STEAM Magnet

Title, Santiago STEAM Magnet School

On January 23, 2018, Saddleback Valley Unified School District approved Santiago Elementary to become a STEAM Magnet school for the 2018-2019 school year. This is a great honor and will lead to amazing outcomes for Santiago K-6 Elementary School and all our students. As we move forward in this process, we will update this page with news and information regarding the changes taking place at Santiago.


Empowered thinkers & creators positively impacting our global community


We provide meaningful, innovative learning experiences for a community of diverse learners who solve complex problems with creativity and confidence.

Teaching Staff for 2018-2019

We would like to introduce you to Santiago STEAM Magnet Elementary School's new teaching staff for the 2018-2019 school year. We are very excited and already working hard preparing for next year.

Aimee Burdette, Teacher

headshotAimee Burdette is originally from San Diego. She spent her elementary years in Illinois and came back to California for high school and college. She has been teaching in SVUSD for the last three years in 4th grade. Aimee graduated from Concordia University, Irvine with her B.A in Elementary Education and previously attended Mira Costa College in Oceanside for Theatre Arts. Before becoming a classroom teacher, Aimee worked with students at the Orange County Rescue Mission, taught English as a Second Language in Shenzhen, China, as well as Science and English classes in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Aimee is currently working to obtain her Gifted and Talented Education Certificate from UC Irvine and is a Google Certified Educator Level 1. Aimee served on her previous school's Site Leadership Team for the last two years. Aimee hopes to begin her Masters in Educational Technology from CSU Fullerton at the end of the year.

When Aimee isn't in the classroom, she enjoys seeking out travel deals, visiting with family, exploring new restaurants, trying new foods, and reading on the beach.

Sylvia Brown, Teacher

headshotTeaching is Sylvia Brown’s second career. She graduated from USC with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, earned her Professional Engineer License in Chemical Engineering, and worked as an engineer for over eight years in the areas of plant design and manufacturing in the refining and composite polymer industries. She left the field of engineering to spend time at home with her two sons. As her sons grew older, she volunteered in the classroom and discovered how much she enjoyed the time she spent working with students. After consulting for a brief period, she realized how much she missed the classroom and decided to pursue a career in teaching.

She has taught both at the Intermediate school level (in math and science) and at the elementary school level (in sixth grade). Teaching at the new STEAM magnet school, will enable her to bring the knowledge of both of her professions together and foster a deeper appreciation for math and science in her students. Laguna Beach is her favorite place and spending time with her family is her favorite activity.

Laura Escutia, Teacher

headshotAugust 2018 will be the beginning of Laura Escutia’s 15th year teaching. Before coming to Santiago/SVUSD, Ms. Escutia taught at Fairmont Private School in North Tustin for 11 years. She has taught kindergarten, second grade, fourth grade, and sixth grade. She is a SVUSD alumni. She attended SVUSD schools from kindergarten to 12 grade! She attended Aliso Elementary, Serrano Jr. High, and El Toro High School. Laura has found it very meaningful to teach in the district she attended herself.

Besides having a multiple subject teaching credential, She also has a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and is very close to obtaining licensure as an MFT. She is passionate about teaching her students social/emotional skills that help them to handle stress, problem solve, and manage their emotions.

She also finds it important to create a class culture of respect and empathy towards all learners. Laura was part of the Spring 2018 OCDE Resilient Mindful Learner Project. As a part of this training, she was able to learn even more behavioral practices to incorporate into her classroom to help students learn stress reduction and self-regulation skills.

When Laura is not teaching, or learning, she enjoys spending time with her family, doing yoga, and watching football -Go Cowboys! She is super excited to be part of the Santiago STEAM TEAM!

Amanda Fillers, Intervention Teacher

headshotAmanda received her B.A. in Liberal Studies and her multiple subject teaching credential from California State University, Fullerton. She has classroom experience teaching grades K-6 and she has seven years of experience teaching reading intervention.

The last three years she has been teaching intervention at Santiago. Outside of school, she loves to read and spend time with family and friends. She loves working as a team and collaborating with fellow teachers to better meet the needs of our students. She is so excited to be coming back to Santiago to embark on this new and exciting STEAM journey!

Lindsey Gatfield, Instructional Coach

headshotLindsey began her education in this district when she was five years old, and loves that SVUSD continues to be such a big part of her life. She received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Arizona State University, and then went on to receive her multiple subject teaching credential and Master of Arts in Teaching at the University of California Irvine. In May 2017, she attained her Administrative Services Credential from California State University Fullerton.

