Jeffrey Trail Middle School earns honors at Southern California State Science Olympiad

Jeffrey Trail Science Olympiad Team

Irvine’s newest campus is already racking up the honors.

Just before the spring recess, we learned that a team of 15 students from Jeffrey Trail Middle School picked up a trophy at the 2014 Southern California State Science Olympiad after placing fifth among middle schools.

This is an impressive feat for a school that opened just eight months earlier, particularly given the level of competition.

Science Olympiad tournaments have been likened to academic track meets, comprising 23 individual and team events covering such disciplines as biology, Earth science, chemistry, physics and technology.

The Southern California State Science Olympiad, which was held at Canyon High School in Anaheim on April 5, featured more than 60 middle and high school teams. To check out the middle school results, click here. And for high school results, click here.

Planned site of IUSD’s fifth high school OK’d by Department of Toxic Substances Control

IUSD is another step closer to beginning construction on its fifth comprehensive high school after receiving word that the proposed site has been cleared for use by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Lloyd Linton, the district’s director of facilities planning and construction, shared the latest developments on high school No. 5 at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting. Holding a letter from the DTSC dated April 4, he said the agency has concurred with IUSD’s Preliminary Environmental Assessment in determining that the planned location for the campus near the northeast border of the Orange County Great Park meets the rigorous safety standards for school construction. The DTSC added that no further assessment is necessary.

IUSD needs to open its fifth high school by the fall of 2016 to accommodate new homes set to be built around the Great Park and to prevent overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. To meet that deadline, the district must secure all necessary state approvals, formally acquire the property from developer Heritage Fields and begin construction by June.

Because the DTSC is responsible for ensuring that communities are safe from contaminants, its stamp of approval is considered a significant milestone for school construction. Yet a number of additional steps remain before IUSD can break ground, and the timeline is extremely tight.

Linton said his staff has already submitted the DTSC letter to the California Department of Education, which must ultimately sign off on both the suitability of the site and the building plans. Those same plans also require a green-light from the Division of the State Architect, which looks closely at structural safety and accessibility.

The good news is that all remaining state approvals are expected within a week or two, according to Linton. Once that happens, and once the appraisal process is complete, IUSD and Heritage Fields can close escrow on the property. If all goes as planned, the Board of Education could be asked to approve an implementation agreement at its May 6 meeting, and school construction could begin in June.

In the meantime, IUSD continues to meet with Heritage Fields to coordinate next steps. Andreas Chialtas, who is serving as IUSD’s legal counsel, told the board that the developer and the district are in agreement on the timeline for transferring ownership of the property, and both sides are working together to ensure grading permits are in place from the City of Irvine and the state.

“The last few weeks we’ve had a number of very productive meetings in terms of how we would coordinate our grading with their grading, and how we might be able to start construction out there sometime in June,” Chialtas said.

Another update on the fifth high school will be presented at the board’s Facilities Study Session on April 22.

Also Tuesday:

  • Meeting an annual requirement of the California Education Code, the board approved the 2014-15 curriculum for grades seven through 12. The Course of Study, which is available online, contains a listing of course titles for each school by curricular area, along with codes to indicate new and deleted courses.
  • Following a public hearing, board members voted to adopt a joint proposal between IUSD and the California School Employees Association (CSEA), Chapter 517, to initiate the bargaining process. The action allows the district and its classified employees to address issues related to compensation and related benefits, as well as health and welfare benefits.


New principals named for Canyon View, Meadow Park and Stonegate elementary schools

IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker on Friday announced a trio of new principals for the 2014-15 school year.

Christina Giguiere, who currently leads a high-achieving elementary school in Redondo Beach, was named the next principal of Canyon View Elementary School; Thomas Potwora, who has been an elementary principal for the last 10 years in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, will be principal at Meadow Park Elementary; and Harmony Hager, a Stonegate Elementary School teacher who has taken on administrative duties this year, has been tapped to become Stonegate’s next principal.

