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.


Portola High groundbreaking celebrated as a testament to collaboration, perseverance


In less than two years, a state-of-the-art high school is expected to occupy this vast stretch of undeveloped land south of Irvine Boulevard. There will be classrooms, a 720-seat theater, a gymnasium, a building to house elective courses, and the kind of student center you might find on a college campus.

But IUSD school board President Sharon Wallin sees more than the promise of new facilities. She sees memories waiting to be made.

“I see pep rallies, homecoming dances, basketball games,” said Wallin, flanked by blue and white balloons. “I see band performances, spring musicals and campus clubs. I see the first encounters between students, and the lifelong friendships being made. That to me is what this project is all about.”

Portola High groundbreaking 3Joined by local dignitaries and community members, IUSD ceremoniously broke ground on Portola High School Thursday afternoon, marking the start of construction on the district’s fifth comprehensive high school after years of diligent planning, collaborative negotiations and rigorous environmental reviews. The event was held just three weeks after a groundbreaking celebration for the similarly named Portola Springs Elementary School.

“You know, they say that the best things in life don’t come easy,” Superintendent Terry Walker said during his introductory remarks. “So if that is true, then I have no doubt that this high school is going to be the greatest high school in the world.”

Along with Wallin and Walker, ceremony speakers included state Assemblyman Don Wagner, Irvine Company Senior Vice President Mike LeBlanc, FivePoint Communities Executive Vice President Lynn Jochim, Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway and representatives from the offices of Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and state Senator Mimi Walters.

Portola High groundbreakingFEATUREDIUSD Board of Education members Paul Bokota, Lauren Brooks, Ira Glasky and Michael Parham were also on hand, as was former trustee Dr. Gavin Huntley-Fenner. And the Northwood High School band, led by music teachers Ben Case and Whitney Tavlarides, cheerfully loaned school spirit to the ceremony with a setlist of contemporary songs, including Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. Both were fitting.

Naturally, there were photos to commemorate the occasion, featuring board members, staff and others breaking ground with shiny silver shovels near what will become home plate on Portola High’s future baseball diamond. (“So all kinds of references to hitting home runs would be very relevant to today’s events,” noted Walker.) But first it was time to acknowledge the moment’s significance — and to recognize those responsible for getting Portola High to this point.

“The story of this school, like most of the great stories, is one about people,” Walker said, “and in this case their selfless dedication to serving our students and this community.”

“The people responsible for making this school a reality … embody the same characteristics we aspire to cultivate in our students — courage and resilience and perseverance and grit, as well as thoughtful planning,” the superintendent said.

Portola High groundbreaking 2Indeed, planning had been long underway before IUSD and its developer partners reached agreement on the school’s location in 2011, kicking off an exhaustive evaluation and testing process that culminated with approvals from the California Department of Education and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. In May, the Board of Education passed a resolution formally selecting the more-than-40-acre site along Irvine Boulevard and west of Alton Parkway, and the school was given a name nine days before Thursday’s ceremony. Portola High School, designed by HMC Architects, is now set to open in August 2016 with an inaugural class of freshman students.

“Here’s an understatement for you: This is a big day for our school district,” board President Wallin said, drawing an enthusiastic round of applause.

“Though our groundbreaking ceremonies traditionally mark the beginning of construction, our district’s vision is long-term,” she said. “Our commitment extends to many generations who will go on to shape this campus and establish its own identity, ensuring that Portola High is indeed synonymous with all that’s great in Irvine.”

Photos by IUSD Webmaster Shane Cline


Board of Education unanimously approves a name for IUSD’s next high school


We now know what name will be stamped on the marquee outside Irvine’s next high school: Portola High School.

gavelThe Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday night to brand IUSD’s fifth comprehensive high school with that moniker after considering a lengthy list of community submissions — and a handful of staff recommendations based on those submissions, including Great Park High, Modjeska High, Veterans High and Park View High.

Despite more than 300 community suggestions, the early board consensus was that there was no runaway favorite, and there was talk of postponing a final decision. But board members ultimately agreed that Portola High was the right choice, and one that fits with IUSD’s other high school names.

“Believe me, I’ve been thinking about it,” Board President Sharon Wallin said, “and there’s not a name great enough for what this high school is going to be.”