She started her career teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math and science, and then 4th grade in private schools, before getting a job at San Joaquin Elementary in SVUSD. While teaching first and second grade at San Joaquin, she also served as a Teacher Leader for the district. In this position, she led curriculum development committees, created Information Nights to educate parents on the shifts in Common Core, and demonstrated research-based instructional practices to large groups of teachers.

As an instructional coach, she has provided professional development, mentoring, and modeling to teachers in all grade levels. Her goal is to use data and research to continuously improve the delivery of instruction schoolwide, so that all teachers are reflecting and learning. The 2018-2019 school year will be her third year at Santiago, and she is excited to be a part of the school’s transformation into a STEAM Magnet School.

Tina Haymes, Intervention Teacher

headshotTina earned her B.A. in Sociology from the University of California at Santa Barbara and her M.S. in Education from California State University at Fullerton. Additionally, she has a multiple subject teaching credential, a reading specialist credential, a supplemental in English, and a certification to be a level one Google Certified Educator.

Tina previously taught second grade for eight years and reading intervention for one year. She has a growth mindset outlook on life and enjoys new experiences. Outside the classroom, Tina enjoys reading, jogging, trying new restaurants, and spending time with family and friends. Tina loves teaching and is looking forward to being part of the STEAM Team!

Debbie Higgins, Teacher

headshotDebbie Higgins has a Bachelor's degree from the University of California, Irvine in Child Psychology and a Masters degree in Educational Technology.

Debbie Higgins has been in education for 18 years as a teacher at Olivewood Elementary and Lake Forest Elementary, with experience in multiple grades. In addition, she has been a guest trainer at the Saddleback Valley and Capistrano Unified school districts, creating teacher awareness around innovative technology. Debbie’s areas of expertise includes Chromebook 1 to 1, Google Docs, Maps, Google Spreadsheets, Classroom Google, Seesaw, and Hyperdocs. Her collaboration with Saddleback's Educational Technology Services include EDU Breakout, Ozobots, QR codes, Kid Blog, and Seesaw Blended learning. Debbie has lead her school in technology and earned the Discovery Star Educator award in 2017. Educational Technology has become a specialty for Debbie as our schools continue to gear toward Common Core Standards.

When Debbie is not at school teaching, you can either find her on a baseball/football field cheering on her son, or watching her daughter compete at a cheer competition or perform in a musical. She is also married to a coffee expert and as a result, she has a lot of ENERGY!

Heather Lebus, Teacher

headshotHeather Lebus is a graduate of SVUSD. She received her Bachelor's Degree in English from UCI and her multiple subject credential from CSUF. Prior to joining SVUSD, she worked as an editor for a trade magazine and as a social skills teacher for students with special needs. Although elementary teaching was a second career for her, she has known it was the job for her from her very first day in the classroom.

The people in Heather’s life have profoundly influenced her. Heather’s mother and grandmother instilled in her the reward of teaching small children to read and write. Her father shared his love for music and artistic expression. Her husband and son motivated her to dive deeper into science, mathematics and technology. Her niece and goddaughter inspired her everyday to find ways to reach children with special needs. And the students and families she has worked with over the years have impassioned her to combine foundational skills learning with hands-on activities that help learners become creative and collaborative problem solvers.

For those people and those reasons, Heather Lebus is thrilled to be a part of the Santiago STEAM Magnet School.

Nissa Menke, Teacher

headshotNissa Menke attended New York University, where she earned her BA in German & Linguistics with minors in Child & Adolescent Mental Health Studies and Global & Urban Education. She further explored global art, culture, and education during her studies at NYU’s campus in Berlin, Germany. After returning to NYC, she began teaching in Brooklyn as an Action Civics teacher, where she guided 12th graders through projects to improve their local community. She continued exploring her passion for education by earning her MA in Education from the University of California, Berkeley. In UC Berkeley’s Developmental Teacher Education (DTE) program, she focused on teaching for social justice through innovative and culturally relevant pedagogy.

Nissa has been teaching in Saddleback for three years in 2nd grade, 4th grade, and 6th grade. She has also taught in SVUSD’s ELD Summer School enrichment program, where she guided 3rd graders through the science of the five senses and 6th and 7th graders through poetry using green screen technology. She has also taught the after school STEAM program at Gates Elementary, where she guided students through green screen editing and robotics.

