O.C. superintendents hold news conference urging local control of education funding

County education leaders, representing a half million students and 55,000 employees, called today for lawmakers to give school districts local control over budgeting and spending to soften the impact of the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis – and to better ensure that students graduate from high school ready for work or college.

The Orange County District Superintendents’ Organization, which includes 28 district superintendents as well as the county superintendent of schools, held a news conference to unveil reform measures designed to permanently allow school boards and communities to determine spending priorities based on their most pressing local needs.

Specifically, the group called for permanent local control over restricted spending and an overhaul of state and federal mandates.

“As educational leaders, we want to be part of the solution to this budget crisis, as opposed to sitting on the sidelines,” said William M. Habermehl, Orange County Superintendent of Schools. “We’re not here to whine and moan. Instead, we’re here to offer specific recommendations to Sacramento and Washington for tangible economic relief without additional cost to our taxpayers. To get that relief, we need control at the local level.”

School chiefs in Orange County are well situated to issue the call for reform, overseeing complex organizations that are operating at 2005 funding levels as the cost of doing business continues to rise. The superintendents estimate that from the 2008-09 school year through 2010-11, their budgets will have suffered a combined loss of more than $850 million – and that number continues to grow.

Meanwhile, having to comply with the state’s extensive categorical regulations is burdensome and wasteful, said IUSD Superintendent Gwen Gross. Granting meaningful flexibility, she said, would allow school boards and administrators to craft programs that match available resources directly with the needs of local students.

“California now has strict performance standards for our schools to meet, but the state government still feels compelled to tell us how to use our dollars locally,” Dr. Gross said. “It’s like they lay down railroad tracks for us, and then blame us for where the train ends up.”

“School districts are managing their money really well,” County Superintendent Habermehl noted. “We are making the tough budget decisions that every other big corporation in the private sector is making. The difference is we can’t scale back on our main mission. We still have to continue offering a quality education to every child who walks through our doors.”

Update: To view a video of the news conference, click here.

IUSD to hold Service-Learning Share Fair on Tuesday to celebrate student acts of service

A number of altruistic acts have been quietly occurring around the Irvine Unified School District.

At South Lake Middle School, a group of students drafted geology textbooks for children in Uganda. Deerfield Elementary kids spent time with residents of a local senior center. Uni High teens established a club to welcome new arrivals.

On Tuesday, May 18, these and more than a dozen other service-learning projects completed by IUSD students and teachers will be recognized during the inaugural “Service-Learning Share Fair.” This event, to be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the University High School gymnasium, will include an open house, student performances and an awards ceremony from 5 to 5:30 p.m.

“We’re very excited about the Share Fair because it gives our students a chance to show the community the acts of service they’ve completed,” said Abby Edmunds, IUSD’s service learning facilitator. “It’s been very relevant to them to impact the lives of others, and they’re just very excited about what they can share.”

The genesis of these projects dates back to 2009, when IUSD and the nonprofit group Team Kids were awarded a three-year, $86,000 grant enabling students to serve their communities and boost their academic skills at the same time.

Funded by the California Department of Education, the “CalServe Initiative” was designed to promote service-learning, which meshes community service projects with standards-based instruction. The grant was specifically intended to support a school district and a nonprofit partner.

In IUSD, Team Kids was already well established at many elementary schools, connecting students with police officers, firefighters and other community role models to address real-life issues, such as hunger, homelessness and the environment.

Under the CalServe Initiative, selected fifth- and sixth-grade teachers from Alderwood Basics Plus, Deerfield, Eastshore, Springbrook and University Park elementary schools, as well as Vista Verde School, trained in the principles of service-learning before developing a menu of potential projects.

All IUSD schools were then eligible to apply for “mini-grants” to support their own site-based projects. Ultimately, more than 2,000 students participated from the training schools and the campuses that secured mini-grants, including South Lake, University High School and Northwood and Turtle Rock elementary schools.

Edmunds says the Team Kids Challenge will extend to approximately half of Irvine’s elementary schools next year, and the program’s links to curriculum will be further enhanced. Middle and high school participation will also be expanded through the mini-grant program and related teacher training.

