School’s back in session for students and staff at Plaza Vista, Vista Verde, Westpark and Woodbury


And we’re back.

Today marks the first day of the 2014-15 school year for nearly 4,000 students enrolled at IUSD’s four year-round sites.

Plaza Vista School, Vista Verde School, Westpark Elementary and Woodbury Elementary all start up in July but take three lengthy breaks during the year. The idea is to give families the choice of an alternate calendar, but Irvine’s year-round schools still offer the same number of instructional days as IUSD’s other campuses.

Speaking of which, the first day for students on the traditional calendar is Tuesday, Sept. 2, which also marks a new chapter for IUSD with the opening of Cypress Village and Portola Springs elementary schools.

And by that time, our year-round students and staff will be looking forward to their fall recess, which starts Sept. 22.

For more calendar information, click here.


IUSD NewsFlash closes the books on the 2013-14 school year


So that’s it. Another school year is in the books. And while we briefly considered recapping the last nine-and-a-half months of district news with a clever rewrite of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” it seemed like a daunting task and we weren’t really sure about the copyright implications.

Beach Chairs Watching OceanThe IUSD NewsFlash team would, however, like to congratulate the Irvine Unified School District’s Class of 2014, and let us not stop there. We’ll also take this opportunity to thank the tens of thousands of students, teachers, parents, staff members, volunteers and community partners who contributed mightily to the success of Irvine’s schools.

Oh, and a special thanks to all of you for checking in with the NewsFlash from time to time. We’ll continue posting items here throughout the summer, but probably less frequently, and we may go dark for a couple weeks as we cash in some vacation time.

But, of course, IUSD doesn’t stay quiet for long. Summer school starts on June 30 for all grade levels, and year-round schools will begin the 2014-15 school year on July 29. Irvine students on the traditional calendar will report back to school on Sept. 2. (You can access the 2014-15 calendar here.)

OK then. That’s all for now. The local beaches are calling.


IUSD Board of Education approves accountability plan, adopts budget for 2014-15


The IUSD Board of Education has adopted a spending plan for the 2014-15 school year.

The plan, which reflects the state’s latest projections from May, as well as the district’s priorities from a brand new accountability report, outlines $257.8 million worth of expenditures – both restricted and unrestricted – against $246.9 million worth of total revenue. The difference will be offset by one-time dollars, as IUSD looks to strategically spend down reserves it built up to weather the state’s fiscal crisis.

IUSD 2014-15 Adopted BudgetJohn Fogarty, assistant superintendent of business services, led a brief presentation on the district’s finances on Tuesday, June 24 before the board approved the plan by way of a 3-0 vote. (The “yes” votes came from President Sharon Wallin and members Lauren Brooks and Ira Glasky. Michael Parham and Paul Bokota were not in attendance.)

This is actually IUSD’s second budget under the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, which has increased base levels of funding for K-12 education while channeling greater resources toward English-language learners, low-income students and foster youth. Yet it’s the first budget to factor in priorities from the district’s new Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP, which documents measurable objectives for achievement and school climate with input from parents and other community stakeholders.

Based on the new funding levels and the district’s LCAP, IUSD’s budget calls for a decrease in class sizes by two students in kindergarten through grade six and one student in grades seven through 12. In addition, the district is investing in professional development opportunities for staff, as well as curriculum development, technology and mental health.

Before the budget vote, board members unanimously approved the Local Control and Accountability Plan, which had been recently revised based on stakeholder feedback. Alan Schlichting, director of student support services, said changes included the addition of a full-time mental health coordinator and an online learning coordinator, along with the restoration of site mental health support, including guidance assistants at the elementary level and Project Success staff at the secondary level. (You can access IUSD’s completed LCAP here.)

Here are some other takeaways from Tuesday night’s budget presentation:

●  Governor Brown’s new formula — the aforementioned LCFF — establishes a target level of funding for school districts for the 2020-21 school year. Until then, districts can expect to receive annual increases called “gap funding,” referencing the gap between what they currently get and the target amount for 2020-21. IUSD’s gap funding in 2014-15 is approximately $20 million, and an increase of nearly $18 million is projected for the 2015-16 school year, meaning IUSD will go through a similar process of analyzing its needs and priorities next year. (By contrast, IUSD was forced to make approximately $38 million worth of one-time and ongoing reductions during the state budget crisis.)

●  California’s proposed budget includes a plan to address the unfunded liability in the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS. Though the remedy asks employers, employees and the state to contribute additional dollars to resolve the shortfall — which has been estimated at $74 billion — much of the burden would fall on employers, which would see gradual increases through 2021. Under the plan, IUSD would pay $800,000 in 2014-15, part of a projected cumulative total of more than $15 million by 2020-21.

