Uni’s John Pehrson selected as inaugural principal of Portola High School

Irvine’s next comprehensive high school had a location, an attendance area and a stunning architectural design. And now it’s added another critical piece – a principal.

IMG_8073John Pehrson, who has led University High School for nearly ten years, has been selected to take the reins as the inaugural principal of Portola High School, which is on track to open in August 2016.

Pehrson, highly regarded for his role in shaping the academic powerhouse that is Uni, will begin his new assignment this summer. He will spend the next 18 months working on a monumental task list that includes completing construction, identifying a leadership team, engaging local stakeholders, hiring teachers and support staff, establishing the curriculum and designing a master schedule.

“For over a decade, John Pehrson has been a committed and visionary leader. There is no doubt that his experience, passion and dedication will be tremendous assets to the students, staff and community of Portola High School,” Superintendent Terry Walker said.  “Opening a new high school is a tremendous endeavor, so we feel extremely fortunate to have an educational leader of John’s caliber willing to accept this honor and challenge.”

Pehrson was appointed as the principal of Uni in 2005 after serving ten years in the Capistrano Valley Unified School District. In Capo, he served as a high school assistant principal and activities director and was part of the original team that opened Tesoro High School in 2001.

Prior to joining the administrative ranks, Pehrson taught physics and chemistry in the Whittier Union High School District, where he also coached basketball and volleyball.  He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Whittier College and a master’s degree in administration from Cal State Fullerton.

“It is a true honor to be selected as the principal of Portola High School,” said Pehrson.  “I have heard great things about the community and am already excited to begin working with everyone to build another incredible Irvine school.”

“The design of the school is amazing, but I know that the educational program and the people that will fill the classrooms and hallways are what will make it the top rate school that it is destined to be.  As we begin to assemble our leadership team this spring, I look forward to working with all of our stakeholders with a sense of deep responsibility, passion, forethought and, of course, Portola Pride.”

During John’s ten year tenure, Uni has consistently been recognized as one of the top high schools by publications including Newsweek, the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and the Orange County Register. The school also received a six-year clear accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges at its last review.

A strong proponent of ethics and integrity, Pehrson was selected by the Orange County Athletic Directors Association to receive the Champion of Character award.  He has also served as both president and representative to the Pacific Coast League.

John has been married to his wife, Becky, for 24 years. The couple has three children – Christa, Micah and Zach – who he credits with helping him sustain a focus on what’s important to students and their families.

Pehrson will continue to serve as principal at Uni through the 2014-15 school year, with a successor expected to be named by June.  Anticipating a large and highly qualified candidate pool, district officials are already planning processes to gather input from the Uni staff and community detailing the professional and personal traits they would like to see in their new leader.

Located on Irvine Boulevard just south of Sand Canyon Avenue, Portola High is already beginning to take shape. In October, IUSD and its partners staged a groundbreaking ceremony for the new campus, which will open its doors as the district’s fifth comprehensive high school.

Uni High student selected as finalist for 2015 Intel STS competition

University High School senior, Yelena Mandelshtam, was one of forty students selected as a finalist in the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS) competition on January 21st.

This program recognizes the top high school science minds in the nation and is regarded my many as one of the most coveted and prestigious science awards a high school student can earn.

Finalists will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. from March 5-11, where they will undergo final judging, display their work to the public, meet with notable scientists, and compete for $1,012,500 in awards, including the three top awards of $150,000 each.

For more information about the Intel STS, please visit their website at www.societyforscience.org.

IUSD continues to seek feedback for Local Control and Accountability Plan

IUSD would like to know what you think about the new three-year accountability plan and seeks your input on future actions to improve student achievement.

Online Input Forum for IUSD's LCAPAs mentioned in previous posts, California’s new funding model for K-12 education requires every school district and county office of education to develop, adopt and annually update a three-year Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) with input from parents, students, and other key stakeholders.

Districts will use these plans to identify yearly goals, take action and measure progress for student subgroups across multiple performance indicators, including academic achievement, school climate, access to a broad curriculum and parent engagement.

IUSD’s LCAP isn’t due to the county until July 1, but you can get an overview by checking out this slide presentation from the Board of Education’s November 18, 2014 meeting and you can access the latest draft of the plan by clicking here.

Parents, students, district employees and community members are encouraged to review Irvine’s LCAP and submit feedback by way of this online input form before the plan is adopted in June. This is an important part of the process for budgeting and setting priorities for the district. Please take the time to share your thoughts.

Student inventors will showcase their ‘Astounding Inventions’ on Jan. 24

Some innovative student inventions will be featured later this month at the 28th annual Astounding Inventions contest.


Presented by Greenberg Traurig LLP and the Irvine Valley College Foundation, the event will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 24, in Irvine Valley College’s Hart Gymnasium. (Click to enlarge the flier to the right.)

