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OUTLOOK A Special Back-to-School Message 2021 Top Educators and Classified Employees 30 Years as one.

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION Troy A. Brown, Ed.D., County Superintendent of Schools


WELCOME TO THE 2021-2022 SCHOOL YEAR 04 A special message from San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Troy A. Brown




Q&A with the new County Superintendent of Schools



Schools across the county opened their doors for the 2021-2022 school year. Here’s a look at the first days back!



Learn about the mental health resources and support available for San Joaquin County students and school staff.



California’s 2021 Distinguished Schools Program recognized three local schools as recipients of the award.



New TEACH! team welcomes incoming ninth-graders ready to pursue a career in education.



Rain or shine, Foster and Homeless Youth Services works to meet the needs of vulnerable students and families.



Youth at the San Joaquin County Juvenile Justice Center collaborate to create murals in art therapy program.



Meet the 2021 awardees and finalists recognized as outstanding teachers and classified employees.



The SJCOE one.Program celebrates its 30th anniversary of serving San Joaquin County students and families.




The SJCOE Special Education Programs, SJCOE STEM Programs, and River Islands Technology Academy offered opportunities for learning during the summer break.

HONORING THE CLASS OF 2021 Caps off to the Class of 2021, who persevered to finish their studies during the COVID-19 pandemic.




The Outlook is published bimonthly, September through May, by the San Joaquin County Office of Education Public Information Office.


San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools

SCOTT ANDERSON Deputy Superintendent Business Services


Associate Superintendent Student Programs and Services


LOOKING AHEAD Events, trainings, & more!

Learn more about upcoming events, meetings, trainings, and workshops for students, families, and educators on the San Joaquin County Office of Education calendar at

Assistant Superintendent Educational Services


Assistant Superintendent Special Education and SELPA


Assistant Superintendent County Operated Schools and Programs

CHRISTINA TORRES-PETERS Chief Human Resources Officer

The San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) is a regional agency that provides educational leadership, resources, and customized services to assist school districts. The SJCOE promotes student achievement and accountability, serves San Joaquin County’s most vulnerable students, and strives to create an environment in which every student, regardless of circumstances, has an opportunity for a quality education. Zachary Johnson, Editor Carly Sexton, Editor Madeline Brown, Editorial Intern Brandie Moore, Contributor Veronica Tova, Contributor Melissa Galea, Contributor CodeStack Digital Media



Let’s stay connected!


A special message from the County Superintendent of Schools


lhen I was a high school principal, one of our first-dayof-school traditions was to welcome students and staff back by rolling out the red carpet for them. I loved this tradition because it captured all the excitement, promise, and hope of the upcoming school year. Yet, it served an even greater purpose: the opportunity to tell students and staff how much they matter and how much they had been missed on campus over the summer break. Students are the stars, and walking that red carpet reminded them of that. All students need to know that they matter. Each individual student has a story that we, as educators, need to know in order to help them succeed. Relationship-building is truly the foundation of academic success. As educators around the county embark on this new school year, building and strengthening relationships now is more important than it has ever been. Our students have returned to school after a widespread pandemic. It disrupted all our lives, but the impact on many of our students has been profound, affecting them in various ways when school campuses were closed or only opened in a limited capacity. I am excited that we are able to begin the 2021-2022 year with students in school for full, in-person instruction. I know that this is an excitement I share with the teachers, administrators, and other educational staff ready to roll out the red carpet for their students. They have worked hard to ensure that this school year will be safe, fun, and

rewarding. And they are ready to meet every new challenge with the same dedication, creativity, and grit that they have shown throughout this pandemic. I am confident that these educators will work tirelessly to help students recover, grow, and thrive. Even before the first day of school, schools and districts provided services to students over the summer to reach students before the start of the new school year. This has been happening across the county, including in programs and schools operated by the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE). As an organization, the SJCOE also provides services to educators, schools, and districts. The training and other support specific to accelerating student learning and looking after the mental health needs of staff and students will continue through the new school year. Every child in San Joaquin County deserves access to a quality education. By working together to meet students where they are, we can make that happen. Every student has a story. Welcome back, students, families, and educators of San Joaquin County. This is going to be an amazing year.

Troy A. Brown, Ed.D. San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools


All students need to know that they matter. Each individual student has a story that we, as educators, need to know in order to help them succeed.

Q &A


Get to know the new San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Troy A. Brown

Q: What is something that you take away from your time as a high school educator and administrator that you carry with you today?

Q: How are these principles of intentional presence and forming connections in your community translated at the county level?

A: Teaching at Tracy High School and becoming assistant principal and principal at West High School in Tracy Unified School District, I had the opportunity to see the diverse needs of our students, and we strove to address how we could make every student feel as though they were the most important student on the school campus. How do we make sure that every single student knows they are valued? As administrators, we went to every event. Whether it was an academic event or a sports event, if there was a whole team or only two students-- we wanted to be there to support them. Every morning, we would stand at the school entrance and greet students as they walked to class. We encouraged teachers to make positive phone calls home, celebrating their students’ hard work. Because of this, we were able to connect with parents and students and build a community that everybody could be proud of. My experience as a high school educator and administrator showed me the importance of showing up and showing students that they are important to us.

A: As Associate Superintendent of Student Programs and Services, I had a greater capacity to reach all 14 school districts. We had the ability to make sure students felt valued on a broader scope. I knew we played a small part in helping 150,000 students feel like they are in the best county, at the best school, and are important to us at the San Joaquin County Office of Education. I attended events, acknowledged the students there, and prioritized getting to know each of them. I would meet with principals and learn about the programs they had at their schools. At the SJCOE, we create opportunities to be present and talk to young folks and educators and make sure they feel like they matter - because they do. Q: What are some of your priorities as the new San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools?

will support the programs we have established and look forward to building new ones: expanding our career technical education programs, opening doors for apprenticeships for high school students-- such as our first-inthe-state ARCH program-- and supporting students who aspire to be educators through our TEACH! program. Our goal is to develop pipelines for students that get them right into the workforce with the certification and education they need through our programs. Lastly, I will always go back to that piece about valuing our students. We will commit to making sure every student feels important. Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time? A: I like spending time outdoors: backpacking, kayaking, obstacle racing, gardening, and landscaping. There’s this river in Africa called the Zambezi River that I would love to raft one day. I also really enjoy cooking and baking. My wife and kids are very sweet to say my cinnamon rolls are the best. Q: What is a life motto of yours?

