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OUSD Newsletter, 4/28/2019
OUSD Newsletter, 4/28/2019
Linda Jordan
Monday, April 29, 2019
Ojai Unified School District News update your preferences

Cultural Literacy Initiative

Dr. Sherrill Knox presents the District Plan for Cultural Literacy and Anti-Bias Education.  To view the discussion, click on image  

After three months of planning and inviting community input, on April 17th Dr. Sherrill Knox presented OUSD’s Cultural Literacy Initiative, including supporting curriculum and events, to the School Board.  

Dr. Knox began the presentation with a special thanks to the Ojai community and The Ojai Alliance for Education Equity (OAEE) for input throughout the process.  “We received many emails from our community, and held several meetings and discussions with the Ojai Alliance for Education Equity.  Everything we learned during these discussion went into the plan,” said Dr. Knox, adding “By no means is this plan an exhaustive list,” stating that because OUSD schools enjoy independence to add special programming, each site can add to the plan.  ”One example of school sites choosing whatever they’d like to add to this programming is that Mira Monte and Topa Topa schools recently took their fifth and sixth graders to visit the Museum of Tolerance.” Dr. Knox later added that the Cultural Literacy initiative is “... something we can commit to; a  concrete list we can look at, and work, on together”.

During the presentation, Dr. Knox stated OUSD recently invited Anti-Defamation League (ADL) educators to host a 3-hour training entitled “Hate and Anti-Bias Training” for all OUSD teachers.  “We received excellent feedback from our teachers, and we will be looking at other options from the ADL in future,” said Dr. Knox.

Many pieces of the Cultural Literacy initiative have already launched, said Dr. Knox.  “Last week, I was able to visit one of our school sites as Fifth and Sixth graders viewed a presentation on the Civil Rights movement led by Lanny Kaufer….” which included a history on Caesar Chavez and the Farm Workers Movement of 1962.  “The Civil Rights Assembly is in the permanent plan for all four elementary sites annually, and this presentation will continue year-over-year“.

Mr. Kaufer is an Ojai resident, musician, songwriter and retired teacher who taught full time at Santa Paula High School from 1996 to 2007.  “After going to the South in 1965 to volunteer for Dr. King’s SCOPE Project and experiencing the intolerance there, I’m pleased with the district’s swift and thoughtful response to recent instances of bias, and honored to be a part of the new Cultural Diversity initiative.”   The Cultural Literacy program begins at the Kindergarten/Transitional Kindergarten level using Social and Emotional Learning curriculum that is age-appropriate and helps students develop tools to solve conflicts as they arise.  “From there, we provide anti-bias lessons that are structured and developmentally appropriate for each grade level,” said Dr. Knox. “Our aim in implementing these lesson plans and special events across all grade levels is to add that competency of knowing about one another’s cultures, and be culturally responsive and empathetic”

Additionally…..”...we are currently piloting social studies curriculum across the district, in an effort to align to our new framework of delivering lessons across multiple perspectives.”  

Other in-programming efforts, which will be repeated annually, include but are not limited to: “Hate Symbols Assembly” held at Matilija Middle School and led by the Anti-Defamation League; “See Something, Say Something Week” anti-bias/anti-bullying focus, culminating in a visit from a Holocaust Survivor; and a Disability Awareness Workshop. 

For more information on OUSD's Cultural Literacy initiative, please contact Dr. Knox at

Staff Spotlight: Bond Managers Alan White and Adam Dutter


As OUSD continues to implement necessary infrastructure updates, and launches several major projects this Summer, with Measure J funding, the OUSD School Board and Staff welcome two Bond Managers to the District.  