Astounding Inventions is a unique fair established to promote student interest in math and science. Each year, Irvine and Tustin students in kindergarten through the eighth grade submit their own original inventions, which are judged and displayed. Last year’s award-winning entries included the “Baby Camera Flash” and the “Dolphin Wind Dynamics.”

The public will be able to check out this year’s submissions for free on the day of the event, and we encourage you to come take a look. There will also be stage shows and some interesting science displays, including robots, a “Make Your Own Slime” station, water rockets and a sea-life petting pool from the Aquarium of the Pacific.

For more information, click here.

City program to offer emergency response training for parents and teens

The start of a new year represents a good time for families, schools and businesses to revisit their emergency plans, stock up on supplies and seek out best practices.

CERT 010815To that end, the City of Irvine’s Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, is offering another 11-session training program for moms and dads of school-age children — as well as a separate 12-day program for teens.

The hands-on course for parents, focusing on such topics as personal and family preparedness, fire suppression, first aid and light search and rescue, will be held from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning April 14 and wrapping up on May 19. The teen program will cover similar topics from 3:15 to 5 p.m. every Monday through Thursday from Feb. 4 through Feb. 26.

The idea behind CERT is to prepare citizens to help themselves, their families and their neighbors in the event of a major catastrophic event. To receive certification in each course, participants must attend all of the sessions, which will be staged at the Irvine Police Department headquarters, Orange County Fire Authority Station No. 6 and Irvine City Hall.

You can learn more by clicking on the flier to the right, and you can get enrollment information by emailing CERT@cityofirvine.org or calling 949-714-7054. Space is limited, so don’t wait too long if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about the Irvine Unified School District’s emergency planning efforts, take a look at this recently updated Emergency Preparedness webpage. You’ll find information on emergency communications, lockdown training, Comprehensive Safe School Plans and more.

IUSD will take aging electronics off your hands at upcoming e-waste recycling event

Any chance one of your New Year’s resolutions was to declutter your home or office by getting rid of old electronics?

Recycling event 012415If so, you should probably take note of an upcoming electronics recycling event at IUSD’s headquarters.

School district staff are teaming up with a company called All Green on Saturday, Jan. 24, to collect televisions, monitors, DVDs, laptops, printers, cell phones, VCRs — do people still have those? — computer hardware and pretty much anything else that plugs in or uses batteries. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the district’s Administration Center, located at 5050 Barranca Parkway in Irvine.

Furniture, hazardous waste and kitchen appliances won’t be accepted, but if you received a new TV or computer over the holidays, and the old one is about to gather dust in the garage, you might as well bring it over to be recycled responsibly.

Proceeds will benefit the district office’s Green Team Initative. For more information, check out the above flier or visit allgreenrecycling.com.

Irvine Police detain suspect following assault at Woodbridge High School

A Woodbridge High student was arrested Wednesday after allegedly assaulting another student on campus.

Shortly after 12:30 p.m., a ninth-grade student entered the Woodbridge High office with a stab wound, according to school officials. The suspect, another ninth-grader, fled the campus but was apprehended by police about 40 minutes later. The victim was transferred to a local hospital with an injury that is serious but not considered life-threatening, according to this news release from the Irvine Police Department.

WoodbridgeHigh“Our No. 1 priority is the safety and well-being of Woodbridge students and staff, and this is obviously a very frightening and troubling occurrence,” Principal Christopher Krebs said in an email to parents and community members. “We are working closely with the Irvine Police Department, which immediately dispatched a number of officers to Woodbridge and its surrounding neighborhoods, and we applaud the efforts that led to such a quick arrest.”

Police believe the assault stemmed from an argument over a cell phone — and that the incident does not pose an ongoing danger to students.

Additional counselors will be dispatched to Woodbridge this week, and more will be on call as needed. These professionals, including counselors, guidance assistants and psychologists, will be available to anyone in need of support. Krebs also encouraged parents to talk to their children at home and to seek out additional counseling services if necessary, either through their school or an outside provider.

As always, anyone who has information about a crime or who observes suspicious activity — particularly near a school — should contact the Irvine Police Department immediately.

A. Stanley Corey, IUSD’s first superintendent and its primary architect, dies at 89

The Irvine Unified School District lost an educational giant over the winter break.

A. Stanley Corey, the district’s founding superintendent and the man generally regarded as the most influential figure in the history of IUSD, died at his Arroyo Grande home on Dec. 30. He was 89.

To say Corey left his mark on Irvine Unified is to say Steve Jobs left his mark on Apple. Corey’s vision for what a school district could be was innovative, bordering on prescient, and always student-centered. That vision was thoughtfully executed beginning in 1972 with a set of 37 founding principles that still hold great relevance in Irvine. Most wouldn’t seem out of place at a Silicon Valley tech firm.

