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May 5, 2016
We are excited to share with you the changes that we are planning for SVA beginning next year. In this message we'll update you on teacher assignments, introduce you to new staff, share the latest news about our final phase of construction, and fill you in about the big changes coming to our 7th and 8th grades. 
Welcome New Staff!
Introducing Jaime Baeza

After a 20 year career in banking, Ms. Baeza left the corporate world to pursue her passion for education. She attended Fresno Pacific University while working full time as bank Operations Manager, earning her degree in 2014. Jaime realized her her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher later that year when she began teaching 8th grade ELA and History. Jaime then moved to her own 6th grade classroom. Ms. Baeza joins the SVA team in her third year of classroom instruction. 

Ms. Baeza believes children have the right to learn in a safe and secure learning environment where they are free to take academic risks and learn through their mistakes. She wants her students to know that she is there to help them grow both socially and academically and the her classroom is a community where mutual respect is present at all times. Ms. Baeza understands that students learn by doing and she strives to make learning relevant to students by incorporating real world application of knowledge into her lessons. 

Jaime is excited to be joining the supportive and knowledgeable team at SVA and views this change in her life as an opportunity for continued growth as an educator. She is thrilled to be entering the rich academic environment SVA offers to both students and staff. 

Jaime lives in Porterville with her husband and three daughters ages 7, 12, and 15. The whole Baeza family is active in equestrian sports. Jaime spends her free time amongst her equestrian friends and volunteering at her children's Gymkhana events. The two youngest Baeza girls will begin attending SVA in the fall and Jaime is ecstatic for the educational opportunity available to them at our school. 
Ms. Baeza will join Mrs. Weeaks and Ms. Chan to form our new 5/6 team. Welcome, Jaime!
Introducing Chrissy Gartung

Ms. Gartung brings more than 11 years of classroom teaching experience to SVA. She began her teaching career with 1st graders and recently transitioned to a 4th grade classroom where she has been developing curriculum to align to Common Core. Chrissy has a BA in Psychology and an MA in Education. 

Driven by her love of students, teaching, and learning, Chrissy wholeheartedly believes in the mission of SVA. She believes that students become vested in their education when they are held to high standards yet allowed to explore, work together, and have a voice in how they learn. Chrissy experienced first-hand the power of a pivotal teacher when she was a 4th grader and she is motivated to be her students' "Mrs. Livingston" today. She is eager to learn The SVA Way and is excited to be part of our unique program. 

Ms. Gartung will join Mrs. Rasner and Mr. Hum on our 3/4 team. 
Construction Update
Next year will mark SVA's fifth and final year of student body growth, with one new classroom opening in the middle school grades. As planned, Visalia Unified School District will complete the final phase of construction at our campus with the addition of three new portable classrooms. These rooms will allow us to accommodate our new middle school classroom and our specialists (Spanish, art, music), and to open a new Learning Center which will include special education services and intervention.  

VUSD has informed us that construction of our three new classrooms will be completed by the end of October. This means that the first part of the school year will be a tight fit. We are working out a plan to accommodate everyone the best we can in the space we have now. While we realize that there will be challenges for a few months, we are so excited to finally have our campus completed next year and look forward to the benefits our new layout will have for students in the long term.

We thank VUSD for working with us to negotiate an affordable and equitable way to use their district-owned facilities at 6832 Avenue 280. We love it here! To learn more about our facility, Proposition 39, and our relationship with the District, visit our website.

The image below shows how our campus will be arranged after construction in complete.  
Middle School Revamp
Big Changes are Coming

Additional enrollment and additional staff translate to additional capacity to provide a robust middle school program at our school! Tapping into the abilities and passions of our staff and the strengths of our program, we are bringing exciting changes to 7th and 8th grades next year. 

1. New accountability measures will be introduced which will help prepare students with the organizational skills and study habits they need to succeed in high school. Daily planner logs, weekly check-ins, and increased use of Google Classroom tools will keep students on track and organized. Strengthening of the Student Portfolio, including ongoing personalized reflection and frequent deadlines, will nurture good study habits as well as high level thinking skills. 

2. An increased focus on leadership and social-emotional learning will help students become more self-aware and better able to identify their strengths and areas for self-work. Citizenship on campus as mentors for our younger students will be emphasized.

