Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Earn a Point - Time to reflect!

Monte Vista School
The Independent Learning Academy
Principal’s Message
December 1, 2016

*** Earn a Point***

My last blog talked about being the ‘Caretaker of the Arboretum’ and I ended the blog with this statement, “To tend the garden also means to coach, with respect; one can’t harvest what one does not sow. My role as a principal is to guide and to show how our school community can harvest the fruit of our toil. At our arboretum we plant our desires, gently nurture our seedlings, and know that we will one day be rewarded with an abundant harvest.”

In keeping with the garden analogy, as we move into our winter and watch as many of our plants take a breather and go into a dormancy period, it’s a perfect time to reflect on what our garden produced last summer and fall, take inventory on our existing crops as well as beginning to plan for the spring plantings.  Likewise, with our students and programs, as we end the 1st semester and having set some roots down at our new campus, it’s a perfect time to reflect back.  What new initiatives worked, what didn’t, what do we need to trim, pruned or even pull out and compost?  Are there any weeds growing that should be transplanted into a new environment where they can flourish and become a prize winning bloom?  What crops require a little extra fertilizer, or perhaps a stake to help them become a bit sturdier and resilient?

We’re no longer being referred to as the old Abe Lincoln campus, but rather just as the Monte Vista campus.  Here’s just a few examples of our growing crops and programs. Our Zen garden provides an opportunity to clear one’s mind, while our Curiosity and Imagination Lab opens the mind to new ways of thinking. Students have an opportunity to explore and learn during our weekly Discovery Days.  Not one but two 3-D printers can be found in our Maker Space labs. World Languages (Spanish, French & Mandarin) are offered to not only to our students but to all students that attend SVUSD.  The school has been named a Ventura County SHELL (Schoolyard Habitat Educational Learning Lab) and hopefully will become a model to other schools in the county. Thanks to our 4H program, students are able to watch before their eyes young chickens mature into egg laying hens, to harvest crops grown by seeds and even hand feed turtles.  Struggling students (again district-wide) are provided the opportunity to make up math and English credits with some of the best teachers that we have in the district.  Students can be found on campus in our English, math, and journalism labs and hopefully soon in our Study CafĂ©.  Classes and instruction are being delivered by on-line programs (APEX & Shmoop), Google Classroom and of course by a core of talented and passionate teachers. Hands on science programs that include Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning.  Monthly floral classes have grown from a handful to over 50 active participants. Monte Vista also is the district’s Professional Learning Center and home to the very popular WHAMv workshops.

Are we done, I certainly hope not…I expect to see our ‘Arboretum’ to continue to grow and flourish, and evolved to meet the needs of our students.  I hope that we continue to dream and to follow our passions. As Harriet Tubman proclaimed, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

***Now let’s earn your ‘point’, reply back to the blog and let me know what are your dreams for Monte Vista, and/or reflect back on the past year and what needs to be trim, pruned or even pull out and composted?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Caretaker of the Arboreteum

Monte Vista School
The Independent Learning Academy
Principal’s Message
April 8, 2016

