The Milpitas Unified School District Board of Education welcomed five new hires to the #MUSDfamily, after unanimously approving recommendations for a supervisor, co-principal, and three assistant principals at the June 8 meeting. Joining our MUSD Team in leadership positions for the 2021-22 school year are:
1) MOT Transportation Supervisor Jared Acosta, who is an MUSD and Mission College alumnus with a wealth of experience in grounds/bus, custodial arts, and more;
2) Randall Elementary Co-Principal Claudia Cadenas, who brings 30 years as a bilingual teacher, including 13 years of multilingual instruction in Chile, to our World Languages Academy;
3) Burnett Elementary Assistant Principal Brandi McMillian, who is an MUSD alumna and Milpitas resident with 15 years in the district as a teacher at both Randall and Burnett;
4) Pomeroy Elementary Assistant Principal Anastasia Hrissafinas, who comes to Milpitas via New Jersey where she was a teaching lead for 5 years and a Teacher of the Year; and
5) Zanker Elementary Assistant Principal Hetal Patel, who has 15 years of teaching and admin experience at multiple grade levels, including the last three as AP at WillowGlen HS.
Providing community access to the Aquatics Center at Milpitas High School was secured with a new one-year lease agreement with Milpitas Aquatic Club. The Board of Education unanimously approved the pact at the May 25 meeting.
With Business Services Manager Kelly Ng leading the district's efforts, Milpitas Aquatic Club agreed to provide community access to the pool during the summer, as well as lifeguards during athletic practices, home games, and swim PE classes. Summer recreational swim is scheduled for Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
"It's our goal to help grow and improve aquatics in the Milpitas area by offering a fun, safe and competitive program in swimming, diving, and water polo," said Kyler Van Swol, head coach of Milpitas Aquatic Club.
The district solicited community input through a multilingual survey, which garnered nearly 600 responses. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they would use the pool for a nominal fee.
The new one-year lease agreement will run from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022. Review the full board presentation here.
When Milpitas High School senior Andrea Alatorre signed up for the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, better known as NJROTC, she was quiet and uncertain like many incoming freshmen.
Four years later, the 18-year-old cadet is full of self-confidence, leadership skills, and set to attend De Anza College as a biology major in the fall. “I learned how to use my voice and just communicate better,” Andrea shared. “It actually helped me come out of my shell.”
Junior Mehtab Kang, 16, now in his third year of the NJROTC, was shy and nervous when he first started the elective class at MHS. Kang, who comes from a military family and is a varsity basketball player, plans to parlay the leadership and organizational skills he’s developed into a software and computer science pathway at a Naval Academy.
“I’ve created bonds with people I would never have expected to meet,” said Mehtab. “The biggest thing is my growth as a leader, my organizational and management skills, and team building skills.”
Lieutenant Margie Jackson, who served 34 years in the United States Coast Guard before retiring, is in her fourth year as the Senior Naval Science Instructor for the four-year program at Milpitas HS. This year, she has 67 freshmen to seniors who come five days a week, and earn geography and life management graduation credits.
The NJROTC program is designed to teach high school students the value of citizenship, leadership, service to the community, personal responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment, while instilling in them self-esteem, teamwork, and self discipline.
“The NJROTC core values are honor, courage and commitment. Everything we do in the program relates back to these goals,” Lt. Jackson explained. “It’s really about character development, being committed and honorable, and having integrity and courage in everything you do.”
The Naval Science 1 through 4 course material starts with an introduction to what the Navy is and what its core values are while aiming to improve study habits. Then, it advances to the study of oceanography and weather, along with cultural awareness and history. Each cadet must study from a reference manual and be able to recite a general order when asked.
“If they understand the history of other cultures, then they will have respect for them,” added Lt. Jackson, whose cadets are required to wear their uniforms only once per week. Students can earn up to 23 ribbons for their uniforms, including a community service ribbon that counts for the graduation requirement.
Thursday is drill day where they work on their techniques. Other activities include reading letters sent to the class from military veterans. Lt. Jackson also installed a buddy system where upperclassmen work with incoming freshmen inside and outside of the classroom, serving as a mentor.
Additionally, NJROTC has after-school programs such as twirling rifles with the school’s color guard and participating in competitions against other NJROTC programs. Another high honor for cadets is the raising of the American flag each morning at school.
“I was planning to join the military so I hope to get the skills from this that will be useful for my future,” said freshman Franchesca Santiago. “So far, I’ve learned a lot, especially time management and leadership.”