All three will assume their new roles on July 1.


We begin with Giguiere, who started out in IUSD in 2003, teaching first and third grades at Turtle Rock Elementary School. In 2007, she was hired as a credential program coordinator at UC Irvine, and since 2012 she has served as principal of Tulita Elementary School in Redondo Beach.

Giguiere“Not only is she an accomplished school leader who has served most recently as principal at a high-performing elementary school in Southern California, she’s also a former IUSD teacher who has led teacher preparation programs at the University of California, Irvine,” Superintendent Walker said. “Most important, she is committed to the long-term success of Canyon View.”

Along with a bachelor’s degree in communications from UC Santa Barbara, Giguiere has a master’s degree in teaching from UC Irvine and a master’s degree in reading from Cal State Fullerton.

She will succeed Susan Kemp, who will be leaving this summer to open the new elementary school that will serve the Portola Springs community.


Thomas Potwora began his career in education as an English teacher at Hilton D. Bell Intermediate School in Garden Grove and later embraced the opportunity to serve as that school’s counselor. In 1999, he was named assistant principal of Vista View Middle School in the Ocean View School District, and in 2002 he became principal at Lake View Elementary School in the same district.

PotworaFor the last 10 years, Potwora has been a principal in SVUSD, leading O’Neill Elementary School in Mission Viejo and Rancho Cañada Elementary School in Lake Forest.

“Tom is an experienced leader with an outstanding track record at high-performing schools with diverse student populations,” Walker said. “He’s a great fit for Meadow Park.”

A resident of San Clemente, Potwora has three children and holds a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s degree in educational administration, a teaching credential and an administrative credential — all from Cal State Long Beach.

He’ll take over for Laura Vlasic, who was named interim principal in December as the Meadow Park community mourned the loss of Lisa Livernois.


Hager is no stranger to IUSD or to Stonegate. She began her career at Turtle Rock Elementary, assisting in both the special education and third-grade programs in 2007. In 2009, as a fifth-grade teacher, she earned honors as a Teacher of Promise, and later that year she helped open Stonegate.


As a sixth-grade teacher, and one of the school’s first staff members, she’s led efforts to develop a Safe School Action Plan and site-based Green Team at Stonegate. This year, she has helped accommodate Stonegate’s enrollment surge as a teaching assistant principal.

“In addition to being extremely knowledgeable of the students, staff and school community at Stonegate, Harmony is well-versed in instruction and the new Common Core standards, and she’s been a leader in technology integration who has experience with numerous school programs,” Walker said.

Hager, the oldest of 10 brothers and sisters, has a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a multiple-subject teaching credential from Cal State Fullerton, as well as a master’s degree in educational administration and an administrative credential from Concordia University. She’ll succeed Stan Machesky, who will assume the roll of director of elementary education on July 1.

BryWorld Multicultural Festival to celebrate student diversity with music, food and fun

April is upon us, and that means Brywood Elementary School is gearing up for its annual BryWorld Multicultural Festival.

Billed as a vibrant celebration of student diversity, the free and open-to-the-public festival will take over the campus from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 25. “It Takes a Village” is this year’s theme.

If you’ve never been, BryWorld has become a signature event for the Brywood community, and 2014 just happens to mark the 10th anniversary. Organizers are again anticipating a crowd of more than 1,500 to descend on a playground that’s been transformed into an international bazaar, with booths representing more than 20 countries.

The festival will kick off with a “Parade of Nations,” featuring students in traditional costumes from around the world. That will be followed by entertainment on the main stage, where kids will perform the songs and dances of their heritages.

There will also be a raffle, a silent auction, face-painting and a cake-walk, along with goodies that can be purchased from Old World Kettle Korn, Yogurtland, South Bay Italian Ice and Ray’s Shaved Ice.

Admission is free, and tickets for the booths and attractions can be bought at the festival.

Brywood is located at 1 Westwood in Irvine. For more information, click here.