Being a horticulturist at heart and a horticultural teacher for 20 years, often my personal leadership philosophy has centered around that of a garden. Plants and nature have always inspired me, and I am moved by the quotation attributed to Lady Bird Johnson, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Formerly as a classroom teacher, my small garden was the classroom. Now as the principal for Simi Valley High School, the garden has manifested itself into an entire school community. I have grown from the planter of a single field, to the caretaker of a beautiful arboretum with many new and fascinating crops, flowers, and other bountiful flora. However, as the caretaker of an arboretum, my leadership philosophy is being molded and changed. I see that I am more than just the gardener of my garden. I have an expanding vision and dreams of the future. I am setting out on the journey to make our arboretum the Eden of all botanical gardens. I believe as Coelho stated in The Alchemist “follow your dreams . . . life wants you to achieve your destiny . . . never stop dreaming, follow your omens.”
As the caretaker, my leadership must provide those around me with the vision, the incentive, the initiative, and drive to nurture the flowers around them. In purposing this vision, the caretaker must be able to speak, model, organize, support, enforce, commend, and protect the vision’s core values. It is also my belief that to help nurture my vision, I must provide direction and meaning; generate and sustain trust; display a bias toward action, risk taking, and curiosity; and be a purveyor of hope. I believe that today’s sowing of seeds will produce a bountiful harvest despite drought (lack of funds), floods (state testing requirements), pest infestations (outside influences/pressures), and nutrient deficiencies (state and federal mandates). Although often our crop doesn’t mature until well past high school, the support and nurturing we give our young saplings while they are in my school will strengthen their limbs for future harvests. A leader, or as in my case the school’s principal, like a gardener, must constantly keep his garden watered, fertilized, trimmed, and tended so that there may be continued growth and productivity.
It’s my belief that principals succeed through the efforts of their staff and school community. Like a gardener, principals find that it is important to build bridges and lay out the stepping-stones throughout the garden. Neila Connors wrote that, “The best teacher is the one who NEVER forgets what it is like to be a student. The best administrator is the one who NEVER forgets what it is like to be a teacher.” The principal must be able to recognize the climate, the ambiance of his garden. A positive climate, or ambiance, sets the tone for success. The best leaders work and till to establish the garden’s success. In this garden (school), the nutrients (elements) needed to produce a harvest of success include the following:
  1.  A safe school site allowing for the garden to flourish.
  2.  Individuals who are willing to change and grow.
  3. Individuals who are open-minded with positive attitudes.
  4. Clear two-way open communication avenues.
  5. The ability to practice human relation skills.
  6. Individuals who willingly participate and strive to grow and strengthen themselves.
  7. A community willing to support and encourage the potential harvest.
The first element needed to encourage and produce the flourishing garden is a safe school site. All who enter the school wish to do so without fear of harm or injury. As a group, parents agree that the number one factor of importance is a safe environment for their students. In a time of world safety concern, schools must be places where neither students nor adults feel afraid. A safe school is not only clean and healthy, but it also provides a setting of physical, intellectual, emotional, and social safety. Schools need to provide an environment where everyone feels as though he or she belongs. The emphasis needs to convey positive relationships.
The next element to grow or improve is that one must change. Change, like growth in a garden, is a process not an event. Openness to change enriches personal and professional lives. To promote effective change, a leader must recognize that. people must change, and, for people to change, their perceptions and realities must change. The school leader must encourage innovation, creativity, and collaboration to add to the growing garden’s environs.
Individuals with a positive attitude lay out the foundation for the garden. Seeds are not planted in anticipation that they won’t germinate; rather like the seeds, our positive attitudes guide our beliefs that the tiny acorns (our students) will mature into majestic oaks (our future leaders). Open communication is ongoing and involves everyone. My role as principal necessitates that I use all types of communication tools such as listening and speaking, along with writing, reading, thinking, and ongoing feedback. A positive school environment encourages dialogue between staff, students, district, parents, and the school community.
Positive and caring human relationships are the heart and soul of what makes the school garden extraordinary. Building an environment of respect—treating people as they could be rather than treating them as they are—results in people becoming what they can be. For the ambiance of the school to truly meet the needs of all, the role of the spectator needs to be eliminated; active participation by all the stakeholders needs to occur. Spectators, like weeds, rob the garden of precious nutrients and take up needed space.
Finally, a positive school ambiance needs to share with the public its celebrations, successes, promising practices, and achievements. Our community members need to feel welcomed and supported by our staff. They need to feel no hesitation in visiting the school. Everyone at the arboretum contributes to the ambiance and climate of the garden.
The principal must get his hands dirty with the troops and work in a hands-on, collaborative way, with his/her staff members. The principal should initiate and model active, problem-solving leading to learners.
At our arboretum, I would like to think weeds are few and hard to find. Weeds, by definition, are defined as any plant out of place. Even the prettiest rose could be considered an unsightly weed if it is growing among a field of tomatoes. However, if transplanted to a rose garden, this rose could be a prized possession. Like the out-of-place rose, a student or a teacher, out of place, could be considered a weed. However, given a chance to bloom in the right surroundings, the student or teacher can also become a prized possession. A weed, properly replanted and tended, can flourish. It is my first job as the leader of my arboretum garden to recognize the difference between a weed and a flower. Next it is my job to sort and replant the weeds so they can become prizes. Finally, it is my job to provide the right environment for all aspects of my arboretum so it may flourish.
I believe it is up to me to create the environment for ownership. I need to help each person want and need to be a responsible member of the arboretum. I must keep in mind the personal development capabilities of the staff.
It is my choice to make each day great and to enjoy the bounty of our arboretum. My garden has become more than my work, it has also become both my playground and my passion.  As I tend for our arboretum, I am reminded of an old Chinese proverb, “He who plants a garden, plants happiness.” The Zen Master claims, “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.
To tend the garden also means to coach, with respect; one can’t harvest what one does not sow. My role as a principal is to guide and to show how our school community can harvest the fruit of our toil. At our arboretum we plant our desires, gently nurture our seedlings, and know that we will one day be rewarded with an abundant harvest.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Monte Vista School
The Independent Learning Academy
Principal’s Message
December 7, 2015

"It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!... Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!" ~Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Monte Vista School is on Twitter! Become a follower and get all the last minute news, updates, and more!