She and her husband James have been living in Mission Viejo for the past year, and they recently became new parents to their daughter, Jade. In the winter, Nissa loves to ski black and double black diamond tree trails in Steamboat, Colorado. And throughout the rest of the year, she enjoys doing yoga and reading a good book with a boba milk tea.

Nissa is thrilled to join the Santiago community and is looking forward to guiding her wonderful students and families through an exciting and successful year at our STEAM magnet school!

Lauri Nelson, Teacher

Lauri Nelson was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She arrived in California over 40 years ago following the completion of her Bachelors Degree at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). In those days teaching positions were difficult to come by so she took a break from the field of education. Lauri managed a retail store, married, and started her family before clearing her Multiple Subject Credential which she added to her Single Subject Social Science Credential.

Since then she has taught in many capacities. She is coming to us from a 6th grade position at Cordillera Elementary in SVUSD. While teaching, she also served as a Teacher Leader for the district. In this position, she led curriculum development committees, participated in Information Nights to educate parents on the shifts in Common Core, and delivered Professional Development to her elementary colleagues. She has completed PD classes and OCDE Technology Camps in a quest to continue gaining skills to improve curriculum delivery to her students.

As an educator, her goal is to instill 21st Century classroom skills in her students by creating a classroom environment promoting creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. She believes building a disciplined and growth mindset classroom environment encourages students to ask questions and become lifelong learners.

In her spare time, she enjoys the sun, the beach, spending time with her children, her grandchildren, and her friends. She is passionate about her Pittsburgh Sports teams especially the Steelers and the Penguins. As her husband is a Philadelphia Eagles fan, she is looking forward to being a Santiago Eagle and part of an amazing STEAM TEAM.

Russell Moreau, Instrumental Music Teacher

Russell Moreau received a Bachelor of Music in Clarinet Performance at the University of Southern California. He completed his teaching credential work at the United States International University (now Alliant University) in San Diego. He regularly performs while holding down a full-time teaching position.

Mr. Moreau has twenty-five years of experience teaching instrumental music from 4th grade through high school and has been teaching instrumental music in SVUSD for 13 years. Prior to his current elementary music position, he was the Assistant Instrumental Music Director at Trabuco Hills High School where he was in charge of the Concert Band, Jazz Band, and assisting with the Marching Band.

As an Elementary Music Teacher, Russell Moreau has been awarded Teacher of the Year for Elementary Music in SVUSD and is currently developing a district pilot program for the students in 6th grade Band.

In addition to spending as much time as possible with his wonderful wife Holly, Mr. Moreau has interests in horticulture, the automotive industry, conservation and photography. Mr. Moreau is a member of the American Rose Society, the BMW Car Club of America, and the San Diego Zoological Society.

Carrie Nichols, Teacher


Carrie Nichols has had the privilege of being a teacher in SVUSD for 20 years. She has taught every grade level from kindergarten to 5th grade. Carrie graduated from California State University, Fullerton with her B.A. in Liberal Studies and received her multiple subject teaching credential from CSUF, as well. She went on to get her Masters in Education Administration with her administrative credential.

Carrie has a passion for STEAM education while also helping students develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to become lifelong learners.

When she is not teaching, you will find her running on the local trails with her husband and dogs. She has two wonderful children, Hayley (21 years old) and Ryan (18 years old). She is excited to join the Santiago STEAM team and looks forward to this journey together!

Katrina Reiss, Teacher

headshotKatie Reiss was born and raised in Mission Viejo, California. She has Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies with a Minor in Psychology and multiple subject teaching credential from Dominican University of California. She recently received her Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and Administration and her administrative credential from Brandman University. She has been an elementary school teacher for twelve years. She taught in San Rafael City School District for eight years and Saddleback Valley Unified School District for the last four years. She has taught Kindergarten, First and Second Grade.

She is coming from Lomarena Elementary School where she was part of the site STEAM team, site leadership team, and school site council. She has worked closely with the district as a district teacher leader, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) committee member, and English Language Arts and English Language Development Adoption Leadership committee member. She was a certified Tier 2 GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) trainer in her previous district. She has experience training and coaching colleagues in various strategies that integrate common core standards in all content areas. She brings many years of experience working with students of diverse backgrounds.

