The U.S. Department of Education (Department) has announced Elkhorn School (Elkhorn) as a National Blue Ribbon School for 2019. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. This year, 362 schools have been recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools. Elkhorn is among only 30 schools in California to receive this designation. 

The Department recognizes selected schools in one of two categories, which are based on student scores, student subgroup scores, and graduation rates. Elkhorn was deemed an “Exemplary High Performing School.” This category is dedicated to schools who are “among their state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.”

“Lodi Unified is extremely proud of this well-deserved designation. Elkhorn teachers provide a rigorous academic program focused on meeting the needs of each student. The dedication of all staff members makes Elkhorn a nurturing and welcoming learning environment. We are fortunate to have a Board of Education that is committed to providing this unique service to our community,” said Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer.

A choice school, Elkhorn serves over 250 students in grades 4-8 in the Gifted and Talented Education Program. The school follows the National Standards in Gifted and Talented Education in their educational practices, which allows for powerful learner-driven experiences. Elkhorn strives to develop student scholars through means of peer collaboration in all subject areas. 

Elkhorn’s mission is to “provide a rigorous curriculum by means of differentiating instruction, compacting, enriching, and accelerating the curriculum to foster academic and social growth.”

“Our staff implements an innovative approach to educating our students. We want them to be life-long learners. Elkhorn is dedicated to meeting the needs of all gifted learners,” said Elkhorn Principal Patricia White. 

Up to 420 schools may be nominated each year. The Department invites National Blue Ribbon School nominations from the top education officials in all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Bureau of Indian Education.

“I have been honored to serve as the Principal of Elkhorn since 2014. Our school community is truly remarkable and I am thrilled that the hard work of our teachers, staff, and students has been recognized on a national scale,” White shared. 

On November 14 and 15, 2019, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and the Department will celebrate with the selected schools at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

This is yet another exciting designation to add to the school’s list of accomplishments. Elkhorn received the California Distinguished School Award in 2018 and was a National Blue Ribbon School in 2008.

To learn more about Elkhorn School's designation, please visit:

Oakwood Elementary was recognized by the California Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Coalition for their successful PBIS implementation at the gold level. This reflects excellence in the measurement of fidelity and implementing core features of PBIS.

Lodi, CA (June 11, 2019)—One of Lodi USD’s very own was named San Joaquin County Teacher of the Year for 2019. Jeff Simpfenderfer, a Liberty High teacher, first received Lodi USD’s Teacher of the Year award this spring. Placed in the running for the countywide competition, Simpfenderfer was named County Teacher of the Year during the Ninth Annual San Joaquin County Classified Employee and Teacher of the Year Awards Celebration Dinner held on Thursday, June 6.

As the named County Teacher of the Year, Simpfenderfer received $1,000 from Premier Community Credit Union and a nomination for the State for California Teacher of the Year.

“We greatly appreciate Mr. Simpfenderfer and believe that he is well deserving of this honor. His work with students is exceptional and we are proud to have him in the Lodi USD family,” said Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer.

Simpfenderfer was originally nominated by Liberty High’s Principal, Tamara Dillon. His nomination was supported by recommendation letters from Tiffany Wood, a counselor at Liberty High, and Cynthia Close, Co-Chair of the English Department at Liberty High.

Referred to as “Mr. S” by his students, Dillon shared, “you would be hard-pressed to find an educator [who] cares more about students and their learning than [Simpfenderfer does]. [He] is honed in to his students’ needs, both academic and emotionally. He finds relatable literature to show them they are not alone and that books can help them understand their world.”

A graduate of University of California, Berkeley, Simpfenderfer taught for 11 years at Sierra Christian High School in Rocklin, CA. Simpfenderfer went on to attend the University of Phoenix to obtain his teaching credential. Once in Lodi USD, Simpfenderfer taught at Delta Sierra Middle for one year and four years at Lodi Adult School. Simpfenderfer now teaches English, horticulture, and family living at Liberty High.

In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Simpfenderfer serves as the technology lead for Liberty High and a mentor for a teacher at Lodi Adult School.

“It made sense for me to be the one to help [the teacher]. I enjoy being able to give suggestions, to reassure, and then see [the teacher] really excel in [the] classroom,” said Simpfenderfer.