3. The daily schedule for middle school is getting an overhaul too. The school day will consist of block periods for academics, Spanish and PE daily, and passing periods between classes. New electives will offer opportunities for academic competition at the regional level and beyond.  

4. In keeping with our mission to continually challenge our students we are restructuring our middle school program into three multi-aged classrooms within three specialized departments. 
Middle School Academic Departments

Thorough history, philosophy, language, and literature Mr. Bigler will offer our students the opportunity to explore historical context, to review source material critically, to draw connections between diverse ideas, and to evaluate evidence and arguments. Through regular use of the Harkness discussion method students will learn to listen carefully, speak respectfully, construct and critique arguments, and to enjoy the richness of human interaction. To get fully understand the Harkness method and the experience our middle school provides for our students, please watch this video

With his exceptional teaching style and infectious enthusiasm, Mr. Bigler will guide our students down a thought-provoking path to improved thinking, reading, and writing skills. Mr. Bigler had this to say about the coming changes: 

" I am thrilled about being part of the middle school program for the upcoming year. What will be added to the wonderful things that have already happened in the past at the 7th and 8th grade level, will be that.....well.....the SVA middle school will become a REAL MIDDLE SCHOOL!!!! Mrs. Lewis, Mr. Sommer, and I are already knee deep exploring the opportunities about how to create a more interdisciplinary, more reflective, and more constructivist environment where all students can thrive and become successful!"

Mr. Sommer will bring his enthusiasm for teaching and his passion for abstract thinking into middle school as our math specialist. The new middle school math program will consist of leveled multi-age classes to ensure that the needs of students at every ability level are met. Students will be given the opportunity to complete mathematics courses comparable to local district middle schools. An exciting new elective for math enthusiasts will be offered. Those students needing extra support will find it during elective time too. 

Mr. Sommer has a profound excitement for mathematics and recently attended the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference where he gained insight into the latest brain research about how we learn mathematics and returned to SVA fired up to run our middle school math department. Mr. Sommer shared his thoughts about joining the middle school team:

"I am looking forward to focusing my energy on Algebra and grade level Mathematics in the new middle school program next year, and informing the emerging math curriculum we are developing at SVA.  I am also excited about collaborating closely with Mrs. Lewis and Mr. Bigler to create a holistic and integrated experience that ties together all aspects of our student's learning."
DE Staff
Science and Art Lab

We are excited to offer our middle school students the opportunity to experience the interconnected worlds of art and science with Mrs. Lewis. Mrs. Lewis brings creativity, dedication, and exceptional teaching ability to the middle school team, we couldn't ask for a better person for the job.

A new rigorous, Project-Based Inquiry Science curriculum will take our middle school science program to the next level and prepare our students to enter high school lab science courses. 

Our arts program will also be ramped up at the middle school level. Mrs. Lewis will participate in a week-long drawing instruction internship with Monart this summer to further develop her skills. Here's what Mrs. Lewis has to say about joining the middle school team:

"I am thrilled to be stepping back into the classroom at SVA alongside the dynamic and talented Misters Bigler and Sommer.  Our team is enthusiastic about making the SVA middle school experience rigorous, enriching, and relevant.  As the science and art teacher for grades 7 and 8, my seemingly disparate skills as an arts graduate and credentialed science teacher have found a home together!  I can't wait to get our students working together on hands-on experiences in both disciplines that help them make sense of the world in which we all live."
Our elective structure and offerings have changed for next year. The year has been divided into two elective sessions: Session 1 (Fall and Winter Trimesters) and Session 2 (Spring Trimester). We have some new, exciting options including competitive academic options. We also have some changes to existing classes. Ms. Chan is taking over drama and starting our very own Theater program which will meet in the cafeteria. Mrs. Baezas will take over journalism and yearbook. 

Several of our electives will require candidates to write a paragraph stating why they are interested in the class, what they hope to get out of the class, and why they should be selected to participate. 

Priority for elective selection will be given based on grade level, citizenship, and statements of interest (when applicable). 

The full listing of elective classes with descriptions is on the Student Elective Selection Form. If your child is entering grades 5-8 next year, please have them complete this form by May 27. 
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