This message as well as the past messages can be found on the Principal’s Blog:

Good morning and a pleasant Monday! The holiday season is upon us as well as the last few weeks of the Fall semester.  The next two weeks will be full of activities both in the classroom and in our various labs, not to mention a holiday party or two!

We’ll start of the week with the international project called “Hour of Code”.  Every classroom will have a couple of chrome books with coding projects downloaded and ready to start.  Also, the Maker Space Lab (room 3) will be opened throughout the week for hands on coding experiences.  We’ll cap the “Hour of Code” week on Thursday with numerous coding activities in the Maker Space Lab and for each coding project a student completes, they’ll be given a raffle ticket for our Hour of Code drawing!  For a great resource of Coding ideas check out this link:

Congratulations to Tracie Garfinkle for being named the Simi Valley Ed Foundation teacher of the month!  And a big shout out to the SVEF for what they do for all of our schools and teachers throughout our district.

Give the Gift of Joy Today!  If you’re interested in donating a gift to a child in need this holiday season, please come to the office and pick an Angel Card off of our Angel Tree.  Bring your unwrapped gift (with the tag attached back to the office by December 16th. Our Angel Tree is in the front office.

Sign up now for this Thursday’s evening’s Floral class.  A floral holiday mug will be designed and create by each floral designer (that’s you!) As in the past classes, the class is opened for all students, parents and staff of SVUSD, just need to know by Tuesday evening if you’ll be attending. Class starts at 6pm in the MPR.

It’s rumored that Santa and Mrs Claus will make an appearance to the holiday breakfast party on December 17th in room 8.  Contact Tracie Garfinkle for more information…hope to see you there…Ho! Ho! Ho!

Mark your calendar for these upcoming events:
December 8 - Science Update!! Tuesday's Science exploration will be a STEM activity called "Gumdrop Bridge Building"! The students will be using all sorts of materials to build structures.

December 11 – Field trip to CPK. See behind the scenes how a pizza is made, and remember some of the ingredients so we can plant a pizza garden in the spring. 

December 11 – Staff Cookie exchange

December 16 – Care & Share Can Food Drive ends.  Bring a can or 2 into your classroom collection box before the 16th!

December 18 – Staff Holiday Party & Gift Exchange

The article below lists 15 Characteristics of a 21st –Century Teacher. Take a moment and respond back to the blog and posting which of the 15 traits you can relate the best and which of the 15 would you like to work on for next year.  If you think there some traits of the 21st Century teacher that aren’t listed, go ahead and add them to the list.  If you’re a parent, a student or a non-teaching staff member please post on the blog which of the 15 characteristics do you think is the most important to the learner and/or is there a trait that should be included in the list? Click on this link  ( to add your comment and earn a Point! 

Follow Monte Vista on Twitter*, keep smiling and let’s all make it a great week!

Steve  J

15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher
Tsisana Palmer , ESL Instructor/Intensive English Program
Recent technological advances have affected many areas of our lives: the way we communicate, collaborate, learn, and, of course, teach. Along with that, those advances necessitated an expansion of our vocabulary, producing definitions such as digital natives, digital immigrants, and, the topic of this post -- "21st-century teacher."

As I am writing this post, I am trying to recall if I ever had heard phrases such as "20th-century teacher" or "19th-century teacher." Quick Google search reassures me that there is no such word combination. Changing the "20th" to "21st" brings different results: a 21st-century school, 21st-century education, 21st-century teacher, 21st-century skills -- all there! I then searched for Twitter hashtags and Amazon books, and the results were just the same; nothing for the "20th-century teacher" while a lot for the "21st": #teacher21, #21stcenturyskills, #21stCTeaching and no books with titles #containing "20th century" while quite a few on the 21st-century teaching and learning.
Obviously, teaching in the 21-century is an altogether different phenomenon; never before could learning be happening the way it is now -- everywhere, all the time, on any possible topic, supporting any possible learning style or preference. But what does being a 21st-century teacher really mean?
Below are 15 characteristics of a 21st-century teacher:

1. Learner-Centered Classroom and Personalized Instructions
As students have access to any information possible, there certainly is no need to "spoon-feed" the knowledge or teach "one-size fits all" content. As students have different personalities, goals, and needs, offering personalized instructions is not just possible but also desirable. When students are allowed to make their own choices, they own their learning, increase intrinsic motivation, and put in more effort -- an ideal recipe for better learning outcomes!