Organizations must strive for momentum not stability. … Outrageous expectations should be standard. … Institutions must be dynamic and changing if they are to survive in a radically changing world. … Somewhere in the district we have the talent to lead us in the solution of any particular problem.

And of course, this one: Students must be the focus of all efforts.

These declarations of staff empowerment and collaboration helped guide the district through its embryonic stages in the early 1970s to its emergence as a nationally recognized leader in education, and they continue to be leveraged as the building blocks of IUSD’s Strategic Initiatives.

Stan Corey mugCorey’s life and career may not have started in Irvine, but his legacy has a permanent residence here. Raised in Santa Ana, he received his bachelor’s degree in history from Whittier College in 1948, and he earned his master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Southern California in 1956.

He had served as the superintendent of the Berryessa and Cupertino union school districts in Santa Clara County before interviewing to be IUSD’s first schools chief. With a mandate from the Board of Education to produce “a superior school district” in just two years, he ushered in a revolutionary momentum that extended well beyond his 14-year tenure.

“It was the chance of a lifetime, a tabula rasa,” he would say later. “Start with a blank slate and build a district. It was very exciting.”

With a new leadership team in place, Corey and Co. championed the merits of decentralization in Irvine, believing decisions should be made proximate to the action, which was often the classroom. “People grow when given responsibility,” says founding principle No. 3.

On a personal note, about two and a half years ago we tracked down a number of current and former district leaders for a video series about the district’s 40th anniversary, and we asked each of them to name the person who had the biggest impact on the culture of IUSD. It was unanimous — they all said Stan Corey.

It was around this time that we also ventured north for a visit with Corey, who was gracious enough to participate in a lengthy interview to discuss IUSD’s origin story and his legacy as its chief architect. In person he was sharp, funny, eloquent, analytical, humble and a bit taller than we expected, and we were honored that he took the time. The video above features excerpts of our conversation from May 30, 2012.

Q&A: Meet Melissa Di Scala, Irvine Unified’s new coordinator of mental health

During the last school year, as IUSD was in the process of creating a sweeping new accountability plan, feedback from parents, staff and other stakeholders made it clear that mental health was a high priority.

So IUSD created a brand new position — coordinator of mental health — and tapped Melissa Di Scala for the role.

Di ScalaDi Scala was a natural choice. The former social worker joined IUSD in 2011 as a school psychologist at Creekside High School, and before that she took on similar responsibilities in the Colton Joint Unified School District and the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District.

Along with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cal State Fullerton, Di Scala has a master’s degree in educational psychology and an education specialist degree in school psychology from Chapman University. (She’s currently a doctoral candidate at Alliant International University.)

We sat down with Di Scala recently to talk about her new job and the work currently underway to support the mental health needs of more than 30,000 Irvine students.


NF: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. For starters, tell us about your new role.

MD: I’m the coordinator of mental health, crisis intervention and 504 plans. (Note: 504 plans are student accommodation plans based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and later amended under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act.)

As far as mental health goes, we’re fortunate to have a vast amount of resources. Now it’s about building on that, identifying any gaps in our service coverage and determining if those gaps can be filled through community partnerships or university partnerships – or deciding if there are options we’ll need additional resources to cover.

That’s been the focus this year, and I’ve developed a mental health collaborative to gather input from different stakeholders to guide our work. I think the best way to go about ensuring a continuum of mental health services for students is to enlist IUSD professionals – our nurses, school counselors, school psychologists and district-level professionals – to take a look at what our needs are so that we can develop recommendations for the board. We’re also working to identify a few parents and students to join our collaborative. Their contributions will be valuable as we move into reviewing group interests and identifying options for meeting those interests.

Another part of your job is crisis-response.

Yes. We partner with the Orange County Department of Education when we have something that’s over and above what we can provide, but we also wanted to put in place a crisis-response team with our own staff. So we got that together, and it’s made up of 29 members, including school counselors, psychologists, nurses and our Project Success staff, which are counseling paraprofessionals at the secondary level. We also have some psychologist interns who have been trained and want to participate as well. Our team is now trained to respond to any traumatic event that affects a large percentage of the population. We are up and running and ready to go.

It sounds like your work, much like instruction, is data-driven.

Absolutely. Along with a needs assessment that was sent our to our principals, psychologists, counselors and nurses, we’re looking at the results of the California Healthy Kids Survey, as well as what our kids are saying. Next we will look at what our parents are reporting.

What needs are we seeing in Irvine?

We’re really seeing issues around anxiety and depression with students, primarily those in the upper elementary grades and the middle and high schools. And we’ve got to figure out how to support those needs because anxiety can take form for any number of reasons. It can be stressors in the home, peer conflicts, movement to a new city, the death of a family member – there are so many reasons behind the responses of anxiety and depression that it’s often hard to pinpoint and say, “This is the trend we’re seeing.”

