering.


“In all honesty, I had no idea why. Most likely, because that was the cool thing to do,” Shinsato said.


Working summers in a Girls Scout camp helped change her mind. “I realized that I liked working with people,” Shinsato said. “I like helping kids overcome challenges and enjoyed celebrating success.”


She decided to major in math in her junior year “so that I could be at teacher,” Shinsato said, adding, it was the “best choice ever.”


In the classroom, Shinsato is an innovator who is always looking for new ways to make math interesting and accessible for her students, Kollar-Bachman said.


“One of the things she started doing, which has caught on, was put white boards all around her classroom,” Kollar-Bachman said. “Now, it’s not uncommon for every student to be at their own group’s white board, writing something, putting something down.”


Shinsato said that the white boards fit with her philosophy that people learn best by doing and collaborating. “I want my kids to do their work on the board and talk to each other, I don’t want to be the one talking to them all the time,” Shinsato said. “In my ideal day, I like to present a problem to students that they are curious enough about to say, ‘Hey, I wonder what the answer is and how are we going to solve it?’”


White boards surround students in Tina Shinsato's class, encouraging collaboration.


Outside of class, Shinsato is a ball of energy, working with other teachers, staying before and after school to work with students who need extra help, and serving as co-adviser to the Gender Sexuality Alliance, an organization for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students. The alliance gives those students “a place just to be safe and not be judged,” Shinsato said.


She also teaches up-and-coming teachers at California State University San Marcos and has served on the board of directors of the California Mathematics Council.


“You name it, she’s done it, and she’s not done yet,” Kollar-Bachman said. “I can’t imagine someone being better at their craft and she’s always working on it.”


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/28/16

Audience: Homepage



By Ray Huard


Exciting and engaged were the two words Vista community leaders used most in describing the students they saw in visiting school classrooms, filling in as principals for a day.

“Every kid there was engaged in their classroom,” Vista Assistant City Manager Aly Zimmermann said of her stint at Vista High School. “A couple of them wouldn’t leave when the bell rang.”


She was among 18 people who spent a recent morning learning what it’s like to be principal in the Vista Unified School District.


The purpose of Principal For A Day, now in its third year, is to strengthen the school district’s ties to the community and give people a better understanding of how and what students are learning, said Superintendent Devin Vodicka.


“To support our work, we know it takes more than the school district,” Vodicka said.


Vista Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Bret Schanzenbach, who organized the event, said he spent much of his time with Bobier Elementary School Principal Jenifer Golden visiting classrooms instead of sitting in the principal’s office scolding students.


“Back in the old days, the principal would have had a lot of work to do just dealing with kids in trouble,” Schanzenbach said.


Discipline is a very small part of her job, Golden explained.

“We’re more instructional leaders, we’re trying to be more innovative,” Golden said. “We switched from a culture of ‘caught you being bad’ to a culture of ‘caught you being good.’”


Golden said her work also includes offering ongoing workshops for parents, many of whom struggle to learn English, and offering them access to computers to help them find jobs.


After dropping by a parent workshop, Schanzenbach said the connection Bobier has with parents was impressive. “They were engaged. They were just totally involved in what’s going on,” Schanzenbach said. “Engaging parents is ultimately a key to succeeding, and they’re engaging the parents really, really well here.”


Vista City Councilman John Aguilera said he was most impressed by the way students greeted him as he walked the hallways of Vista Magnet Middle School while going from class to class.


“The kids were a lot more respectful than I expected, well behaved, more than when I was in school,” Aguilera said.

He also was impressed with the way Principal Anne Green and her staff greet every student. 


That personal touch pays off with better student behavior, Green said. “Every time you personally check in with a student, you’re eliminating a potential discipline problem,” Green said.


Vista City Councilman John Aguilera meets with students at Vista Magnet Middle School to learn about their experiences.


Aguilera started his stint as fill-in principal at Vista Magnet by having coffee with Green, Assistant Principal Steve Post and three students – sixth grader Peyton Wilson, seventh-grader Perla Lopez and eighth-grader Juan Diaz.


“Since I was in second grade, I told my mom, ‘I want to come to Vista Magnet,” Perla said. She said the school’s reputation for offering rigorous classes was appealing.


Asked to name her favorite class, Perla said “I love every class, to be honest.” If there’s one thing she’d change, Perla said she’d strengthen the school’s counseling program.


Peyton, who was wearing a Mira Costa College sweat shirt, said she liked the friendly atmosphere at Vista Magnet.


“When I came into sixth grade, the teachers and Mrs. Green and Mr. Post were welcoming,” Peyton said. She wouldn’t change anything “because I think this school is great.”


Juan, who is thinking of attending California State University San Marcos, said Vista Magnet teachers “make a great effort to help everyone understand” what they’re studying, but he said the amount of homework he gets can be daunting.


It would help if teachers would coordinate the projects they assign so they’re not all due around the same time, Juan said.


“An amazing experience,” was how Vista Assistant City Clerk Kathy Valdez described the morning she spent at Vista Innovation & Design Academy with Principal Eric Chagala.

“I was just blown away by all the programs they have there,” Valdez said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/16/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


A class of third graders at Bobier Elementary School couldn’t wait to bite into the snacks being passed around the room.

It was the week before Halloween, but it wasn’t candy bars or potato chips that had these kids excited.


Red grapes did it, sweet yet a little tart too, explained Amy Haessly, nutrition education and training supervisor for the Vista Unified School District.


Along with an emphasis on physical fitness, Bobier’s drive to improve the nutrition and health of its students and their families made Bobier one of six San Diego County elementary schools chosen for a three-year wellness development program by the Center for Community Health-School Wellness at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.


“Bobier is the model of how to build a wellness program and a culture of wellness to achieve student success,” Haessly said.

On the day she introduced the third-graders to red grapes, Haessly also taught them how to interpret nutrition labels on food packages, from knowing that a calorie is a measure of the energy food provides to figuring out the size of a single serving.


“This is when your math skills really help out in the real world,” Haessly told the students as she had them figure out what a half-cup single serving of macaroni and cheese would look like.

Two handfuls, was the answer.


Amy Haessly, Vista Unified nutrition education and training supervisor, going over food labels with a third grade class.


Haessly has been training Bobier’s teachers on how to introduce lessons on nutrition into their regular class schedule in what Principal Jenifer Golden said was change in outlook “where it’s cool to eat healthy.”


“We’re already a school that’s passionate about this,” Golden said. “It’s a culture shift. We’re not there yet, but we’re making improvements every year.”


A Bobier Elementary third-grader samples red grapes


Getting picked for the UCSD program will help the school move faster and with a clear plan of action, Golden said.


The other schools picked for the UCSD program are Valencia Park and Ocean Beach elementary schools in the San Diego Unified School District, Sunset Elementary School in the San Ysidro Elementary School District, Julian Elementary School in the Julian Unified School District, and San Miguel Elementary School in the Lemon Grove School District.


To qualify, at least half of the students in a school must be receiving free or reduced lunches based on their family’s income. This year that accounts for about 77 percent of Bobier’s students, Golden said.


Each school in the program will get a variety of wellness-related services through UCSD, starting with an assessment of what they already have and their needs, said Kate Edra, UCSD program coordinator.


UCSD also will help the schools set up campus wellness councils, draft and adopt a school wellness policy, develop classroom nutrition lessons, and increase and track the students’ physical activity. The services UCSD will provide are valued at about $10,000 annually.


“After three years, we hope we can create a sustainable wellness program in this school,” Edra said of Bobier.

Bobier was chosen in part because the school has already made efforts at improving the wellness of its students and because of the enthusiasm of everyone at the school, from Golden on down, for expanding the school’s wellness efforts, Edra said.


Red grapes are a popular snack choice and healthy alternative to candy


That includes stepping up physical activity for students and teachers and replacing candy with nutritious snacks or other prizes at school events, Golden said.


The school also has structured soccer lessons at lunch led by Coast 2 Coast coaches. The lessons incorporate STEM (Science, Technology and Math) topics for students who learn best through hands-on or physical activities, Golden said.

They might learn to count while jumping rope, or improve their spelling by writing with the hands in sand, or learn about angles by playing golf, Golden said.


In addition to becoming part of the UCSD program, Bobier received a $500 “Spark Start Achievement Kit” of playground equipment like soccer balls and jumping ropes to encourage physical activities among students.


When the kids are busy playing sports or involved in other activities, they’re less likely to get into trouble, Golden said.

“The most discipline referrals at our school are during recess,” Golden said. When the kids are given an organized activity at recess, “We see fewer discipline referrals.”


Golden said her drive to partner with UCSD and push for a strong wellness program at Bobier was inspired by Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka.


Vodicka has established a district group of “wellness ninjas” to promote good nutrition and physical fitness, among other things.


“Our superintendent challenges us to lead our sites and focus on wellness and balance to increase happiness, which increases attendance and achievement,” Golden said. “The wellness ninja group are district leaders who have made goals for this year, little things like challenging employees to eat fruit and vegetables in the lounge, take the stairs and park further away to walk more.”




Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/12/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Bobier Elementary School students were enthralled as San Diego Police Detective Mike Aiken led his drug sniffing dog through her paces.


“Dogs can smell hundreds of hundreds of times better than people,” Aiken explained, as his K-9 companion ran over to a pink suitcase and sat next to it.


“That’s her way of telling me, ‘It’s right here, Mike,’” Aiken said.

Aiken’s demonstration was part of the school’s celebration of Red Ribbon Week, a week-long drive to promote healthy living choices with an emphasis on avoiding illegal drugs.


“I learned that drugs are bad for you and if you do them, you might get sick, you might die, or you might go to jail,” said fourth-grader D.J. Burd. “My favorite part of the day was when we got to learn about the K-9 and how she finds the drugs.”


Aiken’s K-9 Labrador also was a big hit with fourth-graders Edgar Perez and Jaime Arevalo. “She’s so fluffy, I think she’s playful,” Jaime said. Edgar said he was surprised by the breed of the dog. “I thought she would be a German shepherd,” Edgar said.


Besides the drug sniffing dog, D.J. said he was impressed with an FBI display and presentation about cyber bullying and avoiding online predators.


“Sometimes, when I play my (online) games, people call each other stupid and they say the f-word to each other,” D.J. said. “I just say, ‘Don’t call them that because it’s inappropriate.”

FBI Community Outreach Specialist Cheryl Dorenbush said that by the time they reach eighth grade, most students have encountered online bullying.


“By the time they’re in high school, most have been exposed to online predators, been approached by online predators and they don’t even know it,” Dorenbush said. “The main thing is, they should never agree to go meet someone they met online. That’s the new stranger-danger.”


Dorenbush urged the students to check out an online video game the FBI has developed, FBI-SOS (https://sos.fbi.gov) for students in grades three through eight that promotes online citizenship and teaches them how to recognize and respond to online dangers.


“We think it’s so important that you be safe online that we designed an entire game around this,” Dorenbush told the Bobier students. “You’ll pretend like you’re a special agent going undercover.”


Along with sending an anti-drug message, Red Ribbon Week honors the memory of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a Mexican-born Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent who was kidnapped and killed by drug dealers in 1985.


DEA agents were among those presenting anti-drug messages at Bobier, including a photographic display of the physical ravages caused by methamphetamine abuse. The agents also gave students a tour of a mobile command center and let them try on bullet proof vests.


“It’s important to get them at this age,” said DEA Special Agent Amy Roderick. “If we can get them to make a decision to never try the stuff (drugs), that puts us way ahead. I figure if I get one or two kids at every school, I’m doing good.”


First grade teacher Jennifer Hovell, who organized Bobier’s Red Ribbon Week, said the lessons students learn go beyond the school.


“They’re going to take it home, they’re going to have conversations with their families, they’re going to have conversations with their siblings,” Hovell said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/8/16

Audience: Homepage



Contact: Dave Palmer, Dunk Tank Marketing | (619) 800-3865 | dave@dunktankmarketing.com


Vista School District To Host Education Innovators

60 Leading educators to tour district schools as part of

Next Gen Learning Challenge Excursion


Vista, CA | November 7, 2016 – With another nod to its growing reputation as an educational innovator, the Vista Unified School District will host leading educators from across the US as part of the Next Gen Learning Challenge excursion to observe leading San Diego schools, held on November 14-15, 2016. Organized by Next Gen Learning Challenges, an initiative of Educause, this excursion will see participants visiting three VUSD schools to see the implementation of Vista’s Personal Learning efforts.


The education practitioners hail from across the United States and include teachers, school leaders, charter and district leaders, and others from organizations supporting next gen school models. These educators are in the midst of reimagining public education and at different stages of implementing a redesigned school model. Other schools visited during the two-day excursion include e3 Civic High School, Thrive Academy, and High Tech High School.


On Monday, November 14th, participants will visit three VUSD schools that have been implementing a Personal Learning Pathway for their students: Temple Heights Elementary School, an Apple Distinguished Program school; Rancho Minerva Middle School, whose video production team won the national Panasonic KWN competition; and Vista High School, recent recipient of a $10 million XQ Super School grant. Each of these schools is implementing a Personal Learning approach that helps students take control of their own learning pathway.


“This is another fantastic opportunity for Vista to welcome leading education minds from across the country and share the story of how we are implementing this transformative approach to learning,” says Dr. Matt Doyle, Vista’s Assistant Superintendent of Innovation. “We’ve said that Personal Learning is our ‘moon shot,’ and we’re on our way to scaling it across the entire district. Visits like these allow us to showcase our work as well as learn from some of the finest educators in the country.”


Speaking to Vista’s work in this area, Next Gen Learning Challenge’s Program Officer and Director of K-12 Operations, Stefanie Blouin, says, “Vista is a district engaging in transformation around personalized learning. We are especially interested in the district aspect as well as their approach to engaging teachers and stakeholders in the process. The size of the district and the boldness of their work is inspiring.”

Vista Unified is in the midst of a collaborative effort with San Diego’s e3 Civic High School, located at the new downtown library. Vista USD and e3 are using the excursion as a way to explore each other's models and work more intently, and to foster a strong connection to support each other in their work. The excursion allows participants to see this collaborative model up close.


The Next Gen Learning Challenge excursion is yet another in a streak of visits from leading edge educators for Vista USD. The spring saw the district host a Digital Promise conference in conjunction with the ASU-GSV Ed-Tech conference. This fall has already seen Vista host the AASA Superintendent’s cohort as well as the #GoOpen Summit, in conjunction with the California and US Departments of Education.


“Our goal is to be the model of educational excellence and innovation,” says Vista Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka. “Hosting events like this allow us to sharpen ourselves among the best thinkers and practitioners in the country, as well as showcase the fantastic work our schools are doing in our Personal Learning transformation.”


Doyle, Blouin and other participants are available for interviews, and media are invited to join visits to the school sites and speak with students and participants on the 14th between 9:30 – 11:30 AM.


About Next Generation Learning Challenges

Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) supports the educators who are reimagining public education—from helping them take what they know about learning and apply it to school design, to issuing challenge grants that enable practitioners to completely redesign their schools. NGLC recognizes that in order to make education more about learning and less about teaching, we need to support those educators with the vision to transform their schools and the passion and courage to pursue it.  Learn more about NGLC at http://nextgenlearning.org.


NGLC is an initiative of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. Funding for NGLC has been provided principally by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.


For more information or to schedule an interview or site visit, contact Dave Palmer.




Media Contact:

Dave Palmer

For Vista Unified School District



Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/5/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Normally, Delores Loedel would be teaching accounting classes to college students, but on a recent morning, she took over a class of kindergarteners at Olive Elementary School.


“We start very, very simply,” said Loedel, whose usual environment is at the head of a classroom at Mira Costa College. “Right now, they’re identifying needs and wants.” You might want a shiny new car, but what you need is a place to live and food on the table, she explained.


Loedel was one of 14 volunteers who spent a morning at Olive in the Vista Unified School District as part of a financial literacy program put on by Junior Achievement of San Diego County – JA Day. “The earlier we start with the children, the better,” Loedel said. “As a state, California was rated F in financial literacy.”


In a 2015 study by Champlain Colleges Career for Financial Literacy, California was one of 12 states given an F rating. The low rating was based on the lack of financial literacy classes in high school.


Olive Principal Stephanie Vasquez said she thought it was important to introduce elementary school students to basic economics and what they might want do with their lives.


“Our motto is, ‘where kids think big.’ It gets kids thinking about real world problems,” Vasquez said. “My hope, by partnering with Junior Achievement, is to have an engaging opportunity where we work with career and community leaders in order to have our kids learn about potential careers, innovation and entrepreneurship skills that prepare them for a successful future.”


Junior Achievement volunteer Cassidy Pacheco reviewing lessons with Olive Elementary students


For JA Day at Olive, each volunteer was assigned to a classroom, where they went over economic basics from how to make money by doing chores around the house to how to start a business and become an entrepreneur, depending on the grade level of the students.


“These are really, really important concepts that we feel all kids need to be prepared for,” aid Kerri Dejager, North County coastal education manager for Junior Achievement.


Fourth-grader Lillyanna Cervantes said she learned “that if you want a job, you need skills. You don’t want to go into a job and say, ‘I want a job, but don’t have the skills,'” said Lillyanna, who wants to be an engineer or a scientist.