Irvine named among ‘Best Communities for Music Education’ by NAMM Foundation

For the second year in a row, IUSD has been named one of the nation’s Best Communities for Music Education by the NAMM Foundation.

The official announcement came Friday, as 376 school districts learned they had received the highly regarded designation for their efforts to provide exceptional music opportunities for students. You can read the news release here.

Now in its 15th year, the Best Communities program evaluates schools and districts based on funding, staffing of highly qualified teachers, commitment to standards and overall access to music instruction. Irvine also received the honor in 2010 and 2013.

“This recognition is further evidence of our district’s commitment to the arts, which has endured despite inadequate funding at the state level,” Sharon Wallin, president of IUSD’s Board of Education, said Friday.

“Our staff, our families and this board have consistently demonstrated support for music education, recognizing its impact on academic achievement, and we are incredibly grateful for the added resources provided by the Irvine Company and the Irvine Public Schools Foundation,” Wallin said. “As a result of the collaboration that occurs in Irvine, music education is alive and well in our community, benefiting thousands of students.”

The basis for the Best Communities awards is the annual NAMM Foundation survey, and this year more than 2,000 schools and districts participated. Each was asked specifically about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program and opportunities to make music in the community.

Responses were later verified with school officials and reviewed by The Institute for Educational Research and Public Service, an affiliate of the University of Kansas.

The Best Communities program is among the advocacy efforts of the NAMM Foundation, which cites a raft of studies linking music education with higher student achievement.

“These schools and districts make a strong commitment to music education in the core curriculum supporting its essential value to a well-rounded education for every child,” said Mary Luehrsen, NAMM Foundation executive director. “Strong, engaging programs that offer students access to music cannot thrive in a vacuum. The Best Communities designation and the SupportMusic Merit Award bring hard-won visibility to music classes, programs and departments that are keeping music education alive in our schools.”

Irvine High’s El Vaquero earns second-place honors at state journalism competition

El Vaquero, Irvine High School’s award-winning student newspaper, recently took second place in the Southern California Journalism Education Association State Write-Offs.

Twenty-eight schools and 215 students from Orange and L.A. counties competed in the statewide journalism competition, which was held March 15 at Rancho Dominguez Preparatory School in Long Beach. In the end, our local heroes were edged out by the student-journos from Redondo Union High School. But Irvine High was the only Orange County school to place in the top five in the overall Newspaper Sweepstakes category, according to adviser Julie Braun.

Participating El Vaquero staffers included Alex Williams, Clara Baik, Melanie Sakurada, Alex Thompson, Sally Oh, Joseph Kim, Anissa Govind, Saieashwar Mukund, Marwa Achikzai, Sreyas Samantula, Jessica LinTracy Nguyen, Jennifer Shin, Trixie Adjie and Jenny Seo.

El Vaquero placed first in the Orange County Journalism Education Association Write-Offs’s in February and has quite a successful track record at the state level, earning top honors in 2000, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Woodbridge High School team takes first in division at California Academic Decathlon

Woodbridge High School has taken first place in Division 2 of the 35th annual California Academic Decathlon.

A total of 565 students representing 65 schools competed in the state contest, which was held March 21 and March 22 in Sacramento. Woodbridge finished 13th overall, besting all other Orange County teams in addition to its Division 2 counterparts.

“All of our team members performed very well, achieved personal goals, and contributed to the team’s success,” said English teacher Shan Wu, who coordinated the Warriors along with retired science teacher Mike Nakaue. “The team has been preparing since last June, and their championship is a testament to the sacrifice, diligence and maturity of this great group of kids. They definitely deserve every award and accolade they’ve earned.”

Academic Decathlons are 10-event scholastic contests staged at the county, state and national levels, and the rules are pretty consistent. Nine-member teams battle for the highest scores on multiple-choice exams, speeches, interviews and essay assignments.