As the Regional Director and Special Advisor for US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and previously a Legislative Advisor to two members of the NYS Assembly, Hofflich—who now acts as the Senator’s representative for eight counties and 3 million people in the Lower Hudson Valley—has written 28 New York State bills that have been signed into law, including this Walking While Trans.
“I am her liaison to the community… I help shape policy in the U.S. Senate,” said the 28-year-old policymaker who has lived in New York since 1990 and is happily married with five wonderful kids. ”Life is good. It's challenging but good.”
Prior to her legislative accolades, Hofflich’s career path took her through television news production, social justice activism and advocacy.
Hofflich fondly remembers her years at Milpitas High School. “I loved my time at MHS,” she said, vividly recalling her History teacher Henry Robinson and others who impacted her to this day.
“He was a social activist even in the classroom. He taught us how to be advocates for social justice. He’s fantastic,” said Hofflich of the retired educator and current MPD Police-MUSD School Liaison. “The faculty and staff at Milpitas HS were really accepting, very nurturing. ..I never felt that I couldn’t do something after talking to one of my teachers.”
Even after high school, Hofflich kept in touch with many of her teachers and sought mentoring from them—something she wanted to share with younger generations of Milpitas students who are navigating those challenging adolescent years.
“Teachers are your allies and mentors. ...It’s OK to ask for help from your teachers,” Hofflich said. “I felt such support from my teachers.”
Hofflich, whose office is always accepting internship applications for college-aged students interested in public policy, was recently named chair of an Asian American Pacific Islander Democratic Committee in Westchester, New York, formed in response to a rise in AAPI hate incidents.
Burnett teaching tandem provides unique simultaneous in-person, distance learning experience to students
For Burnett Elementary School sixth grade students, the math lessons come fast and furious from the teaching tandem of seasoned educators Kristian Lecours and Jennifer Harlow—whose classroom compatibility is contagiously engaging.
The duo immediately started team teaching at the very beginning of MUSD EducatEveryWhere in March 2020, and has not looked back. “Honestly, the benefits of team teaching are exponential to both students and teachers,” said Lecours, who is in his sixth year at Burnett. “The kids are held more accountable and engaged since we have two sets of eyes watching them.”
Lecours has a handful of in-person students in his classroom, the number depends on the day, while the rest of the class is remotely signed on through Zoom. Harlow is also online, monitoring the chat, providing helpful tips and words of encouragement while making sure students are staying on task. A Jamboard allows the in-person and online students to work simultaneously on the same questions.
“Sharing the workload has been amazing,” said Harlow, now in her 16th year at Burnett. The two share 67 sixth-grade students. “We have different strengths and bounce ideas off each other when it comes to instruction.”
Their chemistry is undeniable.
For math, Lecours takes the instructional lead. On this particular day, he projects the warm-up questions on the Jamboard and then rotates between calling on students logged on and in-person to work through problems step by step.
“What do you have to do here?” he asks an in-person student who responds, “divide both sides by 3.2.” Then, he turns to an online student to share, “what’s the shortcut?” Lecours, wearing a mask and shield at the front of the class, works at a steady pace to keep all the students engaged at once.
The daily school schedule consists of physical education, enrichment, reading, recess, math, lunch and social studies in the afternoon. In addition, students who need extra support stay on while others participate in small reading groups. They are reading the novel, “I Am Malala,” and the discussion has been robust. Harlow takes the lead in Language Arts while math is Lecours’ forte.
“In a weird way, the kids are more engaged, sharing more with better dialogue this way,” Lecours said. “We have kids in class who are Islamic, and they are way more comfortable sharing their beliefs and the students are super respectful.”
Each month, it is packet-pickup time for sixth-grade families. Again, Lecours and Harlow work in tandem, distributing work packets for math and science, items ordered by students from the Bulldog Boutique, and even some extra goodies for students. Parents, most with their children, drive through the parking lot to pick up the items as the Burnett teaching tandem greets them all with the same shared enthusiasm.
Rancho Milpitas Middle School received word this month from the California Department of Education that it was selected as a 2021 California Distinguished School.
The 2021 California Distinguished Schools Program recognizes California schools that have made exceptional gains in implementing the academic content and performance standards adopted by the State Board of Education for all students.
“This accomplishment is a result of our collective and collaborative professional efforts to support our students over the last several years,” said Rancho Principal Casey McMurray. “This is definitely a highlight in an otherwise very challenging school year.”