She continues to develop as a teacher to implement new ideas and strategies in the classroom. She is a confident, passionate, and patient teacher with a love for educating students. As an educator her goal is to build a 21st Century, student centered classroom that focuses on intentional lesson design, engaging strategies, and innovative practices that inspire confident learners, engage critical thinkers, and empower effective communicators to become lifelong learners and positive contributors to the global community.

In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and spending time with her family and friends, especially her four nephews. Katie looks forward to being part of Santiago STEAM Magnet Elementary School.

Catherine Scanlon, Teacher

headshotCatherine Scanlon has her Masters degree in Multicultural Education. The Leading Edge Certification for Digital Educators, the Google I Certified Educator certification, and a Seesaw Ambassadorship are a few additional accolades that she possesses. She is a well-rounded educator that has taught fifth grade, third grade, first grade and kindergarten over her career. Creating a blended technological learning environment for her students is her passion, therefore she incorporates technology purposefully into her students’ curriculum and lesson design. Integration of STEAM projects have been intentionally used in her class to further support the growth of the 21st Century skills needed by students.

Her innovative approach to education has led her to presenting at district technology and innovation summits, in addition to technology conferences. Catherine Scanlon's passion for education is evident to anyone that meets her. Through her innovative practices, she ensures that her students are prepared with the 21st Century skills required to be college and career ready.

Catherine Scanlon is excited to join Santiago's community of students, parents, educators, and staff, as they embark on the STEAM Magnet school venture together.

Alyse Thompson, General Music Teacher


Alyse Thompson has been a performing arts teacher for SVUSD since 2015. Ms. Thompson received a B.M. in Music Education from the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, along with a credential in Music from California State University, Long Beach. Prior to working for Saddleback Valley Unified School District, Ms. Thompson worked with Alhambra Unified to establish and grow a Kinder - 3rd grade music program at all 13 elementary schools in the district.

In the classroom, Ms. Thompson explores the connections music shares with science, art, dance and history to create a dynamic ensemble of learners. Beyond her love of music and teaching, Alyse can be found traveling, hiking, crafting, baking, or on adventures to Disneyland!

Staci Von Luft, Teacher

headshotStaci has had the privilege of teaching at the elementary level for 21 years. While completing her BA in Psychology from California State University, Fullerton, Staci interned at a middle school and realized her true passion was in the classroom. She switched her focus to obtaining her credential, and graduated from Azusa Pacific University two years later with her multiple subject teaching credential AND Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.

Staci taught in East Whittier for three years before moving to Saddleback Valley Unified, and has proudly served in this district ever since. Her passion is bringing literature alive in the classroom and making reading exciting and accessible to all students. Recent emphasis on science and technology has sparked her enthusiasm in those areas, and she loves coaching students as they explore their world from a scientific standpoint.

Staci is excited to join the Santiago STEAM team to create an environment in which students thrive!

Cecile Vu, Teacher

headshotEver since Ms. Vu started teaching, her goals for students have remained constant: she wants students to develop into lifelong inquisitors, actively engage and take ownership of their learning, and to simply be kind.

As the youngest daughter of a materials engineer, the engineering process was instilled early as were hopes for the Vu family’s first female engineer. Though unbeknownst to her at the time, her father’s engineering ideals and habit of questioning infiltrated her psyche and now, her teaching practice. It has taught her to not be afraid to take risks and has allowed her to develop my growth mindset. For Ms Vu, STEAM is more than just curriculum; it is a mindset.

Currently, Ms. Vu is teaching fifth grade at Valencia Elementary School where she has taught for five years and previously taught a fourth/fifth grade combination class at Montevideo Elementary. At Valencia, Ms. Vu was apart of the Leadership and Positive Behavior Intervention and Support Team. She also served as her school's English Language coordinator. Being an English Learner herself, Ms. Vu understands the struggles of other English Learners face at school each day. That's why each summer, you will find Ms. Vu teaching at SVUSD’s SEL Summer Enrichment program where she loves collaborating with the incredibly talented Segerstrom artists to develop engaging units for students.

Besides teaching, Ms. Vu loves to travel and experience other cultures- especially all the different foods! Outside the classroom, you will usually find Ms. Vu having dance parties with her nephews, Lucas and Benji, reading at the beach, or dipping her french fries in chocolate shakes at In N Out!

Ms. Vu is so excited to be apart of SVUSD’s first STEAM magnet school and build it from the ground up with all the amazing other teachers! She is excited to build a school that embodies innovation and to meet all her new students.

