- John Muir MS
- Muir Faculty & Staff: Educator Spotlight
Muir Faculty & Staff: Educator Spotlight
We are pleased to help you to get to know our Muir faculty and staff by highlighting individuals. Click on the names below to learn more about them.
Erin Dorsey, Math Teacher
Our counselors at Muir play a very important role in the lives of our students. A counselor’s goal is to work with every student in whatever capacity the student needs. Whether that be a sounding board, a support system, providing academic support or directing resources, our counselors dedicate themselves to the overall happiness and success of each and every student.
Our veteran counselor is Ms. Shana Duran, who began working at our school over 25 years ago! She takes pride in her work, and loves what she does here. She especially loves working with students. In her free time, Ms. Duran enjoys hiking. Next we have Ms. Ellen Haizar, who has been a part of Muir’s counseling team for over 10 years.
Ms. Haizar loves being a counselor because it affords her the opportunity to be a support person. A neutral adult that can advocate for kids in a capacity that is different from teachers and administration. Ms. Haizar appreciates that as a school counselor, she is part of a team in which every student has someone to talk to. Ms. Haizar enjoys spending time with her family, and visiting Universal Studios.
Following Ms. Haizar is Mr. Derek Starleaf. Mr. Starleaf has been working as a counselor at Muir for the past 8 years. He enjoys being out and about our school campus during the school day. Whether it be during nutrition or lunch, he doesn’t mind making TikToks with students when they ask, or simply throwing a ball around with them. Mr. Starleaf prides himself on being relatable to our students as much as possible. In his free time, he collects sports cards and collectables.
Lastly, we have our programs counselor, Ms. Debbie Maddigan. Ms. Maddigan has been a counselor at John Muir for the past 5 years, and is also our WEB coordinator. WEB stands for “Where Everyone Belongs”. It buddies up 8th graders with 6th graders, and they do various activities together. Some of these activities include drinking hot coco together, or participating in an escape room activity. Ms. Maddigan also coordinates Social-Emotional awareness-helping students learn how to cope with stress and anxiety. She also helps our students acquire cultural awareness by creating interactive bulletins, and activities during lunchtime. Ms. Maddigan likes to go to the flower mart during her spare time, and create beautiful floral arrangements.
Our counseling team invites all parents and students to reach out to their designated counselor for their academic needs or concerns.
Ted DeVirgilis, English Teacher and Japanese Culture Educator
When you enter a classroom, you can usually tell what the teacher is enthusiastic about. There are always clues that give this away. Entering Mr. DeVirgilis's room, the first thing that stands out is books… close to a thousand books to be precise! Mr. DeVirgilis is passionate about books and reading, and he tries to instill this same love of literature into each and every student. It is not just a matter of telling his students the importance of literacy, but showing them just how fun, engaging, and exhilarating reading can be. To begin with, he gives them a quota of thirty books that they must complete reading within the school year, but he actively helps his students meet this goal. Over summer break, he dedicated his time to make meeting this goal more palatable by reaching out to the public, raising money, and acquired free books for his students. During the school year, class always starts with a fifteen-minute reading period.
A portion of class time is also spent on what Mr. DeVirgilis calls Book Commercials. The “Book Commercial'' begins with students giving a thirty second breakdown of their book’s setting, main character(s), and conflict. The next thirty seconds are dedicated to digging a little deeper and giving commentary on the book. Students discuss whether or not they like the book they are reading, if they would recommend it to others, and if the author did a good job writing it. Placed strategically around the classroom are notecards that define up to nine literary genres. Mr. DeVirgilis aids students in identifying which genre their book falls under. This too opens the way for students to become active readers, instead of passive ones.
Mr. DeVirgilis is helping our school to raise expectations by not only encouraging daily reading but reading for enjoyment. He instills in his class a favorite quote of his by poet Dylan Thomas, “My education was the liberty I had to read indiscriminately and all the time, with my eyes hanging out.”
Rachell Campbell, English Teacher and ASB Advisor
This month I had the pleasure of meeting with one of our English teachers, Ms. Rachell Campbell. Ms. Campbell has been at Muir for five years now and has a unique and inspiring approach when it comes to motivating her students.
Walking into her classroom, the first thing that pops out is its Harry Potter theme. Ms. Campbell takes this Harry Potter theme a step further since many of her students recognize her room as the “Defense Against the Dark Arts” classroom. What exactly does this mean? Well, Ms. Campbell focuses on encouraging her students to face their fears. One way she accomplishes this is with the “My Adventure Book” packet. The packet helps students to take baby steps towards facing their fears by motivating them to become more independent, self-sufficient, and initiative takers.
She also has an entire wall, called the Dare Wall in the back of her classroom dedicated to this goal. They begin the process with an index card in which they write down a fear they have. Once the fear is overcome, the index card is replaced by a photo of the student overcoming that fear! The index cards and photos are artfully placed on the wall, adding not only to the whimsical atmosphere in the room, but also function as a reminder to each student just how far they’ve come.
