IUSD officials break ground on a permanent home for Portola Springs Elementary


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A little more than 15 months after breaking ground on Cypress Village Elementary School, IUSD officials were at it again on Thursday, ceremoniously kicking off construction of the new Portola Springs Elementary campus.

This time around, the celebration included dozens of children, many wearing red and black Portola Springs T-shirts. It was a genuine display of school spirit, attributable to the fact that Portola Springs has already opened and is serving an inaugural class of 240 enthusiastic students at an interim site just a few miles away.

Against a backdrop of dirt and earth-moving equipment, Principal Heather Phillips welcomed many of those students — along with parents, teachers and staff members — and delivered the day’s opening remarks before turning the mic over to IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker, who in turn introduced Board of Education President Sharon Wallin. Then it was the students’ turn to take the stage, dutifully singing “America the Beautiful” under the direction of their teachers.

Other local dignitaries were on hand, including Board of Education members Paul Bokota, Lauren Brooks and Ira Glasky; Irvine Mayor Steven Choi and City Councilwoman Christina Shea; Irvine Company Senior Vice President Mike LeBlanc and Vice President of Community Affairs Robin Leftwich; and IUSD assistant superintendents John Fogarty, Eamonn O’Donovan and Cassie Parham.

[Update: You can watch highlights of the ceremony here.]

At a cost of about $33 million, the new Portola Springs campus is on track to open in August 2015 at the address of 12100 Portola Springs in Irvine. It took a little imagination to envision the completed school near the intersection of Portola Parkway and Portola Springs on Thursday, but its layout will mirror IUSD’s other new elementary school, Cypress Village, which opened its doors on Sept. 2.

PortolaSpringslogoPrincipal Phillips told the gathered crowd that Portola Springs Elementary will embrace Irvine Unified’s traditions while establishing many of its own.

“We gather today to celebrate not just the groundbreaking for a new school, but the beginning of a new chapter in the story of IUSD,” she said.

Superintendent Walker followed, introducing the board members, district staff, city leaders and Irvine Company executives in attendance and offering praise for those who made the project possible. He also noted that the presence of Portola Springs students added a new level of energy to this type of ceremony.

“What strikes me as very uniquely great and wonderful about this event is that you’re here,” Walker said. “You’re going to be here from the beginning to see this grow, and I agree with (Principal Phillips) that there isn’t anything more exciting than to watch something that’s going to be so profoundly important in the lives of our community, our students and our families.”

Board President Wallin said Portola Springs is just the second school built from the district’s educational specifications. Approved in 2011, ed specs spell out desired instructional activities and the physical spaces needed to support those activities.

“But the ed specs and the state-of-the-art facilities alone do not make a successful school,” she said. “It takes talented teachers, involved parents, a dedicated staff and engaged students to breathe life into a campus, and fortunately we have all that right here.”

After the speeches were over, board members and district staff were presented with white hard hats and silver shovels to pose for a few photos, symbolizing the start of construction. Others joined in as well.

“To those who will be working and learning here a year from now, I have three requests,” Board President Wallin shared a few moments earlier. “Love your new school, make it your own, and set the bar high for those who will follow in your footsteps.”

Picture above, from left to right: Assistant Superintendent Cassie Parham, Portola Springs Principal Heather Phillips, Board of Education member Paul Bokota, Board of Education member Lauren Brooks, Superintendent Terry Walker, Board of Education President Sharon Wallin and Board of Education member Ira Glasky.


Cypress Village Elementary students and staff are off to a picture-perfect start


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We proudly present Cypress Village Elementary School’s first students and staff.

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, the school’s inaugural class gathered on the blacktop for the above aerial photo, which will one day hold historical significance. Principal Susan Kemp tells us a company called Day2Day Printing donated custom school shirts for the occasion.

Cypress Village is one of two brand-new IUSD schools, and you can check out a video tour of its campus here. Meanwhile, Portola Springs Elementary is operating at an interim site for a year while its permanent facility is under construction.


IUSD to break ground on a permanent home for Portola Springs Elementary School


Recently, we posted this video tour of the new Cypress Village Elementary School. But Cypress Village isn’t the only new school opening in Irvine.

Portola Springs Elementary School will also welcome its first batch of students on Tuesday, Sept. 2, but it will do so from an interim site, occupying the previously shuttered Westwood Basics Plus School for one year while a permanent state-of-the-art facility is built.

PortolaSpringslogoTo mark the start of Portola Spring’s construction, district officials and local dignitaries are planning to gather for a special groundbreaking ceremony at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 25, and you’re invited. The event is open to the public and will naturally be staged at the site of the new campus at 12100 Portola Springs in Irvine.