Rancho, which follows 2020 recipients Rose and Curtner Elementary Schools, qualified for this prestigious honor under Category 2 of the California Distinguished Schools Program for Exceptional Student Performance in English Language Arts and Mathematics as well as Suspension Rate and Chronic Absentee Indicators.
“We will celebrate this recognition and share it with our community,” McMurray said. “Kudos to each of our team members for the work they have done and continue to do despite the difficulties.”
View the CDE’s news release announcing this year’s Distinguished Schools at https://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr21/yr21rel20.asp
Student Perspectives: What teacher / support staff has made a positive impact in your distance learning this year, and why?
By Janet Le
MHS 12th grader
One of the teachers that has continued to make a positive impact on my distance learning is Ms. Ivy Nguyen. Her AP Statistics class does well in adhering to the class curriculum that we would have had during in person classes. Distance learning has severely decreased my motivation and engagement, but every time I attend Ms. Nguyen’s Zoom calls, I am greeted with energy. She also makes the effort to talk to the class, even though we are all zombies in the morning. Math is one of the subjects I struggle with the most, so I gladly appreciate that Ms. Nguyen has very concise presentations and notes. The homework assignments are consistently posted and neatly laid out in her weekly agendas. This has allowed me to manage my time better and reduce my stress. She has also been understanding throughout my technological difficulties and has spent time after school administering make up tests.
Another staff member that I have appreciated during distance learning is my guidance counselor, Mr. Hernandez. Mr. Hernandez has been extremely helpful and quick in responding to my emails about literally everything. The stress I had when applying for colleges was greatly reduced when I asked Mr. Hernandez about all the questions I had. Even though I felt like my questions may have sounded stupid or redundant, he always responded in a kind manner. I also had trouble with my schedule both first and second semester since I decided to drop an elective class to apply as a TA. This resulted in my attendance being messed up and my name not appearing on the correct rosters both semesters, which is completely understandable since all forms of communication to the office had been reduced to emailing. Mr. Hernandez was able to contact the right people and in a very efficient manner, which helped me and other staff members.
By Shivali Gulati
One teacher who has impacted my learning in a positive way is Mr. McGarry. Outside of teaching academy students English, Mr. McGarry has taken the initiative to reestablish E-Tech’s leadership council during distance learning. As our leadership advisor, Mr. McGarry guides over twenty E-Tech sophomores, juniors, and seniors in hosting monthly bonding events to maintain our academy’s strong sense of community virtually. Despite the overwhelming workload on students and teachers, he always enters our meetings with a large smile on his face, ready to engage with his students and turn our ideas into a reality. In particular, I admire Mr. McGarry’s dedication to not only making our academy-wide events as enjoyable as possible, but also how he encourages connections between the underclassmen and upperclassmen. From Star Wars references to Disney songs, seeing our academy come together with each event is only possible because of Mr. McGarry’s enthusiasm.
Beyond our leadership meetings, I have worked closely with Mr. McGarry and senior Aashna Gajaria to pitch E-Tech to several underclassmen over Zoom. With Mr. McGarry’s feedback, Aashna and I were able to pique the interest of eighty students by explaining our 3D-printed creations, NAF internship experience at Verizon, and involvement in the FlexFactor Business Program. As a senior, having the opportunity to represent E-Tech alongside Mr. McGarry has been so rewarding. I’m excited to see the future of E-Tech with Mr. McGarry’s leadership and positive mindset.
Mr. Barrett who is currently my teacher for AP Environmental Science has made learning about Environmental Science fun and engaging despite us being in distance learning. He has found ways that allow my peers and I to do labs that we normally would have done in person at home in a way that works for everyone. The labs give me hands-on experience about what I am learning and help me to learn better. As a result, I believe that being able to do the labs is a big deal. He also gives extra non-graded work that helps my peers and I practice, called enhancements. These have helped me to better understand what I am being taught and will help me receive a good score on the AP exam. Mr. Barrett makes a lot of jokes to help lighten the mood and make a better learning environment. Even if his jokes may be cheesy or corny they are still better than nothing. Mr. Barrett also does a good job of allowing everyone to get to know each other by putting us into random breakout rooms to work together. Mr. Barrett takes into consideration the difficulties students may be faced with online learning and gives plenty of time to complete assignments. I hope everyone takes environmental science to learn how to be more sustainable and protect the environment. It comes with an added bonus of having an amazing teacher.
