Saugus Union School District P.E. teacher on special assignment Samantha Ford asks her fifth grade P.E. class about their sugar intake at Highlands Elementary in Saugus on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Katharine Lotze/Signal

A small, but mighty group of six is leading one district’s efforts to integrate technology, the arts, physical education and English Language Development (ELD) into every classroom’s regular curriculum.

Fondly calling themselves “Team TOSA,” Kathleen Perdisatt, Mia Standley, Melissa Valencia, Cathryn Muro, Samantha Ford and Christina Marinelli visit all 15 of the Saugus Union School District (SUSD) sites to work as Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs).

All former SUSD teachers themselves, the TOSAs work with students, teachers and administrators to develop lesson plans, support classroom instruction, integrate new ways of learning and form a more equitable district.

“What our teachers see is that those Teachers on Assignment are the go-to for whatever they’re working on,” SUSD Superintendent Joan Lucid said.  “We’ve got a well-rounded group.  It’s providing structure for what I think is meeting our vision of academic and personal success for our children.”

By attending conferences and professional development events, each TOSA becomes a specialist in one area of study and acts as an expert resource for classroom teachers during her two years in the district-wide position.

“It’s such an amazing thing to be able to have a question and know exactly who to go to,” said ELD TOSA Marinelli who was a SUSD classroom teacher for eight years.  “Before we had TOSAs that was the tough part, you had this question and didn’t know who to go to.”

Before choosing what areas of study the TOSAs should specialize in, the district considered what its stakeholders wanted to see implemented district-wide through the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), according to Lucid.

“We talked with our administrators, we talked with our parents, we talked with our teachers, we talked with our staff overall and looked at our test scores and thought ‘What are the things that will push our children into those 21st century skills?’” Lucid said.

The district began the program with one technology TOSA and has now expanded it to include two technology TOSAs, two art TOSAs, one physical education TOSA and one ELD TOSA.

“We’re proud of the program and we’ll continue to grow it,” Lucid said.  “It’s always interesting when you hear that those TOSAs need to be there and that we need more of them.”

The TOSAs believe SUSD’s choice to employ former teachers—who know the district’s climate, curriculum and student population—is what makes the program unique.

“TOSAs are the most valuable because we’ve lived the world that teachers are living in,” said educational technology TOSA Standley who has been with the district since 1999.  “As TOSAs, we can bring things into the district based on what needs are and based on what fits because we know the district.”

The TOSAs also work cohesively together, forming their own “mini staff meetings” and planning professional development days for the entire district.

“I think the great part of the TOSA program is that the six of us have a really great relationship,” said art TOSA Valencia who worked on and off in the district for twelve years.  “We do a lot of collaborative things with each other and talk to each other and support each other.”

All six TOSAs hope the program remains in place for when they return to SUSD classrooms and try to integrate other areas of curriculum instruction into their lesson plans.

“If we end our job, we hope there will be another TOSA,” said art TOSA Muro who spent 14 years in SUSD as a classroom teacher.  “To have someone to go to, to ask for help, who will come and model something in your classroom, who will gather resources for you, who will just be there, is a huge means of support.”

As long as funding allows, Lucid and others in the district hope to continue the program in order to prepare students for 21st century careers and to teach them to think critically.

“And we’re seeing that as we build capacity with our children and our teachers and as we work with our administrators,” Lucid said.  “We’re coming together with that common vision that it really is about academic, personal success for all children.”


Here is an in-depth look at the work of each TOSA in the district and in the classroom:

Art and Music TOSAs: Melissa Valencia and Cathryn Muro

Cate Muro and Melissa Valencia are both teachers on special assignment teaching music in the Saugus Union School District. Katharine Lotze/Signal

Two Saugus Union School District (SUSD) Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSA) are working to incorporate arts education into all areas of classroom instruction.

With training based out of a partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Melissa Valencia and Cathryn Muro, both former SUSD classroom teachers, train current classroom teachers on arts integration and teach students the value of arts education.

“We have loved every minute of that training,” Muro said.  “It’s all about how we can take an art form and a subject area and teach them together  to get a more rigorous and interesting way to look at the art form and content area.”

