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News & Updates

SpeakUp for Safety logo
Marieanne Quiroz

VUSD launches new partnership with school safety technology company Gaggle, called SpeakUp for Safety which will help curb bullying and threats of violence.

The Ventura Unified School District (VUSD) announced an impactful collaboration with the school safety technology company Gaggle. This partnership aims to launch a SpeakUp for Safety tipline, enabling students to report threats of violence, instances of bullying, peers in crisis, and other imminent concerns affecting students’ well-being and security in a simple and confidential manner.

Gaggle’s team of safety professionals will diligently monitor the SpeakUp for Safety tipline 24/7 during the regular school year and summer school sessions. Non-life-threatening tips will be swiftly directed to designated school or district staff members. In more severe situations, district-appointed contacts will be promptly notified to take necessary action. In cases of immediate danger to a student when Gaggle cannot reach a district-appointed contact, law enforcement will be alerted for immediate intervention.

“Our district chose to implement Gaggle SpeakUp as part of our commitment to fostering a safe and supportive environment for our students. By partnering with Gaggle, we aim to enhance and cultivate a culture where students feel empowered to speak up and feel heard, supported, and protected within our school community,” stated Maria Elizarraras, Director of Student Support Services.  

city and district dignitaries cutting ribbon near site of project
Marieanne Quiroz

This project was specifically designed to enhance the safety and convenience of travel to and from Montalvo Elementary School for students and their families and to provide a more accessible neighborhood for the Montalvo community.

The City of Ventura has announced the successful completion of the Montalvo Safe Routes to School Project. To commemorate this achievement, the City hosted a ribbon-cutting event on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, at the corner of Bristol Road and Grand Avenue.

The event featured key stakeholders and dignitaries, including the Ventura Unified School District, Montalvo Community Council, Montalvo Elementary School, City Council, staff, and community members.

The Montalvo Safe Routes to School Project was a collaborative effort representing a substantial investment in our community's infrastructure. It was specifically designed not only to enhance the safety and convenience of travel to and from Montalvo Elementary School for students and their families but also to provide a more accessible neighborhood for the Montalvo community. The new sidewalks and bike lanes not only facilitate travel to school but also allow the residents of Montalvo to interact more freely with their neighbors, promoting a healthy lifestyle and fostering community connections.

"This remarkable project is a shining example of what can be achieved when a community comes together. It has been a labor of love, driven by partnerships and dedicated community members," said Mayor Joe Schroeder. "These collaborative efforts have resulted in crucial improvements to the Montalvo neighborhood, benefiting our students, families, and the entire community, fostering a stronger sense of community identity. The project was about more than just the school; it also improves safety since people don't need to walk in the street.

The Montalvo Safe Routes to School Project included over two miles of continuous sidewalks, one mile of new bike lanes, 12 new curb ramps, reconstruction of 26 existing curb ramps, 27 new pedestrian and bicycle crossings, and the installation of new landmark signage that enhanced the Montalvo neighborhood's identity while improving safety and accessibility for its residents.

A significant portion of the project was funded by a Caltrans grant totaling $1.38 million, contributing to the broader Safe Routes to School program to improve student safety across the state. The City of Ventura also demonstrated its commitment to the project, contributing an additional $1 million through Measure O and gas tax funds to ensure its successful completion.

The Montalvo Safe Routes to School Project was another milestone in Ventura's ongoing efforts to enhance pedestrian infrastructure, following similar projects in West Ventura and near Anacapa Middle School on Telegraph Road.

"I would like to share my appreciation with the city of Ventura for securing and dedicating this funding to realize the Montalvo phase of the safe routes to school implementation," expressed Dr. Antonio Castro, Superintendent of the Ventura Unified District. "These improvements have the potential to generate an even more active walking and bicycling community to and from school. Any reduction to the number of vehicles present during school drop-off and pick-up times is welcomed, as is the possibility of helping promote the physical growth and development of our Ventura Unified students."

  • Montalvo
solar panels on parking structure
Marieanne Quiroz

Comprehensive energy program will leverage Federal funding to implement integrated solutions at all 27 school sites and capture an expected $106 million in net energy savings.

Ventura Unified School District (VUSD) recently approved a contract with ENGIE North America (ENGIE) for comprehensive solar, LED building lighting, customized sports facility LED lighting, and an integrated STEM internship and student engagement program. As the first K-12 school district along the Central Coast to leverage Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding, VUSD will also utilize bond funding to help pay for the project and expand its technical scope which will positively improve sustainability outcomes across the District.

Serving approximately 15,000 students across 27 school and campus facility sites, VUSD leadership and the supporting community have long prioritized the design of a financially-viable energy program to capture energy savings and align with local and state climate action goals. ENGIE worked with the District to lock in favorable Net Energy Metering 2.0 rates for the next 20 years. VUSD is also committed to delivering sustainable solutions across all school sites – many of which are located in economically underserved parts of the city.

