Irvine High choirs to premier three new songs at upcoming ‘Concert in Spring’

The Irvine High School Choral Department plans to premier three original songs at this week’s “Concert in Spring.”

Irvine High Concert in SpringThe show, set to start at 7 p.m. Thursday at Irvine Presbyterian Church, will feature all five Irvine High choirs, as well as the Venado Middle School choir, performing works by living composers.

One of those songs, Thomas Cabaniss’ “Celestial Fire,” was originally commissioned for an ensemble in New York City. But the piece was sent out west on the reputation of Irvine High’s vocalists, according to Choral Director Tina Glander Peterson. You can read more in this Orange County Register feature. (Subscription required.)

Two other original songs will also make their debut, one composed by Irvine High sophomore Sean McNamara and another written by retired Woodbridge High Choir Director Ron Soderwall.

Concert tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the venue, which is located at 4445 Alton Parkway, Irvine. For more information, visit

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.”

Northwood High has been named a Grammy Signature School for the fifth time

For second straight year — and the fifth time since 1999 — Northwood High School has been selected as a Grammy Signature School by the Grammy Foundation.

This is one of the most prestigious accolades for music education, and in 2014 it’s being presented to just 12 schools throughout the country. In addition to the special designation and a custom award, Northwood’s music program will receive $2,000.

“Our teachers are so excited,” Principal Leslie Roach said Tuesday. “It is a true testament to the hard work and dedication of our music staff and our great kids.”

Established in 1988, the Grammy Foundation promotes the impact of recorded music on American culture and recognizes schools that provide exceptional music opportunities for students. Each year, more than 20,000 public high schools have an opportunity to apply to become Grammy Signature Schools, but only a small number earn the honor.

IUSD’s four comprehensive high schools have now won 10 Grammy awards — look out, Quincy Jones — with half of those going to Northwood, which opened in 1999.

“Through this Grammy in the Schools initiative, the Grammy Foundation is able to provide critical financial resources and bring attention to the excellence of music programs in schools across the United States,” Neil Portnow, president and CEO of The Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation said in this news release.

Applications for the honor were submitted in the fall. Along with Northwood, Irvine and Woodbridge high schools were among 127 semifinalists that were later asked to submit additional documentation, including concert recordings. Those materials were reviewed by an independent committee of top music educators and professionals, who decided which schools merited the designation.

University High theater to stage ‘Shrek the Musical’ April 3-5 and April 10-12

Shrek the MusicalUniversity High School’s theater department is planning to bring “Shrek the Musical” to the stage April 3 through April 5 and April 10 through April 12.

All shows will start at 7 p.m. in Uni’s big theater.

Based on the 2001 animated film with Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, as well as William Steig’s 1990 book “Shrek!,” the show will feature more than 100 Uni students in the cast, crew and pit orchestra, according to Uni drama teacher Ranae Bettger.

Tickets are available at snack time, during office hours and during lunch in Room 223, which is generally referred to as the little theater. You can also buy them at the door on show nights or secure them online at

Flash mob breaks out at Irvine High School as students celebrate Unity Week

Flash mob at Irvine High School

About 100 dance students, 20 ASB members and 10 teachers recently initiated a flash mob at Irvine High as part of the school’s Unity Week celebration.

The seemingly sudden spark of spontaneous dance took place around the quad between first and second period on Feb. 26, IHS Dance Director Sheryl Sloate tells us. (The photo above is courtesy of student Jenny Seo.)

“People gathered around and watched the flash mob unfold, and several joined in at the end as the performers invited people to join in and dance,” Sloate said.

The students and teachers apparently kept the whole thing hush, even as they secretly rehearsed for several days during lunch. Being Unity Week, which celebrates unity and diversity, the songs focused on togetherness. The dancing was coordinated by Irvine High dance captains Melanie Sakurada, Rachel Blevins-Boor and Kristen Ninonuevo, with help from Sloate and ASB Adviser Flip Lanard.

Said Sloate, “It was a new experience for Irvine High and hopefully a new tradition.”

Brywood and Canyon View choral singers shine at conference in Santa Barbara

This picture was sent to us by IUSD vocal music teacher Kaii Lee, who recently chaperoned eight Brywood Elementary sixth-graders and a Canyon View Elementary fifth-grader to the American Choral Directors Association’s Western Division Conference in Santa Barbara.