A: Firstly, we will continue the county office’s relationships with our 14 school districts. We want to address how we can support our schools in bringing their communities back together after the pandemic. Additionally, we

A: I always try to be positive, happy, and calm. I also often ask myself how I can help others and what I can do to serve somebody else. I try to live my life by those ideas.

JANINE KAESLIN NAMED ASSOCIATE SUPERINTENDENT On July 1, 2021, Janine Kaeslin was appointed to Associate Superintendent of Student Programs and Services. Kaeslin has spent the majority of her professional career at the SJCOE, where she began as a teacher and continued her growth into new positions before becoming Assistant Superintendent of County Operated Schools and Programs in 2012. She is driven by a passion for service as well as a commitment to understanding the needs of students and families and working diligently to meet those needs.

















Watch the Back-to-School slideshow at #BACKTOSCHOOLSJ




A growing number of resources and support are available to support mental health and social emotional needs of students and staff The COVID-19 outbreak impacted the lives of everyone. For the students, families, and educators who have felt anxious, fearful, or isolated since the start of the pandemic - you are not alone. As part of funding available to help in the recovery from the effects of the pandemic, schools have more resources to provide mental health and social-emotional support. The new support builds on existing services and practices that have already been put in place in schools and districts to take care of student needs beyond a sole focus on academics. Students and families can reach out to their schools to access services and information. The San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) has also expanded its ability to provide this support to students and families.

Training & Resources

Here is a sampling of some of the resources and training available through the San Joaquin County Office of Education: Social-Emotional Learning Community of Practice for Educators

Training Programs Through Kaiser Permanente Community Benefits Grant

The SJCOE has hosted a no-cost countywide Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Community of Practice (CoP) meeting twice a month since March 2021. The virtual meetings include guest speakers and a variety of topics, such as equity, SEL for adults, and building community through an SEL lens. Participants can also share and learn from a statewide SEL community of practice to provide access to a wide range of resources and perspectives. The SEL CoP is composed of counselors, directors, teachers, principals, parents, and others who believe that SEL can help support the success and wellbeing of educators, students, and communities. For more information, email Dr. Richard Woodruff at

LivingWorks Start Staff and students from schools across San Joaquin County have completed training through the LivingWorks Start program, an online training on suicide prevention. LivingWorks is a nationally recognized organization that partners with the California Department of Education.

STOP School Violence Federally funded through the Department of Justice, STOP School Violence is also geared to help address students’ social, emotional, and mental health needs by training school staff on brief interventions, restorative practices, 360-degree awareness, and school safety.


SJCOE Training and Resources for School Districts Staff from SJCOE Comprehensive Health provide training and resources to districts on suicide prevention and crisis support. The team includes trainers for Youth Mental Health First Aid, a nationally recognized program for suicide prevention.

Substance-Use Disorders Prevention Substance-Use Disorders Prevention is made possible through contractual funding with San Joaquin County Behavioral Health, which allows the SJCOE to provide additional education, community outreach, and Friday Night Live chapters at the district levels for counseling and prevention services which include crisis support throughout the county. For more info., visit




Meditate Regularly Clearing your mind through meditation can help you relax, but it takes practice. Try listening to calming music or focusing on someone you love or something that brings you joy.

Listen to Calming Music Search the internet for instrumental or classical music which help ease minds into calm states. Try listening to these genres for 30minutes during rest or work.

Eat a Balanced Diet Eating meals with green veggies, berries, and smaller meat portions all help to create an anti-inflammatory diet.

Practice Using Positive Affective Statements A positive affective statement is a way to respond to the behavior of others in a way that expresses your feelings and invites others into the conversation. Using these statements can ease a tense situation and can protect you from emotional harm and stress. For example: “When I hear people raise their voice, it makes me feel scared. Can we talk about other ways we can communicate when we are excited, so people do not have to raise their voices?”

Do More of What you Love Hobbies relax us because we enjoy doing them, which helps reduce stress levels!

Exercise in the Morning Exercise can produce endorphins, which help with pain and lowering feelings of stress throughout the day. During stressful times, exercising as soon as you wake up can help protect your mental health throughout the day.

Get More Sleep Sleep is essential to our health. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours per night.



SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY DISTINGUISHED HIGH SCHOOLS This March, California’s 2021 Distinguished Schools Program recognized three local schools as recipients of the award: Stockton Early College Academy, Stockton Health Careers Academy, and Merrill F. West High. Eligibility is based on performance and progress on the state indicators -- including test scores, suspension rates, graduation rates, and others -- as described on the California School Dashboard. Across California, there were 223 middle and high schools recognized for their education programs and practices. Schools recognized as awardees hold the title for two years. The Distinguished Schools Program recognizes elementary and middle, and high schools in alternate years. “These additional high schools join the ranks of all 2021 California Distinguished Schools who are being recognized for this distinction because of their exceptional record to provide for all students and their commitment to data-driven efforts that prepare students for college and career,” California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said.

STOCKTON HEALTH CAREERS ACADEMY Stockton Health Careers Academy (HCA) is a high school that begins to prepare students for working in the health industry. The education is relevant for careers that range from being a hospital engineer to a brain surgeon. HCA provides a learning environment that values community involvement, which is why students are required to log at least 80 hours throughout their four years of school. Additionally, HCA is partnered with various healthrelated businesses around the community, allowing students to take on internships and externships for real-world experience in their preferred medical field. HCA Principal Aaron Mata believes the award reflects the values of their school’s motto: Professionalism, Academics, Service, Strong, Integrity, Opportunity, and Nurture (PASSION). “The school takes a professional approach to their education as a basis for HCA’s culture,” said Mata. “Our dress code is scrubs, which provides a professional atmosphere for our students to learn about the health industry.”