Each squad must include three “Honor” students (those with GPAs of 3.75 or above), three “Scholastic” students (GPAs of 3.00 to 3.74) and three “Varsity” students (GPAs of 2.99 or below). The competition culminates with the lightning-quick Super Quiz Relay, which is held in front of a live audience. Woodbridge placed third in its division in this event.

El Camino Real Charter High School won this year’s Division 1 state title, and Granada Hills Charter High took second overall. Both schools now head to the 33rd annual U.S. Academic Decathlon to represent California, which has produced the last 11 national champions.

And that should give you an idea of how tough the competition is at the state level.

This year’s Woodbridge team, pictured above, comprises junior captain Divya Prajapati, sophomore Hee Jin Koo, senior Joanne Kim, junior Gabriela Olmedo, senior Victoria Ozuna, sophomore Jessup Kim, senior Tahlil Islam and senior Henry Ammermann. Here’s a breakdown of some of their individual honors:

  • Divja placed first in the division and her GPA category in literature, second in music and third in the essay category. She also had the highest cumulative score on the Woodbridge team.
  • Joanne placed second in the division and her GPA category in art.
  • Gabriela placed third in the division and her GPA category in music.
  • Victoria placed first in the division and her GPA category in the interview portion.
  • Jessup placed third in the division and his GPA category in music and first in art.
  • Tahlil placed third in the division and her GPA category in science.
  • And Henry placed first in the division and his GPA category in math.

IUSD buoyed by improving economy and state’s renewed investment in K-12 education

At its March 18 meeting, the IUSD Board of Education voted to certify the Second Interim Report as “positive,” meaning the district expects to meet all of its financial obligations for the current year and two subsequent years.

That may have been a given, but it’s been a while since the state economic outlook was this promising.

Prior to the board’s vote, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services John Fogarty shared very encouraging revenue projections and outlined the impacts of Governor Jerry Brown’s new K-12 funding model.

Second Interim Report for 2014“The governor’s proposal provides a very strong investment in education (and) the greatest increase in per-pupil spending that we’ve seen in over a decade, since 2000-2001,” Fogarty told board members. “So not only are we coming out of some very bad years, but we’re coming out in a big, strong way.”

The 2012 passage of Proposition 30 and an improving state economy have led to the robust revenue forecasts, which are key to implementing the governor’s Local Control Funding Formula, also known as the LCFF.

Intended to channel more funds toward students with greater needs, the LCFF begins with a base level of funding that is the same for all districts, though the amount allocated per student differs slightly by grade level. Next comes a layer of supplemental funding that adds 20 percent of the base for every English-language learner, low-income student and foster youth. There is a third layer known as a concentration grant that’s equal to an additional 50 percent of the base, but only for schools and districts where English-learners, low-income students and foster youth make up 55 percent of the total enrollment. IUSD doesn’t qualify for the latter.

The governor’s spending plan allocates about $4.5 billion in LCFF funding, providing an average increase of approximately $755 per student. That equates to a projected increase of $20 million for IUSD, which has an annual unrestricted budget of about $230 million.

In anticipation of the restored funding, the district is working to develop a list of needs and priorities that will be presented to the board for discussion and further direction in April. Superintendent Terry Walker said IUSD was also collecting feedback from local stakeholders in the community as part of the process of developing its Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP.

IUSD was forced to make approximately $38 million in one-time and ongoing cuts as a result of the state budget crisis, and that’s left a number of significant needs to address. Though big decisions lie ahead, Tuesday’s financial update was certainly welcome news after years of troubling forecasts.

“It’s hard to imagine for those on the board and those of us in education that just 16 months ago we were looking at some very dire cuts that were facing education without the passage of Proposition 30,” Fogarty said.

“The district has done a really good job of setting itself up financially, so we can make some really sound decisions moving forward,” he added.

Board of Education discusses potential options for district’s fifth comprehensive high school

IUSD’s planned fifth comprehensive high school was once again the topic of an in-depth discussion at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.