●  Though the state budget picture is bright for school districts, there are still a number of challenges and unknowns. Fogarty said there are no guarantees that the Local Control Funding Formula will continue to be implemented as planned — or that school districts will receive their targeted levels of funding. Moreover, the temporary tax increases that went into effect under Proposition 30 will begin to expire in 2016, drying up a source of state revenue. Enrollment growth, the Affordable Care Act and shifts in the state and national economies could also impact IUSD’s budget, Fogarty said.

●  IUSD’s budget projections were developed with the guidance of the Orange County Department of Education, School Services of California, the California Association of School Business Officials and other agencies.


Outdoor education programs remain a rite of passage for IUSD sixth-graders


Outdoor education trips have long been a highlight for IUSD sixth-graders, who get to travel to bucolic settings for five days of hands-on science instruction, hiking and games.

Boardwalk Through Lush ForestAnd that’s not changing, despite the Orange County Department of Education’s recent decision to end its overnight program.

In fact, nearly all of IUSD’s elementary schools and K-8s send their sixth-graders to private science camps for one week each year, and the two that have been participating in the county program — Santiago Hills Elementary School and Vista Verde School — have already secured spots at other camps.

“We are committed to outdoor science education for our students,” Cassie Parham, IUSD’s assistant superintendent of education services, told the NewsFlash on Thursday. “The changes at the county level won’t impact this commitment.”

Outdoor education programs have proven extremely popular in Irvine because — well, let’s face it — they’re fun. But they also represent a one-of-a-kind learning experience, Parham said.

“It’s an opportunity for students to learn team-building skills while engaging in hands-on science lessons,” she said. “It’s almost a rite of passage for kids.”


Superintendent responds to your questions on IUSD’s new Local Control and Accountability Plan


A new district webpage features your questions about IUSD’s emerging accountability plan and responses from Superintendent Terry Walker.

As we’ve said previously, the state’s new funding model requires school districts to develop and annually update three-year Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPs, with input from parents and other key stakeholders.

LCAP Questions and Answers webpageIUSD began soliciting feedback back for its plan in March, but there’s another major step in the process: Superintendents are also required to respond in writing to LCAP submissions. In the interest of transparency, Walker has decided to post all of his responses on the following webpage:

The questions and comments addressed by the superintendent include those generated during recent Irvine Unified Council PTA meetings and District English Learner Advisory Committee meetings, as well as those collected through online surveys and paper forms from the June 3 Board of Education hearing. Some submissions that were similar were consolidated to avoid redundant replies.

The development of the LCAP represents a new process for California’s school districts, which must identify annual 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.

LCAP requirements were first introduced during the current year, resulting in a compressed timeline for 2014-15. In subsequent years, however, IUSD anticipates having more time to present information and collect feedback from its stakeholders, including parent groups, bargaining groups, school sites and the community.

Once again, IUSD’s LCAP isn’t due to the county until July 1, but you can get an overview from this slide presentation, or you can access the latest draft of the plan by clicking here.

And if you haven’t weighed in yet, there’s still time to express your thoughts through this online input form.


South Lake Middle School students bring ‘Aladdin Jr.’ to the stage for two performances


South Lake to perform 'Aladdin Jr.'

Following 10 weeks of rehearsals, South Lake Middle School students brought “Aladdin Jr.” to the stage for a pair of performances on June 10 and June 11.

“Aladdin Jr” is the middle school version of the popular Disney film that follows the adventures of Princess Jasmine, Aladdin and a certain wisecracking Genie. The South Lake show was directed by Ingrid Green in collaboration with the school’s choral program, which is led by music teacher Jason Grenier.

Both performances were held in the multipurpose room.


Commencement ceremonies are coming up for high school seniors and their families


Here we are, a third of the way through June, and that means high school graduation season is upon us. Here’s a schedule of the commencement ceremonies coming up in IUSD:

2014 graduation ceremony schedule

Speaking of dates to mark on the calendar, June 25 will be the final day of classes for all K-12 students in the district — or at least until summer school, which starts on June 30.

Year-round students may also want to note that July 29 is the first day of the 2014-15 school year. IUSD students on the traditional calendar will report back to school on Sept. 2.

Oh, and Sunday is Father’s Day.


IUSD names new principals for Venado Middle School and Vista Verde School


IUSD has announced two new principals for the 2014-15 school year.

Luis Torres, currently the assistant principal at Venado Middle School, has been promoted to principal at Venado, and Jerry Vlasic, formerly the principal of Kaiser Elementary School in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, will lead the K-8 Vista Verde School.