MERRILL F. WEST HIGH SCHOOL Merrill F. West High School’s mission is to provide all students with a safe, caring, and engaging learning environment where students and staff can develop positive relationships. West High has multiple programs that have been awarded recently, such as the Space and Engineering Academy, its art department, and the Advanced Placement program. The school was last named a California Distinguished School in 2003. “We are a very welcoming campus. I think that’s one of the things that really stands out at West High. We have a climate and culture where all students feel comfortable where they are. They can be successful here. They will be supported,” Principal Zachary Boswell said. “Having that culture in place helped the school make improvements to qualify to receive the prestigious state distinction,” he said. “I don’t think we could have been able to dive into the hard work on instructional practices or professional development if we still had a lot of work to do building culture.”


STOCKTON EARLY COLLEGE ACADEMY Stockton Early College Academy (SECA) is a rigorous college-preparatory high school that prioritizes innovation, student support, and academic challenges. Students take up to 11 units of college classes per semester. At SECA, the goal is to give students the opportunity to attend a four-year college or university and sustain academic excellence throughout their educational journey. “This award is a testament to the dedication of our staff and the desire of our students to attend college,” interim SECA Principal Ty Pafford said after the award was announced. “The kindness on this campus is incredible amongst the students. Not only do counselors help students stay on track of their rigorous college preparatory coursework, but also older students show guidance to their younger peers.”

To learn more about the Distinguished Schools Program:



TEACH! Academy opens its doors in the 2021-2022 school year to incoming ninth-graders ready to pursue a career in education The 2021-2022 school year marks the first year of TEACH! Academy, San Joaquin County’s new Teacher Education and Early College High program located on the San Joaquin County Office of Education’s Venture Academy Family of Schools campus. The program is designed for students who have an interest in pursuing a career in the field of education. TEACH! students have an amazing opportunity to graduate high school with both a high school diploma from Venture Academy and an associate degree in Elementary Teacher Education from San Joaquin Delta College. Upon acquiring a bachelor’s degree at a local university, TEACH! graduates then have the opportunity to return to their community, earn a teaching credential through the Teachers College of San Joaquin, and educate, inspire, and advocate for the youth of tomorrow. TEACH! students can complete their education and start their careers as teachers by the time they turn 21 - all at little to no cost to the students or their families. Not only will this provide San Joaquin County students with a fast-track pathway to a career earning a living wage, salary, benefits, and a pension, but it will also grow an educator workforce that is reflective of the diversity of our San Joaquin County community. To learn more about TEACH! Academy, visit

Meet the teaching team!

Mrs. Simpfenderfer

Ms. Johnson

Years in the Education Field: 11 years

Years in the Education Field: 20 years

Subject: English

Subject: Mathematics

Fun Fact: Sunelle Simpfenderfer and her family grew up in a small town in South Africa.

Fun Fact: In addition to teaching at Venture Academy, Molly Johnson also teaches at the Teachers College of San Joaquin.

Why TEACH!?: Simpfenderfer believes teaching is a gift and wants to be a part of developing more teachers that are passionate, kind, and have a heart for students.

Why TEACH!?: The program blends together Johnson’s two loves of teaching and mathematics.




Rain or shine, Foster and Homeless Youth Services works to meet the needs of vulnerable students and families The team at the Foster and Homeless Youth Services department at the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) knows that providing the right resources, services, and support to foster youth and families in transition is crucial to student success. Rain or shine, teams from the department have always stepped up to meet the needs of the most vulnerable communities in the county. And not even a pandemic would stop them from ensuring that the students and families they support are connected with the necessary resources to commit to education. “We have been serving youth and families this whole time, and long before the pandemic too,” Foster and Homeless Youth Services Director Mark Yost said. “We look at who needs to be served, and we figure out how to best serve them, how we need to work with our partners to support them, and how we can stay connected with them.”

The department offers a variety of services to homeless and foster youth. It acts as an umbrella that includes the Foster Youth Services Coordinating Program (FYSCP) and Homeless Youth Services. Through these programs, the SJCOE collaborates with school districts, child welfare programs, housing agencies, social workers, food banks, community centers, and other agencies to support each families’ well-being and students’ education. In addition to ensuring students are in appropriate education placements, FYSCP staff track school records and facilitate professional development sessions for school districts, probation officers, human services agencies, group homes, and foster family agencies within San Joaquin County. Angela Francisco, a former court and community school transition specialist with the department, said that at the heart of her work is connecting with students


and building relationships. Whether by sending a simple text message or taking the time to make a home visit, Francisco and her team are dedicated to motivating students as they finish their education. “It’s all about being personable and building those meaningful relationships,” she said. “Most of our phone calls are to really just check in with them to tell them that we are there for them and want them to be successful.” Homeless Youth Services focuses on students without homes and families in transition. This includes providing technical assistance training to school districts throughout San Joaquin County. Their mission is to advocate for students and their education, ensuring that students are immediately and consistently enrolled in school and on track to get their diplomas. For Families in Transition Specialist Pia Miranda, this involves assisting homeless students looking to enroll in the SJCOE’s one.Program, working with students, schools,