Selected from about 1,200 applicants to be members of the ACDA Honor Chorus, the Irvine students rehearsed with renowned conductor Henry Leck for four days beginning on Feb. 19 before a final performance at the Granada Theatre on Feb. 22. Lee says they sang a half-dozen songs in English, Latin, Hebrew, Portuguese and an East African dialect — all from memory.

“Our students performed beautifully,” she said. “It is a great accomplishment for them at this age.”

The students are: Brywood sixth-graders Sasha Anand, Ally Chao, Shounok Ghosh, Nathan Hsu, Joshua Kwon, Amala Neernannan, Shivani Pasricha and Varsha Sampath; and Canyon View fifth-grader Angeline Xu.

California Music Educators Association presents awards to two from IUSD

Two exemplary educators who have made a big impact on IUSD’s music program have been recognized by the California Music Educators Association.

CMEA Annual Awards GalaBob Avzaradel, who chairs the Performing Arts Department at Irvine High School – and is pictured on the right — was presented with the CMEA Jazz Educator Award at the association’s Annual Awards Gala on Feb. 21. Brad Van Patten, who oversees IUSD’s Visual and Performing Arts Department, was one of three administrators to take home the CMEA Outstanding Administrator Award.

The gala to honor California’s top music educators took place during the 2014 California All-State Music Education Conference, which was held Feb. 20-23 in Fresno. 

“Jazz is a cornerstone of American culture,” Avzaradel said this week, after returning from the conference. “I am honored to have been recognized at the state level for what we do at Irvine High School.”

As part of the National Association for Music Education, CMEA focuses on the importance of music education and promotes quality music programs throughout the state. 

Teachers of the Year for 2013-14 announced during surprise visits to their schools

It’s that time again.

Today is the day that three Irvine educators will find out that they’ve been selected as IUSD’s elementary, middle and high school Teachers of the Year.

The good news will once again travel by way of caravan, with school board member Lauren Brooks, Superintendent Terry Walker, Irvine Teachers Association President Tim Jamison, 2013 honorees Joe Huber and Brendan McBrien, and other district staff members making surprise visits to local campuses.

As we have in years past, we’re going to tag along and post the winners as they’re announced, so be sure to refresh this page every so often. We should point out that we’ll be sending our dispatches from our iPhone, so we have a good excuse for typos.

And here’s a little background:

Now in its 28th year, IUSD’s Teacher of the Year program recognizes exceptional instructors at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Nominations are submitted by district employees, and candidates are later interviewed by a committee that includes teachers, principals and administrators.

That panel ultimately narrows the field to three using the following criteria: Evidence of a wide range of instructional strategies used effectively; commitment to the teaching profession; and demonstration of Irvine teachers’ values of integrity, empowerment, learning, collaboration and trust.

IUSD also recognizes a handful of standout first- and second-year teachers, who will be announced this morning as “Teachers of Promise.”

Oh, and all of today’s honorees will be formally honored in May at the Excellence in Teaching Awards Banquet, which is organized each year by the Exchange Club of Irvine and ITA.

Here we go.


8:10 a.m., Northwood High School

Our first stop of the day is Northwood High School, where vocal music director Zach Halop has been named IUSD’s High School Teacher of the Year.


Halop was notified of his new rock-star status during an impromptu staff meeting called by Principal Leslie Roach. Fittingly, they were in the school’s theater.

“It feels stunning,” he said afterward. “This is a tribute to the place I work at. I’m allowed to take risks and to do great things with the kids because of this staff and the way everybody works together.”

Since its launch in 1999, Northwood’s choral music program has continued to soar in popularity, drawing more than 300 students this year. Many arrive at Northwood seeking out the program, a fact that should surprise no one who has observed Halop’s class.

Halop — he’s pictured on the right, next to Jamison — has earned a stellar reputation as a music educator dating back to 1992, his first year in IUSD, and his teaching chops have even earned attention from the recording industry: In 2013, he was named a national quarterfinalist for the Music Educator Award from the Grammy Foundation and The Recording Academy.