Joining an award-winning lineup that includes Creekside, Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools, Portola High is on track to open with an inaugural class of freshmen in August 2016. In the meantime, an Oct. 16 groundbreaking ceremony has been planned to mark the beginning of construction.


Groundbreaking ceremony to be held Oct. 16 for IUSD’s new Portola High School


HS5GB
A date has been set for the groundbreaking of Irvine Unified’s fifth comprehensive high school.

The IUSD Board of Education, district staff and local dignitaries will gather for a special ceremony to mark the beginning of construction on Portola High School Thursday, Oct. 16. The event, which is open to the public, is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. at the future site of the new campus, which will be located on the south side of Irvine Boulevard, west of Alton Parkway. (Click to enlarge the map below.)

Because there’s not exactly a parking lot yet, guests are encouraged to carpool. For safety reasons, they’re also encouraged to wear flat, closed-toe shoes.

HS5 mapIf all goes as planned, the state-of-the-art secondary school will welcome its first batch of freshmen in August 2016. That’s significant, because enrollment projections indicate IUSD will need a fifth comprehensive high school campus in place to accommodate thousands of new homes — and to prevent overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools.

In 2011, IUSD and its developer partners reached a tentative agreement on the school’s location, setting the stage for an exhaustive evaluation and testing process that culminated with approvals from the California Department of Education and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. Nearly three years later, the Board of Education passed a resolution formally selecting the 40.2-acre site along Irvine Boulevard and allowing ownership of the property to be transferred from developer Heritage Fields.

In anticipation of the Oct. 16 groundbreaking ceremony, the Board of Education recently named the school Portola High after considering a lengthy list of community submissions, as well as a handful of staff recommendations based on those submissions. Other potential monikers included Great Park High, Modjeska High, Veterans High and Park View High.

Note: This post has been updated to include the school’s new name.


What will be the name of Irvine’s next high school? IUSD is seeking your suggestions


Irvine’s next high school is on track to open with an inaugural class of ninth-graders in August 2016.

But first things first: The school needs a name, and you can help.

IUSD is asking community members to submit suggestions for what to call the new campus via this online input form. All entries received by the Sept. 26 deadline will be reviewed by Superintendent Terry Walker and his staff, which will then make a recommendation to the Board of Education.

HS5studentunion_000Board members are expected to vote on an official moniker at their Oct. 7 meeting, ensuring IUSD’s fifth comprehensive high school is no longer referred to as IUSD’s fifth comprehensive high school by the time students arrive.

Enrollment projections indicate a new campus will be needed in 2016 to accommodate thousands of new homes in the area while preventing overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. Following nearly three years of analysis and environmental reviews, board members approved a resolution in May to do just that, securing more than 40 acres along Irvine Boulevard, west of Alton Parkway, for the new school.

And now comes the question of what should be stamped on the marquee.

The Board of Education’s policy for naming campuses and facilities states that elementary schools should be named after an adjacent street, park, or village, and middle schools should reference significant landmarks in the community. (You can find recent examples here and here.) As for high schools, the same policy says their names should be considered individually. It also suggests the process for naming sites should include community input where feasible.

So here’s your chance to brand a future Irvine landmark. To suggest a name for IUSD’s next high school, click here, or visit http://tinyurl.com/fifthhighschool.


School board approves boundary adjustments to accommodate fifth high school


Fifth high school boundaries

Capping ten months of discussion and analysis, the IUSD Board of Education this week approved a new attendance area for the district’s next high school, along with additional high school boundary adjustments to take effect when the new campus opens in August 2016.

Board members voted 5-0 on Tuesday, Aug. 19 to adopt changes recommended by IUSD’s Boundary Advisory Committee and Steering Committee following a presentation by facilities consultant and former IUSD principal Tony Ferruzzo. In a separate vote, the board also decided that the new high school should open with only ninth-graders in 2016. A new grade level will be added each year as the inaugural students advance.

The boundary changes will not apply to any current high schoolers, and, as depicted in the map above, the majority of IUSD families will not be affected. But new boundary lines are needed to carve out an attendance area for Irvine Unified’s fifth comprehensive high school and to ensure secondary enrollment is properly balanced throughout the district. As such, they may impact future high school assignments for some Irvine students currently enrolled in kindergarten through grade seven.