OUTLOOK | NEWS and SJCOE Student Services to recover missing documents, like birth certificates and transcripts, and following up with students to ensure they have access to basic necessities. “We meet the students and families wherever they are,” Miranda said. “We provide hygiene kits, blankets, food, and devices like hotspots and Chromebooks. We really work together with other departments at the SJCOE to best support our students.” The department gives families an extra helping hand to find a safe place to stay by providing and sharing community resources. Miranda remembers the gratitude expressed by one parent: “They didn’t know where to go. It is so important to keep the family together, so we helped them figure out shelter options and reached out to landlords, and we were able to help them find a place to stay. The mother was so appreciative of our communication and our quick response to address the challenges they were facing. It really warmed my heart.” The department also hosts winter coat drives, delivers devices to students taking online classes, and collaborates with local government officials to provide food and other resources. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, teams took quick action to ensure the continuation of services during a time they were needed most. Because schools were closed, accessing students became even more difficult. So, the department worked closely with social workers and probation officers throughout the county to find students and maintain the valuable connections they made with those who were harder to reach. “The thing I miss the most is the interaction, like talking to the students face-to-face or shaking their hand when they need to know someone is proud of them. Keeping them on the radar is hard, and it’s easier for them to fall off if we can’t connect with them daily,” said Aaron Amos, a former foster youth transition specialist. Amos was a liaison between foster parents, probation officers, social workers, collaborative agencies, and other resources to provide academic and emotional support

to foster youth. A big part of Amos’s job was acknowledging the trauma experienced by the many foster youth he supported. “A lot of it is breaking down those walls, getting them to trust us and be receptive to the resources and mental health support we want to offer them. We let them know that if they want to talk, we are here for them,” he said. To continue their work reaching foster and homeless youth, the department established a local Executive Advisory Council (EAC) and hosts Families in Transition Liaison Meetings that invite representatives from child welfare agencies, local education agencies, community organizations, and other stakeholders to discuss the educational needs of foster youth and families in transition. There, members share resources to assist these students, review recommendations that best support them and align with Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) priorities, and offer professional development opportunities. EAC meetings are also a place for foster youth and families in transition to have their voices heard, too. EAC meetings went virtual because of COVID-19. To continue their commitment to service amidst the pandemic, one meeting in January invited members to participate in a drive-thru giveaway that handed out hygiene kits to be dispersed to the young people they serve.

could learn about the programs and resources available through the department. The open house was camp-themed, and staff members took turns guiding participants through different virtual “campsites” where they discussed their unique roles in supporting foster youth and families in transition. “Advocating for foster and homeless students’ needs, keeping them and their well-being the priority, encouraging them and seeing them go back to school-- you can’t put a price tag on it,” Francisco said.

Who Foster & Homeless Youth Services supports: San Joaquin County continues to be one of the fastest-growing counties in California. The FYSCP supports its diverse student population, where 66.9% of students are English learners, foster youth, or eligible for free/reduced-price meals. 37.2% of children under the age of 18 are living in poverty. Programs like the FYSCP work to ensure that students and families have access to the right resources, basic necessities, education, and mental health supports.

What Foster & Homeless Youth Services does: • •

A large motivating force of the department staff is to inspire foster and homeless students through stability. “So many things are out of their control, so we want to give them the opportunity to gain control of their education,” said Foster Youth Counselor Corina Morga. “If we can show them the right resources to gain that control, they start believing in themselves and taking the steps towards their goals.” Among a number of other services, Morga oversees the Independent Living Program, an educational program for 16- to 18-year-old foster youth that works in tandem with San Joaquin Delta Community College and the San Joaquin Human Services Agency to offer life skills classes. In February, the department hosted its third annual open house, virtually, where anyone

• • • • • •

Advocates for the educational rights of youth in San Joaquin County Provides guidance and assistance with timely school enrollment Assists with appropriate school placement Facilitates the transfer of educational records Connects and refers to community resources Transports youth to the school of origin Liaison services between school districts and child welfare Training and technical assistance

To learn more about Foster and Homeless Youth Services:



EXPRESSING EMOTIONS WITH ART Youth of Unit 4 at the San Joaquin County Juvenile Justice Center collaborate to create murals in art therapy program Once stark and colorless, the walls of the San Joaquin County Juvenile Justice Center have been completely transformed into a beautiful display of colorful creativity inspired by its very own residents. With the help of local artist Erin Elizabeth and in collaboration with the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) and San Joaquin County Probation Office, the Juvenile Justice Center turned the walls of Unit 4 into a canvas for students’ imaginations. The immersive art therapy program gives students an opportunity to practice interpersonal skills, exercise patience, and leave their artistic mark on the facility. The Juvenile Justice Center offers a therapeutic environment that supports youth and helps them engage with their emotions in healthy and safe ways. Through their art therapy program, individuals at the site can learn new ways to express themselves through art. “By having this program and bringing in the artist to work with students, the kids have an opportunity to see what it looks like to be calm, helpful, and inspiring,” said Doug Silva, a director of SJCOE County Operated Schools and Programs (COSP). COSP works to provide educational programs that support all students of San Joaquin County, academically, socio-emotionally, and through career development. At the Juvenile Justice Center, COSP operates two schools: one.Cruikshank and one.Camp. The program at these sites is centered around a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) model that teaches


students about a special platform known as CHILL: Calm, Helpful, Inspire, Listen, and Learn. Artist Elizabeth utilized the terms of CHILL to encourage the students to illustrate what those terms looked like and how the motto resonated with them personally. Taking the artistic representations created by the students in the program, Elizabeth transformed them into a larger-than-life mural painted proudly on the walls. After taking a handful of art classes and contributing to the mural projects, one student said he looks forward to joining the art sessions. Not only does it change up his normal routine, but the student said he also enjoys the process of creating something new. “I like that you’re able to start off with something blank, then you can make it whatever you want,” he said. “It’s calming.” Throughout the program, Elizabeth encouraged the kids to break away from any nervousness and embrace their creative processes. In this way, students could witness each other’s unique forms of expression, support each other, and unite through the diversity of their art. “Painting gives my students the space and movement to express themselves in a healthy way,” she said. “My wish for my students is that they see the beauty that they already are, to heal and to forgive.” The mural also serves as a reminder to the students and staff at the school. The beautiful artwork recognizes how unique and creative approaches can support emotional expression, collaboration, and learning. “The mural completely changed the environment at the facility,” Silva said. “It opened the door to what is possible here.”