2. Students as Producers
Today's students have the latest and greatest tools, yet, the usage in many cases barely goes beyond communicating with family and friends via chat, text, or calls. Even though students are now viewed as digital natives, many are far from producing any digital content. While they do own expensive devices with capabilities to produce blogs, infographics, books, how-to videos, and tutorials, just to name a few, in many classes, they are still asked to turn those devices off and work with handouts and worksheets. Sadly, often times these papers are simply thrown away once graded. Many students don't even want to do them, let alone keep or return them later. When given a chance, students can produce beautiful and creative blogs, movies, or digital stories that they feel proud of and share with others.

3. Learn New Technologies
In order to be able to offer students choices, having one's own hands-on experience and expertise will be useful. Since technology keeps developing, learning a tool once and for all is not a option. The good news is that new technologies are new for the novice and and experienced teachers alike, so everyone can jump in at any time! I used a short-term subscription to, which has many resources for learning new technologies.

4. Go Global
Today's tools make it possible to learn about other countries and people first hand. Of course, textbooks are still sufficient, yet, there is nothing like learning languages, cultures, and communication skills from actually talking to people from other parts of the world.
It's a shame that with all the tools available, we still learn about other cultures, people, and events from the media. Teaching students how to use the tools in their hands to "visit" any corner of this planet will hopefully make us more knowledgable and sympathetic.

5. Be Smart and Use Smart Phones
Once again -- when students are encouraged to view their devices as valuable tools that support knowledge (rather than distractions), they start using them as such. I remember my first years of teaching when I would not allow cell phones in class and I'd try to explain every new vocabulary word or answer any question myself -- something I would not even think of doing today!
I have learned that different students have different needs when it comes to help with new vocabulary or questions; therefore, there is no need to waste time and explain something that perhaps only one or two students would benefit from. Instead, teaching students to be independent and know how to find answers they need makes the class a different environment!
I have seen positive changes ever since I started viewing students' devices as useful aid. In fact, sometimes I even respond by saying "I don't know -- use Google and tell us all!" What a difference in their reactions and outcomes!

6. Blog
I have written on the importance of both student and teacher blogging. Even my beginners of English could see the value of writing for real audience and establishing their digital presence. To blog or not to blog should not be a question any more!
7. Go Digital
Another important attribute is to go paperless -- organizing teaching resources and activities on one's own website and integrating technology bring students learning experience to a different level. Sharing links and offering digital discussions as opposed to a constant paper flow allows students to access and share class resources in a more organized fashion.

8. Collaborate
Technology allows collaboration between teachers & students. Creating digital resources, presentations, and projects together with other educators and students will make classroom activities resemble the real world. Collaboration should go beyond sharing documents via e-mail or creating PowerPoint presentations. Many great ideas never go beyond a conversation or paper copy, which is a great loss! Collaboration globally can change our entire experience!
9. Use Twitter Chat
Participating in Twitter chat is the cheapest and most efficient way to organize one's own PD, share research and ideas, and stay current with issues and updates in the field. We can grow professionally and expand our knowledge as there is a great conversation happening every day, and going to conferences is no longer the only way to meet others and build professional learning networks.

10. Connect
Connect with like-minded individuals. Again, today's tools allow us to connect anyone, anywhere, anytime. Have a question for an expert or colleague? Simply connect via social media: follow, join, ask, or tell!

11. Project-Based Learning
As today's students have an access to authentic resources on the web, experts anywhere in the world, and peers learning the same subject somewhere else, teaching with textbooks is very "20th-century" (when the previously listed option were not available). Today's students should develop their own driving questions, conduct their research, contact experts, and create final projects to share all using devices already in their hands. All they need from their teacher is guidance!

12. Build Your Positive Digital Footprint
It might sound obvious, but it is for today's teachers to model how to appropriately use social media, how to produce and publish valuable content, and how to create sharable resources. Even though it's true that teachers are people, and they want to use social media and post their pictures and thoughts, we cannot ask our students not to do inappropriate things online if we ourselves do it. Maintaining professional behavior both in class and online will help build positive digital footprint and model appropriate actions for students.

13. Code
While this one might sound complicated, coding is nothing but today's literacy. As a pencil or pen were "the tools" of the 20th-century, making it impossible to picture a teacher not capable to operate with it, today's teacher must be able to operate with today's pen and pencil, i.e., computers. Coding is very interesting to learn -- the feeling of writing a page with HTML is amazing! Even though I have ways to go, just like in every other field, a step at a time can take go a long way. Again, is a great resource to start with!