Guests are encouraged to carpool and park along Long Grass Street. For safety purposes, they’re also encouraged to wear flat, closed-toe shoes.

The new Portola Springs campus is projected to open a year from now, in August 2016. In the meantime, Principal Heather Phillips and her staff have been busy prepping their temporary home, where they recently held a tour for incoming students and their families.

Westwood Basics Plus, located at 1 Liberty, closed back in 2009 as students and staff transitioned to a newer campus in Irvine’s Stonegate village. In recent years, the facility has housed district programs and served as a training center for staff.

Transforming Westwood back into a functioning elementary school required a lot of work, but Phillips sees some advantages to building a school community prior to populating a new campus.

“I was really excited about having the opportunity to be at the interim site,” Phillips said. “I think it really gives us the option and the gift of time in that we can focus on building a community with our students, our parents and our staff. Because we’re not focused so much on the facility, but rather the relationship part. If we build that strong foundation, when we move to the new facility, that will just be the icing on top of the cake.”


Take a virtual tour of the Irvine Unified School District’s newest elementary campus (video)


Sliding glass walls that transform classrooms into large collaborative learning spaces. Windows that automatically dim to help control energy costs. Outdoor seating for small-group instruction.

It’s all part of Cypress Village Elementary School, the latest addition to IUSD’s lineup of award-winning campuses.

With a budget of approximately $25 million and a projected opening enrollment of about 600 students, Cypress Village is nearing completion on 10.2 acres south of Jeffrey Road and east of the Santa Ana (5) Freeway. Once finished, the site will occupy about 61,000 square, serving its namesake village at the address of 355 Rush Lily.

Irvine has a history of producing cutting-edge schools, and this one fits nicely with that tradition. Yet what’s unique about Cypress Village, set to open Sept. 2, is that it’s the first school built to the district’s new educational specifications, or ed specs. Embedded in IUSD’s Facilities Master Plan, ed specs detail the instructional activities that will be housed within a school and map out the special features needed to support those activities.

We toured Cypress Village in mid-August, and though construction crews were still at work, the campus revealed the influence of IUSD’s ed specs with an emphasis on flexible learning environments, collaboration and technology integration.

In addition to the sliding glass walls, which will enable a number of collaborative opportunities for each grade level, classrooms in grades one through six also open into courtyards for outdoor instruction. Other amenities include a cavernous multipurpose room that will feature video monitors and floating ceiling panels, a living skills lab for students enrolled in the school’s structured autism program, grade-level work rooms for teachers, student tables that tilt up to become presentation boards and adjustable skylights that bathe hallways in natural light.

“The environment is set up to create a very personalized learning experience for our students,” Susan Kemp, Cypress Village’s first principal, told us.

School leaders are planning to host an open house from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Aug. 28 for incoming students and their families to check out some of these features, but you don’t have to wait get a preview of the site. Click on the video above to take a virtual tour of the new Cypress Village Elementary School.


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’s next two elementary schools are asking for you to help select their mascots


What mascots will represent IUSD’s next two elementary schools?

Now’s your chance to have a say.

Cypress Village Elementary School and Portola Springs Elementary School will both open their doors in the fall, and they already have principals and leadership teams in place.

What they don’t have are mascots, but each school has come up with a list of 10 potential options, and now they’re encouraging the community at large to vote. The top three choices at each site will be presented to incoming students and staff members for a final vote sometime in May.

Candidates for Cypress Village include the Bobcats, Cyclones, Racers and Rockets, and you can pick your favorite by clicking here. The Portola Springs ballot, which can be accessed by clicking here, includes the Mountain Lions, Pumas, Lions and Wildcats. That school is also asking for the public to weigh in on its color scheme.

“Because our schools so are reflective of the community around us, we wanted to ensure that we were reaching out to them as well,” said Heather Phillips, who was recently announced as the first principal of Portola Springs.

The deadline for community members to submit votes for both schools is April 11.

Cypress Village Elementary is under construction south of Jeffrey Road and east of the Santa Ana (5) Freeway. Portola Springs, serving its namesake village, will be located at an interim site for a year, with a new facility opening for the 2015-16 school year.


Experienced IUSD principals selected to lead Cypress Village and Portola Springs elementary schools


To keep pace with the rapid growth of residential development in Irvine, IUSD is planning to open not just one but two new elementary schools in the fall of 2014.

Cypress Village Elementary School is currently under construction south of Jeffrey Road and east of the Santa Ana (5) Freeway. Portola Springs Elementary, serving its namesake village, will be located at an interim site for a year, with a new facility opening in time for the 2015-16 school year.

Naturally, a lot of work will take place to get these schools ready for the fall, but IUSD leaders took a big step this week by securing principals for each.