Teacher of the Year

TEACHING BY EXAMPLE 2021 San Joaquin County Teacher of the Year Texas Keo draws from life experiences in the classroom It takes perseverance and problem-solving skills to be an educator, said Texas Keo, the 2021 San Joaquin County Teacher of the Year. It is also important for educators to work with each other in order to best serve all their students, she said. “There will always be challenges as a teacher, and we need to learn how to be flexible and to problem-solve together. The stronger we are united, the better it will be for our children. And that’s what it’s about, our kids. Our children need to learn. They need to succeed,” Keo said. “The bottom line is that all children can learn. They can do it no matter where they’re from or where they’re at.” Keo used these same qualities throughout the pandemic to serve students at Ripon Elementary School (Ripon Unified School District), where she is a response-tointervention teacher for grades TK-3. A veteran teacher of 14 years, Keo learned perseverance firsthand. She experienced a difficult childhood and was the first member of her family to graduate from

college. One of eight sisters, Keo officially adopted her four younger sisters and put them all through college, too. These challenges only made her stronger, and she used her experience to connect with her students, said Ripon Elementary Principal Dana Phelps. “Texas is an extremely hard worker who has persevered through many challenges in her life. Her obstacles were not roadblocks, but lessons she used as tools to mold herself into the driven and caring woman she is,” Phelps said. “She knows what it is like to be an English-learner and the many challenges her students face from her own firsthand experiences. Texas always puts her students first while conveying patience and empathy due to her own life experiences.” In her nomination of Keo, Phelps also noted the relationships the teacher builds with students, families, and her colleagues. “She is knowledgeable of their interests, family situations, and hobbies. She utilizes

this knowledge to enhance her lessons to make them more meaningful and engaging for all her students,” Phelps said. “Ms. Keo gets to know her students as individuals. She differentiates instruction for each and every one of her students, as well as provides clear and effective guidance for teachers struggling to help students from the general education classroom.”

Texas is an extremely hard worker who has persevered through many challenges in her life. Her obstacles were not roadblocks, but lessons she used as tools to mold herself into the driven and caring woman she is.

Dana Phelps

Ripon Elementary Principal



TEACHER OF THE YEAR FINALISTS Only a handful of extraordinary educators are named Teacher of the Year finalists. In 2021 they are:



Hans has worked at Sierra High School for the past eight years. “Hans is innovative, energetic, and always has a ‘let’s get this done’ and ‘we will figure it out together’ attitude and approach with his students,” Sierra High School Assistant Principal Anthony Chapman said.




Amanda has worked at Bohn Elementary for eight years. “Amanda has a strong work ethic and consistently goes above and beyond what is required to ensure her students receive the best possible instruction,” Bohn Elementary Paraeducator Nicola Roberts said.




Devon has worked at Bethany Elementary for 13 years. “Mrs. Vallon creates a safe learning environment where students can feel comfortable in sharing their intelligent thoughts and opinions. She is determined to help every student reach their full potential,” Bethany Elementary Principal Deborah Wingo said.

Renae has worked at Jefferson School for 18 years. “My favorite part of the job, I think, is just getting to know the kids on a more personal level. I think that’s what it’s all really about, the kids and that connection, that conversation you can have with them outside of everything else,” Potts said.



CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES OF THE YEAR Classified employees, such as bus drivers, nutrition service workers, instructional assistants, and office support staff, play key roles in our county’s schools. These individuals help to create environments that support the whole child and promote student achievement, health, and safety. This year, eight San Joaquin County classified employees were honored. Each Classified Employee of the Year received $400 from event co-sponsor and longtime supporter of education in our region, Premier Community Credit Union.







RIPON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT Darla Harmon has worked for the Ripon Unified School District as a data analyst for six years. “Darla is a dedicated, meticulous individual. I am always amazed at her ability to manage all the types of secretarial and data analysis tasks so efficiently. She is able to multitask effectively and is an expert in handling a high-volume workload each day,” Ripon Elementary School Principal Dana Phelps said.

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY OFFICE OF ED. Pamela Wampler has worked as an LVN at McFall School for 20 years. “Pam pours her heart into her work with SJCOE. She is communicative, collaborative, and has a knack for developing relationships with students, teachers, and families,” Division Director of Special Education Monica Vallerga said.

JEFFERSON SCHOOL DISTRICT Nick Watson has worked for the Jefferson School District as the information technology coordinator for five years. “He is truly a dedicated employee that puts teachers and students first in everything he does and is an invaluable asset to the Jefferson School District,” Jefferson Elementary School District Superintendent Dr. James W. Bridges said.

HAROLD MOORE CUSTODIAL AND MAINTENANCE SERVICES STOCKTON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT Harold Moore has worked for Van Buren Elementary as head custodian for 17 years. “Mr. Harold makes everyone want to come to work and school because they know he will be there to make you smile and support you. He is truly a breath of fresh air in these difficult times,” Van Buren Elementary Principal Isabel Arellano said.

JOAN GONZALES FOOD AND NUTRITION SERVICES LINCOLN UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT Joan Gonzales has worked as John R. William’s cook manager for three years. “Joan has a way of making people feel appreciated. She is very generous with her time and does not hesitate to go above and beyond for her school site and students,” Lincoln Unified Director of Child Nutrition Services Marjory Kurland said.

ASHLEY FISHER PARAPROFESSIONAL SERVICES TRACY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT Ashley Fisher has worked at McKinley Elementary as a library technician for three years. “Everything Ashley does is for the students. She is always thinking of new ways to get books in kids’ hands and to get them reading,” McKinley Elementary Principal Shannon Bancroft said.


MIKE KUHNLENZ SECURITY SERVICES MANTECA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT Mike Kuhnlenz has worked for East Union High School as a campus monitor for five years. “Whether Mike is serving his friends, the students, or coworkers, he is constantly putting the needs of others above his own. He is an example for everyone of what being a leader truly means,” Custodial Supervisor Juan Arcos said.

SKILLED TRADES TRACY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT Manuel Faria has worked for the Tracy Unified School District as a mechanic specialist for 17 years. “He has proven frequently that he is a dedicated mechanic who is constantly improving his skill level, connecting with others, and contributing to the community,” said Lydia De La Torre, district coordinator of Maintenance, Operations, and Transportation.