OUSD Bond Manager Adam Dutter was born and raised in Ojai, and attended  Meiners Oaks Elementary and Matilija Junior High Schools, graduating from Nordhoff High School in 1999.  Mr. Dutter’s fond memories of attending OUSD schools include competing on three state championship cross country teams under Ken Reeves and on three league championship swim teams under current Athletic Director Rene Nakao-Mach. “My wife is also a lifelong Ojai resident, and Nordhoff graduate, and now we have two kids who attend San Antonio and another starting kindergarten next year,” noted Mr. Dutter, adding “ I am definitely passionate about,  and personally invested in, OUSD”  

After graduating from Nordhoff High School, Mr. Dutter  attended Ventura College, earning his Associates Degree, and embarking on a career in national facilities maintenance. In his new job, Dutter was  charged with managing all recurring exterior maintenance and large capital projects at over 1,000 locations across the country. Later, Mr. Dutter managed maintenance, capital projects, and negotiated vendor contracts for over 100 locations nationwide. He eventually moved to the role of Purchasing Manager at The Ojai Valley Inn, managing  a team that was responsible for all operational, retail, and culinary goods for the property. Eventually that role expanded to include the review, planning, and execution of various on-site construction capital projects.

“I'm truly grateful and feel very blessed to be able to work here at OUSD. Not only do I get to give back to the schools & Ojai Valley, but I get to directly impact the school experience for my kids and all the other kids in the valley,” said Mr. Dutter.

Bond Manager Alan White was hired in January of this year as the second Bond Project Manager, focusing on construction field work.  Mr. White brings with him over 45 years of work experience in the construction field.

Licensed as a general contractor, Mr. White’s business history as a stone material supplier has given him a strong background in materials acquisition and management.  Mr. White has also designed, built, and operated food processing plants, adding a variety of construction and management experience from the perspective of maintaining these plants and multiple sites.

Prior to his involvement in construction in 1980, Alan worked for Pacific Gas & Electric.   During a recent presentation to the OUSD School Board, Mr. White notes that he he has already initiated a number of projects

Mr. White shared that the construction projects outlined for Summer of 2019 will make for a busy season.  “With HVAC projects at 6 sites, paving at 4 sites, roofing at 5 sites, painting at 2 sites, blind installation at 4 sites, and major projects such as the Matilija Gym, Nordhoff Library and Pool, we definitely understand the sense of urgency to get these facilities upgraded while students and staff are off-site this summer,” noted Mr. White.   Mr. Dutter added that “Based on this list, some of these campuses will have quite a bit of construction traffic over the summer. We ask that the community please respect any closure or safety signs when visiting the campuses”

For more information on Measure J projects, please visit the OUSD website

      Nordhoff  College Fair and Campus Visits 

      Providing Student Insight on Further Education, Workforce Readiness 

Dr. Zenda Abbott, Director, CTE  Outreach at Ventura County Office of Education, shares insight on Career Technical Education opportunities with a group of Nordhoff Freshmen  

Nordhoff High School recently hosted a first-of-its-kind College Fair, as a collaborative effort between Nordhoff Staff, Volunteers and the Nordhoff Parent Association.

The college fair had its beginnings in the Fall of 2018, when OUSD parent Briana Beebe brought the idea of a College Fair to Assistant Principal Jamie Rooney.  Ms. Beebe has deep roots in Ojai as a long-time business owner, and parent of OUSD students. She felt  students did not have easy access to the college search process and wanted to provide an event that all NHS students could attend.

From the outset, logistically this event was quite an undertaking.   From emailing an impressive list of colleges, to following up, and coordinating with staff to ensure there was time built-in to  the students’ day to attend, it took many hours to get the college fair up and running.

“As always, events this size require a small army of volunteers to bring everything together,” noted Ms. Beebe, who invited the Nordhoff Parent Association to partner on sourcing the College Fair.  The NPA provided volunteers to help with setup, as well as providing breakfast and lunch for the College Fair exhibitors. Forty “Swag Bag” of Ojai Pixies, donated by Jim Churchill and the Ojai Pixie Growers Association, were also assembled by NPA volunteers.  Finally, coffee, juice and muffins were provided for students who attended special presentations on Western Undergraduate Exchange, schools, and a Financial Aid talk for graduating Seniors.