Susan Kemp, who is in her seventh year as principal at Canyon View Elementary School, will oversee operations as Cypress Village’s first principal. Heather Phillips, who currently serves as principal at Plaza Vista School, has been selected to take on the same role at Portola Springs.

Susie Kemp and Heather PhillipsBoth administrators will remain at their current sites through June and receive additional administrative support to ease their transitions. Meanwhile, the district has said it will begin the hiring process for their successors at Canyon View and Plaza Vista in the spring.

Kemp, a resident of Newport Beach with three children, including two in college, began her career in 1992 as an elementary teacher in the Newport Mesa Unified School District, where she taught grades one, three, five and six. In 2000, she was hired as a principal in the Ocean View School District, and in 2007 she took over as Canyon View’s principal.

Kemp has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA, an administrative credential from UCI, a master’s degree in educational administration from National University and a doctorate in educational administration through a joint program between UCLA and UCI.

“Working at Canyon View has been an honor and a privilege,” she told her community via email on Oct. 16. “I love what I do, because of all of you. Thank you for seven amazing years. Canyon View will always hold a special place in my heart.”

Phillips started out as an intern teacher at IUSD’s Springbrook Elementary in 1992, teaching grades three and five for seven years. She helped open Plaza Vista in 1999 as part of the school’s original Leadership Team and eventually taught primary grades, upper elementary grades and middle school before being named assistant principal in 2007. The following year, she was hired as principal of Plaza Vista.

A resident of Irvine with four children in the district, Phillips earned her bachelor’s degree in communication studies from UCLA, her teaching credential from UCI and her master’s degree and administrative credential from Cal State Fullerton.

In an email to her community, she said the decision to leave Plaza Vista was a difficult one. Not only was she there from beginning, but all four of her children have been students at the school.

“After 15 years here, the connection we have fostered and enjoyed together as a community is deep and rich,” she said. “When I made the transition from classroom teacher to administrator, I was encouraged and supported by this community, and I feel a strong sense of satisfaction and an ever-growing appreciation with each task we have accomplished and with each issue we have solved.”

At the same time, Phillips said her new role presents “an exciting opportunity for me to facilitate the opening of a new school and to play an active role in the forming of a new neighborhood community – very similar to what occurred here at Plaza Vista 15 years ago.”


District officials, local dignitaries break ground on Irvine’s next elementary school


It’s a whole lot of dirt now, but over the next 15 months this empty plot of land south of Jeffrey Road and east of the Santa Ana (5) Freeway will be transformed into a state-of-the-art campus for Irvine elementary students.

IUSD officials staged a groundbreaking ceremony here for Cypress Village Elementary School on Wednesday morning, marking the occasion with a modest reception that featured remarks by Board of Education President Dr. Gavin Huntley-Fenner and Superintendent Terry Walker.

A number of other local dignitaries were also in attendance, including school board members Paul Bokota, Lauren Brooks and Sharon Wallin; Irvine Mayor Steven Choi and City Manager Sean Joyce; Irvine Company Senior Vice President Mike LeBlanc and Vice President of Community Affairs Robin Leftwich; Irvine Public Schools Foundation President Neda Eaton; and IUSD assistant superintendents Cassie Parham and John Fogarty. Each picked up a shovel to dig a little earth, embracing a ritual that has long signaled the start of construction.

We were there too, of course, to document this latest historic moment for the Irvine Unified School District — and because we heard there might be refreshments. You can check out our brief video above.

Set to open in September 2014, Cypress Village Elementary was officially named back in March by the Board of Education. The campus will be located at 355 Rush Lily in an area of new development previously known as Planning Area 40. Expect to hear more in the months ahead.


And the next elementary school to open in IUSD will henceforth be known as …


IUSD’s next elementary school already had a location and an opening date. And now it officially has a name.

In accordance with the district’s policy to assign names based on an adjacent street, park or village, the IUSD Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday night to call the new campus — drumroll, please!Cypress Village Elementary School, referencing the village in which it will be built.

Construction marks the next major step for the school, which is scheduled to open in September 2014.

Cypress Village Elementary will be located north of Sand Canyon Avenue near the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, in what was previously known as Planning Area 40. The address will be 355 Rush Lily, though you probably won’t find that on a map yet.

Board members had two name possibilities to consider Tuesday, with staff also recommending “Cypress Grove Elementary School.” The latter option was a nod to the planned Cypress Grove Park, which is expected to occupy 10 acres on the northeast side of the campus.

In case you were wondering, it’s been nearly two years since the board last named a school, similarly picking “Jeffrey Trail Middle School” from a list of recommended options. Jeffrey Trail will open in September.