STATE RECOGNITION Pamela Wampler’s recognition for being an exceptional LVN was announced by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on May 29. The Classified Employee of the Year award is a state-wide program awarded to only nine employees each year, which speaks to the level of commitment and passion that Pam has towards serving students.



The SJCOE one.Program celebrates its 30th anniversary of serving San Joaquin County students and families

The history of the one.Program -- in true teacher fashion -- is written in colored marker on poster-sized sheets of paper. Laid end-to-end, the notes and doodles that tell the year-byyear story of the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) alternative education program cover most of the length of three of the walls in the SJCOE’s Burwood Auditorium. The poster-paper tapestry was the backdrop as the educators of the one.Program gathered

in early August, before the start of the new school year, to connect with one another and start working together to make sure it would be the best it could be for their students. They were ready to welcome their students, no matter what challenges they brought with them, no matter what struggles they faced at home, no matter what issues they had that prevented them from achieving success in school before, no matter what shadow of past trauma loomed


over them and obscured their vision of the bright futures that could be in front of them. What was different for the start of the 20212022 school year was the prolonged impact of the COVID-19 pandemic students were facing. But helping students overcome tremendous challenges is what the one. Program does best. The program for at-promise students has been innovating, adapting, and fighting alongside students for decades.


This year also marks the one. Program’s 30-year anniversary and the team is recognizing this milestone by getting to work to help students overcome yet one more big challenge. This year started at the same rapid pace to meet existing and new challenges as each new year has started for the past 30, said Elsa Gonzales, who has been with the program since the start, from administrative assistant to County Operated Schools and Programs (COSP) Student Services director. She was part of the handful of original staff members getting ready for that first year. Now as then, serving students always meant moving forward. Fast. “It’s amazing that we have the same mindset now as we did then. We are always trying to do better for our kids,” she said as she stood in front of the program’s history on the Burwood Auditorium walls and told a group of one.Program veterans and first-year employees about the program’s beginning. Gonzales passed the mic to Wendy Frink, who spoke more about the program’s early years, and how it shaped the experience of students today. Frink, a program director who started out as a teacher, made sure the new

staff members knew the story of Anthony, a former student who died by suicide about a year after his graduation. His death profoundly affected the one.Program team and spurred them to create the Graduation by Exploration (GBE). The GBE is a requirement for seniors that, among other things, calls for the student to create a post-graduation plan. “It’s honoring him, knowing our students have a plan,” she said. The stories of people and the program continued as the mic was handed down through 30 years of history. Before the creation of the one.Program, students in the county and state expelled from district schools often had nowhere else to go to continue their education. Many dropped out, never to return. In January 1991, new San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools Rick Wentworth surveyed educational leaders in the county. They listed the development of alternative programs among the top needs. The nascent one.Program began the 1991-1992 school year at two school sites, though the program wasn’t yet known by the name that defines it and guides it.

The concept of “one.” stands for the idea that each individual student is important and can make a difference in the world. It also stands for the idea that when individuals join together and work as “one.” -- they can make miracles happen. It is as much of a concept for the students as it is for the staff that make up the one.Program. Students in the one.Program often have needs that are not being met in traditional school settings. They include students who have been expelled, have attendance issues, come from traumatic family experiences, or face other challenges.

It’s amazing that we have the same mindset now as we did then. We are always trying to do better for our kids.

Elsa Gonzales

County Operated Schools and Programs Student Services Director


OUTLOOK | FEATURE And those challenges change and are as unique as every individual student, said Janine Kaeslin, SJCOE associate superintendent of Student Programs and Services, who first joined the one.Program as a teacher in 1993. One way the one.Program keeps pace with changing student needs is by fostering a culture that allows for new ideas, partnerships, and taking chances, she said. It also means not being complacent. “It is a spirit of knowing that we’ve never arrived, that we have to keep thinking and keep planning. The world changes as we’re thinking and as we’re planning, so we need to be savvy,” she said. “And we also need to listen to the needs of our families and our students.” Over the years, the program has met unique needs with unique approaches -- schools for seniors; schools for students with their own children; themed schools focused on sports, arts, or other areas; and many more. It’s the kind of continual innovation that has led to the creation of the Discovery ChalleNGe Academy, a residential program in partnership with the California National Guard, and Come Back Kids (CBK), a high school diploma program for adults of all ages, which are among the more recent arrivals to the one.Program. Relationships are an integral part of the program, both between adults and students and the relationships the whole staff builds with one another, said Sean Morrill, assistant superintendent of COSP. “It’s everybody pulling together as one. Our teachers, our support staff, our administrators, our counselors, our mental health clinicians, and the student services folks are all in it for the same reason. And that’s to make sure that every child has the support needed to move forward in a healthy lifestyle and become caring adults, as well.” When Crystal Figeroa came to the one.Program as a sixth-grader, she carried with her a history of trauma. She acted out. She got into fights. And for years, she fought against attempts to reach her. It didn’t stop the one.Program team from trying to connect with her and help her understand how successful she could be. “I felt like it was not true because of what I had already poured into my head. So, it took a while. It took a long time for me to break

out of this wall that I constructed myself,” she said. “They wouldn’t give up on me.” When that connection was finally made, Figeroa moved forward. She graduated high school. She went to San Joaquin Delta College. She earned a bachelor’s degree at California State University, Stanislaus. Now she’s a campus security technician at the one.Program, using her background and experiences to build connections with the next generation of students. It takes perseverance, patience, and resilience to be a one.Program teacher, said Kathy Tenney, a teacher at the one. Program since it began. “I have always liked working with students that maybe didn’t have the best hand of cards dealt to them.” Even though the program has grown, there are still key elements that have remained the same, she said. At the start, a handful of staff members would meet on Fridays to come up with ideas that they could make happen because of the support behind them. “It’s amazing how big it’s gotten. But there’s still that collaboration, and there’s still that feeling of working together.” The importance placed on relationships has stayed the same, too, she said. “That was always the word from the very beginning.” Building relationships will be key to the success of one of the program’s priorities this year: to re-engage with students who have been disconnected from school during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Each individual student has a story, and each individual student has different needs that must be met,” said Dr. Troy Brown, San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools. “It is so important to build relationships with these students so that they know we care about them and that we’re here to serve them -- probably more than in any year in the recent past.”