“We recognize that any time you make changes to attendance boundaries it’s going to have an impact on families,” Board of Education President Sharon Wallin said after the meeting. “Yet, with the unprecedented rate of growth that we’re experiencing in Irvine, it is absolutely critical that we make prudent decisions now to ensure high school enrollment is balanced and manageable moving forward, giving our students the greatest opportunities to succeed.”

“Above all,” Wallin said, “we are driven to do what’s best for kids while minimizing disruptions to our families, and I am proud to say that the actions taken by this board meet that standard.”

Here’s a look at how the changes affect each of IUSD’s comprehensive high schools:

High School No. 5, set to open in August 2016. The new campus will serve Heritage Fields, Los Olivos, Portola Springs, Lambert Ranch, Stonegate and Woodbury.

Irvine High School. As indicated above, Irvine cedes some neighborhoods to the new high school while picking up the area bordered by Jamboree Road, Irvine Center Drive, Culver Drive and Barranca Parkway, which was previously in Woodbridge’s High attendance area. This, however, does not include a separate, non-contiguous area assigned to Stone Creek Elementary School that’s bordered by Jamboree Road, Irvine Center Drive, Harvard Avenue and Moffett Drive. (Residents in that area will continue to attend Woodbridge.) Meanwhile, the area bordered by Trabuco Road, the Santa Ana (5) freeway and Jeffrey Road moves from Irvine High to Northwood High. Cypress Village remains assigned to Irvine High School.

Northwood High School. Northwood High School also cedes some territory to the fifth high school, as indicated above. But the area bordered by Trabuco Road, the Santa Ana (5) Freeway and Jeffrey Road has been assigned to Northwood from Irvine High.

University High School. No new areas have been assigned to Uni, but to balance enrollment, the Los Olivos area that was previously in Uni’s attendance area will be served by the new comprehensive high school, and two other Uni areas will be assigned to Woodbridge High. (See the Woodbridge High section.)

Woodbridge High School. The area bordered by Jamboree Road, Barranca Parkway, Harvard Avenue and Alton Parkway has been transferred from Uni to Woodbridge, along with the area bordered by Harvard Avenue, Barranca Parkway, Culver Drive and Main Street. As indicated above, Woodbridge also cedes some of its attendance area to Irvine High.

 

The boundary adjustments approved Tuesday — click on the map above for an enhanced view — represent the work of the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee, which began studying this complex issue back in October 2013. (The committee includes a principal, a teacher, a student and two parents from each of IUSD’s four comprehensive high schools, along with district staff.) After an initial draft of the plan was presented to the board at its March 4 meeting, four parent forums were held to provide information and solicit feedback. A revised proposal was then brought back to the board for another discussion on May 27.

In related news, board members on Tuesday also asked staff to re-examine a non-contiguous area assigned to Stone Creek Elementary School to determine if it makes more sense for that area to be assigned to another elementary school’s attendance area.


Board of Education set to vote on proposed high school boundary adjustments


Irvine’s newest comprehensive high school is on track to open in 2016, necessitating some adjustments to IUSD’s existing high school boundaries.

Those adjustments were the subject of in-depth discussions during Board of Education meetings in March and May, as well as four parent forums that presented information and solicited community feedback.

Now, following months of analysis, high school boundary changes are coming up for a vote, with board members scheduled to take action at their next regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 19. (To access the latest agenda, click here.)

IUSD's fifth comprehensive high school is expected to open in August 2016.It’s important to remember that boundary changes wouldn’t take effect until the opening of the fifth high school in August 2016, and most IUSD families won’t be impacted. But planning for the new campus is an extensive process that requires establishing a dedicated attendance area. At the same time, modest adjustments are occasionally needed to balance enrollment districtwide.

While no current high school students would be affected, altered boundary lines could impact some students entering kindergarten through grade seven in IUSD, as well as kindergarten-through-eighth-grade students living within the boundaries proposed for the new campus.