Fifth-grader Veronica Quesada, who wants to be a singer or a lawyer said, “I learned how to choose what job I want.”


Volunteer Darcy Wolfe, a financial planner with Edward Jones, gave a combination class of fourth and fifth- graders a lesson in how the free market works using items that the students took from their backpacks, like rulers and pencils.


The students put price tags on what they chose, compared their prices with those of other students, then adjusted their prices to be competitive.


At the start of the day, “they couldn’t pronounce entrepreneur, but they’re learning,” said Wolfe, who served in the Navy for 25 years and was a management consultant before becoming a financial adviser.


Aside from the basics in economics, Wolfe said that her message to students is “to recognize the variety of opportunities that are out there.”




Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 11/3/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Vista Unified School District threw itself a birthday party bash recently, celebrating a year of achievement and starting a scholarship fund. “Really, it is a great time to be here,” Superintendent Devin Vodicka said at a fundraising dinner at Shadowridge Golf Course on October 5th..


An estimated $3,000 was raised as part of the celebration to go into a scholarship fund for graduating high school seniors, which Vodicka said was particularly significant this school year.

The graduating class of 2017 will be the first to be eligible for automatic admission to California State University San Marcos under terms of a 2013 agreement Vista Unified signed with the university.


To qualify, high school students must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or more and complete certain courses.

“Let’s keep our focus on kids and keep our focus on this particular class of seniors as they move forward,” Vodicka said. “Our purpose is to inspire.”

Setting the tone for the anniversary celebration, Board of Education President Rich Alderson said, “I don’t know that there’s too many places where we can get a celebration of 100 years of quality education.”


Vista Unified’s achievements have been recognized across the nation, with more than 2,000 educators visiting district schools in the 2015-2016 school year and more coming this year, Vodicka said.


“They’re reaching out to us, saying, ‘We’re hearing what’s happening (in Vista) and we want to see it,” Vodicka said. “It’s a great time to be here.”


Among the district’s more notable achievements cited by Vodicka were the September selection of Jenny Anderson as one of five San Diego County teachers of the year and a $10 million, five-year “high school of the future” grant won in September by Vista High School through XQ: The Super School Project.


Anderson, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher and coach at Vista Unified’s Casita Center for Technology, Science and Math, was one of five county educators named California teachers of the year.

It’s been 25 years since Vista Unified had had a teacher to receive such an honor, Vodicka said.


Another Vista Unified teacher cited by Vodicka, Anne Fennell, was one of 10 finalists in the nation for the 2016 Music Educator Award by the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation. Fennell heads the performing arts department at Mission Vista High School.


The achievement of Anderson and Fennell is “just a great reflection of the quality of teachers we have in the district,” Vodicka said.


The $10 million grant to Vista High School, aside from its sheer size, is notable because Vista High was one of only 10 schools to receive a grant from among about 700 that competed.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Vodicka said.


Vista Unified students also are making their mark, Vodicka said, citing former high school students Blanca Hernandez and Cassandra “Cassie” Molano and Vista Magnet Middle School students Lexie Kondo, Victoria Arsenault and Karsyn Lee as examples.


Blanca, who graduated from Vista High School in June, received the Princeton Prize in Race Relations for forming a school club that focused on helping English learners improve their language, social and academic skills.


Cassie, who graduated from Rancho Buena Vista High School, was named a Gates Millennium Scholar and awarded a full college scholarship through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


The middle school students designed and crafted an experiment that was performed on the International Space Station to see if a type of organic strawberry seeds would germinate in a microgravity environment. They did.


Vodicka said several district schools also received special recognition during the 2015-2016 school year.


Among them, Monte Vista and Temple Heights elementary schools were chosen from among hundreds in the country to receive grants to implement a program aimed at teaching children to become leaders. They each received grants of $45,000 from Leader.org to train teachers and put into practice a “Leader in Me” program, which teaches leadership skills, such as being proactive, setting goals and listening before speaking.


Also, Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts was one of two schools in the state to win recognition from the California Department of Education for three separate achievements – the academic achievement of its students, having an outstanding arts program and for being an overall model of excellence. Vista Academy was one of 496 Gold Ribbon Schools in California for the 2015-2016 school year.


Accolades also went to Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA) as one of three schools in San Diego County chosen as sites for Qualcomm-sponsored labs. The labs are modeled after Qualcomm’s Thinkabit Lab at its Sorrento Valley base. Middle school students use the labs to work on projects and learn about careers in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).


“More than anything, tonight is a celebration of 100 amazing years,” Vodicka said.



Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 10/27/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Change comes fast, and sometimes teachers can no longer rely on printed textbooks to give their students the most relevant and up-to-date information, but finding alternatives is a daunting challenge.


“We know that educators are already doing this, searching for resources,” said Kristina Peters, an open education fellow with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology.


To help meet the challenge of finding the right resources, educators from around the nation met at a recent #GoOpen regional summit hosted by the Vista Unified School District with help from the U.S Department of Education and the California Department of Education.


#GoOpen is a national initiative aimed at helping teachers use material from the Internet in their lessons. California is one of 17 states to have a statewide #GoOpen initiative.


Known as Open Educational Resources (OERs), the online material at the heart of the #GoOpen initiative is available for teachers to use, edit, modify and distribute.


They can include everything from scientific studies and educational videos to lesson plans developed and shared by other teachers.


“It’s a boon to educators,” said Vista Unified Board of Education Trustee Elizabeth Jaka. “It captures kids and engages them. These kids don’t want to sit at a desk with a textbook in front of them.”


Increasingly, school districts that are using OERs are also using money that would have gone to buy textbooks to train teachers on how to best use what they get online, Peters said.

“We’re reinvesting in our teachers,” Peters said.


The push to use online material coincides with a move by many school districts, including Vista Unified, to move away from traditional teaching methods in which all students in a class learned the same material at the same time.


Instead, Vista Unified and other school districts are developing personal learning programs in which lessons are tailored to meet the needs and interests of each student individually.

The emphasis is on a student’s strengths and “providing students with an abundance of options,” said Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka.


“Eventually, we want to see students moving at their own speed, tied to their goals and real- world problem solving,” Vodicka said.


Using open resource, online material is a critical part of that, said Erin English, who organized the #GoOpen summit and is Vista Unified’s director of blended learning and principal of Vista Visions Academy.


“We give students relevant material, we don’t rely on one source,” English said. “We want to find creative places for students to go” online.


English and Marcia Mardis, an associate professor at Florida State University, said school librarians will play an increasingly important role in the transition to online learning.


They’re the ones who will have to keep track of what resources are available and best match the needs of teachers and how teachers can find it. “We can’t just leave it to teachers, because that’s not fair,” Mardis said.


The Vista summit was the third such event in the nation as the U.S. Department of Education ramps up its #GoOpen initiative. “The fact that the U.S. Department of Education invited us to partner with them is a great credit to our team,” Vodicka said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 10/17/16

Audience: Homepage


Vista Unified Recognized with Top Statewide Honor

Golden Bell Award Highlights Effectiveness of “Personal Learning Challenge”;

District’s “Moonshot” Gaining Momentum


Vista, CA | October 13, 2016 – The Vista Unified School District has been chosen as a recipient of the state’s leading educational honor, the Golden Bell Award. The Golden Bell Award, now in its 37th year, is sponsored by the California School Boards Association. The award recognizes public school programs that are innovative and sustainable, make a demonstrated difference for students and focus on meeting the needs of all public school students. Vista’s is one of 56 awards granted this year.


Vista Unified will receive its award at a recognition ceremony to be held on Saturday, December 3 from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. at CSBA’s Annual Education Conference and Trade Show in San Francisco at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis located at 780 Mission Street.


The Personal Learning Challenge program was developed in Vista Unified to address the community need for a greater level of student engagement and ownership of the learning process. The goal of the Personal Learning Challenge project is to create a custom learning pathway that is personalized for each student. According to Dr. Matt Doyle, Assistant Superintendent of Innovation, the Personal Learning project is “our district moonshot that challenges the traditional model of one-size-fits-all education.”


Six VUSD schools were involved in the Personal Learning Challenge program: Casita Elementary, Rancho Minerva Middle, Temple Heights Elementary, VIDA Middle, Vista Visions Academy, and recent XQ Super School award winner, Vista High School.


“Following digital infusion, personal learning is the next great lever of education in our country. Students who experience it will be better prepared to take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century talent economy,” said Vista Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka.


Visit www.vistausd.org/blueprint to learn more about the Personal Learning Challenge.


Experts from school districts and county offices of education made up the 16-member judging panel that reviewed the written entries and made the initial recommendations for the awards. On-site validators assessed the programs in action.


“California’s K-12 public schools continue to produce some of the nation’s best and brightest students, and our Golden Bell recipients are a reflection of that excellence as well as the spirit of innovation which is so characteristic of this state,” said CSBA CEO and Executive Director Vernon M. Billy. “The Golden Bell Awards recognize the quality and the determination of school leaders from across California in meeting the needs of California's students through award-winning programs and services.”


CSBA is the non-profit education association representing the elected officials who govern public school districts and county offices of education. With a membership of nearly 1,000 educational agencies statewide, CSBA brings together school governing boards and district and county office administrators to advocate for effective policies that advance the education and well-being of the state’s more than 6 million school-age children. Learn more at http://www.csba.org.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 10/12/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Awesome, amazing and prodigy are some of the terms people use to describe 17-year-old music composer Joseph Mumper.

Winning would be another.


Joseph, a senior at Mission Vista High School in the Vista Unified School District, won an award as the best digital music composition in the country in a national competition by The Technology for Music Education (TI:ME), a nonprofit organization that promotes music education.


Joseph won for a piece he titled “A Call to Arms.”


“I’m really excited that my music is getting recognition,” said Joseph, who dreams of one day writing movie scores. “I really feel motivated to keep going.”


Mission Vista High School Senior Joseph Mumper


The recognition is well-deserved, said Anne Fennell, who teaches music composition at Mission Vista High School in Oceanside. Vista Unified includes some sections of Oceanside, where about a third of its students live.


“His music is very emotive, it’s very strong,” Fennell said of Joseph. “It’s created on computer. Everything is from scratch, everything is 100 percent new.”


“Stellar” is how Fennell described “A Call to Arms.”


“When I hear it, I see it as a movie score. It’s orchestral, it’s expressive, it’s emotive, it’s truly a piece that reflects his gifts,” Fennell said. “To me, there’s a patriotic aspect to it, there is an honor aspect to it.”


The piece is somber and moody at times, but also inspirational with a martial tone. It intersperses strings, horns and piano along with choral sounds here and there throughout the piece.

Joseph said he sees it as foreshadowing and setting the scene for some sort of battle, perhaps knights on horseback gathering as they prepare to fight.


“I was just trying to visualize the scene, kind of create what comes from that,” Joseph said.


He gets his inspiration from movies like “Lord of the Rings.”

“I’m a big ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan,” Joseph said. “I really enjoy the music from movies, just the soundtrack from them.”

Not surprisingly, Joseph’s favorite music group is Two Steps from Hell, which produces music for movies and television along with its own albums. “I enjoy almost any genre, and can listen to anything,” Joseph said.


Music is kind of a tradition in Joseph’s family. He said his mother plays a variety of instruments, mainly the piano and guitar. His younger brother, Christopher, plays saxophone at Vista High School, where he is a freshman. Joseph played the clarinet in middle school, and plays the keyboard and drums at Grace Chapel of the Coast in Oceanside.


He became interested in writing music after taking his first composition course with Fennell three years ago. “I see myself as a musician and a composer, but mostly a composer,” Joseph said.


After high school, he plans to study music composition at either Biola University in La Mirada or Azusa Pacific University in San Diego.


Wherever he goes, Fennell said she expects Joseph to excel.

“I think he’s realized what a gift he has,” Fennell said. “He can communicate many emotions in his music. It’s phenomenal.”


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 10/3/16

Audience: Homepage



By Ray Huard


*** UPDATED OCTOBER 1, 2016 ***

Eleven-year-old Gavin Gamino wants to be a major league baseball player. Failing that, Gavin said that he wants to do something with science or math – his favorite subjects in school.


“What I like about science is you can do experiments and test new things and help the world grow,” Gavin said. “What I like about math is it helps you add up what you need at a grocery story.”


Gavin and his mom, Jamie Gamino, were among dozens of elementary school students and their parents who came to a career fair at Monte Vista Elementary School to learn about a variety of careers, from welding to law, and talk with representatives of several colleges and universities.


The career fair – the second Monte Vista has hosted - was open to all elementary school students in the Vista Unified School District and featured career choices ranging from dentistry, nursing and law enforcement to welding, engineering and firefighting.


Among those participating were dentist Douglas Hope, financial planner John Steccato, Solutions for Change Farm, JR Filanc Construction, Neza Financing, Green Team Real Estate, Garden of Eden Farms, Vista Community Clinic, Spark Mobile Welder, the Vista Library and the City of Vista.


Several colleges and universities also sent representatives, including California State University San Marcos, the University of San Diego, San Diego State University and Ashford University.


While elementary school might seem early to be talking about going to college or choosing a career, “I hope they’re seeing possibilities that they didn’t see before,” said Monte Vista Principal Charlene Smith.


Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said, “Our perspective is that it is never too early for children to dream about their future. We want every student to have aspirations that encourage them to work hard, to persevere, and to do well in their studies so that they have abundant opportunities for success."


Several parents expressed similar sentiments. “It gives them the opportunity to see what options are out there,” said Resa Baker. “For them to start early is great. It’s planting the seed.”


Her 8-year-old son, Reese Early, said he wants a career “helping people,” and thought being a firefighter or in the military might be a suitable career for him.


Jamie Gamino was doing double duty – helping Gavin learn about careers that might interest him and talking to other students about her work as a beautician and hair stylist.


“I’m happy to give them information about a career, the earlier the better,” said Gamino, who also makes jewelry and water color paintings. “It’s a good way to start to have a plan.”


Nine-year-old Brayden Hubert said he wants to be a sports professional, but he wasn’t sure what sport. His mom, Ambermarie Stein, said that, “He’s toyed around with a few things – a pilot at one point, then the military or a firefighter.”


Financial planner John Steccato could relate. “I wanted to play left field for the New York Yankees,” Steccato said. “All I cared about at their age was going out and playing baseball.”


What do you tell elementary school students about being a financial planner? “I just say I handle their parents’ money, I help mom and dad save money,” Steccato said. He also urges even young students to get involved with community projects, which can help them earn scholarships later on if they do decide to go to college.


Posing for photos in a blue graduation cap-and-gown, 9-year old Kiea Moore said she wants to be a singer, just like her mom, Ruth Moore, who was a professional singer in Iceland before moving to the United States.


Because of her career, Moore said she never got beyond high school in her education but wants Kiea to get a college degree, no matter what career she follows. “We always talk about that, it’s so important,” Moore said. “Education is everything. If you don’t want to struggle, you have to have an education.”


Kiea’s dad, Joseph Moore, said he’d like Kiea to become a doctor or maybe an X-ray technician, like Kiea’s older sister.

“Whatever she wants to be, she needs that education,” Joseph Moore said.


School nurse Cynthia Boles said that she wants students to learn that they can have more than one career in their life. “I always wanted to be a mom, and I did that first, and I went to nursing school when I as 42-years-old,” said Boles, who has five children ranging in age from 16 to 30.  “You can do one thing with your life, then do something different.”


School nurses Cynthia Boles and Anna Higge talk with attendees about careers in nursing.


Welder Jason Gorgol of Sparks Mobile Welding had a similar story. “I always wanted to be a truck driver, then I got tired of driving trucks,” Gorgol said, so he trained to become a welder.

His message is that trades, like welding, are rewarding careers for students who aren’t college bound. “I love to create things and build things,” Gorgol said.




A dentist and a lawyer, a builder and a chef, a firefighter and a sheriff’s deputy – those are just some of the people who will talk about what they do for a living as part of a Monte Vista Elementary School College and Career Fair Sept. 29.


Scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. at the school, 1720 Monte Vista Road, Vista, the fair is open to students from all elementary schools in the Vista Unified School District.


“I hope that the kids see that their future is their choice, that there are so many options that are available to them, that whatever they can imagine for themselves, that they can realize their goals,” said Monte Vista Principal Charlene Smith.

“We are trying to create and make students aware of a pathway from elementary school through college and career,” Smith said.


More than 50 people from a wide-range of careers will be on hand, Smith said, along with representatives of every middle school and high school in Vista Unified School District.


Several colleges and universities also are sending representatives, including California State University San Marcos, San Diego State University, the University of California San Diego, the University of San Diego, Ashford University and the University of Redlands, Smith said.


Although elementary school may seem a bit early for children to be thinking about career and college prospects, Smith said it’s important to expose even children as young as kindergarten to a wide range of possibilities to inspire them and give them a sense that they can set their goals high.


“You think of a small child, and he sees a sheriff in uniform or a paramedic with his vehicle, or a construction guy with his tools, you’re creating an interest in a career they might not have even known existed,” Smith said.