The pandemic has thrown a curveball in everyone’s path, especially for the students that are missing out on a time that is made for memories. As a senior it was heartbreaking to realize I would miss out on the last big moments I would get to experience before starting a new journey. We started the year desperately trying to connect through a screen; we are in this together, but it feels like we are so far apart. Through it all my motivation came from my AVID teacher, Ms. Edwards. She has been my teacher since freshman year and helped me grow into the student I am today. She has always believed in all of her students, and I’ve never once felt like I was just a student in her class. I always felt like I was loved and seen. A thing I held onto from this school year was an activity she gave us. It was something most people forget to do, be grateful. It sounds like nothing major, but in a time where everything seems so dark you have to find the light even if you can barely see it. After that day I began to do it more frequently, and as time went on, everything didn’t seem as dark. It doesn’t seem like much, but it genuinely made a difference for me, and Ms.Edwards has always found ways to motivate, uplift, and empower us. She created an environment for our class to be like a family. At the end of the day, she is our biggest cheerleader, our shoulder to lean on, and the big warm hug we all need sometimes. She genuinely takes the time to take care of each and every one of her students, and she is the type of teacher I hope my future kids get to experience one day.
I have always had a lot of fun making connections with my teachers. Unfortunately, most of my teachers I only have for a full-year course, and it’s easy to lose connection. Being in the Academy of Travel and Tourism on the other hand, I am able to have a set of teachers that I see in class for three years of high school. Ms. Brownstein, in particular, has been such an impactful teacher, and it was only until this year when I was able to join our academy’s leadership team, that I had grown to appreciate her greatly. Every Wednesday when she hosts our academy leadership meeting, we are involved in student-lead activities. Ms. Brownstein would always be open to our ideas, and I'd say almost all of the academy activities have been thought out and executed by us, the students. One thing I really appreciate about Ms. Brownstein is her attentiveness; she works with us and understands us enough to understand our specific strengths. I take a special interest in being an enthusiastic leader who can lead groups of people, and noticing this, she would assign me to tasks that would help me further develop that skill.
Not only does she notice my strengths, but she can also be someone I can open up to about my doubts as a student. During college application season, Ms. Brownstein set aside time for us every Wednesday, to individually look over our college essays and talk to us about them. In this time, I was able to receive live feedback on my work and open up to her about my colleges and the expectations I feel as a student. Having this relationship with her has tremendously helped me in the great stressor of a pandemic due to the fact that I have a teacher who genuinely cares about me and not just the work I turn in. Throughout these years and the hours we encounter one another, I have learned a lot about Ms. Brownstein and how hard she has worked all of her life to push students like me to be their best selves.
A group of Milpitas High School students and members of the school’s Math Club are developing a new website that will connect Milpitas Unified School District employees with local property owners who have available rental units, including those in the new Robson homes with Accessory Dwelling Units.
“We will work with homeowners to see if they are willing to reserve their units for MUSD employees who are in need of rental units,” said Superintendent Cheryl Jordan. “School employees are excellent tenants.”
The concept arose when Superintendent Jordan met with Mark Robson of Robson Homes in September 2019. The new 38-home development includes 10 houses with ADUs, better known as granny units. The unique partnership blossomed after Superintendent Jordan proposed the idea of reserving those ADUs for school employees to Mr. Robson, who, in turn, suggested that the students create an app for connecting school employees with homebuyers in the new development.
In her remarks at the Robson Homes September 25, 2020 groundbreaking ceremony, Superintendent Jordan described the concept to those in the audience. “For each of those homes with ADUs, Robson will connect new home buyers with MUSD team members in order to provide opportunities for renting the auxiliary units,” said Jordan, who attended the ceremony, along with members of the Board of Education, that included the issuance of a $200,000 donation from Robson Homes to MUSD.
In the audience that morning was MUSD parent Gregory “Spike” Jones, who was inspired to take on the project with a group of MHS students. Always looking for an opportunity to include MUSD learners in a project such as this, Superintendent Jordan welcomed Mr. Jones’ offer to guide students from the MHS Math Club in developing the home rental platform.
“I think this is a win-win situation,” said Jones, a Math Club advisor. “It will help both school employees coming into Milpitas and those who have property for rent.”
Students, under Jones’ direction, have been creating an online platform, which will be accessible only to MUSD employees who can search a database of rental units by homeowners. The concept has since expanded and will include more than just the 10 ADUs from the Robson Homes project.
“I just thought it would be nice if we had photos of all the properties displayed as well as the addresses and all the information,” said MHS student Keryssa Li, who is one the web development team members.