The latest boundary recommendation represents the work of the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee, which includes a principal, a teacher, a student and two parents from each of IUSD’s four comprehensive high schools, along with district staff. You may remember that an initial draft was presented to the board at its March 4 meeting, which was followed by a series of parent forums. A revised proposal was brought back for a board discussion on May 27. (You can read our recap of the last meeting here.)

Meanwhile, boundaries aren’t the only important consideration for the new school. There’s also the question of how to build enrollment.

The district could, for example, require all ninth- and tenth-graders living within the new campus’ attendance area to enroll; or it could start the school with just ninth-graders; or it could require ninth-graders to enroll but give tenth-graders a choice. Each of these options has pros and cons that will be carefully weighed by the board.

Tuesday’s meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Board Room of the District Office, located at 5050 Barranca Parkway in Irvine. It will also be broadcast on channel 39 for local Cox Communications subscribers and via AT&T U-verse’s government and public television menu.


IUSD Board of Education approves location of district’s fifth comprehensive high school


A rendering shows the performing arts center that will be part of IUSD's fifth comprehensive high school.

At last it can be said: Barring delays, the Irvine Unified School District will open a brand new state-of-the-art high school near the northeast border of the Orange County Great Park in 2016.

The IUSD Board of Education on Tuesday night passed a long-awaited resolution selecting the site of the district’s fifth comprehensive high school and allowing ownership of the property to be transferred from developer Heritage Fields to IUSD.

The 4-0 vote capped nearly three years of due diligence that recently led to site approval from the California Department of Education and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control for what has been commonly referred to as Site A. Escrow is now on track to close by May 29, and construction could begin next month.

“Getting this done is a big deal,” board member Michael Parham said, “and I think it’s time to celebrate that fact and to move forward, because it’s really a transformational time for this district.”

“It’s going to be an awesome school,” Parham added. “In my opinion, it’s going to be one of the best high schools in the country.”

School board President Sharon Wallin lauded her colleagues on the board for going “above and beyond” in their questioning and analysis to ensure the property meets the strict standards for an Irvine-quality school.

“I’m very excited,” she said, “but I’m mostly excited for those students.”

In 2011, IUSD and its developer partners initially agreed on the 40.2-acre site adjacent to Irvine Boulevard and west of Alton Parkway. Though the district also considered an alternative location on the west side of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro based on a request by the City, that property – generally referred to as Site B – has not been fully removed from the EPA’s Superfund list of hazardous sites and could require extensive environmental mitigation.

Site A, by contrast, has been through an exhaustive evaluation and testing processes and has been fully reviewed and approved by regulatory agencies throughout the state. The Irvine Unified Council PTA also produced a report in December endorsing the location over Site B after examining such factors as safety, traffic and timing.

Speaking of which, timing remains critical for the development of IUSD’s next high school. Projections indicate the district needs to open the new campus by the start of the 2016-17 school year to accommodate thousands of new homes while preventing overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools.

Before Tuesday night’s vote, attorney Andreas Chialtas of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo clarified that the resolution before the board was composed of several components, including selecting the site, ending the district’s review of Site B and approving an Implementation Agreement with Heritage Fields.

Chialtas said that Implementation Agreement clarifies the project schedule, grading information, the site plan and timing issues while allowing for the close of escrow. It also documents the value of the land, which was recently appraised at $127.4 million. While IUSD doesn’t pay that cost, the district will turn over to Heritage Fields its share of any state funding received pursuant to a contractual formula between IUSD and its development partners.

The evening wrapped up with a unanimous roll call vote, but not before additional environmental questions from board member Paul Bokota and a few words of praise for those who have gotten the project to this point.

Board member Lauren Brooks thanked the public for raising important issues “and asking the questions that we could research and really vet.”

“I’m really excited for our students, our future students, our current students, and what the future is going to bring for us,” Brooks said. “And I think we’re really going to have a fabulous high school to look forward to.”


Board of Education Study Session will focus on proposed high school boundary changes


Proposed changes to IUSD’s high school boundaries will be the subject of a special Board of Education Study Session on Tuesday, May 27.

The meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Board Room of the IUSD District Office, located at 5050 Barranca Parkway.

[Update on May 21:  It’s just been announced that the meeting will also be broadcast on channel 39 for local Cox Communications subscribers and via AT&T U-verse’s government and public television menu.]