Now in its second year, the career fair also meshes with Monte Vista’s place as No Excuses University network of schools, a nationwide organization that promotes the notion that higher education should be an option for everyone, Smith said. “Our brand at Monte Vista is ‘where leaders grow, college, career and life,” she said.


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/27/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Slimy and smelly, was how three Vista Magnet Middle School students described the package that came back to them from the International Space Station.


“It was really gross,” said Karsyn Lee.


“To me, it smelled like rotten ranch dressing,” said Lexie Kondo.

Karsyn, Lexie and Victoria Arsenault designed and crafted an experiment to see if organic strawberry seeds could germinate in the microgravity of the space station.


Smelly or not, their experiment proved that seeds can germinate in microgravity.


“It made me feel really accomplished and that I could do anything,” Karsyn said after seeing the results of their experiment.


Three of the eight seeds the students sent to the space station aboard a Space X rocket earlier this year germinated in an experiment completed by station astronauts. Their experiment was chosen as part of the Student Spaceflights Experiment Program (SSEP), which was started by the National Center for Earth and Space Science in partnership with NanoRacks LLC to promote interest in space and education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).


Vista Magnet Middle School students Lexie Kondo, Victoria Arsenault and Karsyn Lee with their recently returned experiment from the International Space Station


To compare what happened on the space station to what would happen in a normal environment, the students conducted an identical experiment on the ground.


Two of eight seeds in the ground experiment germinated, although one got farther along than those in the space station. “The International Space Station seeds actually really surprised me,” Karsyn said. “I didn’t think there was a possibility to germinate in space.”


Adhering to protocols set by NASA, their experiment divided a 6 ½-inch plastic tube into three chambers with a valve connecting each chamber.


The seeds in rock wool soil were in one chamber, a mixture of willow water and honey was in the second chamber, and a clear solution of formalin to preserve the seeds once the experiment was completed was in the third. Astronauts released the clamps on the space station, first allowing the willow water and honey to mix with the seeds in the soil, then later releasing a clamp to mix-in the formalin.


Vista Magnet science teacher Stephanie Sanchez said that the experiment Karsyn, Lexie and Victoria made mimics the methods and research subjects of working scientists trying to determine if astronauts can grow their own food rather than bring it with them.


“It’s a question we are asking as we think about colonizing Mars,” Sanchez said.


The students will present their research results at California State University and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.


Karsyn, Victoria and Lexie, now eighth-graders, came up with their seed experiment when they were in sixth grade, winning a competition among Vista Magnet’s 900 students.


“I didn’t think I’d be able to beat out eight graders because they have a lot more experience,” Karsyn said.


Lexie hopes hope the success of the experiment will encourage other students “to persevere through challenges.”

“I hope they’re inspired to keep on, even if they fail, because we failed,” Karsyn said. “We had to recreate our project many times.”


Working on the space station experiment has stimulated an increased interest in science in general and space in particular at Vista Magnet.


“Science is really cool,” said Victoria, who wants to become a U.S. Navy anesthesiologist or a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot. “I’ve always liked medical things,” Victoria said.


Karsyn’s goal is to become a veterinarian, working with small animals. “I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian since I was little,” Karsyn said. Lexie is interested in meteorology and astronomy.


Accompanying the seed experiment to and from the space station were paper patches designed by Callie O’Connor, now a sophomore at Mission Vista High School, and Daisy Sanchez, a seventh-grader at Vista Magnet. Callie was in eighth grade at Vista Magnet when she drew her patch design and Daisy was in fifth grade at Grapevine Elementary School.


Callie O'Connor (L) and Daisy Sanchez (R) showcase their winning patch designs for the project.


The patches were selected in a competition open to all Vista Unified students, with one winner from elementary school and one from upper levels.


Daisy said she was excited and shocked when her drawing was chosen, “because I wasn’t such a great artist in fifth grade.”


Her drawing was of Grapevine’s mascot, a bear, landing on the moon. The bear is wearing a blue space suit, holding a helmet against a blue background next to a black spaceship with the letters “USA” on its side. The phrase, “Education is the Future,” is printed in yellow lettering in the upper right corner of the square patch. “I really want to study more about science,” said Daisy, whose career goal is to become a nurse.


Callie, who plans to study veterinary science at the University of California Davis, said she was equally surprised to learn that her patch was going up to the space station.


Her round patch shows a gray rocket blasting off from a green and blue Earth against a black background to represent outer space. The patch has a maroon border, Vista Magnet’s school color. The letters SSEP and VMMS are printed on the side of the rocket, standing for Vista Magnet Middle School and the Student Spaceflights Experiment Program. “I like to draw,” Callie said, but, “when I submitted it, I didn’t think I would win.”


Vista Magnet students were so excited about the space station adventure that Principal Anne Green said plans are under way to repeat it, but expanding the competition to include students from Vista Innovation & Design Academy, a Vista Unified middle school, and High Tech High School in San Marcos.


The new project is being coordinated by Open Source Maker Labs in Vista, Green said. “It’s going to be fun and it will raise the bar a little bit,” Green said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/20/16

Audience: Homepage



We couldn't be more thrilled for the team at Vista High School for being awarded a $10 million grant from the XQ Super School Project. Vista High was one of ten schools across the country to receive a grant, with XQ awarding over $100 million in grants to schools that applied with detailed plans for how they are re-thinking what high school can be.


A catalyst for Vista High's application was the Personal Learning Academy that started in the 2015-2016 school year. The grant will help to scale that personal learning process t the school and equip teachers, staff and students for new ways of teaching and learning.


There's more developing on this story, so we'll share some links to local media coverage of the project.


San Diego Union-Tribune

ABC 10 News

NBC 7 News


To learn more about Vista Challenge High School, the name adopted by the team submitting the XQ grant, click here.





Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/15/16

Audience: Homepage




By Ray Huard


Jenny Chien Anderson was walking her dog when she got a message on her cell phone – she was one of five people named California teachers of the year.


“It’s all very surreal,” said Anderson, who teaches science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Casita Center for Science and Math in the Vista Unified School District.


After getting in her car to check the message, Anderson said she checked and had to recheck it because she couldn’t believe it. “It was a super emotional thing to hear, and I was alone in the car on my way to school. I was so overwhelmed,” Anderson said.


At the end of the school day, after Principal Laura Smith announced that Anderson was a state teacher of the year, the entire school erupted into what Anderson described as “a group hurrah.”


“It was just amazing, it was so incredibly sweet,” Anderson said. “I felt so much warmth from everyone.”

Click here to watch a KUSI report from October 24, 2016


Teaching was not the career Anderson, 30, thought she’d follow. She moved to the United States from Taiwan with her parents when she was 5-years-old and figured she’d have some sort of business career, like her father and mother. They ran an import/export business in Los Angeles with stores in San Diego and Chicago.


“My initial thought was, I’d probably go into business and take it internationally,” Anderson said.


Initially, she majored in economics at the University of California San Diego. After a year, on her mother’s advice, she changed majors and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies with an emphasis on sociology and East Asian studies and a minor in education.


Anderson said she wanted a career that would have an impact on people’s lives, and going into business wasn’t going to do that in the way that she wanted to make social change in the world. “I’m more of a creative person,” Anderson said.


While at UCSD, Anderson partnered with IBM to create a program, eMentoring@UCSD, to help connect kids at San Diego’s Logan Heights Elementary School with IBM employees and UCSD students.


She finished her undergraduate work in three years and earned a master’s degree in education and completed a teacher credential graduate program at UCSD through their Education Studies Department in 2007.


Her first teaching job was at Casita, “It was so weird because I had fifth graders who were nine, 10 or 11 and I was 21. I was only 10 years older than them,” Anderson said. “I was a kid, but it really helped me connect with kids and build a strong rapport.”


Anderson rarely sits still.


“My parents were always telling me to channel my energy,” Anderson said. “Even now, I’m constantly moving, so I empathize with students who have the same needs.”


At home, she’s constantly on her computer, looking for things that she can use with her students or communicating with friends on social media. “I’m constantly on Twitter, the Twitter-verse. I love looking at new ideas that everyone is trying and thinking about how I can adapt it to meet my students’ needs,” Anderson said. “I’m a little nerd.”


She also admits to being “a big foodie,” and one of her favorite pastimes is trying out new restaurants with friends. Her favorite television show is reruns of “Law & Order,” but she’s also big on science fiction and comedy. “I think it’s neat to imagine all the possibilities,” Anderson said.


Travel is also big on her list of activities. Her father moved back to Taiwan a few years back, and Anderson returns to visit him several times a year. Her mother passed away two years ago but Anderson said she carries her spirit around everywhere she goes.


In high school, Anderson played soccer and volleyball and pole vaulted in track and field. She rowed crew in college.

Longtime friend Katie King, who rowed with her, said Anderson was a fierce competitor.


She wanted to be the coxswain, who sits in the stern of the boat and is responsible for steering it and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers, but King said Anderson proved so adept that she became the lead rower.


“She seemed to have a mindset that she would do whatever she put her mind to,” King said. “I would say that she empowers you and brings you up with her energy. No matter what kind of day you’re having, she’ll just make you feel good.”


Anderson also can be persuasive, and talked King into becoming assistant coach of a youth soccer team. “I actually never played soccer in my life.” King said. “It was Jenny and her attitude, her enthusiasm. She said, ‘You can do this.’”


Cindy Lieu, who teaches fifth grade at Casita and often joins Anderson and others for a girls-night-out, said Anderson is shy but also “definitely a joker” when she’s with friends. “She’s very enthusiastic, easily excited and very eager to learn anything that she doesn’t understand,” Lieu said. “A lot of people look to her to see how they can change-up a lesson to be a little more engaging or have more engineering concepts.”


School Superintendent Devin Vodicka, in a letter recommending Anderson as a teacher of the year, said she “possesses a number of skills that will ensure her success in any role, including an unparalleled work ethic and the ability to make global connections and think in a strategic manner.”


Similarly, Casita Principal Laura Smith wrote that Anderson has an “innate ability to design lessons that bring out the best in students.”


Anderson’s advice to other teachers is “just focus on the kids’ strengths and allow them to discover their passions.” She also urges her colleagues to offer their students lessons in STEM and computer science.


Anderson hopes her students, especially the girls, will see her as a role model in following STEM careers. “Girls outnumber boys in college, and yet, there’s such a small percentage of girls that are pursuing engineering or science careers,” Anderson said. “It’s really disheartening.”


Looking ahead, Anderson said that she can’t imagine herself doing anything that’s not education-related. “I love my job. It made me a stronger person, more patient and reflective,” Anderson said. “As our world is changing, teaching is never stagnant. I’m constantly thinking about how to evolve with education and with the kids.”


Original Story, Posted September 11, 2016


Click the image above to see the KUSI story about the teachers of the year.

Casita Center for Science, Technology and Math STEM teacher Jenny Anderson was named one of five Teachers Of The Year from San Diego County on Saturday night, September 10th. Anderson was chosen among some 26,000+ teachers in the county, and becomes one of just 161 teachers to receive the honor since it was introduced in 1974.


Anderson was interviewed on KUSI's "Good Morning San Diego program on Sunday morning along with the four other recipients of the award. 


“My role is to create opportunities for students to discover their strengths to make inquiries, collaborate, lead and take action,” Anderson said.


Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said Anderson “represents the best in our profession.”


“She is relentless in her pursuit to connect with the strengths and interests of every student,” Vodicka said. “She inspires the students by challenging them with real-world problems. She is a leader with personal learning and computer science. Ms. Anderson embodies educational excellence and innovation and I am thrilled that she is part of our learning community in Vista.”


Anderson, who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when she was 5-years-old, is a visionary and exemplar of the American Dream, said Casita Principal Laura Smith.


“Jenny is inspired by the future and what could be,” Smith said.


Screen Shot 2016-09-11 at 5.29.45 PM.png
Casita Center Principal Laura Smith (left) and Jenny Anderson (right) at the Cox Salute To Teachers event Saturday, September 10th.


Said Vodicka, “We have incredible educators in Vista Unified and throughout San Diego County. We are honored that one of our own has been selected as one of the top five in the region.

Anderson was honored earlier this year and one of six teachers and others given Golden Apple Awards in February by the Vista Unified Board of Education for exemplary work over the past year.


Anderson and the four others named county Teachers of the Year will represent San Diego County in the California Teacher of the Year program later this year.


Named with Anderson were:

- Brooke Crocker, who teaches Advance Placement U.S. History, U.S. History at Santana High School in the Grossmont Union High School District


- Stuart Douglas who teaches biology at Granger Junior High School in the Sweetwater Union High School District


- Megan Gross, whose classroom is the home base for students in the Autism Spectrum Disorders program at Del Norte High School in the Poway Unified School District


- Amy Schwenke who teaches kindergarten at Fallbrook Street School in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District.


They were chosen from among 43 teachers who were nominated from the San Diego County region, which has about 26,000 public school teachers.


Anderson and her four other honorees will represent San Diego for California Teacher Of The Year. In the past, 19 San Diego teachers have been honored with the statewide award, and three of those were named National Teacher of The Year.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/11/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


A group of fifth graders at Foothill-Oak Elementary school saw a homeless couple near their school on a rare rainy day.

They talked about what it would be like to be stuck in the rain with no shelter, to be homeless.


They wanted to do something about it. With a little guidance from teachers and others, they set up tables outside the school and sold pencils, things they made themselves and things they brought from home.


They raised more than $180, which they gave to Operation Hope Vista. They picked Operation Hope after researching local charities that worked with the homeless and learning that some of their classmates had been helped by Operation Hope.


Recounting the experience of the Foothill-Oak students, Robert Crowell said that this was one of more than a dozen such projects Vista Unified School District students undertook in the 2015-2016 school year. Crowell is the district’s lead for service learning – a program that has students researching and finding solutions to real problems in their community.


It’s not unusual for students to get involved in community projects, like cleaning up beach trash. The difference in service learning is that the students make a connection to what they’re learning in class - researching the harm beach litter causes, analyzing water samples for pollution, documenting what they find and presenting their findings to a pollution control agency.


“The number one thing is just the student engagement, just the kids taking ownership of their learning,” said Crowell, a former elementary school teacher. “The real key to service learning is the students are the ones who really drive the project.”


Monte Vista Elementary School teacher Annick Gillot-Salmon said that her fifth grade students have gained a new sense of self-confidence from the service learning projects they’ve worked on. “It really made my classroom more dynamic and exciting,” Gillot-Salmon said.


Two years ago, she asked her class if they could figure out an environmentally friendly way to deal with sediment left over from an aquaponics farm that grows vegetables in water.

“At first, they were, ‘Why are you asking us, we’re just kids,’” Gillot-Salmon said. “By the end, they didn’t feel that way. They were really impressed with themselves.”


With considerable trial-and-error, her students found that the sediment could be dried and used as fertilizer in a flower garden, used to grow mushrooms, or as food for ghost shrimp.


Monte Vista Elementary service learning students experiment with using sediment from an aquaponic planter as fertilizer for other plants.


In the 2015-2016 school year, Gillot-Salmon’s class made a “little free library” after researching early childhood literacy. The library is sort of a converted cabinet that the students decorated and stocked with books for a variety of reading levels.


Anyone can take a book and keep it and the students are responsible for restocking the library. They also prepared leaflets in English and Spanish outlining techniques to use when reading to children to increase literacy, Gillot-Salmon said.


A "Little Free Library" installed by Monte Vista Elementary service learning students.


This school year, her students are tackling an even thornier problem – how to make the outdoor school lunch area quieter.

Covered by a metal roof, the lunch area is between two buildings which create an echo chamber of sorts. “That is a challenge,” Gillot-Salmon said. “I’ll see what they come up with.”


This year, Crowell hopes to have at least 1,200 students from throughout the district involved in service learning projects like those of Gillot-Salmon’s fifth graders.


“If we really get this in every elementary school, middle school and high school in Vista Unified, I can’t see why we can’t have 1,500 to 1,800 students involved,” Crowell said. “We really are looking to expand to every school. My goal is for every kid in Vista Unified to ultimately participate in service learning.”


Superintendent Devin Vodicka shares Crowell’s enthusiasm.

“I’m thrilled with the early success that we are seeing with our service learning projects,” Vodicka said. “Our teachers, staff, and community partners have done a magnificent job of identifying opportunities for our students to solve real-world problems.”


Vodicka said that the projects “reinforce the academic learning” students get in class. “They empower our students to know that they can improve our community and make the world a better place,” Vodicka said. “I am looking forward to the next steps on this journey and I’m proud of the contributions of our students.”


To make that journey, Crowell is looking for community partners who are “willing to donate a little of their time and expertise” in suggesting projects.


For example, Hunter Industries in the 2015-2016 school year helped Foothill-Oak students install an irrigation system in a garden at the center of the school.


The Vista Chamber of Commerce has worked with students on chamber projects, and helped the school district line up service learning projects with local businesses.


Chamber Chief Executive Officer Bret Schanzenbach is a big fan of the program. “Service learning is a great opportunity for kids in the classroom to get exposure to real world challenges,” Schanzenbach said. “I think it’s great that a lot of these projects are done at the elementary school age so kids can get an opportunity to experience things that are kind of beyond their typical horizon.”