Kyle Wilke, Special Education Teacher


Kyle Wilke has been a Special Education Teacher in SVUSD for four years. His educational background includes a B.S. in Child and Adolescent Development, Education Specialist Teaching Credential, and a M.S. in Education with a Concentration in Educational Technology from California State University of Fullerton. Kyle is a Google Certified Educator Level 1&2 and a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator. He loves Star Wars, Worm Farming, and anything to do with computers.

Parent Information Nights

Please join us at any of the meeting dates below to learn about Santiago's STEAM Magnet transition and how it will change the way you think about education.

All meetings will be held in Santiago's Multi-Pupose Room.

Monday, February 12, 20186:00pm
Monday, March 5 20186:00pm
Monday, April 9, 20186:00pm
Monday, May 14, 20186:00pm

What is STEAM?

STEAM logo

STEAM Education focuses on integrating each element (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Mathematics into highly engaging projects that not only address our California Standards, but prepare students with the skills necessary for college and careers of the future. Students in our high-level STEAM school will work actively to solve problems, take ownership of their learning, and apply content in real-world contexts.

Project Based Learning

Santiago STEAM Magnet will focus on High Quality Project Based Learning to drive instruction throughout the day.

Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. In Gold Standard PBL, projects are focused on student learning goals and include Essential Project Design Elements:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills - The project is focused on student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, communication, collaboration, and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question - The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry - Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information.
  • Authenticity - The project features real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact – or speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests, and issues in their lives.
  • Student Voice & Choice - Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection - Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.
  • Critique & Revision - Students give, receive, and use feedback to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product - Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

*From the Buck Institute for Education

Questions and Answers

What other advantages are there for attending Santiago?

  • Uniquely Designed Curriculum
  • Flexible Learning Environments
  • All Day Kindergarten
  • The Learning HUB
  • Ignite Nights
  • College Field Trips
  • Non-traditional Homework
  • 1:1 Device Program
  • Second Step: A Social/Emotional Curriculum Program
  • Bloomz: A School-wide Communication App

If my child is on School Choice at Santiago now, can they stay next year?

Yes. Any student who has already Choiced into Santiago, will continue on next year.

After attending Santiago STEAM Magnet School, will my child continue with STEAM at intermediate and high school?

Both Serrano Intermediate and El Toro High School have STEAM programs and will be working with Santiago to align our schools to increase each school's program.

Santiago is not our home school, can I still attend?

If you are part of our SVSUD family and would like to attend Santiago next year, you will need to apply for School Choice between March 5 - 30.

If SVUSD is not your home district, we do have a process to apply to Santiago. You will need to complete an INTER District Transfer. Please go to: INTER District Transfer for more information.

Will you have enough space for my child to attend?

If you are interested, please apply. We will make every effort to accept as many students based on space availability. All students who live in Santiago's Boundary will have first priority.

Do you know the hours for students next year?

While there is always a chance it could change, we are planning to have the same hours we do now. All students will arrive by 8:10am. Learning hours are from 8:15am to 2:20pm.

Is the STEAM Magnet a program or school wide?

Santiago STEAM Magnet is school wide. It is for all students, all day.

Will grading be different than a traditional elementary school?

As Santiago STEAM Magnet school starts taking shape, we will be looking at our grading practices and how to align them to a Project-based learning environment, while also addressing our State Standards.

Will teachers have training to support STEAM instruction?

Yes. All teachers at Santiago STEAM Magnet will be provided with ongoing training beginning this school year, over the summer and throughout next school year. Professional development will continue to evolve as new research and best practices are established and become available.

I am unable to attend the informational meetings. How else can I learn about your STEAM Magnet school?

As we keep getting closer to the opening of Santiago STEAM Magnet in August, we'll continue to post updated information on our website. You can always give us a call and we'll do our best to answer any questions you may have.

If my child is struggling in school, will they still receive extra support?

Yes. We will continue with our intervention programs. We have two intervention teachers that assess, teach, and monitor student progress. Next year, they will adapt their programs to fit our new model, but intervention, especially regarding language skills, is their top priority.

Thank you for your interest. If you have any questions regarding Santiago STEAM Magnet School for the 2018-2019 school year, please give us a call at 949-586-2820 or stop on by.

Mr. Johnston, Principal

Linda Kennedy, Office Manager