A newly created re-engagement team is leading the effort, continuing the one. Program’s tradition of pivoting to meet changing needs of students. Before the first day of school this year, the relationship-building began at enrollment. Each student answered survey questions to help staff understand their needs and expectations for the year. And each one of the more than 1,400 students enrolling this year for one of 64 locations had a unique story about where they had been and where they expected to be. “I was messing up in school. I wasn’t really focused or anything. I was goofing up,” said José, just one of the returning students talking about his experience before the one.Program. “Once I got into the one.Program I started getting all my work done, started staying busy. It helped me as a person and helped me see things differently.” He also said he was looking forward to graduating high school, which was something he didn’t think could happen before he found the one.Program.


Milestones 1991 | The alternative education program that would one day be called the one.Program began with a staff of seven and two sites: Manteca Boys and Girls Club and Lodi Community School. It expanded to 13 sites at the end of the school year. 1997 | The program obtained its first Western Association of Schools and Colleges -- or WASC -- accreditation. Also, in the late 1990s, the program opened the one.NewStart site, a school for students with children of their own, who received the support they needed to continue their education. 2008 | The one.Program created a countywide Truancy Task Force. It was created in response to a high number of homicides of current and former one.Program students -- all who were truant. The task force brought together school districts and partner agencies to combat truancy. Its legacy lives on in the one.Program’s A-Squad and the annual Chronic Absenteeism Summit. 2010 | one.Charter had its start with a school theme centered on visual and performing arts. The one.Charter Academies allow different opportunities to provide services for a wide range of students. Today that includes the Building Futures Academy -- serving youth from age 16 through 24 with a focus on a career in the trades. It also includes one.Charter Elementary -- a K-6 school for children in families who are homeless or in transition. 2017 | The Discovery ChalleNGe Academy welcomes its first class of cadets. The residential, quasi-military program is a partnership with the California National Guard. It is also a one.Program site.

Watch the feature video here!

2021 | The one.Program begins the school year with about 230 staff members serving more than 1,400 students at 64 sites across the county.




Learning which tracks everyday student accomplishments and shows when individuals or the class have earned a fun reward -- like watching a video online. Like breakfast, the positive reinforcement program is part of the daily routine in Meraz’s classroom. Other classroom routines were playing out in June all across the Neil Hafley Elementary School campus -where students from preschool through high school in SJCOE programs from sites across the county came to keep their learning going over the summer between school years.

Special Education Programs summer school offers extended hours for students


anae Meraz moved through her classroom, from desk to desk and from student to student as they finished off their breakfast and made the transition to the rest of their day in the summer program for students in San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) Special Education Programs.

Meraz, who was teaching students in fourth through eighth grade, stopped at the front of the classroom where wallet-sized photographs of all the students were stuck on the whiteboard. “James! I’m going to move your picture over,” she said before grabbing one of the pictures and moving it a few inches to the right on a chart,


Even just experiencing the day-to-day routines of the classroom helped students in the programs from regressing over the summer and keep them moving forward in school. This is important in the regular summer program in any given year, but it was even more important following a pandemic year when many students spent more time at home and less time in classrooms because of safety precautions due to COVID-19. Which is why the SJCOE Special Education Programs Extended School Year (ESY)


offered more days and longer days for the 200 students from 27 classrooms across the county who participated over the summer at Neil Hafley. In total, the program served 700 students at Neil Hafley and other locations. The additional learning-loss attention was offered to all students. It provided access to all the services available to them through the regular school year, including speech and language services, occupational therapy, and behavioral intervention. “A lot of our students were on distance learning previously, so returning and just getting back in the classroom and being ready to learn is a huge focus,” said Cynthia Campero, SJCOE Special Education director and one of the administrators of the summer program. “With those longer hours, they are able to learn their routines, learn the expectations, and work on their goals.” Campero noted that the summer also brought together the staff, who are typically spread out at different locations throughout the county, even when providing in-person instruction. “They are able to work together, and if they are having something going on in their classroom, they can count on one another,” she said. “They all work together, and I love it.” Educator collaboration helped build community, but so did the students in Samantha Porteous’ class. The high school students in her class come from Escalon, Manteca, Ripon, and Tracy unified school districts. Once a week during ESY, those students turned their classroom into a snow cone stand for the whole campus. They practiced job skills, interacting with their student and staff customers and counting change in faux dollars. For everyone else, it was the perfect treat for a hot summer day.

Students find fun in the lab and the great outdoors at STEM Programs summer camps


tudents in San Joaquin County explored the great outdoors and flexed their engineering muscles while having fun at a series of STEM-focused day camps from the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) over the summer. The camps offered by SJCOE STEM Programs covered a wide range of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects. At the High-Tech Incubator Lab camp, students had an opportunity to use their creativity and new technical skills to make a difference in the community. The middle school students engineered, programmed, and built items practicing for high-tech entrepreneurship. Student inventions ranged from cell phone accessories to smart bags that could

notify the user if the contents got too hot. Students in the camp also created keyguards for iPads that could be used to help facilitate communication in special education classrooms. Special education teachers reviewed prototypes of the iPad keyguards and gave feedback to students, who used the new information to make adjustments and build a better product. The camp was held in the SJCOE’s FabLab -a high-tech STEM lab and maker space on the SJCOE campus. Educational Technology and Engineering Design Coordinator Stephen Callahan said that the goal of this camp was to help students spark interest in engineering by experimenting with both computer technology and wearable technology. Students didn’t need prior experience to take part in the camp. One of the student participants said the STEM camps help her develop critical-