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/6/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Look for this to be a stellar year for the Vista Unified School District as the district celebrates its 100th anniversary, Superintendent Devin Vodicka said as students headed back to classes.


Speaking to more than 1,200 teachers, counselors and administrators who gathered at Mission Vista High School for a recent professional development day, Vodicka said, “it’s an exciting year.


Among other things, “This is the year where our graduating seniors will be the first ones affected by our guaranteed admissions agreement with Cal State San Marcos,” Vodicka said.


Under an agreement the district signed with California State University San Marcos in 2013, students who maintain a C average or higher and who complete prescribed courses are guaranteed a spot in the college. “This is a great thing for our kids,” Vodicka said.


Looking over the past year’s achievement, “I think we’re making great progress,” Vodicka said.  “Our students are more and more energized by their learning.”


That progress has drawn national attention, Vodicka said, with more than 2,000 educators from across the country visiting Vista Unified schools last year. “They’re coming because they’re hearing lots of things that make them curious about what’s happening in our school district,” Vodicka said. “Personal learning is one of those things that is drawing a lot of attention.”


As the district moves ever more strongly into personal learning, where lessons are tailored to the needs of each student individually, “What we’re trying to do is get away from the one-size fits-all model,” Vodicka said.


“The school system has pretty much been set up like a train station, where students arrive at a certain time, get on the train, the train takes them from one place to the other. The train goes to the same place at the same pace,” Vodicka said. “Your experience traveling in that train is pretty much the same, regardless of what you bring into that journey.”


With personal learning, Vista Unified is moving to a system that Vodicka said is more akin to driving a car, where students have more control over their learning and teachers help develop their strengths instead of looking at their shortcomings.


That shift is paying off not only with improved student achievement, but with higher approval ratings from parents and teachers, according by the University of California San Diego.

The survey showed “a very consistent trend” in parents’ satisfaction with their students’ teachers, trust in school principals, and trust in the quality of education their children are getting, Vodicka said.


“To see this is really quite affirming,” Vodicka said.

The 2016-2017 school year also is the first time classroom teachers from kindergarten through eighth grade will get to try out the Next Generation Science Standards which Vista Unified is piloting – one of eight school districts and two charter schools in California that are helping to develop and refine teaching methods that fit the new standards.


Instead of relying on rote memorization and teacher-directed lessons, the new standards stress critical thinking and require students to research, analyze, experiment and rework projects based on their findings just as scientists do on the job, said Sue Ritchie, project director for Vista Unified.


In the first year of the project, 12 district teachers underwent training. Last year, those 12 teachers trained 60 of their colleagues, and those 60 teachers led sessions for other elementary and middle school teachers during the Professional Development Day.


“We’re asking all the teachers to start trying it in their classrooms so they have a feel for it,” said Sue Ritchie, project director for Vista. In another year, the new standards will be the rule, Ritchie said.


During the professional development day, Vista teachers tried their hand performing experiments that show how the new standards can be applied in their classrooms.


“We just want you to fall in love with science again,” said Grapevine first grade teacher Kristi Gann, who was among the teacher/trainers leading the sample lessons.


In one, a group of third grade teachers were given a challenge – make an aluminum can move across a desk without touching it using a balloon and a wool cloth.


Next door, a first grade teacher picked out a Cutie mandarin orange and wrote a description of it. Then another teacher would have to find that orange based on the written description when it was mixed in with other Cutie oranges.


The can challenge was a way for students to learn about static electricity through their own exploration. The teachers figured out quickly how to create static electricity by rubbing the cloth against the balloons to push the cans.


Teachers were not quite so successful with the Cutie orange hunt. The idea was to demonstrate how scientists make and record their observations, in this case, a description detailed enough to find one Cutie among many. Most of the teachers hadn’t provided enough details, so they had to add more.


Along with trying out the new science standards during the professional development day, teachers got their first look at new computer software systems that will help better track student progress and find each student’s strengths in developing personal learning lessons.


Sessions covered everything from how to improve the writing skills of their students to prepare them for college and career to an update on special education.


“There’s a little something for everyone,” said Larry White, executive director for curriculum, instruction and educational technology.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 9/2/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


Stepped up programs in the arts, robotics and computer science are in the works at Rancho Buena Vista High School as the school year gets underway.


Principal Charles Schindler is particularly keen to work out a plan that would let students interested in the arts focus on what they love while meeting requirements to graduate with the course work and skills they need to qualify for admission to four-year colleges.


“I just believe in a well-rounded student,” Schindler said. “I’m a big advocate of having a flexible schedule for kids to take what they want and still go to college.”


The problem is that with six class periods a day, students are hard-pressed to cram in all the courses they need to graduate college-ready and have time to take elective art courses. “How do we design a pathway, if you will, for college-bound students? It’s an ongoing project, but I love it,” Schindler said.


Superintendent Devin Vodicka said Schindler’s goal for an arts path is a good fit for the school. “Rancho Buena Vista High School is an established leader in the region with respect to arts education,” Vodicka said.  “The school is well-known for a world-class theater program, an award-winning band, exceptional dance teams, and strong visual arts opportunities.  It makes sense to build on those strengths to better prepare students for a dynamic future where creativity and collaboration will be essential for success.”  


Schindler also is committed to forming a Rancho Buena Vista robotics team to compete with other schools, along with stepped up programs in computers. “I’d really like to see us get to that level of having team competition,” Schindler said.


Rancho Buena Vista’s robotics program “is an excellent illustration of the power of connecting students with real-world problems,” Vodicka said.


“Creating robots is an interdisciplinary challenge that requires coding skills, engineering, creativity, critical thinking, perseverance, and collaboration,” Vodicka said. “I am looking forward to seeing this innovative program continue to grow and provide additional opportunities for students to learn and showcase their talents. “


During the 2015-2016 school year, Rancho Buena Vista offered a computers principles course and in the coming year will expand on that by offering an Advancement Placement (AP) computer course and a computer science course as part of its CTE (Career Technical Education).


“CTE focuses on the programming and how do I use the programs to make games and aps,” Schindler said. The course will focus on showing students how to use various coding programs.


“AP will be looking at the social and global implications of computer science, how technology is used,” Schindler said. “The AP asks them to think more deeply about that. They’ll be asking kids to respond to the implications of computers.”


Like other AP courses, the AP computer course will be accepted for college credit at many colleges and universities.

This year, Rancho Buena Vista also is adding a science design course as part of its International Baccalaureate Program, Schindler said.


“I think it’s kind of neat. It asks kids to look at a problem and really apply scientific method and problem solving to real world problems –identify a problem, develop a hypothesis, research, and come up with a solution,” Schindler said. “It really pushes kids.


Dance also will be added to the IB program this year, Schindler said. “Ultimately what the kids will have to do is plan and perform their own dance,” Schindler said. “Our IB is really strong at Rancho Buena Vista.”


Rancho Buena Vista has had an International Baccalaureate program since the school opened in 1987 and about 200 of the school’s 2,300 students take IB courses, which are especially demanding.


The school is continuing a drive to get more students enrolled in IB and AP courses.



Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 8/30/16

Audience: Homepage

Vista High School opened its newly renovated Dick Haines Stadium on Thursday, August 25th, with a pep rally during the day, a reception for past players and coaches, a flyover by the Civil Air Patrol, and the season's opening football game against San Marcos. Local media including Fox 5, CW6, The Vista Press and Coast News were on hand to cover the unveiling of the $3.7 million project, which honored the school's rich history of athletics, and offered current and future students opportunities to compete in a first class environment.


“This day of celebration allows us to honor our past as well as celebrate our future, and to do that as a Vista High community that spans decades,” says Vista High Principal Anthony Barela. “We’re proud to have the opportunity for our current and future VHS community to honor and learn about many of the people who have created a fantastic athletic program at the school. We also see this new facility as a catalyst to inspire the future possibilities and accomplishments of our program.”


Click the image above to view the Fox 5 story on the stadium


The 2-year rebuild on the stadium made myriad upgrades, providing a state of the art facility that offers a new track surface for use by PE and athletic teams, a new ticket booth, snack bar, rest rooms and storage on both sides of the stadium for use by home and visiting teams. The facility has an open plaza on the visitor’s side as well as new lighting, and easy, open accessibility for all.


Vista High Principal Anthony Barela with Martha Haines, wife of the late coach Dick Haines, School Board member Carol Weise Herrera, and Assistant Superintendent of Innovation Dr. Matt Doyle at the stadium dedication.


“Investing in our facilities is an important way to provide an environment that allows out students and student athletes to reach their full potential,” says VUSD Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka. “It also provides a fantastic common space for the broader community, as Vista High School athletics have been an important part of this community for decades. This new stadium is a significant event for the school and the community.”


Click the image above to watch the CW6 coverage of the stadium


The dedication of Dick Haines stadium comes almost exactly 20 years since the stadium had its last upgrade, in 1996. In that time Vista High School has won six Football CIF championships, three Field Hockey League championships, two Boys Soccer CIF championships, two Girls Track League championships, three Boys Track League championships, as well as seeing scores of outstanding individual achievements including four football players who have gone on to professional careers.


Athletic Director Pat Moramarco adds, “Vista High School has a strong & rich background in athletics affiliated with Dick Haines Stadium. We are very proud of the team and individual feats accomplished in the stadium. I feel Coach Haines would be very proud of our facility. The new upgrades to the stadium will allow us to compete at the highest levels in the Conference and the CIF countywide. I know our athletes will feel an even stronger source of pride in being a VHS Panther and performing in our new facility."


Click here to read the story in The Vista Press


“We’re thrilled to dedicate this new facility,” continues Principal Barela. “It will no doubt help to propel us into a future of great things for the school and the community, honoring and building on the legacy of a school that continues to pursue excellence in myriad ways.”


Click here to read the story in the San Diego Union-Tribune



Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 8/26/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Students in the Vista Unified School District have made significant improvement in just about every measurement of achievement.


More students are graduating, more are completing the courses they need to get into a four-year college or university, more are taking and passing rigorous advance placement and International Baccalaureate courses that can earn them college credits, and far more are working on projects to help their community.


Every indication is that the improvements will continue as the district focuses on what students need to move on to college or a successful career, with classes tailored to the students’ individual skills and interests, said Craig Wiblemo, district director of measurement and monitoring.


Especially gratifying is a 2.2 percent jump in the number of students graduating, from 82.6 percent of high school seniors in the 2013-2014 school year to 84.8 percent in the 2014-2015 school year, Wiblemo said.


Figures on the 2015-2016 school year are still being compiled and won’t be available until early 2017.


Although a 2.2 percent increase in the graduation rate may not seem dramatic, “The graduation rate is something that is pretty difficult to move,” said, Wiblemo, a former principal of Mission Vista High School in Oceanside.


The Vista Unified School District covers portions of Oceanside, where about a third of its students live.


“To jump 2.2 percent in one year is pretty remarkable,” Wiblemo said. “It’s the highest it’s been in the last five years. There’s definitely work to be done in the graduation rate, but it’s nice to see it moving in a positive direction.”


Wiblemo credited the improved graduation figures to the emphasis school Superintendent Devin Vodicka has put on college readiness, with teachers encouraging their students from elementary school through high school to think of higher education as a given with schools decked out in college regalia.


Also helping is an agreement that the district has with California State University San Marcos that guarantees admission to students who maintain a C average and meet other requirements, Wiblemo said.


Along with an improving graduation rate, the number of students taking and completing courses needed for admission to a University of California and California State College was up by 7.4 percent, from 29.9 percent in the 2013-2014 school year to 37.3 percent in the 2014-2015 school year. Figures for the past school year will not be available until early next year.


“Over 7 percent in one year is fantastic,” Wiblemo said.

So too is the increased number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, up from 2,028 in the 2014-2015 school year to 2,430 in the 2015-2016 school year.


“More kids are taking them and more kids are passing them,” Wiblemo said. “The students who take at least one AP or IB course in high school are more successful in college. They are less likely to drop out of college because the AP and IB courses are college level courses.”


Those courses give college-bound students a head start because many colleges and universities accept them for college credit.


“The top AP and IB students are entering college as sophomores,” Wiblemo said.


Enrollment in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) courses also is on the rise.


“More high school students are taking science courses than in the past, more high school students are taking engineering courses, more high school students are taking math courses, which is what we want to see,” Wiblemo said.


Although not an academic achievement, the number of students involved in service learning projects which benefit the community went from 250 in the 2014-2015 school year to 850 in the 2015-2016 school year.


The goal for the coming year is to get 1,200 students enrolled in a service learning project, said Robert Crowell, service learning lead.


Projects can included everything from visiting people in nursing homes to producing public service videos.


“In a nutshell, service learning is a way of approaching teaching that has students identify a problem in the community and work with local community members to find a solution to the problem,” Crowell said. “It’s really a way for students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and applying it to real world situations.”

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 8/12/16

Audience: Homepage


By Ray Huard


When students in Ramiro Santana’s third grade class at Temple Heights Elementary School were learning how to use fractions, percentages and decimals, they did it by coming up with salad recipes, preparing the salads at home, and making a video of themselves doing it.


“That was their idea,” Santana said.


The students had to measure the ingredients and portions, and they used computer coding to make the videos.


“They’re learning a lot of math, they’re learning science,” Santana said. His students also built model cars out of recyclable materials they found at home.


“This is very fun,” said 9-year-old Emily Macias, who created an animated character using an iPad to represent her in the video. “I love using the iPad.”


Santana’s class is among those leading a drive by Vista Unified School District to move from traditional teaching methods to personalized learning in which lessons are tailored to build on the strengths and interests of each student, guided by teachers who help them explore.


“We call that our moon shot,” said Matt Doyle, assistant superintendent for innovation. “A moon shot is something that we’re aspiring to.”


The allusion to a moonshot is particularly appropriate for Temple Heights, where the school motto is a quotation from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”


The rocket Vista Unified teachers are riding with personalized learning is a change “from one-size-fits-all, where the teacher is the leader of the learning, to the students becoming stewards of their own learning,” Doyle said. “We’re not spoon-feeding them learning.”


Among other things, the switch includes a different way of evaluating students. 


Instead of thinking about deficits that need to be remedied, teachers look at a student’s strong points and work on those to help a student succeed.


If a student is hit with a barrage of criticism about his failings, “He isn’t super excited about coming to school,” Doyle said. “If we can tap into their strengths and interests, that will help them persevere through their challenges.”


Teachers answer questions the students raise, and help them find resources they can use in their research.


“We do mini-lessons and then we let them explore,” Santana said. “They’re still learning that background to get them started, then they experiment with it themselves.”


Doyle compared personalized lessons to an improvisational show, adding, “Traditional education is more like a scripted show.”


Temple Heights was one of five schools in Vista Unified that were piloting personalized learning in the 2015-16 school year.

Principal Kim Morton said that teachers and students were enthusiastic over the change.


“The teachers are saying the kids are calling them at home, asking for projects,” Morton said.


The same has been true at Casita Center for Technology, Science and Math (STEM), a Vista Unified elementary school which also is piloting personalized learning.


“It’s way different from the way I was taught,” said Jenny Anderson, a STEM and International Baccalaureate specialist at Casita. “Before, it was teacher directed. Now, it’s student directed. You really have to understand each child.”


Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that early indications are that the move to personalized learning is paying off with improved student achievement.


“I am pleased with our bold efforts to shift to personal learning as we strive to achieve our vision of becoming the model of educational excellence and innovation,” Vodicka said. “While much work remains ahead, I am proud of our dedicated staff members who are finding new ways to engage our learners.”

Not only are teaching methods changing, but so is the look of the schools and the classrooms.


Instead of sitting behind desks, arranged in rows, students roam about the classroom, gathering in small groups to work on projects with their iPads or sharing ideas on writing projects, or using the more traditional paper and pen while others work on individual projects.


“It’s fluid. There’s a lot more interaction among students,” Doyle said. “Learning is social. People learn when they’re engaged in something that’s meaningful to others.”


Rigid desks have been replaced by movable chairs and tables and beanbag chairs where students can stretch out. Some of the tables can be raised or lowered, so students can stand or sit while they work.


“The more comfortable students are, the better they learn,” Doyle said. “Students tend to move around and be fidgety. We bought different types of furniture where they can be fidgety.”


At Temple Heights, some students work outside on surfaces that resemble picnic tables or in shaded chairs. “They like an environment where they’re not just sitting at a desk,” Morton said.


The move to personalized education is in its early stages and Doyle said it will take several years to be fully implemented in all district schools. “It’s like, that old adage, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step,” Doyle said.





Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 8/8/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


For five weeks this summer, parents and their children are gathering at Vista’s Maryland Elementary School to color tiles that will be assembled into a large mural, play board games and learn good nutrition habits.


Some of the parents break away for classes that offer tips on everything from how to read to their children to English language lessons.


While the parents are in those classes their children try their hand at playing the guitar, violin or keyboard, learn a little about drama, draw or get a little tutoring.


On Wednesdays, everyone heads to the playground for practice in soccer or some other sport.


It’s all part of a program at the Vista Unified School District campus for parents and children from preschool through fifth grade that Principal Carol LaBreche dubbed a “Healthy Habits for Healthy Living Summer Academy.”