14. Innovate
I invite you to expand your teaching toolbox and try new ways you have not tried before, such as teaching with social media or replacing textbooks with web resources. Not for the sake of tools but for the sake of students!
Ever since I started using TED talks and my own activities based on those videos, my students have been giving a very different feedback. They love it! They love using Facebook for class discussions and announcements. They appreciate novelty -- not the new tools, but the new, more productive and interesting ways of using them.

15. Keep Learning
As new ways and new technology keep emerging, learning and adapting is essential. The good news is: it's fun, and even 20 min a day will take you a long way!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Principal's Message - September 28, 2015

Monte Vista School
The Independent Learning Academy
Principal’s Message
September 28, 2015

“The influence of teachers extends beyond the classroom, well into the future. It is they who shape and enrich the minds of the young, who touch their hearts and souls. It is they who shape a nation's future.”
F. Sionil Jose

Monte Vista School is on Twitter! Become a follower and get all the last minute news, updates, and more!

This message as well as the past messages can be found on the Principal’s Blog:

Good Afternoon and a pleasant Monday! We’re winding down September and October is knocking on the door.  October will not only bring us Halloween but a plethora of activities and events for Monte Vista students and staff.

Back to School Night is Thursday evening.  We’ll start the evening (6:00pm) off with a complementary MVP Dog dinner, then a quick welcome in the MPR followed by classroom visits. Brittany has been busy making gift baskets for our opportunity drawing and a few lucky ticket holders will be selected to have the ‘naming rights’ for a couple our incoming baby chickens.  There will also be a ‘Passport’ program for students and all ‘Passport’ completers will be put in a special drawing.  Please encourage your students and families to attend!

Spin Class at the YMCA starts this Thursday!  Best deal in town!  Let’s make sure the word gets out….9 weeks for only a suggested donation of $25!  Class starts at 3:30pm.

Thursday, October 8 (6pm) will be our introductory Floral Design class, all students, parents and staff are welcome to attend.  Our first project will be a fall sunflower arrangement.  Future classes have been scheduled for 10/29 & 11/19. To make sure we have enough flowers and materials, please RSVP in the front office by Tuesday, October 6th.

The PSAT is nationwide test given by the College Board.  The test is sometimes thought as a ‘pre SAT’ and will provide sophomores and juniors with great college readiness information. However, juniors that do well on it can qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.  This year Monte Vista will provide our students the opportunity to take the PSAT at a reduced fee of $5 (the other schools are charging up to $25!) on October 14. Please encourage all of your sophomores and juniors to stop by the front office to sign-up for it!

Field Trip Time!  The Getty Museum trip is all set for October 19th.  Spots are limited, so please send you’re interested students to the front office sooner than later.  I’m planning on attending as well, it’s going to be tough to keep me out of the gardens…especially the roof-top cacti display!

Our C & I (Curiosity & Imagination) room will have its official grand opening this Wednesday at 9am.  It’s designed for the primary students (a little guy’s Makespace Lab).  If you have secondary students that would like to help mentor the young students, please send them over.  And speaking of the Makerspace Lab, we have received our 1st shipment of mini bots with more to come.  Hopefully we can find a volunteer to help man it…I know many of our secondary students are just itching to get in there and start to ‘make’.

Our garden is up and growing!  The first planter has been planted with fall veggies by our primary students.  Hopefully when the weather cools in a few days, we can get the other gardens up and planted….if you have students that want to get their hands dirty, send them my way.  Our volunteer, Mr Ed Garcia should be here next week and hopefully be hired by the county as our Agscience teacher before too long.

Start thinking about some Harvest Day Crafts for October 29th.  We’re looking for crafts for both primary and secondary students.  Perhaps we can even do a dress up day (notice I didn’t say “costume day”).  Students can come dress up as a literature figure (ie, Bilbo Baggins, Harry Potter, etc) or even as a historical figure (Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln, etc).  Let’s hash this idea around at our Friday’s staff meeting.

Thanks for all the great interest in supporting Paul and signing up for the Fiddler on the Roof.  Out of the 25 tickets I reserved, currently we only have 6 tickets left, if you have a friend or family member that would like to attend, let me know.  Also, we’ve decided to eat dinner at the Junkyard prior to the play.

Finally, they say “mum’s the word”.  Not true!  We have been getting the word out that Monte Vista is the place to be!  So please take a moment and respond to the Blog ( and tell us what makes Monte Vista special!  And if you do (teachers, staff, blog readers), I’ll show you what I mean when I say Mum’s the word!

Follow Monte Vista on Twitter*, keep smiling and let’s all make it a great week!

Steve  :)