“Nordhoff Assistant Principal, Ms. Rooney, has been an indispensable partner in planning and implementing the college fair. Without her, and the greater Nordhoff community, this event would not have been possible,” noted Ms. Beebe.  “We worked together to provide our students opportunities to see many post-graduation options, in addition to dispelling myths about colleges regarding affordability and entrance requirements,” noted Ms. Beebe.  Ms. Rooney agreed, noting that “This is especially important for our students who may be the first generation considering post secondary education. Events like this inform and empower our students to bring the most important facts back to their parents and other family decision makers”

In a recent conversation with The Ojai Valley News, Principal Dave Monson shared, “We believe getting students exposed to as many options as possible will increase their chances of finding something they are truly passionate about,” Monson said. “And when they find something they’re passionate about, they are more likely to see it through to completion and move closer toward a career and financial security.”

 After months of effort and coordination, on the day of the College Fair, a total of 32 Universities and Colleges from as far away as Victoria, BC, Hawaii and Montana, as well as three branches of the military and four trade schools, were in attendance.

Additionally, and as part of an ongoing opportunity for Nordhoff students, AVID and CSF students visited UCLA and USC campuses last week.  “This year, 44 students joined us on college tour day. The goal of this field trip is to get students on a college campus and open their eyes to opportunities that are available on a variety of college campuses,” said Bronwen Cull-Michels, AVID teacher, and NHS Counselor.   

 As part of the campus visit selection process, students voted on a number of schools and chose UCLA and USC, and Nordhoff Teacher and Aquatics Coach Jermaine Britton, Career and College Center Coordinator Sarah Escobar, Principal Dave Monson and Ms. Cull-Michels chaperoned the trip. “At USC, Nordhoff Class of 2018 Alum Lily Johnson took us on a tour.  Then we headed to UCLA, where we ate lunch in the Student Union, and class of 2018 Alum Jesse Kuehn took us on a tour of UCLA” Ms. Cull-Michels added that having two Ranger alums as tour guides made the tours more personal, as both Ms. Johnson and Mr. Kuehn spoke about their personal experience as new college students. “It inspired our students, seeing former Rangers achieving success on these campuses.  All in all, it was a great day!”

For more information on Nordhoff High School, please contact Principal Dave Monson at

Nutrition Services Seeks Help in Addressing Unpaid Meal Accounts

During a recent presentation to OUSD School Board, Julie Chessen, Director of Nutrition Services noted, “Since 2012, Nutrition Services has  been developing relationships with local farmers to grow for Ojai Unified schools' increasing fresh fruit and vegetable demands.  "Nutrition Services has developed new recipes for each new offering and brings in Harvest of the Month (HOTM) produce for special taste-testing events for our students.  This helps to educate our students to try new produce choices, such as persimmons and pomegranates”, noted Ms. Chessen. “Taste testing also helps us to determine ‘likeability’, and future ordering needs, of all new offerings, cutting down on food waste, an OUSD initiative”

Nutrition Services incorporates HOTM produce into breakfasts, snacks and lunches in appealing and inventive ways.  “Our very popular Holiday meal in December, consists of tamale pie, pozole, and the Harvest of the Month carrots, locally-sourced from Steel Acres farm in Meiners Oaks,” noted Ms. Chessen.

Ojai Unified Nutrition Services team serves over 1,200  nutritious and balanced meals to students everyday, but regrettably, this year OUSD Nutrition Services is struggling with an unprecedented amount of debt, due to unpaid meal accounts. Currently, monies owed to Nutrition Services from OUSD families totals over $13,000. As the California Department of Education doesn’t allow its schools’ Nutrition Services Departments to write-off unpaid debt, the district becomes responsible for paying the negative balances at the close of the school year.  “These funds are pulled from the district general fund, which directly affects funds used for students in the classroom,” noted Ms. Chessen. “We do not want to take these funds from student education, and are asking for our OUSD families to help us in balancing this debt. Our team does everything we can to keep student meal prices affordable for families. But we also have an obligation to meet our expenses, including paying vendors and staff”

Because Nutrition Services has an obligation to serve ALL students who come through the cafeteria line, “..unlike stories you may have read in the media, here at OUSD, students are never denied a meal,” said Ms. Chessen.. “If a student does not have money to pay for their meal, we will charge the student’s account.”  Moreover, students are allowed to take the same meal as everyone else, as OUSD’s Nutrition Services staff will not serve a ‘crackers-and-milk’ type of emergency meal.