“The goal of the summer camp was to invite parents to just come and be part of the school, to get comfortable here,” LaBreche said. About 40 families, most from the surrounding neighborhoods, come to the camp.


Overseeing camp activities are a paid staff of six with more than 20 volunteers, LaBreche said. The Vista Community Clinic participates through nutrition classes it offers to parents at the school every Tuesday and Thursday, and Feeding America distributes free food to needy families at the camp.


The camp has been a big hit with parents and children alike.

“It’s fun for the kids and parents to interact with each other,” said Lilian Munoz as she joined her 5-year-old daughter, Kimberly, in coloring what will become part of the mural.

Munoz said is spending her vacation bringing her children to camp activities. “We don’t get to do much of this at home,” Munoz said.


Twelve-year-old Ana Tescahua, who plays in the school band at Roosevelt Middle School, said the camp gave her a chance to study a new instrument – the keyboard. “It’s really fun, you get to meet new people,” Ana said.


Her 10-year-old sister, Rosa, said “I like the keyboard and the drawing class.” “It’s just fun, learning how to pay the keyboard and seeing friends here,” Rosa said.


The camp was open to anyone, but targeted Maryland students who were having trouble in school and parents who might need help adjusting to a new culture or were English learners.


“Every day, our program includes reading and tutoring for the kids,” LaBreche said. “For the parents, we’re working on developing literacy so they can help their kids at home.”


Carmen Waszak, a resource teacher, said that the literacy lessons go far beyond teaching parents how to read and write, although that’s part of it. She teaches in both Spanish and English, to help those who are just learning English.


For parents relatively new to this country, “We’re also bridging the cultural difference between the educational system they know and the system in the United States,” Waszak said.


For some, that can be as simple as showing them how to read to their children, asking questions and making diagrams outlining a story to help with the children’s comprehension.

“I go over the developmental stages of reading, what to expect of your kids from kindergarten through 5th grade,” Waszak said.


One purpose of the camp is to develop a sense of community, centered around the school, LaBreche said.


Artist Vince Vargas, who is in charge of Maryland Elementary’s after school program during the school year, said he hopes to foster that sense of community through the mural the campers are creating with their parents. “It brings our school together, with the parents,” Vargas said.


The individual 4-inch by 5-inch tiles the parents and children are making will be joined to become a 6-foot by 5-foot mural that will be displayed in the school office. The tiles will form two hands reaching toward each other, with forefingers and thumbs touching to create a heart-shape in the center between them.


Most of the children who attend Maryland Elementary come from low-income families. About 97 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, LaBreche said, and they don’t have access to many of the things as their counterparts from more affluent homes.


“Kids don’t get the opportunity to pick up a guitar or have somebody hand them a violin,” LaBreche said. They get it at the summer camp.


“Our motto is, ‘Make an impact, connect, collaborate and create,’” LaBreche said.











Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 7/19/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Vista Unified School District has won a national award for “breaking new ground in the use of digital content and curriculum” by helping students and their families acquire low-cost refurbished computers and get Internet access at reduced prices.




“I am thrilled that we have been recognized for our continued efforts to transform student learning experiences and opportunities,” Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said.


“The award validates the hard work of our teachers, librarians and library media technicians, content support resource teachers, and the leadership team,” Vodicka said. “In addition, special thanks should be extended to our information and technology experts who provide support behind the scenes.”


Vista Unified was one of five school districts across the country with more than 12,000 students to be given Digital Content and Curriculum Awards June 28 by the Center for Digital Education (CDE) in collaboration with the International Society for Technology in Education for having innovative programs to bring digital technology to their students.


The others were Rowan-Salisbury Schools in North Carolina, Coachella Valley Unified School District in eastern Riverside County, Katy Independent School District in Texas, and Wilson County School District in Tennessee.


Based in Folsom, CDE is a national research and advisory institute specializing in kindergarten through high school and higher education technology trends, policy and funding, according to its website (http://www.centerdigitaled.com/about/).


As part of its drive to ensure that all students have access to digital technology, Vista Unified formed a partnership with Computers 2SD Kids (C25DK) to enable families to buy refurbished computers and received reduced price Internet service from Cox Communications.


“That was a big deal to bring computers to our families because we knew that learning had to be expanded at home,” said Erin English, district director of online and blended learning and principal of Vista Visions Academy.


The ultimate goal is for every student to have Internet access at home, English said. She said that the district has already achieved its goal of having enough computer tablets so that every student has access to one in school, and some are assigned tablets to take home.


The CDE award is significant “because it’s honoring the work we’ve been doing over the past four years, converting from paper and pencil to digital,” English said. “It’s not just about all the accomplishments, but some of the struggles we’ve had, some of the challenges we’ve had in providing a 21st century learning environment for our kids. It’s validating that we’re on the right track.”


In announcing the awards, CDE Executive Director Kecia Ray said, “It’s exciting to see schools all over the country are moving from pilot projects to full-scale implementation of digital content and curriculum.”


“This year’s honorees are taking the practice of education to new heights that show great promise for other districts to follow,” Ray said.

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 7/15/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


"Make learning more fun" was part of the message to about 150 teachers and administrators from across the country during a recent three-day “Rock Star” training camp recently at Rancho Minerva Middle School in the Vista Unified School District.


That can mean everything from using Twitter to communicate with students and each other to playing Internet games that connect their students to people and places around the world.


“It gets them to put the learning in the students’ hands,” said Tara Linney, an education technology coach at Singapore American School and one of 11 teachers who led a series of two-hour training sessions at the “Rock Star” camp, sponsored by CUE (Computer Using Educators).


Teachers in Tara Linney's seminar celebrate the winning step of their  game


CUE, a nonprofit educational foundation formed in 1978, promotes the use of technology in schools and personalized learning in which lessons are tailored to meet the needs of each student, according to its website.


Linney had about a dozen teachers play a game where they were connected through the Internet to a class of middle school students. Each group tried to guess where the other was from just by talking to each other and asking each other questions.


The teachers determined that the students were in Canada, and the students figured out that the teachers were in California, but neither group got any further before time ran out.


“It was really fun,” said Teresa Ozoa, an English teacher at University High School in the Irvine Unified School District.

Along with having fun, the teachers in Vista and the students in Canada shared information about their culture and community – sort of a living geography and sociology lesson.


“Instead of reading something in a text book, which they forget, they get to interact with people,” Linney said.


Like Linney’s game playing, “All these sessions are designed to get these teachers hands-on, doing things that are useful in their classes,” said camp director Kevin Fairchild, a district coordinator for instructional technology at Saddleback Valley Unified School District in Mission Viejo.


“The people who come to this range from very tech savvy to not at all tech savvy,” Fairchild said.


Teachers in Kevin Fairchild's seminar explore new technology together


A seminar on science and math simulations taught by Kevin Fairchild included hands-on project work for attendees.


A common theme was getting students more involved in what they learn. “We’re looking at the teacher breaking out of the traditional education where the teacher is the center of attention,” said Reuben Hoffman, digital learning coach at Grossmont Union High School District in El Cajon and vice president of San Diego CUE. “The goal is to turn things around.”


Erin English, who arranged for Vista Unified to host the CUE Rock Star camp, said that the sessions give teachers a chance to learn from each other to “bring a little excitement into our lessons. The bottom line is, it has to be teachers who transform what’s happening in the classroom,” said English, principal of Vista Vision Academy and district director of on-line and blended learning.


Sarah Thomas, regional technology coordinator for Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, led a session on “flipping” classroom instruction.


Rather than teach lessons in the classroom with follow-up homework, Thomas said she presents her lessons on video that students watch at home on computer tablets so that she can spend more time working in class with students who need help. “That would just free me up in so many ways,” Thomas said. “It worked wonderfully in my classroom.”


As an added benefit, parents could watch the video lessons with their children, to better understand what their children are learning and be able to help too, Thomas said.


Sarah Thomas leads a class through  seminar on gamifying classrooms


Several of the educators said that the Rock Camp sessions were invaluable. “You learn new things and your eyes are opened to the possibilities,” said Colleen Hutchison, a fourth grade teacher at Mission Meadows Elementary School in Vista Unified.


Hutchison said that she liked a session that showed how to create digital notebooks for students to record what they’re learning using computer tablets. “I find, when you make the paper journals, kids don’t refer to it much,” Hutchison said. “The digital notebook just kind of draws them in.”


Christa Noetzel, a teacher in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, said she’s inspired by the work other teachers are doing. “We wouldn’t be getting this training, going and looking things up on our own,” Noetzel said.


She was particularly interested in a session on digital citizenship geared to teaching students to properly use social media and to beware of using copyrighted material. “In the upper grades, I think students need to know how to interact with each other online,” Noetzel said.


Classrooms were packed with engaged learners for the 3-day conference


Kathy Driver, a science teacher with the Chaffee Joint Union High School District in Ontario, said that she plans to do “a digital citizenship academy” for her students based on what she learned. “I now have some resources I could use that I didn’t have before,” Driver said. “It’s kind of a wild west out there, they’ve got so much access.”


Mission Meadows Principal Bill Porter said that the Rock Star camp gave him a chance to catch up on the new technology teachers are using. “It’s important for us, as administrators, to know how to best support our teachers as they introduce it in the classroom,” Porter said. “As an individual, you can’t keep up with the pace of technological changes. You come to conferences like this, you get to tap into other people’s expertise.”



Domingo Flores works with teachers to utilize the many helpful tools offered by Google Classroom




Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 7/12/16

Audience: Homepage

Dr. Devin Vodicka and Mission Vista High School music teacher Anne Fennell's TEDx talks form the Digital Promise®-sponsored conference in the spring have been posted and are ready to view.



Dr. Vodicka spoke about the ongoing efforts that VUSD is employing to develop a Personal Learning Path for each student. This innovative approach works to identify each students' unique strengths, interests and values and helps students take control of their own learning path. Dr. Vodicka draws on his own childhood memories of things that made him different, and how those uniquenesses helped to develop him into the person he is today.


Anne Fennell speaks of instilling creativity into all aspects of learning to, "crack the code" of learning. As students apply their own creativity to learning they discover their own unlimited potential and open up new possibilities and opportunities. Click on either of these links to view the talks in their entirety.


To learn more about the TEDxElCajon Salon event and the education leaders from across the country, click here for a wrap-up from VUSD's partner, Digital Promise. 

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 7/5/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


The two stories couldn’t have more different – a high school gymnast recounting her quest for Olympic gold and a 91-year-old Navy veteran talking about the love of his life and his military career.


Both proved so compelling that they won national and San Diego County documentary film awards, along with a trip to New York City for eighth grade filmmakers at Rancho Minerva Middle School in the Vista Unified School District.


“All this hard work and effort, it paid off,” said Jose Roman, one of the student filmmakers. “It was all worth it.”


“Heart of a Champion,” the story of Vista High School gymnast Amanda Spitzer, was one of three student documentaries in the nation to win a Panasonic K-12 KWN (Kids Witness News) Award. KWN is a global hands-on video education program supported by Panasonic, according to its website.


Rancho Minerva Middle School students filming an interview with Vista HS athlete Amanda Spitzer for their award-winning documentaries.


“Living History: Our Hometown Hero,” the story of retired Navy Commander Robert Noble, won the grand prize in the Innovative Video in Education (IVIE)  contest of the San Diego County Office of Education.


“They have moved people by their story-telling ability,” teacher Beth Duncan said of her student filmmakers. “They have found their passion in film and film production. They have found their confidence and their voice.”


To make the films, each of the students took on different tasks – from doing on-camera interviews and narration to editing the raw film to get the polished products.


In “Heart of a Champion, Amanda Spitzer is interviewed by the Rancho Minerva students as she tells how she became a gymnast when she was 6-years-old, worked tirelessly to make the U.S. Olympics team, but ultimately, wasn’t among those chosen for the team.


“I have learned so much about myself and so much about my ability to overcome,” Amanda says in the video. “All the joy and the lessons I’ve had are so worth it.”


“Heart of a Champion” has a strong lesson at its core that resonates with those who have watched it, Duncan said.

“It’s what she learned, not being on the team, that perseverance and acting with character that was very important to her,” Duncan said. “It’s a beautiful story.”


In “Living History: Our Home Town Hero,” Noble of Oceanside talks of growing up in San Diego, hearing the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, enlisting in the Navy and piloting amphibious planes, and the many changes in technology he’s seen over his lifetime.


Most striking are the moments when Noble talks of marrying the girl he met in junior high school. “Certainly, getting married has to be the happiest thing that ever happened to me,” Noble says in the film.


Those are the comments that brings tears to the eyes to many of those who watch it, Duncan said. “He taught the students that life is about overcoming obstacles, and probably, the biggest lesson was about love,” Duncan said. “The kids were mesmerized by his story.”


Tori Stauffer, who was one of the students who interviewed Noble for the film, said “It was very touching. His whole story, it was just heartwarming,” Tori said.


Guadalupe Blancas said winning the IVIE award for the Noble film “was a very special moment because we just put so much work into interviewing Bob.” “It was great to see we were recognized for that,” Guadalupe said.


As part of the K-12 KWN award for “Heart of a Champion,” the Rancho Minerva eighth-graders won a trip to New York City, a first for some who’d never been on a plane before.


“I’d always wanted to go there as a kid,” Gualupe said. “The best part of it was getting to go to Times Square with the lights and the city, just to see it for the first time, it was overwhelming.”


“It was amazing,” Jose said. “It was all I expected it to be – honking horns, a lot of sirens.”


Making the two films was a life-changer for some of the students. “Everything I look at, it changes my perspective,” Tori said. 


Guadalupe said she now wants a career in film. “Film has changed the way that I look at the world, it opened my eyes,” said Guadalupe Blancas, who now hopes to study filmmaking as a career.  “I was never, really, truly passionate about anything until now,” Guadalupe said. “All my life, I’ve been told, ‘Guadalupe, you’re smart,’ but I’d never been told, ‘You have talent.’”


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/30/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Eighth-grader Kulpreet Chhokar and two of her classmates at Vista Magnet Middle School came up with a game where players have to add, subtract, multiply and divide number fractions to move around a game board. Whoever gets enough of the answers right to complete a circuit around the board wins.


“It’s similar to Monopoly, but difficult,” said Kulpreet, who was among about 130 students who went to a two-week gaming summer camp at the middle school that included field trips to California State University San Marcos.


“Get Your Game On,” was the name of the camp.


The idea behind it was in part to get kids using and honing their math skills by designing and making board games, said Jennifer Eckle, a math resource teacher at Vista Magnet and coordinator of the summer camp.


It also gave incoming sixth graders, who were among the campers, a chance to check out the school, make friends among their future classmates, and meet some of the students in the upper grades.


"It’s just building a sense of belonging with our campus,” Eckle said.

Kulpreet said that she met a new friend in teammate Laura Hurtado Flores, and had fun designing the game with Laura and Liliana Mendez Pozos. She said she knew Liliana from classes they shared but Laura was relatively new to the school and had different teachers. “As we’re working collaboratively, we’re noticing how we’re improving our work,” Kulpreet said.


Liliana, who made cards that displayed problems players had to solve as part of the game, said designing and making the game was fun, but, “It was kind of hard too. We had to struggle some days,” Liliana said. “It was very complicated.”


Challenging the students to solve complicated problems and deal with frustration as they made the board games helped them learn the so-called soft skills that are expected of workers in the 21st century, said Sinem Siyahhan, assistant professor of educational technology and learning sciences at CSU San Marcos.


Not only are the campers learning math, but they’re learning how to communicate and work together on projects as a team, said Siyahhan, who worked with the students in the camp and on their field trip to the college.


Employers expect the people that they hire to be able to collaborate and solve complex problems, Siyahhan said. “In this particular case, the problem is designing a fun, playable game,” Siyahhan said. “On top of that, they’re collaborating with the designs and they’re testing them. This reflects the current workforce.”


Sixth grader Jesus Aguirre Giron discovered an immediate problem with the game he made with fellow sixth graders Miguel Cabrera, Brian Cano and Ulises Colores – their game board was too small.


Their game involved moving three clay figures around a board to reach winning spaces, labeled school. To determine the number of spaces a player would move, the player would draw a card, then multiply, add, divide or subtract the numbers on the card. If a player drew cards with high numbers, his piece could make the circuit in one or two plays.


“We need a huge board,” Jesus said. “This is like a little demo. If we do this again, we can make an extra-large version of the little game.”


Despite that setback, Jesus said that he liked designing the game,

“You’re having fun, but you’re also learning,” Jesus said. “You’re doing two things at once. You’re learning addition and subtraction and all the math fractions, but you’re having fun at the same time.”


Miguel said he was happy that the game challenge involved board games instead of video games. “I like to play board games,” Miguel said. “You can play with your friends and family and you can see them.”


The games designed by the Vista Magnet students will be entered in a national game design competition for students in kindergarten through 12th grade sponsored by the Mind Research Institute.


The institute is an Irvine-based organization that developed a math computer program used in the Vista Unified District called ST (Spatial-Temporal) Math. ST Math uses graphically animated games that visually represent math concepts to help students develop problem-solving skills.


The top entries in the Mind Research competition will be awarded trophies and be displayed at a national math fair.