This project is financially attractive for the District and will reduce its overall electricity costs by 70 percent over 30 years. This work will be done across schools with a Southern California-based team of ENGIE project engineers. The combined project scope will include:

  • 4,708 kW solar PV scope across 25 sites and parking canopy solar structures
  • Interior/exterior LED lighting and occupancy sensor controls at nine sites;
  • Sports Field LED lighting at Buena High School and Ventura High School, reusing existing lighting infrastructure poles to minimize extended construction impact on the fields; and
  • Integrated STEM offerings aligned with real-time project data production, including professional development for teachers, hands-on engineering design learning for students, and six dedicated summer intern opportunities for local students.

The VUSD program is expected to save $133 million in energy costs over the lifetime of the project. The District should be eligible for $14 million in IRA federal funding dollars that will go directly to it after the project is completely constructed.

“As thoughtful stewards of our community’s resources, Ventura Unified has been interested in solar energy and high-efficiency LED lighting systems for many years. Unfortunately, making those changes was cost-prohibitive until recently,” stated Board President, Sabrena Rodriguez. “Thanks to the generosity of our community by passing Measure E, a general obligation bond to update our schools, we can now make these changes a reality. These changes are not only a positive step towards sustainability and resilience for the District, but they will also provide opportunities for our students and staff to learn about how green technologies can be good for the financial bottom line — creating a win-win for the community and our schools.”

"The IRA is a true gamechanger for our ENGIE customers – now that we are seeing local leaders like VUSD start to directly build out projects that leverage potential IRA funding, it is clear what a win-win this is for energy communities across the U.S.,” said Jean-Francois Chartrain, Managing Director, Energy Solutions Americas at ENGIE. “We are excited to help VUSD expedite their plan for long-term sustainability that will enhance and elevate the District’s financial and environmental impact through our range of comprehensive solutions.”

DATA Student and GRIT Member Flor Arroyo
Areej Khan

ABC7s Philip Palmer visited Ventura last month to talk to VUSD students in the GRIT program at De Anza Academy of Technology & the Arts (DATA).  

GRIT -Girls Re-Imagining Tomorrow- introduces middle school students to tech-focused career options. It opens doors for girls at DATA in an industry that has historically written out women and propels them to brighter and bigger futures in cybersecurity.  

Watch the Eyewitness News segment aired on April 13th for the whole story. 

  • DATA
  • GRIT
Fresh food at VUSD school cafeteria
Areej Khan

We're closing out National Nutrition Month with some significant updates! 

The Ventura Unified School District Food & Nutrition Services Department has been hard at work implementing exciting changes we'll start to see in some schools in the 2023-2024 school year. Most VUSD middle and high schools will implement a sandwich bar, allowing students to have customized sandwiches made on-site daily. They'll also have new tilt skillets that the Food & Nutrition Services Department has invested in. Tilt skillets enable kitchen staff to cook large batches of food quickly and safely at an even temperature. Once all required staff training to use this new equipment is complete, these tilt skillets will significantly increase every participating school's capacity to serve hot meals from scratch.

We visited the Foothill High School Cafeteria earlier today with local media for a sneak peek of the new equipment and to meet VUSD Food & Nutrition Services staff and cafeteria staff, including employee worker Ethan Oritz who enjoys learning food service and serving meals to his schoolmates. "It's a fun place to be," said Ethan...

Foothill High School Cafeteria Student Employee Ethan Oritz 2023
It's a good setting to kind of get used to the professionalism of learning what you have to do…using that and my past experience allowed me to get a job over the summer. I'm going to be a state lifeguard, and I feel like this really helped me. Ethan Oritz, Student Employee, VUSD Foothill High School Cafeteria

The part we're most excited about: VUSD Food and Nutrition Services is establishing a student advisory committee to assist in meal and menu planning. Student inclusion will help ensure that VUSD schools serve meals and snacks students want and will eat. Connecting with our students and learning with and through them is vital to the health and longevity of our schools, and we can't wait to see how much brighter our cafeterias will get with their input. VUSD Food and Nutrition has been building a better food system for years, implementing fresh salad bars and pivoting to safely pre-packaged foods and Universal Meals to address public health and food security for our community during the pandemic. They're eager to roll out these new and exciting changes with more student-approved fresh foods as we shift towards healing.  

Full 2023-2024 school year menus will be published on the VUSD and school websites at the start of the Fall semester. 

VUSD Cafeteria Staff Hard At Work
VUSD Foothill High School cafeteria staff hard at work
  • Anacapa
  • Balboa
  • Buena High
  • DATA
  • El Camino High
  • Pacific High
  • Ventura High