We’re looking at how we can address these responses within the tiered supports that we currently provide, and what the research indicates is that schools that have implemented Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) – which our schools thankfully have – are really the gold standard of addressing school climate issues and making school a comfortable place. Infusing mental health supports within the PBIS framework takes it a step further. And so our district is really looking at multi-tiered systems of supports: addressing issues at the universal preventative level, moving into a targeted level for students who need more support and then an intensive level for students who need even more support. The goal is to fill that pyramid of supports.

What resources are available for students struggling with mental health issues?

Through the Guidance Resources department, coordinated by Jenna Berumen, we have counseling paraprofessionals that provide a general level of service at all of our school sites. Our counseling paraprofessionals were initially grant-funded, but that grant ended, and now they’re funded partially through the City of Irvine’s Measure BB funds, as well as through the IUSD general fund.​ At all of the elementary school sites, the counseling paraprofessionals follow an evidenced-based curriculum that addresses things like social skills, emotional regulation, stress management and asking for help. At this level it’s about basic coping skills.

Then at the middle and high school levels we have counseling paraprofessionals who follow a looser curriculum where they’re looking at solution-focused strategies. So if a student presents an issue with a peer, a teacher or academic concerns, we’re really looking at all of the issues and solutions to resolve that. If that works for a student, that’s great. And if the student requires more support, then a referral can be made to the Irvine Family Resource Center (IFRC). What’s nice about the IFRC is that we have two licensed professionals there who provide counseling services to students and families as needed. Parenting classes are also offered there for parents who have students with challenging behaviors. The Irvine Family Resource Center is run by Susan Holt, and it really is a wonderful support that we’ve had in place for a number of years.

If a student is struggling with an issue, where should they start?

They can start with their school and ask for the student to participate in group counseling with a counseling paraprofessional. If they require more support, then they can ask for a referral to the Irvine Family Resource Center. We also have information on the IUSD website under “Resources for Parents.” (Click here to access the district’s Guidance Resources webpage.)

How do external factors, such as technology and the economy, impact mental health?

I think as we progress and change as a society, our responses to those changes evolve. The economy affects that as well. When there’s an economic downturn, the stress level elevates. There is such a thing as healthy anxiety. However, when there are too many stressors – an economic downturn, a death in the family, a need to move – that’s a lot for a person to manage. But I think there’s an awareness now at the national, state and local levels to really look at what we are doing to support the needs of our students, and at the same time we’re trying to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

I take it you’re seeing some positive developments in that schools are more focused on addressing mental health concerns?

Yes, and Irvine is really progressive in that respect. They’ve created this position to be a general education position, really looking at the needs of all students rather than only focusing on special education students, as some districts have.

Would you consider addressing mental health issues part a movement to support the whole child?

Yes, and it’s also about eliminating barriers to learning. We’re asking, “What is getting in the way of learning?” Because that’s what we’re ultimately charged with doing – educating children. So if there’s something getting in the way of that, we want to address that the best we can.

Lastly, do you like this work?

Absolutely. It’s definitely a love of mine. Thank you for the interview.

IPSF campaign looks to raise $1.3 million for Irvine schools by New Year’s Eve

Have you heard about the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s Annual Campaign to raise money for IUSD schools? Well, it’s netted about 90 percent of its goal with just two weeks to go, foundation officials announced today.

This year’s drive was launched back in October, and the target amount is about $1.3 million. That figure reflects how much the City of Irvine will match through its own challenge grant.

Logo.Full.Lg.Color.CenterThink of it this way: For every dollar donated to the IPSF campaign, the city will kick in an additional dollar until it has spent $1.3 million. By Wednesday, the foundation said it had raised approximately $1.17 million of that total.

That’s a lot of money, but it still leaves funding on the table, and the clock is ticking. The deadline to leverage the entire city match is Dec. 31

“We are deeply grateful for the community support of our Annual Campaign thus far,” IPSF President and CEO Neda Eaton said. “However, with 32,000 students currently enrolled in IUSD schools, we need additional funding to maintain the world-class education our community expects and our students deserve.”

The Annual Campaign represents IPSF’s primary call to action each year, reaching out to parents, community members and corporate donors. Proceeds continue to pay for instructional assistants and additional staffing hours across the district, reducing student-to-educator ratios.

IPSF is in fact the only organization that can raise funds to add teachers and instructional assistants in Irvine’s classrooms. Meanwhile, the foundation also fuels elementary music programs, science, technology and after-school classroom enrichment.

“Many Irvine residents moved to our community due to the high quality of our local schools,” Eaton said. “With the help of our community, we can reach our goal by Dec. 31 and help maintain the excellence of our schools.”

For more information, or to make a donation, click here.