The games designed by Vista Magnet campers also were displayed at the North County Mini Maker Faire and will be available in the school library during the 2016-17 school year for students to play.


“I have kids in my class who want to play games every day,” Eckle said. “Kids love to have a way to interact with each other.”

The field trips to CSU San Marcos were a bonus for the gaming campers, Eckle said.


Not only did the students get to see what a college campus looks like, but they also worked with undergraduate students majoring in STEM (Science, Technology, Math and Engineering) fields.

“That’s huge,” Eckle said.




Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/27/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


When second grade teacher Leslie White and her sister found monarch caterpillars in their home gardens, they thought what fun it would be to bring them to school where Johnson’s students could watch them become butterflies.


By the end of the school year, monarch butterflies where flittering everywhere across the Vista Unified School District’s Hannalei Elementary School campus in what Principal Tracy Zachry said has become an ever-growing butterfly garden that has spread far beyond the small plot of ground outside White’s classroom.


“This is a migration path for monarchs, so we decided to build a place for them to come and grow,” Zachry said.


And did they ever!


Hannalei Elementary students observe caterpillars who will soon begin their transformations to butterflies


“The butterflies are around here like you wouldn’t believe,” said Jessica Pittman, who leads the AM/PM before and after school program at Hannalei.


The kids couldn’t be happier. “I like to watch the butterflies fly and the caterpillars eat leaves,” said 8-year-old Logan Fulton, who helps nurture the butterfly garden by watering the milkweed plants which are the source of food for monarch caterpillars.


“They’re beautiful and they’re amazing,” said Daniel Guillen, who waters the plants and weeds the garden. “I like when I see them come out of a chrysalis,” said 8-year-old Areanna Ortega, referring to the hard case caterpillars make to protect them as they transform into butterflies.


Second graders have long studied the life cycle of butterflies as part of their curriculum, but Zachry said that, “Instead of just learning about it in a book or a paper or a video, they’re actually living it day-to-day.”


White said second grade teachers often keep Painted Lady butterflies captive inside large glass jars in their classrooms. The teachers order the butterflies and jars from a mail-order science supply company, but White said this was the first time the students got to watch the metamorphosis of butterflies in their natural habitat.


“They’re so excited,” White said. The students have taken to their lessons like never before since the butterfly garden started.


Using computer tablets to do research on the butterflies, “Their language is better, they’re using academic words, like emerging,” White said. “It’s carried across the curriculum.”


The students carefully watch as some of the monarch caterpillars crawl across school sidewalks from one plot of ground to another to form their chrysalises on building walls, window sills and butterfly plants, which the monarchs munch on when they emerge. It turns out, caterpillars devour milkweed, but not the full-grown butterflies, Pittman said.


Pittman, whose twin daughters were Hannalei first-graders for the 2015-16 school year, has become a bit of a butterfly expert, and the AM/PM program is the source of most of the plants in the butterfly garden, contributing $4,000 toward the project.


Each year, Pittman asks students in the program what activities they’d like, and gardening topped their list. “A lot of them don’t have the opportunity to garden because they live in apartments,” Pittman said. “They just wanted to dig in the dirt, plant the plants, and watch them grow.”


Making it a butterfly garden just added something extra. “Just about everyone has had their hand in on some part of the garden,” Pittman said. “It’s school-wide.”

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/24/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Two elementary schools in the Vista Unified School District have been chosen from among hundreds across the country to receive grants to implement a program aimed at teaching children as young as kindergarteners how to become leaders.


“Every child will have a leadership role in the school, every child will have something they do to make the school a better place,” said Monte Vista Elementary School Principal Charlene Smith.


That can be anything from being school ambassadors who greet visitors and guide them around campus to raising money for a worthy cause, Smith said.


Monte Vista and Temple Heights Elementary School have each been awarded grants of $45,400 from Leader.org to train teachers and put into practice a “Leader in Me” program which teaches leadership skills such as being proactive, setting goals and listening before speaking.


“The ‘Leader in Me’ program fits perfectly with Temple Heights’ focus on personalized learning and teaching to each student’s strengths,” said Temple Heights Principal Kim Morton. “We believe that each and every student is capable and should be built up as a leader,” Morton said.


“’The Leader in Me” program teaches students the skills they need for academic success in any setting, both in the classroom and beyond. The skills include critical thinking, goal setting, listening and speaking, self-directed learning, presentation-making and the ability to work in groups.”


According to its website, Leader.org is an independent grant-making charity dedicated to providing programs and services that build character and leadership in students in public elementary and middle schools.


Funding for the grants from Leader.org to pay for the “Leader in Me” program was provided by the Panda Charitable Foundation of the Panda Restaurant Group.


The “Leader in Me” program was developed by the Utah-based company of FranklinCovey, which sells education and self-improvement material.


“These students will have the opportunity to learn and apply leadership and life skills, such as responsibility, social etiquette, teamwork, communication, creative thinking, and problem solving, to name a few,” said Sean Covey, FranklinCovey education practice leader. “Learning these skills now will not only help them be successful in school, but in every area of their life.”


The “Leader in Me” program focuses on what it calls the seven habits of healthy kids – be proactive, begin with the end in mind, think win-win by seeking solutions that work for all sides, seek first to understand then be understood, value other people’s strength’s and learn from them, and “sharpen the saw” by eating right, exercising, spending time with family and finding meaningful ways to help others.


“It’s empowering kids at a very young age to make choices and think about their choices,” said Monte Vista kindergarten teacher Cindy Speakman. “They’ll have leadership notebooks where they’ll keep track of what they’re learning and make goals for themselves.


Lesson plans have students thinking early on “what kind of people they want to be and how they want to solve problems,” Speakman said.


Some of the seven habits are things students can quickly apply in school and at home, she said, like resolving playground conflicts or putting first things first by doing homework before playing with friends.


“I want to use them in my life right now: What do I want to do?” Speakman said, “what are my goals, and am I really taking the steps necessary to reach my goal?”


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/21/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


If ever there was a doubt that kids are eager to read, it was dispelled with the recent opening of a special reading room for Maryland Elementary School parents and their children.

Even before the books were unpacked, students at the Vista Unified School District school were piling in to get a peek at the “Reading Oasis” room, provided through a partnership between the United Way of San Diego County and the children’s book publisher Scholastic, Inc.


“As we were putting the book shelves together, kids were coming in, trying to open the boxes to get the books,” said Katie Sawyer, United Way director of philanthropy.  “We’ve had students come by all week long, asking, ‘Can we come in and read?”


Cutting the ribbon at Maryland Elementary are: Principal Carol LaBreche; Maryland Elementary students; Katie Sawyer of United Way; VUSD Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka; Assistant Superintendent Dr. Sherry Opacic; School Board Trustee Elizabeth Jaka; VUSD's Dr. Erin English


They can now, and they’ve got 1,500 new books, including about 200 in Spanish, thanks to a $10,000 grant the United Way received from the Red Nose Day Fund, a program of Comic Relief Inc.  Only ten of the Red Nose Day $10,000 grants were awarded in the nation, Sawyer said.


“For the United Way to come in and create this for us is huge,” said Board of Education Trustee Elizabeth Jaka. “Reading, for me, is a complete escape and I want all kids to appreciate that.”

Jaka said her mother was a teacher and a librarian, so she feels a personal connection to programs that encourage reading, a sentiment shared by Sawyer.


“My mom was a third grade teacher and I saw her out buying books for her class, so anytime we can get books in the classroom without the teacher paying for it, I’m over the moon,” Sawyer said.


Dr. Vodicka addresses the Maryland Elementary community of students, teachers, families and staff.


Speaking to Maryland students before the Reading Oasis was officially opened, Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka urged them to “read as many books as you can. All of this is going to help you be smarter and successful in the future,” Vodicka said.


Along with the books came five bean bag chairs, a colorful new carpet, three bookshelves and a listening center to create a reading center where parents and students can congregate.


“We figure, if the parents come into the room and see the books, it will encourage them to read to their children,” said Carmen Waszak, an English development resource teacher.

The idea is that students can drop in to read during recess or lunch period, or stop by with their parents.


Maryland Elementary students showing off the new Reading Oasis Library, bean bag chairs and decor.


“We’re trying to encourage our parents to come in, by part of their children’s education,” said Maryland Principal Carol LaBreche.


In addition to the reading room, the United Way also is providing online access to books for Maryland students and their families through its Club Connect Adopt-A-School Program. “That’s a really cool bonus,” LaBreche said.


Parents can gain access to the online books by registering their children to attend Maryland through the Parent Portal on the school website, http://me.vistausd.org/.


Parents and children enjoy breaking in the new Reading Oasis


The Reading Oasis will be open during much of the summer as part a free school Healthy Habits for Healthy Living Summer Academy, LaBreche said.


The five-week academy will feature a variety of activities for parents and their children from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday from June 13 to July 15. A free lunch will be available each day from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for children up to 18-years-old with free snacks for parents and caregivers.

Children’s activities will include math tutoring, small group reading, fitness warm-ups, soccer, orchestra camp, dance and a kindergarten readiness program.


Activities planned for adults include information on child development, family literacy, English as a second language, gardening and one-on-one consultations with community family support agencies.


Dr. Devin Vodicka visits and reads with children and parents at Maryland Elementary's new Reading Oasis.


A young reader relaxes in a bean bag chair at the Reading Oasis


Parents and children explore the new Reading Oasis


Maryland Principal Carol LaBreche, Dr. Vodicka, United Way's Katie Sawyer and VUSD Board Trustee Elizabeth Jaka in the Reading Oasis


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/6/16

Audience: Homepage

The drafts for the 2016-2017 school year LCAP and Blueprint For Educational Excellence and Innovation are available to view now. Spanish language versions will be posted ASAP. Click below to view each file.


LCAP Draft


Blueprint Draft


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/3/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Felix Mirando said he’ll be cruising California’s coast in his 2009 blue Corvette, going to car shows and taking his five-year-old grandson fishing. “I enjoy looking at old cars,” said Mirando, who was a custodian at Roosevelt Middle School for the past 10 years.


Patricia Stegman has started studying sign language at Palomar College and is planning her first-ever trip to New York City. “I want to go to a Broadway show, see the usual, visit museums, the Brooklyn Bridge, all that stuff, “said Stegman, who spent 17 years as an instructional aide at Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math. “I want to do something else with my life before I’m too old and broken,” Stegman said with a smile.


Miriam Carr, who taught mostly second grade for 40 years – 25 in the Vista Unified School District – has taken up a new hobby.

“I want to start birdwatching,” said Carr, whose most recent teaching assignment was at Lake Elementary School. “I’m ready for a new phase.”


Mirando, Stegman and Carr were among dozens of retiring Vista Unified teachers and other school workers honored at a recent reception. 




“You’ve all contributed so much to our students, our families and our entire community in Vista,” said Superintendent Devin Vodicka. “We know we’re seeing successes,” Vodicka said, citing improvements in the number of students graduating high school this year and a decline in the number of dropouts as examples.


“The only way this occurs is when a lot of people are working very hard for our students,” Vodicka said. “Your efforts, obviously, have had a big impact here in our community.”


Assistant Superintendent Brett Killeen told the retirees that “After years of sacrificing for others, it’s time to take a little time for yourselves.This is your time,” Killeen said. “I want you to think of this as a promotion.”


Dora Stabinski, a teaching assistant for 21 years at Vista Adult Transition Center, said she had mixed feelings about retiring, but looked forward to spending time with granddaughters Kadyn Cox, 3, and Makenzie Cox, 2. “I’m going to be a mom again,” Stabinski said.


Tammy Hollins and Terri Albritton decided to retire together after working together as adaptive physical education teachers, who modify physical education programs to meet the needs of students with disabilities.


“We’re retiring because we’re ready,” Hollins said. “I couldn’t imagine doing adaptive physical education without her, so we both made the decision.” Hollins said she plans to travel and help fix up her mother-in-law’s house.


Albritton said that her husband, a former teacher, retired last year so she figured it was time for her to join him in retirement, although she won’t be idle. “I’m going to help with my grandson, because my daughter is going back to teaching,” Albritton said. “Teachers run in my family. There’s five girls in my family and all of us have been teachers at one point.”


Annetta Mabrey, who works in the before-and-after school program at Hannalei Elementary school, said she’s sad about leaving the children, “but it’s time. I love working with the kids,” Mabrey said. “I’m going to miss it but I can go back and visit if I want, go back and help.”


That’s an outlook Vodicka encouraged all the retirees to adopt.

“I do hope you reconnect with us, stay connected,” Vodicka said.


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 6/2/16

Audience: Homepage



By Ray Huard


English teacher Jennifer Waite thought that there had to be a better way. “I was just kind of bored with the traditional model,” Waite said.


It was near the end of the 2014-15 school year, time for Waite to assign the essays her Mission Vista High School students would write as a finale to their time in her class.


“The thought of grading 100 essays at the end of the year, I wanted to put toothpicks in my eyes,” Waite said. She and her students did come up with a better way – instead of just writing essays, why not write TED Talk-style speeches about something they really cared about?


According to its website, TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading a wide range of ideas through short talks of 18 minutes or less. TED began in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment and design (TED) converged and today covers topics from science to business to global issues in more than 100 languages.


“The kids were excited,” Waite said. “I got one girl who did an amazing one on why humans aren’t more like dolphins. It was this amazing research and it was her passion and it got everyone thinking and that’s the purpose.”


That was just the start.


The talks in her class went over so well, that Waite teamed up with Anne Fennell, head of the Mission Vista Visual and Performing Arts Department, along with a couple of Waite’s students to create a TEDx Youth club at the school.


TEDx is an offshoot of TED. TED events are put together by the TED organization. TEDx events can be organized by people in the community under license from TED and follow guidelines set by TED.

At the beginning of the school year, Mission Vista Spanish teacher Nina Amatore joined Waite and Fennell in working with the students.


“It was awesome, having three adults who get together and are so committed to the students,” Waite said. Amatore said had used TEDx-style talks in her classroom. “I love that students can become inspired in a short amount of time and become knowledgeable about a topic,” Amatore said. Not only do the students learn about the topic of their talk, but “They discover many things about themselves.” 


The result of the collaboration among the three teachers and their students was what Waite termed “a magnificent event.”


Eight Mission Vista students, under the guidance of Waite and Fennell, in April put on a Lux Aeterna: Ignite, a TEDx night in which the students spoke individually to an audience of about 100 people on everything from “Why We Go to School” to “Exploring the Cosmos.”


Lux Aeterna means eternal light in Latin and is the name of a choral piece used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Sophomores Anthony Nguyen and Navarro Peck were the lead student organizers and masters of ceremony for the TEDx event, which Anthony said started as “just a random idea in class.”


“My classmates and I just thought, ‘What happens if we make this bigger, where can we take this?’” Anthony said. Caught up in their students’ enthusiasm and ready for something different, Fennell and Waite took special training to be able to put on the TEDx event with their students. With Amatore joining in, they started working with students in September.


“We coached them, we helped them refine their speech and their talk, and find their passion and find their call to action, as it were,” Fennell said. “They were amazing, what they accomplished.”


Matt Gilbert, who performed an original song entitled Thomas, Won’t You Marry Me, as his TEDx talk said he was “very nervous” at first, but looking back, felt gratified about being able to share his passion for music. “It was really nice,” said Matt, who hopes to become a professional musician.


“I’d always wanted to be a musician. I just was never really passionate about it. Then one day, two of my friends asked me to form a band and I said, ‘Sure, why not?,’ so I went out and bought a drum set,” Matt said. “I don’t know what I was thinking, but it paid off.”

Matt has since left the band, but his love of music remains and he plans to major in music at San Francisco State University.


Other Mission Vista students who gave TEDx talks at Lux Aeterna: Ignite were Aaroh Mankad, Keri Scholte, Nathan Mizell, Stephen Shoemaker, George Smith, and Isabella Alvarez De La Campa.


In preparing their presentations, the students learned skills that will translate well into the workplace when they’re out of school, Waite said. “They learned how to collaborate, how to give criticism, how to persuade people, how to present themselves, how to listen to other people, and how to consider other people’s opinions,” Waite said.


Anthony, who plans to major in engineering in college, said TEDx was “an amazing experience,” but one he hopes to top. “I want to push the boundaries and put Mission Vista on the global map, not just the national TED talk,” Anthony said. “I’m coming up with a new idea, starting a model United Nations.”


Fennell, Waite and Amatore are already planning a TEDx event for the 2016-17 school year, and, soon, videos of the April TEDx talks will be on the Internet.


“All 3 of us are totally in for the next school year because magic happened that night,” Waite said. 

Fennell said “I’m so excited about doing it again because I learned so much,” adding, “It made me realize that every human has a passion and wants their voice to be heard.”

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/26/16

Audience: Homepage



By Ray Huard


Dr. Irwin Jacobs, the legendary co-founder and former chairman of Qualcomm, was intrigued by a group of sixth graders who were using the computer coding skills they were learning to make toy dinosaurs move and small lights flash.


“I’m very excited to see this lab set up and being used,” said Jacobs, as he moved from table to table to chat with students in the newly opened VIDA Lab, a STEAM (Science, Technology, Arts and Math) lab sponsored by Qualcomm at Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA) in the Vista Unified School District.