Valencia noted that the training has “changed the way she looks at arts education” by making it now a vital part of her own classroom instruction.

Both consider the TOSA position a dream job because it combines their love of classroom lessons with their passion for arts education, while also helping the district meet the state’s visual and performing arts standards.

“I think both of us have this view that we need to have stronger and better curriculum in the arts in elementary schools, especially in the state of California,” Muro said.  “The arts are part of the well-rounded education.”

In the classroom, Muro and Valencia teach students drama, theater, dance, puppetry, portraits, music and drawing during “mini residencies” at each school site.

“We really fully integrate into the curriculum,” Valencia said.  We do a lot of different art forms… to show students that art isn’t just drawing and painting, but it’s a wide range of art forms.”

The wide range of arts education allows the TOSAs to teach rhythm with plastic cups, script writing on Google docs and voice inflections in drama.

During their school site visits, the TOSAs complete four 30 to 45 minute lessons to complete a unit of instruction.  Altogether, the TOSAs teach six to seven lessons per day.

“We are really in classrooms just about every day and we are trying to create a really equitable climate in our district,” Valencia said.

Muro and Valencia said this type of instruction allows teachers to reach students who might not engage in lessons in a regular classroom setting.

“That extra dimension of arts helps access students who have a more difficult time in a traditional setting,” Muro said.

Education Technology TOSAs: Mia Standley and Kathleen Perdisatt

TOSA (Teachers on Special Assignment) Ed Tech teacher Mia Standley describes the advantages of the interactive flat panel in the classroom to a group of educators at the the Saugus Union School District office in Valencia on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Chromebooks, Flat Pannels and Google Classroom are just a few of the initiatives educational technology Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs) Mia Standley and Kathleen Perdisatt are implementing in classrooms throughout the Saugus Union School District.

“I just love how the resources are endless,” said Standley, who has been with the district since 1999.  “Part of what we teach is integration.  Technology is a tool you can use across the curriculum.”

Perdisatt, who was a SUSD classroom teacher since 2000, said taking on the TOSA position made sense to her because it is something she enjoys and knows how to integrate into classroom instruction.

“I really feel like I am more the educational side of technology so I felt like I was well-versed in how to use technology in my classroom,” she said.  “I see it [the TOSA position] as a way to help people without adding another daunting task on their plate.”

As educational technology TOSAs, Standley and Perdisatt do classroom demonstrations, meet with teachers before and after school, lead professional development days and funnel new technologies into classrooms.

The TOSAs become the technology experts in the district by attending conferences and being the go-to source for technological integration.

“Without the TOSAs, we wouldn’t see high-quality implementation because the TOSAs are out there and give teachers the confidence to use technology,” SUSD Superintendent Joan Lucid said.

TOSA (Teachers on Special Assignment) Ed Tech teacher Kathleen Perdisatt describes the objectives of the use of interactive flat panel in the classroom to a group of educators at the the Saugus Union School District office in Valencia on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

With technology like Flat Panels teachers can save, adapt and reuse lessons which then give teachers more time to act efficiently in the classroom.

“The uses of the tools are endless and it makes your job easier and it makes you better at your job,” Standley said.

A big focus for the technology TOSAs now is implementing Chromebooks in all of the district’s classrooms and strengthening the skills of teachers at all school sites.

“A big part of our job is equalizing, giving equal access to everybody and giving everyone the same knowledge and training,” Standley said.  “So our big focus right now is giving everybody the same access to the same tools and same resources.”

“What we love about the Measure EE funding is that it’s leveling the playing field for all teachers,” Perdisatt followed.

Moving forward, Standley and Perdisatt hope to put together a small cohort of “smart technology teachers” at each school site to act as mini-experts who continue to increase technology implementation in the classroom.

“What I love about our job is that it’s not singular, it spreads across,” Standley said.  “What can we do to our lessons now is just endless.”