Board Study Session on May 27The Study Session agenda will include further analysis of potential high school boundary changes, as well as considerations for adjusting the most recent proposal based on community input — including feedback from a series of parent forums held in March and April.

As noted previously, the vast majority of IUSD students would not be impacted by the boundary changes under consideration. But planning for the district’s fifth comprehensive high school necessitates a modest reconfiguration that would affect some Irvine students who are currently enrolled in kindergarten through the sixth grade, as well as currently enrolled kindergarten through seventh-grade students who live within the proposed boundaries of the fifth high school.

An earlier staff-recommended proposal, illustrated in the maps below, was the subject of four public meetings held in March and April. While board members will not make a final determination on May 27, they will discuss possible adjustments and may provide additional direction to staff before voting in June or July. Either way, high school boundary changes would not take effect until August 2016.

A little more background

IUSD is currently proposing to open its fifth comprehensive high school by the fall of 2016 with just freshmen and sophomores, adding juniors in 2017 and seniors in 2018 as the inaugural classes advance. The campus will serve Irvine’s newer communities and prevent overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools.

In addition to needing its own attendance area, the new high school would necessitate boundary adjustments to ensure enrollment is balanced districtwide. (IUSD’s Board Policy calls for high schools of no more than 2,400 students when possible.)

The original recommendation for addressing both needs was drafted by the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee, which began meeting in October. That panel includes district staff, as well as one principal, one teacher, one student and two parents from each of IUSD’s comprehensive high schools.

At the March 4 Board of Education meeting, Tony Ferruzzo, a facilities consultant and former IUSD principal, discussed the proposed changes and delivered this presentation. The Boundary Advisory Committee then met again on April 28, and the Steering Committee met on May 16 to review possible changes to the proposal.

Again, below is a map showing the original high school boundary proposal from March. The revised proposal will be presented to the board for discussion at Tuesday’s Study Session.

IUSD's proposed high school boundaries IUSD's current high school boundaries


Board delays fifth high school vote as work continues on implementation agreement


The IUSD Board of Education was scheduled to vote Tuesday on a resolution that would have formally selected a site for the district’s next high school and allowed ownership of the property to be transferred from developer Heritage Fields.

gavelBut because the final implementation agreement between IUSD and Heritage Fields wasn’t yet completed, the resolution was continued to the board’s next meeting on May 20.

Enrollment projections indicate IUSD will need to open a fifth comprehensive high school by the fall of 2016 to accommodate thousands of new homes slated to be built around the Great Park and to prevent overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. To that end, the district and its developer partners agreed on a 40-acre site near the northeast border of the Great Park in July 2011, and IUSD has since been pursuing a rigorous due diligence process to ensure the land is suited for a high school campus.

Those efforts culminated with an April 15 letter from the California Department of Education, which formally approved the property adjacent to Irvine Boulevard. Eleven days earlier, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control similarly declared that the site meets California’s strict environmental standards for school construction.

Nevertheless, a small group of residents has questioned the district’s choice, mainly citing its adjacency to a capped landfill that once served the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Some spoke publicly Tuesday night, and board members continued to pose a number of detailed questions for IUSD’s environmental consultants and staff.

In response, Dr. Denise Clendening, an associate principal for PlaceWorks, reaffirmed that the state’s standards for school construction are much higher than for other property uses. She added that the nearby landfill, which would be at a lower elevation than the high school, was capped using scientifically-engineered remedies. Subsequent tests and long-term monitoring have consistently demonstrated that the remediation steps were successful, ensuring a safe environment for the high school site and the thousands of new homes surrounding it that have already been approved for construction by the City of Irvine.

Clendening told the board that her firm collected more than 100 soil samples and more than 40 soil gas samples from Site A during its evaluation.

“It was a long-term process … and not only did PlaceWorks make the determination that that there is no significant levels of chemicals of concern at the site, but the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has agreed, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, Department of Public Health and CalRecycle, which used to be the Integrated Waste Management Board,” she said. “So it’s not one organization making that (determination), but it’s a group of scientific experts who have evaluated the site.”

Assuming the implementation agreement is completed and approved later this month, construction on the new campus could begin in June.