Jones noted that the students are designing the website as a platform while he will work with MUSD staff to integrate it on the district’s intranet once completed.
“I’m treating the students as an engineering team for what we call a skip level project,” said Jones, who provided the students with an authentic project development experience.
Once the platform is complete, the next step will be to make it accessible to rental owners, just in time for recruiting the next class of innovative MUSD educators this spring.
Superintendent Cheryl Jordan and the Board of Education welcomed the elected and newly elected officials who represent Milpitas and Milpitas Unified School District to the first school board meeting of the 2021 calendar year.
Evelyn Chua (Milpitas City Councilmember), Alex Lee (District 25 Assemblymember), Otto Lee (District 3 County Supervisor), Bob Livengood (San José-Evergreen Community College District Board Trustee Area 1), and Bob Wieckowski (State Senate of 10th Senate District) all virtually attended the special recognition. Ro Khanna (17th Congressional District Representative) was unable to be present but sent his regards.
“I thank each of you for being here tonight, and we look forward to partnership with you and the support that we give each other in realizing the vision that each of you have touched on which is ensuring that we have a learning community that is focused on safety, security, and the possible for every person,” said Superintendent Jordan.
Each of the representatives were given an opportunity to address the Milpitas community as part of the joint recognition.
“I’m really proud of, thankful for, and I believe in the MUSD education system,” said Chua, a 32-year Milpitian, first-time city council member and mother of a MUSD alumna who has worked alongside Milpitas HS student groups on humanitarian efforts over the years. “I’m really proud of the students. They are really the young leaders of our community and they are working hard everyday.”
Assemblymember Alex Lee, a member of the 2013 Milpitas HS graduating class elected to his post in November 2020, spoke highly of his experience at MUSD schools and how it helped shape his beliefs system today.
“There are very rare opportunities at any stage of life where you go to a place where you have the entire intersection of a community. No matter if you’re rich or you’re poor, or you’re athletic or you’re an AP student, or whatever category you fall into, we all go to school at the same place, (where) we all learn from each other,” Assemblymember Lee recalled. “I take that learning with me to the state assembly where I represent proudly my hometown of Milpitas.”
Livengood, another product of the MUSD education system and former City of Milpitas mayor, was honored to share the moment with the rest of the elected officials.
“I think Milpitas is pretty lucky. ...We have great people (representing our region), and they work really hard,” Livengood said. “I’ve been able to work with all of them at one point or another, and I look forward to working with all of you.”
Senator Wieckowski shared insights into the state budget process and status, stating that “help was on the way,” while Supervisor Lee offered an update on the COVID-19 outlook and vaccination rollout.
“I’m certainly honored to represent this district,” Supervisor Lee said. “We are definitely here for you everyday to make sure Santa Clara County stays strong.”
More than 200 Milpitas Unified School District employees participated in its first routine run of COVID-19 staff testing on December 15-16 before schools headed into the Winter holiday break.
In total, 213 COVID-19 tests were completed and submitted through Curative, which partnered with the district to help administer the non-contact, drive-through testing process for certificated and classified staff. Of the 213 tests, 208 came back negative with one positive result and four others deemed insufficient samples.
“Along with ensuring the utmost safety for all staff, students, and families, our intention is to test all employees monthly before moving to bi-monthly when conditions are safe to move to in-person learning support aligned with our MUSD EducatEveryWhere plan” said Superintendent Cheryl Jordan, who was one of the 213 to participate in the first round of testing.
Employees, who were divided into four groups to avoid congestion, drove into the large parking lot at 1331 E. Calaveras Boulevard, stopping at four stations.
Without rolling down their vehicle window, the driver would show their QR code and registration to the employee who would in turn find that person's test packet and place it on a table at the next station. The driver would go to that station, roll down their window, pick up the test packet, and roll the window back up. At the next station, the driver would open the test packet and self-administer the mouth swab test while in their vehicle, as an employee looked on from outside, keeping track of the time and making sure the test was done correctly. Finally, the driver would move up to the last station, and drop their test packet into a test collection box before driving away.
This was a test run of a bi-monthly testing plan for staff that will continue in 2021 at MUSD, which has been proactive since the onset of the pandemic in implementing various COVID-19 safety measures such as promoting and educating social distancing and exposure protocols to staff, students and the Milpitas community through its Safety First Campaign.
“Our Safety First Testing Team made the process smooth and easy to self-administer,” Superintendent Jordan shared. “It was wonderful to see their smiling eyes, and begin this next level of safety for all."