Both will begin their new assignments on July 1.

Luis Torres

Torres, pictured to the right, began his career in education in 1992 as a social science teacher at Marco Forster Middle School in the Capistrano Unified School District, and in 2005 he became a school psychologist intern with Capo. He joined IUSD a year later, and from 2006 through 2011 he distinguished himself as the school psychologist at Venado and South Lake middle schools. Torres became a lead school psychologist for the district in 2010, and in 2011 he was named assistant principal of Venado.

“Not only is he knowledgeable of the students, staff and school community, he has extensive experience at the middle school level, where he’s contributed to positive school cultures as a teacher, school psychologist and administrator,” Superintendent Terry Walker said Friday.

Along with credentials in teaching, administration and school psychology, Torres has a master’s degree in education from Cal State San Bernardino and a bachelor’s degree in history from UCI.

Vlasic, a resident of San Clemente — he’s pictured below — began his career in education in 1988 at William Fegely Middle School in Portage, Ind., where he worked as an English and social studies teacher. In 1991, he joined the San Marcos Unified School District, where he would spend the next 12 years. At San Marcos Middle School, he was an English teacher, computer elective teacher and, eventually, assistant principal; at Discovery Elementary School, Vlasic served as assistant principal before being promoted to principal.

Jerry VlasicIn 2003, his career path led to the Capistrano Unified School District, where he was principal of Las Flores and Moulton elementary schools for six years. In 2009, Vlasic joined the Newport-Mesa district as principal of Kaiser.

“He is a highly respected educational leader with experience at the elementary and middle school levels,” Superintendent Walker said, “and he is deeply committed to the long-term success of Vista Verde.”

Along with teaching and administrative credentials, Vlasic has a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision from Ball State University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in English and teaching with a minor in sociology from Indiana University.


Ira Glasky leads trio of candidates in special Board of Education election


With nearly all ballots tallied from Tuesday’s special election, attorney Ira Glasky has emerged as the top vote-getter in the race for an open seat on the IUSD Board of Education.

[Updated at 12:54 p.m. on June 10]

Ira GlaskyGlasky, formerly a member of the district’s Finance Committee, has received 7,529 votes, or 43.3 percent of the total, with all 88 precincts reporting. Carolyn Inmon, a retired teacher, is second with 6,247 votes, or 35.9 percent. Bob Vu, an educator, scientist and entrepreneur, has 3,627 votes, or 20.8 percent. (You can access official results from the Orange County Registrar of Voters here.)

After Dr. Gavin Huntley-Fenner announced his resignation in October, board members had to decide whether to hold a special election that would cost IUSD hundreds of thousands of dollars or make a provisional appointment for the one-year balance of the term. They chose the second option and selected Glasky to serve through November 2014. But petitioners later gathered enough signatures to invalidate the appointment process and force a special election.

Pending the tally of some additional absentee ballots and certification of the results, Glasky is poised to once again take over a seat set to expire in December, though he has indicated his intent to run for a full four-year term in the Nov. 4 election.

The Board of Education is the chief policy-making body for the Irvine Unified School District, comprising five members elected at large by Irvine voters.


New special ed director is a ‘highly collaborative leader’ with experience in a growing district


IUSD has announced a new addition to its Special Education team.

Melanie Hertig, who currently serves as director of Special Education in the Temecula Valley Unified School District, has been selected to take on a similar role in Irvine, where she’ll work alongside Director Erica Hawkes. Her start date is July 1.

Melanie Hertig“Melanie will bring a breadth and depth of experience not only as a special education director in a growing district, but also as a former program specialist and general education teacher,” Superintendent Terry Walker said. “In each role, she has proven herself as a highly collaborative leader dedicated to meeting the needs of each student.”

Walker noted that IUSD’s Special Education department is expected to serve as many as 1,000 additional students in the coming years, assuming a growth rate congruent with the rest of the district. As such, Executive Director Mark Miller has been collaborating with a number of groups to assess the department’s current organizational structure with the goal of providing an optimal level of support for students.

Hertig will help ensure IUSD keeps pace with anticipated growth and complex operational needs.

She began her career as an elementary teacher in the Pomona Unified School District in 1996, and three years later she joined the Temecula district as a middle school teacher. She became a school psychologist in 2001, and in 2006 she was named a program specialist.

In 2011, Hertig was named TVUSD’s assistant director of Special Education, and in 2013 she was promoted to Director of Special Education, as well as Director of the local Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA).

Along with her teaching and administrative credentials, she has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education/pupil personnel services from Azusa Pacifica University.