Physical Education TOSA: Samantha Ford

Saugus Union School District P.E. teacher on special assignment Samantha Ford helps students with their stretches at the start of P.E. class at Highlands Elementary in Saugus on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Katharine Lotze/Signal

To students in the Saugus Union School District, Samantha Ford, a physical education Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA), is a rock star.

“I can’t go anywhere because there are 10,000 kids in our district and they all know who I am,” said Ford, a former classroom teacher with 27 years of experience in the district.

Ford recently gained national notoriety as well for her efforts in organizing a shoe drive to put a new pair of athletic shoes on every student’s feet in the district.

“My goal is to get kids up and moving and they need good shoes to do that,” she told the Signal in December.

When the TOSA PE position opened up, Ford jumped on the opportunity to educate children on the importance of physical activity and to share PE lesson plans with others in the district.

“It’s something I feel really strongly about.  I feel like kids don’t get out like they used to, kids don’t get out and play,” Ford said.  “I think kids absolutely, 100 percent need PE.  It’s good for their brain development; it’s one of the only things that help their brains grow.”

Ford also had a background in the district’s PE program before taking on the TOSA role.  Eight years ago, she was in charge of distributing a $1 million PE grant and attending professional development training on the subject.

Today, Ford manages the equipment at all 15 school sites, creates lesson plans for teachers and leads professional development days during her two -week residency at each school site.

“I have two main responsibilities,” Ford said.  “I create PE lessons for all the teachers in the district… and do lessons in 10-day blocks for them.  The other thing I do is I train teachers.”

To train teachers, Ford hosts workshops before and after school, teaches model lessons and co-teaches lessons with classroom teachers.

“PE is the only subject that’s mandated by minutes in the state of California,” Ford said.  “So every 10 days we’re required to teach 200 minutes so I make lesson plans for all the teachers to follow and they have the materials.”

Through PE, Ford hopes to inspire children to become lifelong learners and lovers of physical activity.

“The program that we use is noncompetitive,” she said.  “It’s about having fun and learning skills more than anything.”

English Language Development (ELD) TOSA: Christina Marinelli

TOSA (Teachers on Special Assignment) English Language Development teacher Christina Marinelli, center, chats with teachers as they work from an English Language Development kit during a presentation for teachers at the Saugus Union School District office in Valencia on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

As an English Language Development (ELD) Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA), Christina Marinelli offers consistent support to teachers as they work to develop English language learners’ proficiency through reading, writing, listening and speaking.

“In this particular TOSA position, I’m focused solely on English Language Development for all of the students in the district and I focus on supporting the teachers in teaching those students,” said Marinelli, who worked as a classroom teacher in the Saugus Union School District (SUSD) for eight years.

As an ELD TOSA, Marinelli brings new information about initiatives to teachers that she learns through her own professional development.  She also completed a free online course through Stanford University to better serve the teachers she helps throughout the district.

“It seemed like a really nice opportunity where I felt that I had the skills to be able to offer to someone else,” Marinelli said.  “I wanted to be able to support teachers.  We have so many new initiatives coming down, sometimes it can be overwhelming.”

Marinelli spends every week in different classrooms to help teachers with “anything they ask for,” which includes demonstration lessons, lesson planning, extra resources, curriculum help and proficiency testing.

“I’ll go around to the sites and develop professional development opportunities, especially with all of the new things coming down with education and anything pertaining to English Language Learners,” she said.

SUSD Superintendent Joan Lucid said Marinelli’s focused position has made teachers more proficient in ELD which in turn has improved student’s test scores and created more homogenous classes.

“She is right there to help the teachers with lessons and with strategies to help English learners to become proficient,” Lucid said.  “As our English Language Learners become proficient then ‘all boats rise’ because all of the children really become an even scale.”

In her position, Marinelli is also able to see the different student populations and atmospheres at each school.

“It’s been interesting to learn how they do things and then kind of fit myself in there for whatever support they need,” she said.

Marinelli noted that this support is appreciated by classroom teachers who now have more time to plan for their lessons and be there for their students.

“I love being back in the classroom,” she said.  “I also equally love whenever I can make a life’s easier or a teacher’s job easier… I always get a little sense of happiness and pride whenever I can help them.”

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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