Dillon isn’t surprised by Simpfenderfer’s willingness to help others.

“[He] is not only an incredible teacher, he is an all-around incredible human being. For many students, he’s the teacher of a lifetime,” said Dillon.

Wood, a school counselor and colleague of Simpfenderfer’s, echoed Dillon’s sentiments.

“He is the most beloved teacher among our students… He makes his students feel safe, supported, and loved. He has a wonderful passion for teaching and goes above and beyond for his students’ successes,” said Wood.

Next up for Simpfenderfer is the planning and preparation for the California Teacher of the Year Ceremony, which will take place later this summer.

“I’m excited and proud to represent both Liberty High and Lodi USD at the State level. I look forward to it,” said Simpfenderfer.

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Lodi, CA (April 15, 2019)—Lodi USD is excited to announce a new school will commence in the 2019-20 school year. The Valley Robotics Academy (VRA) is a joint collaboration between Lodi USD and San Joaquin Delta College to bring new and innovative Career Technical Education (CTE) and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) offerings to the Central Valley.

VRA is the first of its kind in the area. Delta College will provide college courses; students will receive both core program and general education courses through dual enrollment at VRA. Students in grades 7-12 will have access to robotics, drones, and automation integrated curriculum. Students will be in project-based classroom settings with opportunities for independent study.

“We are giving students the flexibility to learn and engage with CTE and STEM in a completely new way. By extending the program offerings through a hybrid, independent study model with dual enrollment, we are offering students an all-inclusive education in robotics,” said Jeff Palmquist, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education at Lodi USD.

Through this partnership, students will complete a high school diploma through a CTE pathway with opportunities for job shadowing, internships, and externships. Students will also have the ability to obtain a Delta College certificate, Associate of Science degree, or Bachelor of Science transfer.

“Preparing students for the future is a top priority for the District. We are always seeking new and innovative ways to equip students with the skills they need to be successful in their future endeavors.

We are excited to expand our partnership with Delta College on this new academy that will support the development of skills necessary for the 21st century,” said Dr. Nichols-Washer, Lodi USD Superintendent.

Salvador Vargas has served as the Dean of CTE and Workforce Development at Delta College for six years and has been with the college for over 30 years. He understands the unique challenges facing those entering college.

“The genesis of this partnership was to create more opportunities for children. It is estimated that two-thirds of students are not college or career ready after graduation. VRA will expose students to emerging technologies that are vital to the economy and free market. Dual enrollment will save students and their families thousands of dollars by allowing them to earn transferrable college credit or an A.S.,” said Vargas.

It is estimated that between 2012 and 2022, there will be over 50 million job openings for CTE graduates, and approximately 30 percent will be new positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“When students graduate from VRA, they will have the skills needed to pursue higher education, technical or trade schools, and secure employment. It is our goal to build and advance local and regional workforces to ensure our economic growth and global competitiveness in San Joaquin County and beyond,” said Vargas.

VRA students will be entitled to the same support services as any other currently enrolled Delta College student, including counseling, computer labs, student email addresses, and access to the library, food services, and bookstore.

In its inaugural year, VRA plans to enroll 90 students in grades 7 – 9. In future school years, VRA will be expanded to include grades 10 – 12.

VRA will be housed at the Walter J. Katnich School site, located at 13451 N. Extension Road, Lodi, CA 95242. High school students will attend classes at VRA and Delta College. One-way transportation will be provided from Katnich to Delta College.

Lodi USD is accepting applications for the 2019-20 school year from April 15 – May 15, 2019. Interested students and parents are encouraged to visit, email, or call (209) 331-8008 to learn how to apply.

Parent information nights will be held on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 from 6PM – 7:30PM in the McNair High Theatre and Thursday, May 2, 2019 from 6PM – 7:30PM at the District Office.

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About Lodi Unified School District

Lodi Unified School District is located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. Home to 49 school sites, Lodi USD provides high-quality education to a diverse population of 29,000 students. Lodi USD encompasses more than 350 square miles, including the Cities of Lodi and Stockton as well as the rural communities of Acampo, Clements, Lockeford, Victor, and Woodbridge.