Among the key takeaways this time around, staff members and planning consultants affirmed that the potential location known as Site A — owned by Heritage Fields, developer of the Great Park Neighborhoods, and situated near the northeast border of the Orange County Great Park — has undergone a rigorous environmental review and will likely be cleared by the Department of Toxic Substances Control in early April. Approval by the California Department of Education would presumably follow. By contrast, the alternate location known as Site B, which is on west side of the former El Toro base, could require extensive environmental mitigation.

IUSD has been working with Heritage Fields to carry out the terms of agreements that call for construction and operation of a fifth high school on property to be transferred from Heritage Fields to IUSD. The campus would serve students generated by the Great Park Neighborhoods and accommodate other enrollment growth within IUSD. Meanwhile, the agreements also call for kindergarten-through-eighth-grade facilities to be constructed to serve incoming Great Park Neighborhoods students.

But even with Site A emerging as the preferred option for the fifth high school project — if not the only viable option — there are no guarantees that IUSD can start construction in June of this year as planned.

Lloyd Linton, IUSD’s director of facilities planning and construction, outlined four construction schedule scenarios for the board based on when the district might officially acquire Site A. Under the first two, which are possible if the land is secured by either April 30 or August 15, the campus could be completed on time for its scheduled opening in the fall of 2016. Beyond that, the completion date would be pushed further into the 2016-17 school year.

While IUSD will continue to abide by the terms of the agreements with Heritage Fields, the board, on the motion of member Michael Parham, voted unanimously to create another possible scenario Tuesday night, directing staff to confer with the neighboring Saddleback Valley Unified School District to determine if it’s feasible to transfer land to that district. Such a scenario would not impact families currently living in IUSD.

“I look at this and I say, either we have a school that’s built immediately and ready to fill,” Parham said, “or we cede the land to Saddleback and let (students) go to another school.”

IUSD has indicated it must open its fifth comprehensive high school by fall 2016 to accommodate development from the Great Park Neighborhoods, as well as other developments, and to avoid crowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. With the planning process spanning several years, the district and its developer partners have agreements in place for the 40-acre Site A. Meanwhile, a member of the Irvine City Council has advocated for the alternative Site B, but that property has not been fully removed from the EPA’s Superfund list of hazardous sites.

A boundary change could eliminate the need to move further with either site by shifting the incoming residential development to the Saddleback Valley district. But that possibility is only a topic of discussion at this point, as the board’s vote merely directs staff members to open a dialog with their Saddleback Valley counterparts. Moreover, IUSD would still need to open a fifth high school eventually because more growth is anticipated. For that reason, the board also directed staff to explore land acquisition options with the Irvine Company.

While school districts generally hold a favorable view of enrollment growth, board member Parham expressed concern that new homes to the north might bring in more students than projected, and that could jeopardize the high school experience for the families IUSD has already been entrusted to serve.

“I’m not getting comfort that we’re going to have enough seats,” he said, “and I’m not getting comfort that (our current) middle school students aren’t going to get stuck in a very overcrowded high school.”

Board President Sharon Wallin agreed, noting that the district was also planning on building a K-8 school and perhaps another elementary school and middle school on the former site of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

“That’s a lot of schools in the area,” she said. “Look at how long it took to determine that (Site A) is a clean piece of land. Every single site, we’re going to be going through this because it’s all going to be on the base.”

IPSF program lets you make a donation in honor of an IUSD teacher or staff member

March 28 is the deadline to recognize a favorite IUSD staff member through the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s Parents Appreciating Teachers and Staff program, or PATS for short.

Here’s how PATS works: A parent, student or community member makes a small donation in honor of a teacher or staff member, and the proceeds benefit the foundation’s Innovative Teaching Award Program, which offers instructional grants to Irvine educators who want to pilot new initiatives or incorporate state-of-the-art technologies.

All PATS recipients will receive a special certificate and small token of gratitude during Teacher Appreciation Week in May. For more information, or to download a PATS form before the March 28 deadline, visit