Elementary Engineering with Lego WeDo | Grades 3-5 Robotics Inventions with Lego Mindstorms | Grades 6-8 Game Engineering with Nintendo Switch and Sphero | Grades 4-7 Engineering in a Virtual World and Minecraft Education | Grades 5-7 High Tech Incubator | Grades 6-8

CODING • • • •

Coding Fun | Grades 3-5 Arcade Creations | Grades 9-12 Artificially Intelligent Inventions | Grades 9-12 Computer Graphics and Augmented Reality | Grades 7-12


Let’s Play Outside | Grades 3-5 Let’s Play Outside | Grades 5-8

Learn more about summer camps and other offerings from SJCOE STEM Programs at

thinking skills that she plans on applying in her future career as an archaeologist. In the Let’s Play Outside summer camp at the SJCOE Durham Ferry Outdoor Education Center south of Manteca, students also worked on their criticalthinking and engineering skills as they spent their days in the great outdoors. On the first day of one camp session, upcoming third - through fifth-graders spent the morning hiking along the San Joaquin River and searching for wild animal tracks. Before taking off on their hike, the students learned about natural phenomena from Program Manager Kristine Stepping and STEM Coordinator Lissa Gilmore. The instructors gave each student natural artifacts such as “tree cookies” (cutoffs with visible tree rings), pine cones, and photos of sideways trees. During the hike, the students looked for these and other natural mysteries and constructed several hypotheses about what caused them. While looking for artifacts on the hike, the students soaked up the sun by


playing on a beach and examining cool insects with magnifying glasses. Many of the kids, including Alex, a student from Collegeville Elementary School, said he enjoys being outdoors. “Hiking is one of my favorite things to do,” he said. “That’s why I joined this camp.” On other days, the campers learned archery and fishing safety, as well as basic skills. Durham Ferry volunteers supported student efforts to catch their big fish and hit a bullseye.

Above: A student fishes on the San Joaquin River at the SJCOE Durham Ferry Outdoor Education Center. Here: Student at the SJCOE FabLab during a summer coding camp.


River Islands Technology Academy offers students additional support in summer bridge program


tudents in Taylor Crawford’s third-grade class sang and danced while they learned math and practiced their division skills at the River Islands Technology Academy in June. Some of the students were a bit shy, but others were ready to leap out of their seats and dance along to the math song. Crawford said she likes to work songs and dances into her learning so the students can be more engaged and have a little bit of exercise, too. The regular school year was over, but these students were part of the school’s summer bridge program. The three-week program for first- through seventhgraders provided additional academic, social-emotional, and other support for students to help address any impacts of the pandemic while preparing them for the upcoming school year. School was in session from 9 a.m. until noon, Monday through Thursday. The 70 students in the program experienced small class sizes and more opportunities for one-on-one support. It was designed to be a safe environment to relearn subjects that were difficult in the past school year while providing students an opportunity to feel positive about going to school again, Principal Michelle Crippen said. Students were invited to participate in the bridge program if they needed help in academics or showed a need to re-engage with their school or for social and emotional support. Teachers could also invite students who struggled with internet connectivity issues.

It wasn’t long before Madison English began to see a change in her students. “They told me that they think they’re already getting smarter,” she said. However, the students were doing more than just learning their lessons. They were becoming more comfortable and confident in the classroom, she said. “A lot of them used to not be comfortable raising their hands or asking questions. Now they feel like they’re all on the same playing field.” River Islands Technology Academy and STEAM Academy at River Islands are part of the River Islands Academies in Lathrop. Both academies offered the summer bridge program.




The 2021 graduations for San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) programs celebrated students and the years of hard work it took for them to reach that significant milestone in their lives. It was also a celebration of the perseverance they showed while finishing their studies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health and safety measures meant that graduation ceremonies were different for the Class of 2021. However, they still happened and took many forms, ranging from streamed-online to in-person and socially distanced celebrations.

SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS As windy weather animated the bouncing-around of balloons, graduates from the San Joaquin County Office of Education’s (SJCOE) Special Education programs and Tracy Unified School District were celebrated for all of their hard work over the past years. This interactive drive-thru celebration was filled with proud families, students in caps and gowns, and happy teachers holding balloons and handmade signs. After the ceremony, families took turns posing for photos under a large balloon arch. Vinnie Torrice beamed as SJCOE staff members who had known him since preschool offered their congratulations. “I don’t think that he would have accomplished half of the things that he has without the guidance from these folks,” said Vito Torrice, his father. “It’s a sad goodbye, but it has also been a blessing. These people have been wonderful for him.”

Find more graduation photos on the San Joaquin County Office of Education Facebook page.



COUNTY OPERATED SCHOOLS AND PROGRAMS To celebrate the one.Program’s Class of 2021, the SJCOE organized a drive-thru celebration on the SJCOE campus, where the graduates were given the spotlight by cheering teachers and support staff as they drove down the course. Homemade signs and balloons were planted along the drivethru path while Pomp and Circumstance played through the speakers. At the end of the line, each graduate’s name was announced, and they were handed their high school diplomas as applause drowned out the music. Later, students could watch a video of student speakers and messages from their teachers to let them know how proud they were of their students.

VENTURE ACADEMY FAMILY OF SCHOOLS The Class of 2021 from Venture Academy Family of Schools commemorated their accomplishments by participating in two separate in-person, socially-distanced ceremonies. Students from Venture’s APEX, VISA, Kinect, and Historic Durham Ferry academies followed in the Class of 2021’s footsteps, finishing out their middle school careers with a promotion ceremony.

COME BACK KIDS & BUILDING FUTURES ACADEMY It’s never too late to earn your high school diploma! After picking up their caps and gowns from one end of the drive-thru path, the graduates of the Class of 2021 Come Back Kids program and Building Futures Academy were led further down the SJCOE campus where they passed cheering teachers and administrators waving handmade signs.




Profile for WeAreSJCOE

Outlook 75.1 | Sept. 2021  

Outlook is published bimonthly, September through May, by the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) Public Information Office.

Outlook 75.1 | Sept. 2021  

Outlook is published bimonthly, September through May, by the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) Public Information Office.

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