Dr. Irwin Jacobs inquires of VIDA 6th graders about their coding and robotics project.


Modeled after the Thinkabit Lab that Qualcomm opened in March 2014 at its Sorrento Valley headquarters, VIDA Lab meets what Jacobs said is one of the big challenges for business leaders and educators – getting students interested in STEAM at an early age.


The Thinkabit Lab was named for Linkabit Corporation, the company Jacobs co-founded in 1968 to develop satellite encryption devices long before there was a Qualcomm.


What especially interested him about VIDA Lab was, “there’s an equal mix of boys and girls and the girls are equally interested. A few years ago, that would not have been the case,” Jacobs said.

Traditionally, girls have shied away from STEAM careers. “We’re making progress in that,” Jacobs said.


VIDA Lab is a catalyst for more girls exploring STEAM subjects.


Eleven-year-old Teya Schultz is an example.


Meeting Jacobs and explaining her project to him was “amazing,” Teya said, “because I have a real interest in science, coding and math.”


“I want to be an engineer or a scientist or both,” Teya said. “It’s really exciting that we have a Thinkabit lab here because we get to do all kinds of different things,”


The idea behind the Thinkabit lab and its offshoot at VIDA is to let students tinker, experiment and build whatever they can imagine.


Jacobs told the students that that’s how he got his start growing up, making things with wires and cigar boxes. “I always liked building things,” Jacobs said. “I was always excited about technology and taking math courses.”


VIDA student Malea VanBrocklin interviews Dr. Jacobs for the VIDA Lab class


The students were impressed. “I think it’s very cool that he comes here and talks to us,” said Sebastian Ferrer, 12.


Although Sebastian said he had spent some time at the Thinkabit lab at Qualcomm, the day of Jacobs’ visit was his first time to try out VIDA Lab. “It’s amazing because we’re one of the only schools associated with Qualcomm and Thinkabit Lab,” Sebastian said.

Eleven-year-old Jacob Bell said, “if we could, I’d come every day to learn about coding.”


VIDA is one of three San Diego County schools to have Qualcomm-sponsored labs on the Thinkabit model. The others are Harvey L. Lewis Jr. Middle School in the San Diego Unified School District and Fester Charter School in the Chula Vista Elementary School District.


Three Doctors: VIDA Principal Dr. Eric Chagala, Dr. Irwin Jacobs, and VUSD Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka


In addition to sponsoring VIDA Lab, Qualcomm has donated classroom and office furniture to VIDA. Qualcomm engineers and other professionals also have met with VIDA students to talk about STEAM careers, said VIDA Principal Eric Chagala.


“We feel very blessed to have this relationship with Qualcomm and to be inspired and learn from Dr. Jacobs himself,” Chagala said.


A VIDA 6th grader explains his project to Dr. Irwin Jacobs.


Tammy Solari, whose son is a student at VIDA, took time off from work to be at VIDA during Jacobs’ visit. “It’s amazing, he’s taking the time to talk with every kid here,” said Solari, who once worked at Qualcomm. “They’ll remember that forever.”


Solari did a little tinkering of her own in the lab. “You don’t see this in too many places,” Solari said, adding that VIDA and the lab gives students the chance to try things out and discover their interests early on.


“I felt like growing up, we didn’t have that. You went to college, you picked a major and hoped you enjoyed that,” Solari said. “I want to go back to middle school now. I feel I’ve been ripped off.”


Students in VIDA Lab take a hands-on approach to STEAM subjects.


That sense of wonder is something Board of Education President Rich Alderson said Jacobs’ visit helped foster. “It’s pretty amazing that someone of his stature would take the opportunity to visit a local school like this,” Alderson said. “He’s certainly an important figure for all of us, especially the children.”


VUSD School Board members Rich Alderson and Elizabeth Jaka with Dr. Jacobs.


In coming to VIDA, Alderson said that Jacobs saw an example of how Visa Unified is transforming education.


“One of the things I’m proud of in our district is that we’re trying to be innovative,” Alderson said. “I really hope the children continue to take away that sense of exploration and innovation. The kids have got to be able to problem-solve and look at new ways to approach things.”




Dr. Jacobs Visits With Students


Dr. Irwin Jacobs spent time speaking with each student in VIDA Lab during his visit, inquiring about their class projects and what the lab means for VIDA students.



Dr. Jacobs Meets VUSD Leaders


VUSD Superintendent Dr. Devin Vodicka & Dr. Irwin Jacobs



Dr. Jacobs laughing along with Dr. Vodicka and VIDA Principal Dr. Eric Chagala


VUSD Executive Director of Innovation Dr. Matt Doyle & Dr. Jacobs


Dr. Jacobs and Vista Visions Academy Principal & Director of Online/Blended Learning Dr. Erin English


VIDA Provost Cindy Anderson meets Dr. Irwin Jacobs



VIDA teacher Doug Kriedeman and his daughter, 6th grader Bella, with Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Vodicka

Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/23/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Blanca Hernandez noticed that some of her fellow students at Vista High School kept to themselves and didn’t go to school events like dances and football games.


Vista High Senior Blanca Hernandez


They were often new to this country, were just learning English and weren’t comfortable mixing with others. They were lost, “even when it comes to simple things,” Blanca said.


On school spirit day, which is sort of a day-long pep rally, they had no idea what was happening and why others were wearing crazy clothes.


“Coming to a new school is hard enough, let alone having to learn a new language,” Blanca said. “Although we are a very diverse high school, there isn’t diversity in that these students aren’t collaborating or talking to students who are from other backgrounds.”


Blanca and her friend, Maria Patino, set out to break down the barriers that kept those students from participating in what Blanca called the full “American high school experience.”

They formed the Panther’s International Club, which focuses on helping English-learners improve their language, social and academic skills.


As a result, those once-isolated students are now very much a part of the Vista High School scene, said Luis Landaverde, the club’s faculty advisor. “The kids just gravitate toward her,” Landaverde said of Blanca. “She just has this really energetic, welcoming demeanor. She wasn’t afraid to approach the students who were new here.”


For her part, Blanca was awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations and was among about 20 students from across the nation invited to attend a symposium on race relations at Princeton University.


The award “is given to high school students across the country who have advanced the cause of positive race relations in their schools or communities,” the Princeton Prize in Race Relations of San Diego said in awarding the prize to Blanca.


When she first approached the English-learning students at Vista High, “a lot of them were shocked that I speak Spanish,” said Blanca, who was classified as an English-learning student in elementary school. “I felt a connection with these students from my family,” Blanca said.


She said that her father came to this country as a child and, like those students at Vista High, never felt that he fit in with the English-speaking students in high school.


Even for those who are fluent in English and Spanish, as she is, Blanca said there have been times when people looked down on her “because I was different. I remember going to a (school) open house with my dad and we were the only minorities.” She said one of her goals has been to disprove stereotypes that are demeaning.


Among other things, she has served on the Associated Student Body as a class representative and co-lead for publicity, ran cross country and track for her first three years in high school, is a member of the California Scholarship Federation, an International Baccalaureate Diploma candidate, and AVID Club president.


Even with all her activities, Blanca has earned a 4.45 grade point average. She plans to attend the University of San Diego in the fall with a major in political science and a minor in Spanish and English. Her goal is to become a civil rights lawyer.


Throughout high school, Blanca concentrated on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses but had an epiphany last summer when she was a counselor at the American Association of University Tech Trek, a summer camp aimed at developing a passion among young girls for STEM careers.


“I realized it wasn’t something I was enjoying,” Blanca said. “I decided I wanted to pull back away from STEM.” She said that doesn’t want to give up entirely on STEM, so minoring in economics will allow her to continue advancing her math skills.

Instead of the career in biology she had envisioned, Blanca decided she’d rather to something to help minorities, and becoming a lawyer seems like a good option.


The law is a career that would suit Blanca, Landaverde said. “She would be a perfect lawyer. She talks a lot. She will talk your ear off,” Landaverde said with a chuckle. “She’s going to be successful no matter what she does.”


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/17/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Vista Unified School District is one of a handful of school districts in the nation to become a Common Sense Digital Certified District for the 2015-16 school year for its drive to make all of its students and parents Internet savvy.


“We’re one of 19 school districts in the nation to achieve Common Sense certification,” said Marc Schroeder, a Vista Unified technology resource teacher.


What that means is that students in nearly every school in Vista Unified have  been given special training in how to properly use the Internet – everything from how to most efficiently search for information to the risks of giving out too much personal information.


Evening sessions also were scheduled for parents at many schools. “We’re not just reaching out to students, we had training for all of our teachers, for our students and for our families and community at large,” Schroeder said.


“It’s not just avoiding the negatives in the Internet. Part of this is students understanding that their digital profile is something that will follow them for the rest of their lives. They have the opportunity to create a very positive profile of who they are and their accomplishments.”


The certification is granted by Common Sense Media, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering kids to thrive in a world of media and technology,” according to its website.

Schroeder said the certification “shows that we’re making a commitment not only to using digital tools but using them safely and appropriately.”


As of May, other California districts receiving the certification were Atwater Elementary School District near Merced in central California, Cardiff School District and Manteca Unified School District in San Joaquin County.


“We applaud the faculty and staff of Vista Unified School District for embracing digital citizenship as an important part of their students’ education,” said Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs for Common Sense. “Vista Unified deserves high praise for giving its students the foundational skills they need to compete and succeed in the 21st-century workplace and participate ethically in society at large.”


The issue of digital awareness is particularly significant in Vista Unified because the district is close to achieving its goal of providing computer tablets or other digital devices to every student and teacher, said Dan Brown, a technology resource teacher.


“We’re rapidly approaching a one-to-one” ratio of devices to students and teachers, Brown said. “We’re a device-rich district.”


Keeping pace with that, students at more than 80 percent of district schools have received digital citizenship training, Brown said. “When we were all in high school, if you messed up, you just messed up in front of a small group of people,” Brown said.


With the Internet and social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, “potentially, hundreds of thousands of people could see your mistake and it’s there forever,” Brown said.


The digital training as outlined by Common Sense Media is tailored to meet the needs and sophistication of students at different grade levels.


For example, at the kindergarten through second grade level, the focus is at going places safely, knowing what kind of information is private and shouldn’t be shared without an adult’s approval, and connecting with others through email.


In higher grades, students learn about cyber bullying, using copyrighted material and the consequences of putting too much information online, among other things.


Students and adults often don’t realize that once something is posted on the Internet, it’s there to stay, Schroeder said. “In the future, we’re all probably going to be judged and gauged by our digital profile,” Schroeder said.


Seemingly innocent posts on social media sites can cause problems. Brown explained that in one instance, a student who was in the hospital posted a photograph of his patient wrist band. Without realizing it, he had given away his Social Security number which was on the band.


In another case, a student was so excited about getting his driver’s license that he posted a photo of it, making his date of birth and address public knowledge.


Brown adding that, “making kids aware of things like that,” is a goal of the program, adding, “it’s not going to stop all the misuse, we realize that, but we sure need to be proactive.”


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/16/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Simon Hay of the London-based Firefly Learning said he was impressed by the way some Olive Elementary first graders worked independently on computer tablets while others were guided by teacher Teresa Dominguez. “We work with schools in 26 different countries and we don’t see this very often,” Hay said. “It’s really cool to see what’s going on.”


Simon Hay from London-based Firefly Learning visits with an Olive Elementary student.


Hay was among more than 100 educators and entrepreneurs from around the world who recently toured several schools in the Vista Unified School District to see first-hand the innovative teaching practices they’d heard about.


“The big thing I’m noticing is just the independence of the students,” said Sarah Rahn, a teacher in Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnesota. “It’s eye-opening to see what the students can do when they have their own devices.”


Rahn said she was envious because each of the Olive Elementary students has a tablet to use, while she has to check out tablets from the school library when she wants her students to use them.


Olive Principal Stephanie Vasquez said technology is an important element in the school’s focus on critical thinking, collaboration, communication and clear writing. “That technology is meeting students at their level,” Vasquez told the tour group.


A League of Innovative Schools visitor takes digital notes during a school site visit.


In Teresa Dominguez’s first grade, the students are using tablets as they learn how to write opinion pieces.

“It’s super exciting to hear first graders’ opinions,” Vazquez said.


The visitors also got a peek at Myrna Gonzalez’s fifth grade class, where the students are growing vegetables in the classroom, using aeroponic towers, which use no soil but spray a mist of nutrients onto plants hanging from the towers.


“I’ve never seen these before,” said Jason Bedford, senior vice president for client express and engagement at Dreambox Learning of Raleigh, N.C.

Bedford said he liked how Gonzalez was guiding her students as they worked on projects. “I really see the teacher as an activator,” Bedford said. “We talk about facilitator. She was an activator. She was giving them what they needed.”


The school tours were in conjunction with the recent semi-annual meeting of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools in San Diego and the annual ASU-GSV (Arizona State University-Global Silicon Valley) Summit, also in San Diego.


The summit brought together a wide range of companies and individuals to share the latest developments in educational technology.


Digital Promise CEO Karen Cator and Business Development Director Atanas Bakalov engage with VIDA students.


The League of Innovative Schools sessions were co-hosted by Vista Unified and Cajon Valley school districts. Digital Promise is an independent nonprofit organization created by Congress to accelerate innovation in education. Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools is a national coalition of school districts considered leaders in using technology in the classroom. Vista Unified and Cajon Valley are members.


“I hope that we’re able to share the great things that our teachers and students are doing every day,” Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said.

Schools on the tour included Temple Heights Elementary School, Mission Vista High School, Vista High School, Rancho Minerva Middle School, Vista Magnet Middle School, Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts, Vista Magnet Middle School, Casita Center for Science, Technology & Math, Vista Innovation & Design Academy and Olive Elementary.


At VIDA, Darrin Sato of Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii said, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of students.”

VIDA recently opened a maker space lab sponsored by Qualcomm where students are encouraged to let their imaginations roam as they tinker by designing and building robots and other creations aimed at inspiring them to consider careers in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).


Olive Elementary School welcomes a group of visitors through the League Of Innovative Schools conference


Visiting the VIDA lab, Sato said “I definitely love the collaboration – students working in groups. It’s such a 21st Century skill, collaboration.” As program director of IT education technology services for his school district. Sato said “I definitely love the infusion of technology that I’m seeing.”


VIDA Principal Eric Chagala explained that VIDA is “a more project-based learning school” where students learn core skills by making things and puzzling through problems. “They can actually go out and solve real world problems in real world and innovative ways,” Chagala said. “We want kids to be what Google calls smart creators.”


VIDA Principal Dr. Eric Chagala welcomes Digital Promise guests to the newly launched VIDA Lab.


For example, Chagala that said students learn high school level physics “by fooling around with rockets.”

The school also has a crime scene investigation course, where students investigate a murder.

In the process, “We’re teaching them biomedical science.”


David Alderslade, vice president of finance and administration at the educational development firm Edgenuity of Scottsdale, Ariz., said he hasn’t been in a school since he was a student and what he was seeing at Vista Unified was far different from what he remembered. “It’s not the old brick-and-mortar school,” Alderslade said. “I’m used to a teacher at the front with all the desks lined up and a black board and that was it.”


Students in working groups move around classrooms to collaborate 


Alderslade said he liked the changes he saw being implemented at Vista Unified. “Clearly, kids are engaged and encouraged to be innovative,” Alderslade said. “I love that they can direct their own pace.”


VIDA students collaborating on class work.


At Vista Academy, Valerie Truesdale, chief officer of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, said she liked the way teachers were using what she called “inquiry-based learning.”


“Instead of the teachers saying, ‘This is the information,’ and teaching it, the teacher helps kids puzzle it out,” Truesdale said, adding, “That takes a lot of planning for teachers.”


Tina Bobrowski, a teacher and media specialist at Owsley County School District in Kentucky, said she liked the way Vista Academy infuses the arts throughout its curriculum. “It was consistent from room to room,” Bobrowski said. “They’re touching all sides of a student.”


The Casita Center 4th grade news team explains their process to a Digital Promise visitor


Like many of her colleagues, Bobrowski said she was impressed with the way Vista Unified tailors curriculum to meet the needs of individual students. “I see the excitement of the children, because they see this is working for them,” Bobrowski said. “When you have people coming from all over the country to visit you, you know you’re doing something right.”


VIDA Principal Eric Chagala and students welcome visitors 


















Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/9/16

Audience: Homepage

By Ray Huard


Isolation and loneliness were the feelings Mission Vista High School senior Lauren Spears said she wanted to evoke in the black-and-white pencil drawing of a woman standing by herself on the peak of a roof.

The woman’s hair is ruffled, like it’s caught by the wind. Her arms hang limply by her side. Her facial expression is almost grim. “It’s kind of like an uncomfortable feeling,” Lauren said.


The drawing is so striking that it won the Best of Show award at the recent Carlsbad-Oceanside Art League Annual High School Art Show at the OPT Underground Gallery at Oceanside Photo and Telescopic in Oceanside.


Lauren Spears' drawing won a Best in Show Award


Her teacher, Heidi Madden, said that Lauren “has an artistic talent you don’t often see in high school.”