Ms. Campbell further aids in emboldening her students by creating a safe space that preaches community and belonging. She teaches them that “taking baby steps” is the beginning to becoming “independent and capable people to combat anxiety,” and always reminding them that “reading and writing fights against injustice, ignorance, and prejudice.”
Ken Rice, 8th Grade Social Studies Teacher
I had the pleasure of spending some time in Mr. Ken Rice’s History class this October. I must say, it was very informative and engaging for his students and for me as well! Mr. Rice was covering a very serious topic, but one that needed to be discussed. He was able to cover the topic of Holodomor and did so in such a way, that it would leave an impression on his students. Holodomor was the Ukrainian Genocide which took place from 1929-1933. Holodomor is Ukrainian for death by starvation. Our students are already aware of what has been taking place in Ukraine in recent months, and so the lesson on Holodomor provided them with a brief history lesson on Ukraine’s past struggles. His students listened attentively and asked many questions. Mr. Rice also displayed images related to this very sad time in history, which further engaged all in attendance in the discussion. Mr. Rice asked students to describe the photos using at least two adjectives. This exercise not only motivated everyone to share their thoughts, but also served as a vocabulary refresher activity. All in all, Mr. Rice is a phenomenal History teacher that is able to deliver facts and stories from the past and tie them to the future in order to help his students to see how valuable history truly is.
Barbara Felipe, Office Manager
An office manager wears many hats, as their job entails a wide array of important tasks. Our office manager is Ms. Barbara Felipe, and as she likes to put it, the office manager’s “desk processes a lot of information”. Ms. Felipe does an amazing job of handling, maintaining, and dealing with this information so that she can respond to a variety of questions from parents and staff.
She works closely with our principal Dr. Miller, as well as our admin team, bringing their vision for our school to life. In addition, Ms. Felipe acts as a liaison for our school, communicating regularly with our main headquarters at the District office. She communicates daily with the human resources, payroll, purchasing, and budgeting departments. She especially appreciates working with our wonderful teachers and staff. Another way that Ms. Felipe communicates vital information is by posting on our JMMS website!
Barbara has been with BUSD for many years, and has worked at several schools across the district, beginning at John Burroughs High School. She has also worked at Huerta Middle School, Disney Elementary, and in the attendance office at Burbank High School.
Ms. Felipe is an environmental enthusiast and she loves working at JMMS because of our school’s roots. Named after the famous environmentalist John Muir, Ms. Felipe would like to do more to help our students become more “personally responsible for their school and environment.” After all, this is their second home, where they spend most of their day. Her motto is that “a group of people at a time, can take care of their neighborhood and school”, and she tries to instill this motto in our students by speaking with them whenever possible about keeping our school clean and trash free.
Ms. Felipe takes this love of the environment to the outdoors, and spends as much time as she can outside during her free time. She likes to walk and hike, and is currently pursuing the goal of walking from Mission to Mission with the group California Mission Walkers, that’s a total of 800 miles from San Diego Country to Sonoma County.
Arpy Marutyan, Community/Parent Liaison
Before telling you about our first of many exceptional educators here at John Muir Middle School for our Educator Spotlight series, I wanted to introduce myself to everyone. My name is Arpy Marutyan, and I am the new Community Liaison at our amazing school. I will be working closely with our families, helping them with translation, answering their questions, and pretty much just overall doing my best to help them and their children acclimate to our school. I will be a bridge between teachers and parents, and will do my best to advocate for our families, giving them the patience, kindness, and listening ear they need.
Some of my passions include but are not limited to: Reading, writing, cooking, gardening, and spending as much time as I can with my family, friends, and my 3 French Bulldogs. I have two females and one male, Lola, Rocco, and Kona, although we suspect Kona is really a Gremlin. I do not have children of my own, although I have worked with kids since I was 19. I originally wanted to be a teacher, but am undecided as of today what I want to do with my BA in English that I will receive next year.
I do have a step daughter in high school. I grew up in Glendale, (the land of my people) and moved to the valley in the mid 90’s. Although I cant relate or fully understand what it is like moving to a new country and learning a new language, moving to Van Nuys at the age of 10 was pretty much close to that, at least for me. I grew up with the same kids since kindergarten all the way up to fifth grade, and played outside on the street with the same kids on the street. When we moved, there were only two kids on our street, and they were both boys…ew!
In school, there was not one single Armenian. I had to learn how to fit in, and survive, and trust me when I say it really felt like that, survival. Although I was a native Californian, I felt very much out of my element. It took about 6 months for me to finally feel safe and welcome, so I can only try to imagine how students feel that are coming from another country, and have to learn not only a new culture and a new language.
“If you speak too much, you will learn too little.”
– Armenian Proverb