“Understandably, as ala carte items (chips, crackers, etc.) are lower in nutritional value, our Nutrition Services staff cannot allow a student to charge these items to an account with a negative balance,” added Ms. Chessen.  Students at Matilija and Nordhoff must pay for these items at the service window.

“At OUSD, we feel that student cafeteria accounts are in place to enable students to easily make meal purchases,” said Ms. Chessen.  “We understand that some families may get behind on making payments because of financial struggles,” noted Ms. Chessen. “If a family is experiencing financial difficulties, even if only temporarily, we encourage those families to apply for no-cost or reduced-price meals.”   Ms. Chessen added that her staff can help with the application process, found here

Alternatively, debt can accrue because students forget to bring lunch money or because parents don’t know their kids are charging a lunch.  If parents or guardians prefer their student to not charge meals, they can find a “No Cafeteria Charging” Request Form on the Nutrition Services website under Applications & Forms here 

Check your child's cafeteria account by clicking here . If you find your student does have a negative balance, please use one of the following methods to make payments:

1) Online payment through Parent Connect. If you do not have a username and password, contact your school site secretary. 2) Send check or cash with your child to the school site cafeteria manager.   3) Mail a check to OUSD Nutrition Services to the following address (please provide child's name with student identification number):Ojai Unified School District Nutrition Services, P.O. Box 878, Ojai, CA 93024

If the general public  is interested in making a DONATION, please contact Julie Chessen, Director of Nutrition Services, at  (805) 640-4300 ext. 1079 or

Ojai Pixie Day: A Long-Standing OUSD Tradition

               Mira Monte Leadership Students help to bag Ojai Pixies

Since 2008, around the 2nd week of April, Ojai Pixie Growers have been delivering truckloads of the unique and tantalizing tangerine as a gift to OUSD students and staff.  To help explain the beginnings of this tradition, we caught up with Jim Churchill, one of Ojai’s original Pixie Growers, and co-founder of The Ojai Pixie Growers Association. Mr. Churchill had just returned from a Pixie  “junket” in Iowa when we spoke. Mr. Churchill noted that he and Emily Ayala of Friends Ranch travel to other states to share their love of the Ojai Pixie with wholesalers, grocery stores and customers.

Mr.  Churchill has been farming in the Ojai Valley since 1978.  “I knew nothing at all about Pixies,” noted Mr. Churchill, and he credits his now life-long love of the Pixie tangerine to a visit with Tony Thacher, owner and operator of Friends Ranch. “At that time, I had 37 acres of bacon avocados, and the market changed.  They just stopped buying the avocados,” said Mr. Churchill. So, he had to make a change as well. 

As he was considering other crops to plant, and during a discussion with Mr. Thacher at the Friends Ranch Packing House, Churchill noticed the small tangerines, and tried one.  He liked the taste of the tangerine, and asked Thacher, “Do you sell them?” Mr. Thacher responded that his father-in-law, Elmer Friend, had planted 200 trees just prior to the floods that devastated the Ojai Valley in 1969, and only two trees had survived. The trees produced enough for his family, and “... my kids eat all the Pixies.” From these humble beginnings, an idea formed. And, In 1981, Tony Thacher and Jim Churchill  became the original Pixie growers in the valley, forming The Ojai Pixie Growers Association, which is now comprised of over 60 local farmers.

More than 30 years later, one of the Friends Ranch “kids” is current Ojai Pixie Grower, and fifth-generation Friends Ranch farmer, Emily Ayala.  Ms. Ayala is understandably proud of the Friends Ranch history. “We’ve been ranching in the Ojai Valley since the 1870s, and we’ve always been teachers and farmers.  Education and Agriculture are the two loves of our family,” said Ms. Ayala, noting that it’s perhaps because “Both are good, honest professions.”

Although the Pixie fruit was developed by the University of California at Riverside in the 1960s, the Ojai Valley is the only place they’re grown commercially.  Ms. Ayala noted that the popularity of the Pixie has to do with the fact they’re very low acid, easy to peel, and they don’t have seeds. “Basically, they’re a kid-friendly fruit,” she said.