IPSF could give you an ultimate driving machine – but only if you buy a ticket by Friday

The second deadline is coming up for the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s 7th Annual Irvine Dream Stakes Home Raffle.

Buy a ticket by this Friday and you’ll be eligible to win the latest early-bird prize – a new 3-Series BMW or, if you prefer, $20,000 cash. The winner is set to be announced on May 28.

The first early-bird prize recipient was picked on April 30, and there are more potential rewards for purchasing a raffle ticket sooner than later, including a vacation package at six oceanfront Orange County resorts and a year of free rent at The Park at Irvine Spectrum Center in Irvine. We probably don’t need to remind you that the grand prize is a home valued at $700,000, or $500,000 cash. That announcement will come in August.

Raffle tickets are $150 each and can be purchased online at www.irvinedreamstakes.com or by phone at (949) 734-6873. Remember that proceeds will benefit schools in IUSD.

In other Irvine Public Schools Foundation news:

The foundation on May 19 will partner with Bacchus Secret Cellar for a “tweetup” event with special prizes to be raffled off. To RSVP, click here.

Then on May 23, IPSF will host its “I-Jam for Teachers and Family Festival” at Irvine High School. This carnival-style fundraiser will showcase some of the nation’s hottest-up-and-coming musical acts, including All Star Weekend, School Gyrls, Evan Taubenfeld and Irvine’s own Motormouth and Pockitchange. Once again, all proceeds from the event – billed as the largest concert fundraiser in the history of Irvine’s public schools – will benefit the city’s teachers and schools.

For more information on the Irvine Dream Stake Home Raffle or the I-Jam festival, please visit www.irvinedreamstakes.com.

City approves terms of matching grant that will provide up to $875,200 for IUSD schools

The City of Irvine will generously provide up to $875,200 in matching funds to help IUSD ease the impacts of larger class sizes next year.

On Tuesday night, the Irvine City Council approved the terms of its Challenge Match Grant, which will contribute a dollar for every dollar donated to IUSD through the Irvine Public Schools Foundation. If IPSF can leverage the full amount of $875,200, schools in Irvine Unified will receive more than $1.75 million for class-size support.

“This pledge represents a tremendous investment in our schools and our students, ensuring quality instruction will continue in the face of this crippling state budget crisis,” said IUSD Superintendent Gwen Gross. “Words are insufficient to express our gratitude toward the City of Irvine and the Irvine Public Schools Foundation. We are so fortunate to have the support of these extraordinary partners, particularly during these challenging economic times.”

With the state budget crisis resulting in increased class sizes and furlough days, city leaders in April approved a recommendation to provide one-time funding of up to $1 million for the Irvine Unified School District and the Tustin Unified School District, which has four schools in Irvine.

Under the terms of the grant, organizations working on behalf of both districts must raise money to trigger the matches. But the Irvine Public Schools Foundation can commit funds from this year’s “Five Week Campaign,” which netted more than $500,000 for 2010-11. That leaves a balance of $375,200.

“IPSF is proud to have the opportunity to support our students,” said IPSF CEO Neda Zaengle, “and we are thankful for the thousands of donors who partner with us to support our schools. Our deepest gratitude goes to the entire City Council for this amazing gift.”

While raising the full match won’t be easy, it’s not unprecedented. In 2008, the Irvine City Council approved a similar matching grant of nearly $900,000, and IPSF’s fundraising doubled the contribution. As a result, fourth- through sixth-grade classes that had increased following a drop in state revenue benefited from additional support, including instructional aides, while middle and high schools added teaching hours.

Dr. Gross envisions the latest contribution having a similar impact.

“This is one more example of our incredible partnership with the City of Irvine, which cares deeply about our families and the success of our students,” she said.

May 12 marks the birthday of Florence Nightingale – and National School Nurse Day

It’s Wednesday, May 12, and we think it’s an especially good day to thank our local school nurses. After all, today has been designated as National School Nurse Day.

