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Preparing Our Children for Success

A rare occurrence happened on the evening of February 10 at Northridge Academy High School. Parents, teachers, students, school administrators, neighborhood council representatives and city officials gathered in the school’s multipurpose room, all addressing the same question: “What will education in the North Valley Look Like in 2010?

This unique event, which had close to 40 participants, was coordinated by Nestor Fantini, Education Chair for NENC with Karen Green of Darby Elementary School and Jeanie Mortensen of Northridge Academy High School. NENC board member Thom Baker emceed the event and NENC president Steve Patel and members Kelly Lord, Peter McCarty and Steven Ramirez were in attendance.

Local schools from elementary through high school were represented by:

  • Karen Matsui, Principal of Northridge Academy
  • Dr. Greg Vallone, Principal of Holmes Middle School
  • Ani Okkasian, Field Director for Board of Education member Tamar Galatzan;
  • Virginia Ghonier, Principal of Darby Elementary
  • Martina Turner, Communications and Outreach Director of Highland Hall Waldorf School
  • Dr. Celeste Nguyen, Andasol Elementary
  • Helen Kamenos, Principal of St. Nicholas School
  • Pam Norberg, Weekday Preschool; Raquel Avila, Director of the Parent Center at Northridge Academy High
  • Sheri Herson, Andasol Elementary.

Other dignitaries included:

  • Armineh Chelebian, candidate for the 40th District Assembly seat
  • Mitchell Englander, Chief of Staff for Councilman Greig Smith
  • Melvin Canas, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment
  • Kathy Arnos, Director of Whole Children, Whole Planet
  • Officer Dan Del Valle, Los Angeles Police Department
  • Joel Lipin and the Boy Scouts of America Troop 911
  • Addy Gonzalez, Arts in Education Aid Council.


The evening was kicked off with a presentation by Dr. Gregory Vallone, principal of Holmes Middle School, who last year surpassed all other Los Angeles schools in closing the test score gap for all students. Dr. Vallone encouraged parents to create a roadmap for their child’s education, gain a better understanding of the importance of multiple-choice tests and to learn to pinpoint their child’s academic needs. Vallone believes we need to meet every child’s needs. He has incorporated this into his school’s education program by developing Just In Time Instruction (JIDI). The concept behind this tutoring program is to focus in on the standard the student doesn’t understand and not the entire lesson plan.


Other school principals in attendance asked for more involvement from parents and community members, both in the classroom and as technical advisors. With LAUSD and city budget cuts coming from all sides, the schools need more volunteer help than the have in past years. Said one principal, “We know how to turn on the computers, but when they break we have no one to fix them.” Another added, “Our IT person is now our priest.” Physical fitness was yet another area that has been abandoned by budget cuts.


Armineh Chelebia, a parent and a candidate for state assembly, urged parents to become more involved in their child’s school(s).  “I felt my involvement made a difference,” she said. Believing that children should go through school with purpose and passion, Chelebian suggested  possible internships so that they can realize their dreams.


Councilman Greig Smith’s Chief of Staff Mitchell Englander talked about the disappearance of shop and woodworking classes in the schools and fewer trade schools in general, which has depleted our local skilled labor force. He stressed the importance of volunteering our time to the schools and the need for us all to partner with non-profits to get the work done.


Piggybacking on this thought, Ms. Matsui, prinicipal of Northridge Academy High School said schools need mentors so that students can get an idea of what the workforce is like so they can be competitive. In hopes of achieving this, NAHS has developed an internship program which it hopes to present to several community groups.


Audience member Louis Pugliese, who trains teachers at CSUN noted, it has to be a collaborative process. “Teachers have to become volunteer magnets,” he said. He suggests schools evaluate teachers on the number of parent volunteers they have. “We need volunteers in every classroom next year.”


Adding onto this, Kelly Lord said, “We all need to be responsible. We need parents to lead by example.”


Going forward, NENC president Steve Patel envisions the council as a hub for the private sector, schools and the community to find solutions for these and other issues.


In conclusion, Nestor Fantini, Education Chair of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, and the organizer of Education Forum 2010 said, “”I am very pleased with the outcome of this first forum.  It is obviously the beginning of a dialogue that will hopefully lead to teachers, parents, politicians, and residents cooperating to improve the quality of education in our Northridge schools”.

Discussions at the Education Forum 2010 identified eight action items. The hope is that working with teachers, administrators and students in Northridge schools will stimulate neighborhood involvement in achieving and sustaining excellence in the education of our children.


  1. School administrators, teachers, parents and students will create a list of the un-met needs in their schools.
  2. School administrators and teachers will gather the generic student standard evaluations and inter-semester standard reports and create strategies to get every student to be above the average in math and literacy scores and to establish the goal of 100% graduation so that by the time a child graduates from high school they are prepared and motivated to lead a self-sustaining life.
  3. NENC will canvas the neighbors to inventory the time and talents that can be matched to the needs of the schools.
  4. The schools will write job descriptions for the volunteers that state the amount of time, and what talents are required.
  5. NENC’s Education Committee will work with the schools to match volunteer positions with volunteers and conduct an interview process to qualify and place the volunteers.
  6. NENC will contact the Sherry Lansing Foundation to pay for the screening of the volunteers to make sure all the legal and education appropriate evaluations of volunteers are appropriate and properly vetted.
  7. NENC’s Education Committee will review the following areas of concentration to consolidate resources and leverage strengths and weaknesses of schools:


    1. The need for music literacy, theatrical arts, physical education, vocational arts, forensics/public speaking, debate, cursive writing, etc.
    2. The goal to identify and spread best practices in areas of:

i.      Just In Time tutoring,

ii.      Pre-K through 12th grade strategies to allow students and their parents to explore and develop strategies for college, careers and volunteerism,

iii.      After school programs that partner with for profit, nonprofit and volunteer organizations in the NENC,

iv.      Others


    1. Develop student work study, apprentice and mentoring programs with NENC Education committee to meet the work force need in:

i.      Businesses

ii.      Non-profits

iii.      Professions

iv.      Government agencies


    1. Work with CSUN Department of Education to increase the number of teachers, assistant teachers and volunteers in the every classroom in NENC schools. The “old” method of one teacher in a classroom needs to be replaced with the “new” method of multiple teachers and volunteers in the classrooms.


  1. NENC will conduct a workshop of best practices to increase the active participation and leadership of:


    1. Teachers
    2. Administrators
    3. Parents (especially parents who cannot participate in the schools because they do not live nearby or have transportation)
    4. Students
    5. NENC neighbors who do not have children in school, but have the time, talent or resources to help meet the un-met needs in the education of children in the NENC.
    6. NENC volunteers to run the NENC Education website, “brainstorming” and team building with school administrators, teachers and PTA members to enhance opportunities and address the barriers to educational achievement in the schools.
    7. School administrators, teachers, students and their parents in:

i.      NENC physical fitness and nutrition program,

ii.      NENC CERT training and NENC emergency response program

iii.      NENC Environmental Programs:

1.      Recycling programs to raise money for schools

2.      Community gardens and nutrition programs

3.      Energy efficiency and conservation programs

4.      Out reach for CSUN Institute for Sustainability programs

5.      Other

iv.       NENC will work with CSUN to promote Community Health and Well Being programs,

v.   NENC will work with Senior programs in the community

vi.  NENC will partner with the Northridge Kiwanis to put on this year’s Northridge Festival, and the fireworks display

vii.     NENC will work with PALS and Devonshire programs for at-risk youth


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