“Many students can draw and paint beautifully, but Lauren can conjure images in her mind and have them just seemingly flow out her brush or pencil,” said Madden, a visual arts instructor at Mission Vista. “She is a very gifted young lady.”


Lauren said that her first love is photography, and the drawing was from a photo she took while visiting a friend in San Francisco. “Sometimes, I’ll go out with my friends and take pictures because that’s what I enjoy doing, Lauren said.


She plans to go to Mira Costa College, majoring in art.

Her career goal is to become a news photographer, focusing on bands. Some of her photos have been published in the online Lucid Magazine.  According to its website, the magazine is made by teenagers for teenagers with a goal of bringing attention to aspiring artists, musicians and models, among others.


Winning the Best of Show award “feels good and empowering,” Lauren said. “I just bring my camera everywhere with me.”


That’s a feeling shared by several other students from Vista Unified School District, who won awards at the OPT show.


Ryanna King, who was among them, said she had no idea she was snapping off a prize-winning photo one rainy afternoon at Rancho Buena Vista High School.

“I was actually quite bored that day, and I just saw how the school felt really clean after the rain and it looked really stunning,” said Ryanna, a junior who has taken up photography as a hobby. “I felt like the lighting was perfect, so this would look really cool,” Ryanna said.


Her photo is looking down a wet sidewalk at the rear of the high school, with classroom buildings on each side and two rows of tall trees sort of framing the shot.

A small light, like a setting sun, shines at the very end of the sidewalk.


Ryanna King's First Prize photograph


The photo won first prize at the Art League show.

Ryanna’s photography teacher, Kelly Moncure, said that Ryanna’s photo “seemed to strike a key with almost everyone.I like the fact that it’s moody and unusual,” Moncure said. “It kind of has a real sense of melancholy.”


Ryanna said she wasn’t trying to evoke a particular feeling when she took the photo, but when she looks at the finished product, “It’s like school. We kind of always have a path and at the very end of the path is our future, and even though it may seem dark and dreary right now, it’s bright in the future,” she said.


Ryanna’s inspiration for photography is her stepmother, Cherish Eckert, a professional photographer who owns Cherished Moments Photography in Vista. “I’ve always kind of looked up to her and what’s she’s done,” Ryanna said.


For now, Ryanna’s career goals are fluid, but she said that she plans to go to Palomar College and is interested in photo journalism or journalism in general.

“I’ve always loved writing and taking pictures, seeing the stories,” Ryanna said. “Each picture has a story to tell.”


Classmate Gerardo Zuniga won a prize in the show with his shot of a classmate getting smacked in the face with a water balloon.


“I like this photo because it just makes me laugh so hard, and it gives me a sense of how fun the class is and how fun my students are,” Moncure said. “It was just ridiculous and everyone was super happy. It was just a really, nice fun day."


Gerardo Zuniga's prize-winning photo

Gerardo’s photo captures the very instant a water balloon explodes on a classmate’s face as he grimaces.


Moncure said that her students were experimenting with using fast shutter speeds when Gerardo snapped his photo. “It kind of shows how, in photography, you can show all kinds of emotion, from sadness to happiness,” Gerardo said.


In this case, laughter would be the appropriate response. “I want people to feel basically happy and bring them joy,” Gerardo said. “It’s a funny photograph.

A senior, Gerardo said he plans to major in computer science at California State University San Marcos, but will continue with photography as a hobby. “I have a passion for it now,” Gerardo said.


Another of Moncure’s students, Ignacio Castillo, won an award for a pencil drawing of a Native-American woman wearing a headdress. Ignacio is a photography student with Moncure but she said he drew the winning entry in a class he has with Rancho Buena Vista art teacher Doug Disney.


Explaining his drawing, Ignacio said, “She’s just looking at you. She wants to show what she stands for and who she is,” adding that he sought to “capture the spirit” of Native-Americans, “how they’re peaceful and serene and really balanced. I wanted to tell people how everyone in life goes through a lot of obstacles that can change them or influence them to become someone new,” said Ignacio, who is enlisting it the Army with a goal of becoming a medic.


In all, the art show included 275 entries in a variety of media by students from Mission Vista High School, Vista High School, Rancho Buena Vista High School, Army & Navy Academy, El Camino High School, Carlsbad High School and Oceanside High School.


Vista Unified students participating in the exhibit included Whitney Rice, Jeremy Bunda, Nicole Johnston, Bella Gardner, Joanna Medina, Ellie Kingston, Cheyanne Elton, Victor Hernandez, Dylann Jelden, Kim Tirado, Kamryn Dugan, Ella Nicholson, Joshua San Nicolas, Dickson Janda, Simon Ortega, Jeremiah Schmitt, Julian Sainz, Jasmine Campos, Aidan Dean, Conner Drinkward, Christian Enriquez, Zach Kleppe, Sierra Matthews, Yesenia Mora, Naomi Pazmino, Paulo Perez and Juan Rivera.










Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/5/16

Audience: Homepage

A group of Olive Elementary School fifth graders is growing some of their own food, right in their classroom.


They’re doing it with aeroponics, a way of growing plants in which the roots hang suspended in air while a solution of nutrients is sprayed on them in the form of a fine mist.


“It’s a system that grows plants with 90 percent less water,” explained student Jacqueline Jacobo.


“It grows faster than a normal garden,” Jacqueline said.


Pointing to some plants that were about to be harvested for salads, Jacqueline said, “These were planted three weeks ago and they’re already ready.”


The fifth graders’ aeroponics project won the Bright Idea Award for an elementary school at the San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering in early March at Petco Park.


The Olive Elementary fifth graders also were recognized with a special proclamation in March by the San Diego City Council.


Jacqueline and her classmates have been growing butter lettuce, kale, basil and arugula in four towers, each of which is about 6-feet-tall.


They plan to expand their crop to include edible flowers, rainbow colored chard, and bok choy, a Chinese cabbage.


Water treated with nutrients is stored in a basin at the foot of each tower, and the solution is pumped through the tower and onto the plants.


Special lights that mimic sunlight are aligned along the edge of the towers to help the plants grow.


Twice a week, the students take turns adding nutrients to the water and testing the pH level, which in chemistry is a numeric scale ranging from one to 10 used to specify the acid or base level of water solutions. PH stands for power of hydrogen, a measurement of hydrogen ion concentration.


For the plants to thrive, the pH level in the towers should be between 5.5 and six, said student Clarissa Arcos.


The aeroponic project grew out of a class discussion of malnutrition and what they could do about it, said fifth grade teacher Myrna Gonzalez.


As part of that, the students talked about how they could grow more vegetables using less water because of the state-wide drought.


A teacher in a neighboring classroom had an aeroponic tower of her own, which she brought into her classroom to show her students, Gonzalez said.


When the fifth graders saw the tower, they decided to expand on it as their class project.


With the help of grants, the students wound up with four towers in their class.


Each tower with the lights cost about $1,000, said Lindsey Richardson, a field energy consultant for Solar City and classroom volunteer who helps the students with the aeroponics project.


If their project is successful, the fifth graders hope to serve their produce in the school cafeteria and eventually start a farmer’s market on campus.


“It helps us learn how to eat healthy and stay healthy,” said student Dominic Tejeda.


Principal Stephanie Vasquez said the aeroponics project has proven so successful that she’d like to expand it to other classrooms.


“It’s been fun, experimenting with the plants just to see how they thrive,” Vasquez said. “We’re all learning.”


Olive Elementary also has a traditional outdoor garden, but Vasquez said it takes up more room, uses far more water than the aeroponics.


“Growing vertically is proving to be a great option,” Vasquez said.


If the plan for a campus farmer’s marker works out, Clarissa said any money the students earn from it could go to buy more aeroponic towers for other classes at Olive and even for other schools in the Vista Unified School District.


“We could donate a tower garden to each school with the money we make,” Clarissa said.


Classmate Angel Mendoza is hoping other kids take to aeroponic farming as eagerly as his class did.


“If a lot of schools do this, it will really help the environment because it uses 90 percent less water,” Angel said.


Lindsey Richardson and student Alana Cruz harvesting lettuce.


Alana Cruz and Alejandro Ruiz harvesting lettuce.


Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 5/2/16

Audience: Homepage

Rancho Minerva eighth-grader Karen Valdevinos challenged all who passed to drop an egg in a specially designed, sponge container from above their heads and see how it wouldn’t break.


Except it did, break that is, well, cracked anyway.


“Right now was the first time it broke,” Karen explained. “All the other times, it didn’t. It was weird.”


Her team’s projects were among more than 350 on display at Vista Unified School District’s recent STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Fest at Vista High School.


Karen’s eighth grade science teacher, Desiree Wilson, said that the cracked egg was fine with her.


“The most interesting part for me is to see them (students) make adjustments and improvements to their design so if it fails, they learn from it,” Wilson said. “Many times, when we do things, it doesn’t always work. We talk a lot in our school about growth mistakes, when you learn from our mistakes.”


Wilson figured her students went through about 50 eggs refining their design, until they came up with the final version, using cleaning sponges to surround the egg on four sides and cushion it inside a paper cup with still more sponge on the bottom.


When Karen tried again with a new egg – success! The egg emerged unbroken and uncracked.


Karen theorized that maybe the egg that broke wasn’t properly positioned in its protective container.

The whole idea behind STEM Fest is to get students thinking creatively about science, engineering and math and introduce them to the many ways STEM touches their lives and is integral to a wide range of careers, said Kellie Fleming, a content resource teacher who organized STEM Fest.


“It’s a good experience, it gives kids confidence,” Fleming said.


The projects were just about everything imaginable, from robots that picked up balls the size of grapefruit to bridges and catapults made out of Popsicle sticks.


With a little help from her mom, Breeze Hill fourth-grader Julissa Iribe and partner Cesar Cira showed how to make slime goo in a variety of colors, using a mixture of white glue, food coloring and a solution of borax and water.


“I thought it would be really fun for the kids. It’s really fun to play with,” Julissa said as she poured blue slime goo from hand to hand.


There was one drawback, Julissa said.


“Sometimes it stinks.”


Teacher Jennifer Peirson didn’t mind.


“I’m just so excited that the students got an opportunity to do some experiments and learn about science careers,” Peirson said.


Besides slime goo, her students demonstrated how wind power worked with small propellers attached to empty soft drink bottles and had models of solar-powered cars.


“They worked really hard on their projects,” Peirson said.


Hannalei Elementary School fifth-grader Malaina Stevens found magnetism so intriguing that she came up with a display that was three projects in one, including special magnets developed by NASA to keep rocket fuel flowing in zero gravity.


“I think magnets are very interesting and they’re used in lots of things,” Malaina said.


Her projects included a demonstration of how some common beach sand containing the mineral magnetite is highly magnetic.


 “We used to play with the sand,” said Malaina’s mother, Myrna Arnal. “I didn’t know anything about it.”


With her mother’s help, Malaina also learned how to build a homopolar motor, which uses magnets to operate as Malaina showed in another part of her project.


School Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that the enthusiasm students have in developing projects for STEM Fest was infectious.


“Kids are coming up, saying, ‘Come look at my project, come look at my project,’” Vodicka said. “It’s a fantastic district celebration of the ingenuity and perseverance of our students.”


STEM Fest never would have happened were it not for the encouragement of Vodicka and Larry White, district executive director of curriculum and instruction and educational technology, Fleming said.


“They had faith in me that first year and said, ‘Have a go,’” Fleming said.


STEM Fest started three years ago with about 100 exhibits at Washington Middle School, which has since become Vista Innovation & Design Academy.


For 2016, STEM Fest even outgrew the Vista High School gymnasium, with many of the exhibits and demonstrations from robotics to bridge building moved outside to the high school quadrangle.


Senior Brendan Jackson was among a group of Rancho Buena Vista High School students showing off their robotic creations in the quadrangle.


Brendan was putting the finishing touches to a “rally bot” he designed for racing. He said it could reach a speed of 15 miles per hour.


“What’s hard about it is taking the image in your brain and making it work with basically an Erector Set – metal with holes drilled into it,” said Brendan, who is considering a career in automotive electronics.


Just a few steps away, Lake Elementary School fourth-grader Luke Maguire was letting other students use a catapult he built to take pot shots at him and some toy soldiers he’d arranged on a table.


Anyone who hit a soldier or Luke got a candy as a prize.


His project was to compare the performances of two catapults of different sizes.


“My hypothesis was that the smaller one would go father and it did,” Luke said.


Karen Valdevinos Egg Drop.jpg
Rancho Minerva Middle School eighth-grader Karen Valdevinos demonstrating egg drop.


Leslie Garcia Marble Slide.jpgRancho Minerva eighth-grader Lesllie Garcia showing a marble slide.


Rancho Buena Vista High School senior Brendan Jackson working on his robot car.


Breeze Hill Elementary School fourth-grader Julissa Iribe and mom. Maria Iribe, making slime goo at STEM Fest.


Demo Table.jpgHannalei Elementary School fifth-grader Malaina Stevens and her mom, Myrna Arnal, setting up Malaina's project on magnetism.







Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/29/16

Audience: Homepage

A Vista Unified School District elementary school that emphasizes arts education has been recognized by the California Department of Education as a model of excellence.


Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) is one of 772 elementary schools in the state and one of 20 in San Diego County to receive a Gold Ribbon Award.


“These schools shine as bright beacons for others, putting forth an exemplary effort to ensure that every student is ready for 21st century college and careers,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.


In conjunction with the Gold Ribbon award, VAPA is up for an auxiliary Excellence in Arts.


“What makes Vista Academy (VA) stand out is its strong focus on the arts. Arts integration exits in stand alone classes and is woven throughout our thematic units of instruction,” said Principal Catina Hancock.


“I’ve been hard-pressed to find another elementary school in the country that is doing a program like we’re doing,” Hancock said.


Typically, schools may offer a single art class or have an after-school arts program, but VAPA has full-time, credentialed art, dance, drama and music teachers.


“All children, in every grade, get dance, drama, music and art instruction taught by a teacher who’s an expert as well as having art integrated in their grade (classrooms),” Hancock said.


Students also are exposed to the arts by outside groups that regularly perform at the school, such as the San Diego Ballet. Students also make frequent field trips, and a group of VA students earlier this year performed in concert with the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra at the California Center for the Arts Escondido.


“Part of what we do well is look for opportunities to bring in activities or events or send kids out to activities or events that will enrich their learning,” Hancock said.


Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said “I am proud of the students, families, and staff at VA who have worked hard to earn this remarkable recognition.”


“Over the past few years, VAPA has expanded opportunities in the arts and integrated a rigorous International Baccalaureate program into the instructional model,” Vodicka said. “Student learning has accelerated as a result of these efforts.”


VA is in the process of becoming authorized as an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, offering an especially rigorous curriculum in which students learn through inquiry and action. The IB program also stresses critical thinking, creativity and a global mindedness. Additionally, the school has adopted Spanish as its second language.


About 85 percent of VA’s students are of Hispanic descent, with about 55 percent of these classified as English Language Learners, Hancock said.


“With the addition of Spanish, our English speaking students will hopefully head to middle school having a good foundation in Spanish, while our native Spanish speakers will work towards literacy in their native tongue,” Hancock said. “We want them to be able speak, read and write in Spanish. A lot of our Spanish speaking students are losing their language. They come to school and they’re taught in English so they start to prefer English over Spanish. We want them, as adults, to be bilingual and biliterate.”


As a magnet school, VA is open to students from throughout the region, and about 5 percent of its students come from outside Vista Unified, Hancock said.


“My goal is to make this school similar to the Orange County School for the Arts, where people are driving an hour or more, from their residence school, because they believe in our mission and understand the value of our educational program,” Hancock said. “An additional highlight for parents is the intangible skills that instruction through the arts and IB generates in children – the creativity and confidence, the ability to speak in public, the ability to be resilient and take risks. Those are all things that kids learn by experiences they have with and through the arts.”


VAPA’s emphasis on the arts has been a big hit with students.


“We actually have a hard time sending them home when they’re sick because they want to stay in school,” Hancock said. “I think this community has worked extremely hard to get to the point where we can confidently say our kids are going to be creative, they’re going to be collaborative and ready to move on and be successful at any endeavor they undertake.”


Hancock said she wasn’t surprised that VAPA was named a Gold Ribbon school.


“The last 3 years, we have been living our mission, to inspire every student to be a confident, global citizen and critical thinker through a rigorous, arts-integrated and innovative academic community. This award provides the feedback that we are on the right track.”


Getting there took work.


“I don’t have an arts background, so for me, coming to Vista Academy 4 years ago was a steep learning curve,” Hancock said. “Ultimately, the success we’re experiencing is the direct result of a community that believes passionately in art education and a staff that is extremely flexible and dedicated to creating a program that meets the needs of all our learners.”


Nevertheless, Hancock said “We still have our work cut out for us. Never can we stop and say, ‘we’ve got it.’ We will evolve as the needs of our learners evolve.”


For more information, please visit the school website at https://vapa-vistausd-ca.schoolloop.com/ or schedule a tour, 760-941-0880.






Posted by: Dave Palmer
Published: 4/26/16