The Las Virgenes School District’s 11,300 students returned to class Wednesday at 14 campuses from Calabasas to Westlake Village.
The nervous energy was palpable as students sought out new teachers, friends and classmates.
LVUSD superintendent Dan Stepenosky said 60 new teachers and staffers were hired by the school district for the coming year, including four new principals.
“Our new school leaders exemplify our district’s emphasis on relationship-building, our dedication to student achievement and a commitment to our school communities,” Stepenosky said.
Stephanie McClay filled the principal’s post at Agoura High School. McClay hails from neighboring Los Angeles Unified School District where she was the founding principal at Cal Burke High School in Panorama City. She was also the founding principal at the USC Hybrid School in downtown Los Angeles and served as principal at Portola Middle School in Tarzana.
Two new administrators joined A.C. Stelle Middle School in Calabasas: Principal Susana Baird and Assistant Principal Nicole Smith. Baird left her position as assistant principal of curriculum and instruction at Agoura High to tackle the new leadership role at the middle school. She has been with LVUSD for 26 years.
Kirby Welsh is the new principal at Round Meadow Elementary School in Calabasas. She previously worked as a science teacher at Calabasas High School.
Laila Jorns was announced as the new principal of White Oak Elementary School in Westlake Village, replacing Mary-Allyn Garcia, who accepted a job in a neighboring district.
Buttercup Preschool special education teacher Valerie Louthian was promoted to program director at the school following the retirement of Ruth Shaw.
Student, teacher resources
New programs are also being introduced. A Freshman Seminar course is a new graduation requirement for all first-year high school students. The course will introduce students to public speaking, study skills, financial literacy, collaboration, mental and physical wellness, and bullying prevention, as well as other skills intended to help students adjust to high school and beyond.
Students aren’t the only ones who need brushing up.
Teacher and administrator leadership classes introduced last year have expanded this fall.
The Center for Educational Excellence (Center EdX) next to the district office on Las Virgenes Road offers six classes, each with 10 to 15 people preparing to be credentialed as a teacher or principal, some of whom will work in the Las Virgenes district and some at other schools in the region.
“This resource will help add to the pool of talented teachers and leaders in our schools,” Stepenosky said.
The center offers continuing education for all teachers and staff throughout the school year.
Teachers tackled a new English language arts curriculum over the summer that will roll out this year at all schools. The updated program will encourage students to choose their own books to read in an effort to foster a love of reading at an early age.
Five hundred new books were supplied to every elementary school classroom in the district—100,000 total—so students will have a wide choice of fiction and nonfiction material to choose from, Stepenosky said.
“We are excited about the ability to personalize instruction for students at different levels, from transitional kindergarten through high school,” Stepenosky said.
The summer break saw renovation work taking place at several campuses. Construction of a new multipurpose room and classrooms at Lupin Hill Elementary School in Calabasas is still underway. Five new classrooms were ready on the first day of school. The counseling office and workroom were also ready for use at the Aug. 22 opening day.
The state-of-the-art multipurpose room and teaching kitchen are on track to be completed in two years.
Safety and security were also a focus for the new school year. All visitors to Las Virgenes campuses are required to check in at main offices and obtain visitor ID stickers through the district’s new electronic visitor screening system. New fencing has been installed, additional security cameras have been added and a new phone system for the entire district has been set up.
“We are all in this together,” Stepenosky said. “Our teachers, counselors, facilities managers, office assistants, coaches—every one of our more than 1,000 staff members work to provide a rich and safe learning environment.”