Meanwhile, Halop has demonstrated additional talents at Northwood. He also coaches girls golf and serves as the announcer at football and basketball games, making him the “voice of the Timberwolves.”

Speaking of Timberwolves, another Northwood staff member was surprised with an accolade during our visit. History teacher Brendan Geck was announced as a 2013-14 Teacher of Promise.


9:20 a.m., Stonegate Elementary School

We’re now at Stonegate Elementary School, and fifth-grade teacher Allie Nixon has been named Elementary Teacher of the Year.


The announcement was made after students and staff gathered on the field for a mock fire drill. Building a theme around the concept of Stonegate’s superheroes, Principal Stan Machesky characterized Nixon as the school’s “Batman,” equipped with a virtual utility belt of tools that help students succeed.

Indeed, Nixon brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Stonegate, having served as a teacher and administrator in Irvine since joining the district in 2003.

“I don’t know what I’m feeling right now,” she said, shortly after being presented with flowers and outfitted with a Batman costume by the staff. “I am shocked, overwhelmed and pleasantly surprised by the honor. I am one of many here.”

Colleagues say Nixon is deeply committed to providing the best educational opportunities for students, implementing effective instructional strategies, such as “close reading,” while making the most of innovative technologies, including Google Apps for Education. She also promotes a collaborative culture in her classroom through cooperative learning, which is a type of group work.

Nixon continually builds upon her skills through professional development and consistently reaches out to help others, including those new to the teaching profession. Above all, her instructional objectives are guided by one simple question: What is best for students?

We’re now about to depart for our next stop, but first we have a couple more Teachers of Promise to announce. Alyssa Morris, a sixth-grade teacher at Canyon View Elementary School was surprised with the good news in front of the entire school, as was Darin Nakakihara, who teaches fifth grade here at Stonegate. In fact, Principal Machesky called Nakakihara the “Robin” to Nixon’s Batman. Naturally, he was also greeted with the appropriate costume.


10:20 a.m., Jeffrey Trail Middle School

Our final stop of the morning is Jeffrey Trail, IUSD’s newest middle school, where math teacher Karen Feng has just learned that she’s the district’s Middle School Teacher of the Year.


Feng also received the big news after an emergency drill brought hundreds of students and staff to the blacktop.

“I honestly didn’t think that I would win,” she told the NewsFlash. “It was just an honor to be nominated among all the great and awesome teachers in Irvine.”

Feng is a fixture around Jeffrey Trail, known for her willingness to help any time and her ability to motivate students to give every assignment their best effort. An IUSD staff member since 2006, she is a member of Jeffrey Trail’s leadership team, and she played a valuable role in shaping the nascent campus’ staff, vision, policies and programs.

As Jeffrey Trail’s mathematics department chair, Feng has helped ensure a smooth transition to the state’s new Common Core instructional standards. But her dedication extends even further: She regularly assumes extra responsibilities, including Mathcounts competitions, the AMC 8 math contest and the district-wide geometry committee. She also coordinates the school’s Advantage Program, which includes weekly remedial extension and enrichment activities.

Before arriving here at Jeffrey Trail, our group paid a visit to Sierra Vista Middle School to announce the selection of science teacher Jill Morgan as the fourth and final IUSD Teacher of Promise.


That’s it for today’s live Teacher of the Year coverage. As we mentioned earlier, each of this year’s recipients will be honored in May at a special awards dinner that will also recognize outstanding educators from each site.

In the meantime, please join us in congratulating IUSD’s Teachers of the Year and Teachers of Promise for 2013-14.

Northwood High Performing Arts to stage ‘The Sound of Music’ Feb. 26 through March 1

Northwood High School’s Performing Arts Department will stage “The Sound of Music” Feb. 26 through March 1 in the school’s theater.

Shows start at 7 p.m. each evening, with an additional matinée performance at 2 p.m. on March 1.

Tickets for this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical are $15 for students and seniors, and $18 for adults. You can secure your seats from the Northwood High Box Office during lunch, or call (949) 936-7262 and leave a message with your order. (Tickets ordered over the phone will be held at Will Call and must be picked up at least 30 minutes before the show starts.)

Northwood is located at 4515 Portola Parkway in Irvine. For more information, visit the school’s website at