Back-to-School: New-to-Newhall programs kick off on first day of school

Fourth-graders Karla San Roman, left, and Maryorith Garcia play paddy-cake as they wait to enter their classmates on the first day of school at Newhall Elementary School in Newhall on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal 081519

With three schools potentially being crowned as Blue Ribbon Schools this year, and finishing as the No. 1 district in the entire state for Hispanic students, Newhall School District officials kicked off their first day of school by saying their schools achieve more than just academics.

On Thursday, NSD Superintendent Jeff Pelzel highlighted a number of brand new or relatively new programs coming to schools across the district that promote the feeling of safety and support held by students and their families across the district. Two things the district is really focusing on, Pelzel said, are the special education programs and wellness across the district.

Parents and students head for their classrooms on the first day of school at Newhall Elementary School on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal 081519

A major priority in their 2019-20 Local Control and Accountability Plan initiatives, new English language arts curricula have been purchased to use as a bridge between special education and general education. This plays into the district’s push for creating more inclusive environments for special education students, he said, which includes having special needs students taking some of their classes alongside their general education peers.

“The inclusion model gives students with specific needs, special education needs, an opportunity to engage with grade-level peers and interact with them from a social perspective,” said Pelzel. “But it also elevates the rigor that they’re being exposed to so that their learning increases at a higher rate than if they’re not being exposed to that.”

The district also created the Special Education Advisory Councils involving parents, teachers and administrators that will meet on a monthly basis.

Students share the contents of their back packs on the first day of School at Newhall Elementary School on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Pelzel said the meetings are designed to develop communication channels between families and the district, as well as allow parents to express their needs or concerns with the district, including an annual survey and also functioning as a support group for students and/or parents or guardians of students with special needs.

Additionally, there will be four parent education training sessions held to support families, and a district education teacher on special assignment (TOSA) was hired to support special education and general education teachers with curriculum implementation.

The district’s approach to student wellness, and helping the “whole student” is a second major point for them this year, with the district’s positive behavior intervention and supports (PBIS) programs.

Teacher Denise Sudik, right, gives instructions to her sixth-grade students as they line up for class the first day of school at Newhall Elementary School in Newhall on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal 081519

“When you visit Newhall’s schools you will see basic rules posted such as, ‘Be Responsible, Be Respectful, and Be Safe,’” said Erin McGuire, the district’s PBIS coach. “The core components of PBIS are creating clear school-wide behavior expectations, clearly posting and teaching those expectations, positively reinforcing students for meeting the expectations, developing a continuum of procedures for discouraging behavior violations and using data to monitor implementation and results.”

McGuire said the school teaches the behavioral expectations of students, then rewards them for following good behavior practices. Newhall parents say their kids are responding positively to the PBIS practice both in the classroom and after school.

“I love how they implement the respectfulness, responsibility and safety, because it really keeps them motivated,” said Michelle Sosa, a Newhall Elementary School parent. “They give them little perks, pizza parties, tickets for good behavior. They really praise them for good behavior, and that helps at home a lot.”

Student David Parrana, left, gets assistance from Newhall Elementar School Safety Superintendent as he looks for his classroom on the first day of school at Newhall Elementary School in Newhall on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal 081519

McGuire said the mission of Newhall School District is to teach students to become global citizens who think critically, solve problems, persevere and embrace diversity in people and viewpoints, which the PBIS programs will be important in fostering.

“We did see a decrease in the number of referrals and incidents in schools, and some decrease in suspensions across the district,” Pelzel said, adding that eight district schools had started the PBIS programs last year, and Old Orchard and Valencia Valley are starting up this year. “For a first year it was very promising.”

A part of the wellness push as well is the work being done by NSD’s social worker Josh Busak, who helped identify 112 total homeless students in the district for the 2018-19 school year through the McKinney-Vento Act.

The district has been able to identify more homeless students through educating district staff and spreading awareness to families about NSD support programs, and is also taking steps to prevent scenarios that cause homelessness to occur, Busak said.

Stuents line up outside their classrooms on the first day of school at Newhall Elementary School in Newhall on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal 081519

One such program is the McGrath Elementary Resource Center that Busak said was opened to the community and was able to hand out backpacks, school supplies, clothing, jackets, shoes and hygiene products during back-to-school night.

“When we’re talking with families we’re trying to emphasize support, so that they can ultimately achieve their academic and extracurricular goals,” said Busak. “We’re also going to try and support our students districtwide and hopefully later this year we’ll be opening a districtwide resource center as well.”

“Our goal in the Newhall School District is to create an inclusive and supportive learning that empowers all of our students for a limitless future,” said Pelzel.

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