According to Mr. Churchill, the now ten-year tradition of delivering truck-loads of free Ojai Pixies to local schools and  students, was Ms. Ayala’s idea. “We had one year where we had smaller fruit - called a “pony” size - and Emily Ayala at Friends Ranch came up with the idea to give these away to the schools,” said Mr. Churchill.  “This year we are delivering to all 8 OUSD school sites, as well as Sunset school in Oak View,” said Ms. Ayala. 

The best part about the Pixie delivery, according to Ms. Ayala, is that “The local students’ moms, dads, and grandparents who pick the fruit are excited to be associated with the delivery, part of an agricultural family.  This may be the only time they’re really honored and made to feel proud of what they do,” said Ms. Ayala. She remembers that “The very first year we visited Topa Topa school, a little girl burst into tears, saying ‘My grandfather works so hard”’.  She was made to feel proud of her grandfathers efforts because all the kids loved the Pixies so much. Ms. Ayala, and all of the Ojai Pixie Growers Association families, look forward to delivering Pixies to the students at Ojai Unified Schools for years to come.

Matilija: Social Media Awareness and Social Emotional Learning

In a continuing effort to provide resources for a student-centered learning environment, Matilija Middle School will be welcoming Kerry Holden as a part-time counselor in the 2019/20 academic year,.  Ms. Holden has worked in education for over 30 years and holds a Pupil Personnel Services Credential from California Lutheran University, and has been an elementary teacher and counselor, working with at-risk students.   Ms Holden has also worked as a school counselor at Nordhoff and Villanova High Schools. Carol Paquette, Matilija Assistant Principal said, “Ms. Holden will be a great asset to Matilija, as we welcome our new 6th graders and new Social Emotional Learning curriculum.”  

Additionally, in a collaborative effort with Matilija PTO, Matilija Junior High is offering a free Social Media Workshop for parents on Tuesday, May 7th from 6:30 - 8:00 pm in the Matilija auditorium. “Guest speaker Shane Bruce, MA, LMFT will discuss invaluable skills parents need to help their child cope with the pressure and anxiety of using social media,” said Javier Ramirez, Matilija Principal.  Additional topics include learning about social media’s effects on the brain, an opportunity for Q & A, and much more.

A similar workshop will be presented during the school day to Matilija students, noted Mr. Ramirez. 

For more information on Matilija Middle School, please contact Principal Ramirez at

Meiners Oaks Elementary: Perfect Partnerships 

Ojai Rotary members visited Meiners Oaks Elementary on Arbor Day

On Friday, April 26th, Meiners Oaks Elementary celebrated Arbor Day by inviting  Ojai Rotary to lunch, to view special student projects and plant trees on the school grounds.   “It was a perfect day, and another example of the partnerships that are so vital to our schools," said Theresa Dutter, Meiners Oaks Elementary Principal.  "We certainly thank these very dedicated residents, retirees, business professionals and business owners without whom we would not be able to complete many of our ongoing projects".  Ms. Dutter noted that the celebration included singing an Arbor Day song with the after-school TK/K cub club kids”

“Speaking of ongoing projects, Spring has sprung in our Transitional Kindergarten/Kindergarten classrooms, and our students have been experiencing the wonderful changes the earth has to offer,” said Ms. Dutter.   Art and Science curriculum are combined, as students are learning the plant life cycle while planting seeds and growing beautiful zinnias in a hand-painted pot.  “These projects will be ready to go home just in time for TK/K student gifts for Mother’s Day,” said Ms. Dutter.

Students are also starting a caterpillar habitat in the classroom to help them learn about the life cycle of a butterfly.  “After three weeks of observation, we will be releasing our butterflies into our butterfly garden, located in the TK/K playground,” said Ms. Dutter.  “We will also be decorating our butterfly houses graciously donated by Meiners Oaks Elementary School PTA” 

For more information on Meiners Oaks Elementary School, please contact Principal Dutter at

Please visit The Ojai Unified School District website here for updates, including information  on scheduled Board and Special Meetings.

Need to start planning for Summer vacation? Click on image, below, to view OUSD Calendar for the 2019/20 Academic Year