Established in 1972, National School Nurse Day was created to foster a better understanding of the role of school nurses in the educational setting. These days, the profession is recognized as a specialized practice that advances the well-being, academic success and life-long achievement of students.

To that end, more than 66,000 school nurses across the country “promote health and safety; intervene with actual and potential health problems; provide case management services; and actively collaborate with others to build student/family capacity for adaptation, self management, self advocacy, and learning,” according to the National Association of School Nurses.

Of course, National School Nurse Day is part of National Nurses Week, recognized May 6 through May 12. The latter date, not coincidentally, is the birthday of Florence Nightingale, considered a pioneer of modern nursing.

Today, we’d like to express our gratitude to some other pretty important nurses – particularly IUSD school nurses Azita Ghaderifard, Kathy Hartman, Regina Keenan, Dee Knapper, Sheri Kulungian, Samantha Lutz, Vicki McRobbieralls, Linda Mirshafiee, Sally Valentine, Norma Yockel, Michael DuBois, Linda Scott-Katz and Marcia Noonan.

So thank you, school nurses, for keeping our students safe, healthy and ready to learn. And for more information about the IUSD’s Health Services department, click here, or visit www.iusd.org.

Jeanne Jelnick of Uni High School is named one of five OC Teachers of the Year

The rest of the county just learned what IUSD has known all along.

Jeanne Jelnick of University High School was named one of five Orange County Teachers of the Year this morning, three months after she was selected as IUSD’s High School Teacher of the Year.

This time the news was delivered by Bill Habermehl, superintendent of the Orange County Department of Education, and a throng of visitors during a surprise visit to Uni.

Jelnick, who teaches English, has been lauded for using a number of strategies in the classroom, ensuring learners understand the content at every level. Students say she inspires passion for reading and writing, bringing great works to life by acting out the words on the page.

And yet Jelnick’s impact on Uni goes well beyond her own classroom. She’s forged a role as mentor to newer educators, establishing a monthly forum for those entering the profession. She’s also emerged as a faculty leader at the powerhouse school, where she assisted with the creation of ninth-grade “houses” that include English, science and world history. This year, she served as the coordinator of Uni’s accrediting process, dedicating countless hours to complete the comprehensive report.

Sierra Vista Middle School’s Kathy Marvin was named a county Teacher of the Year in 2009 after being named IUSD’s Middle School Teacher of the Year. Marvin went on to win the honor at the state level, becoming the first IUSD educator to do so.

To read more about Jelnick’s recognition in the Orange County Register, click here.

Woodbridge High selected for elite marching band competition in Washington, D.C.

Congratulations to the Woodbridge High School Entertainment Corps, which will represent all of California during a special competition in October at a park just south of the White House.

Only 15 bands from throughout the country were invited to take part in the inaugural Field Show USA marching band competition. Here’s the official news release from Woodbridge:

The Woodbridge High School Entertainment Corps, under the direction of Joslynne Blasdel and Brad Harris, has been selected to represent the State of California in the inaugural Field Show USA marching band competition to be held on the White House Ellipse in Washington, D.C.

The Corps was selected on the basis of excellence in musicianship, superior scholastic achievement, and outstanding citizenship. Only 15 bands from across the nation were invited to participate in this elite competition, to be held October 11, 2010. All will be vying for the prestigious “Marching Band Cup.”

“We are very excited to be part of the inaugural Field Show USA event,” commented Harris. “The dedication of these students shows through their performance and their scholarship, and we are proud and humbled to represent the State of California.”

The Woodbridge High School Entertainment Corps features 205 students, including the band, percussion, color guard and dance team. The young performers recently completed an undefeated 2009 competitive marching band season, capped by winning the Sweepstakes Award at the Las Vegas Invitational Tournament. The band is also committed to charitable service, providing entertainment for events such as the Orange County Heart Walk, the Disneyland Marathon, and the OC Rooster Bowl.

In addition to actively fundraising, the band is currently accepting donations to ensure that all students will be able to participate in the competition. Charitable donations, made payable to WHS Entertainment Corps, will be accepted at or mailed to: Woodbridge High School, Attn: J. Blasdel, 2 Meadowbrook, Irvine, CA, 92604.

A website has been set up to allow individuals to follow the progress of the Woodbridge High School Entertainment Corps as they prepare to perform for the nation. The website address is: www.whsroadtodc.org.

To watch a YouTube video of the Woodbridge High Entertainment Corps performing at last year’s Irvine Invitational Field Tournament, click here.

NAMM Foundation: Irvine among ‘Best Communities for Music Education’

IUSD is one of 174 school districts nationwide to demonstrate “an unwavering commitment to providing music education for their students,” according to the NAMM Foundation, which today announced the results of its 11th annual Best Communities for Music Education survey.

The web-based survey, which was open to all districts from Jan. 17 through March 12, was developed and administered by the Institute for Educational Research and Public Service, an affiliate of the University of Kansas.

School systems responded to detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program and other relevant factors in their communities’ music education programs. “The responses were verified with district officials, and advisory organizations reviewed the data,” according to the foundation.

“This year’s survey data reaffirms the power of community support and commitment for music education as critical elements in quality schools,” said Mary Luehrsen, executive director of the foundation.

The NAMM Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing active participation in music by supporting scientific research, philanthropy and public service programs from the international music products industry. Today’s announcement was made during NAMM’s “National Wanna Play Music Week,” designed to encourage individuals of all ages and skill levels to experience the proven benefits of playing music.

To read the NAMM Foundation’s news release, which includes a list of the winning school districts, click here. To access a story in the Orange County Register, click here.

Arts and music reign at IUSD campuses

Brad Van Patten, IUSD’s coordinator of Visual and Performing Arts, recently calculated the number of IUSD students participating in arts festivals, concerts and exhibits between February 1 and June 12, 2010.

Turns out, the figures are staggering. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Third-grade music performances: 1,762
  • The Donald Bren Honors Concert: 589 (including 98 third-graders at the pre-concert performance)
  • The Young Masters Art Show: 502 K-6 students
  • Imagination Celebration/Color Orange Exhibits: 223 K-12 artists
  • Elementary music concerts: 6,004 student-musicians in grades 4-6
  • Middle and high school theater: 556 (includes musicals, etc.)
  • Middle and high school visual art: 3,659 (includes exhibits to peers, individual school shows and portfolio projects such as Advanced Placement Studio Art)
  • High school dance: 368
  • Middle and high school music: 4,544 (includes all spring performances, on and off campus)

So, the total number of K-12 students performing or exhibiting in the arts is … 18,207. And this figure doesn’t include after-school activities such as the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s ACE program or other performances that schools may produce.

IUSD NewsFlash congratulates all of the students who have participated in the arts this year. And we offer a special thanks to the staff, parents, volunteers and community partners – including IPSF and the Irvine Company – that made all of these incredible performances and exhibits possible.

Job-shadow program honors classified staff

School administrators, Board of Education members, city officials and representatives from the Irvine Public Schools Foundation will shadow a custodian, a grounds worker, a warehouse driver, a health clerk and dozens of other classified staff during the Irvine Unified School District’s third annual Appreciating Classified Employees (ACE) Day on Thursday, May 6.

Established by the California School Employees Association to recognize and celebrate the efforts of classified workers, the ACE program was first piloted in 2007 at three school districts in California. In 2008 and 2009, CSEA’s Chapter 517 collaborated with IUSD to bring this unique job-shadowing program to Irvine, allowing principals, Board members and district-level administrators to witness first-hand the hard work that classified employees perform each day to support students.

IUSD Board President Sharon Wallin and trustees Gavin Huntley-Fenner and Sue Kuwabara are scheduled to take part this year, as are Superintendent Gwen Gross, City of Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Larry Agran and Councilmember Beth Krom. A luncheon will follow, giving participants an opportunity to share their experiences.

ACE Day is one of several local events scheduled to take place in conjunction with Classified School Employee Week, which will be recognized statewide May 16-22.