Teachers of the Year for 2014-15 announced during surprise visits to their schools

The time has come, once again, to honor three Irvine educators that have been selected as IUSD’s elementary, middle and high school Teachers of the Year.


venableThis years Elementary School Teacher of the Year is Paula Venable, a fourth/fifth-grade teacher at Portola Springs Elementary School.

Venable began in IUSD twenty-seven years ago, and she continues to bring passion and excitement to her work on a daily basis. Her unwavering commitment and positive attitude help to foster strong support from all facets of the school community.

Venable’s impact as a teacher leader is felt on the IUSD Continuous Improvement Council, the Teacher Advisory Forum, and by the new teachers she has supported as a BTSA provider. She stays current with pedagogical changes by engaging in professional development at Columbia University during her summer breaks.

Striving to build a rapport of trust with her students, Venable’s classroom provides an environment which facilitates learning. She puts the learning of all students first, and recognizes that they are our legacy. As a founding member of Portola Springs Elementary School, she has fostered a spirit of community service in providing leadership opportunities for students.


sarmientoMiddle School Teacher of the Year is Susana Sarmiento, an English Language teacher at Venado Middle School.

Sarmiento is a natural leader, and as such, contributes to her school, the district and the community. She is deeply committed, collaborative, and well respected. She designs and shares curriculum, and is an active member of the campus Tutorial Committee, School Site Council and IUSD’s Teacher Advisory Forum.

The at-risk student holds a special place in the heart of Sarmiento. She is innovative and empowering and her daily work in the classroom illuminates her interest in creating learning opportunities which are accessible by all students.

When visiting Sarmiento’s classroom, there is overwhelming evidence of her student-centered teaching style. Her commitment to teaching and learning is clear, and her caring and sincere demeanor is the backbone of the positive rapport she has with students.


haleyThe High School Teacher of the Year is Christine Haley, a Language Arts teacher at Woodbridge High School.

Haley exemplifies collaboration, but it’s her enthusiasm for learning, humor and intellect that are at the core of her work. She is a versatile teacher who can engage all students, from Advanced Placement scholars to those who require additional help or are coping with learning difficulties. Haley supports student learning across all abilities and collaborates with her peers to meet the needs of individual students.

Outside the classroom, Haley chairs the English Department at Woodbridge High and is a lead teacher in transitioning the school into the Common Core. In addition, she works at the district committee level developing writing standards and providing staff development.

Haley is seen as an expert among administrators as well, as evidenced by her selection to serve on the self-study team and chair the WASC process.


Now in its 29th 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 are announced as “Teachers of Promise.”

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.

Student scientists are gearing up for IUSD’s 34th annual District Science Fair

IUSD’s 34th annual District Science Fair is set to take place on Tuesday, Feb. 24 at Irvine High School.

The fair will once again be brought to you by the Broadcom Foundation, in partnership with the Irvine Public Schools Foundation, and if it’s anything like last year’s event, we’re going to see some pretty impressive projects.

Submissions include “Don’t Come Backteria,” “Microwave Oven: A Cooking Companion Or A Dangerous Device” and, of course, “The Effect Of Different Solutes In Distilled Water On The Resulting Solution’s Capability To Perform Electrolysis.”

Parents are encouraged to check with their child’s school or science teacher to learn more about specific requirements and deadlines. And you may also want to check in with the rules and regulations for the Orange County Science & Engineering Fair.

In the meantime, here are a tips worth noting:

  • To be eligible for the Orange County Science & Engineering Fair, students must have participated in IUSD’s Science Fair, and they need to inform their science teachers, who must approve each entry.
  • OCSEF limits IUSD to 125 entrants, and county projects will be selected based on student interest, input from the students’ science teachers and ribbons awarded at the district level.
  • Not all blue ribbon winners from the IUSD Science Fair will be selected to participate in the OCSEF, and in fact some red ribbon winners might make the cut. The district’s Honorable Mention winners won’t be eligible to participate unless there aren’t enough blue ribbon and red ribbon winners to fill the 125 allocated slots.
  • The information above is subject to change.

Once again, be sure to check with your child’s school and the OCSEF Rules & Regulations before planning your project. And good luck!

IUSD students connect with ISS for a unique glimpse of earth

The week of January 25, the Canyon View Elementary 5th graders, and Portola Springs Elementary 4th and 5th graders were “on mission” with the Sally Ride EarthKam.

The EarthKam has a camera mounted on the International Space Station (ISS). Mrs. Megan Seager and Mrs. Jessica Lingenfelter, both elementary science specialists, requested a mission date, which took place during the Weather and Space unit of study in her science lab. This program brings the earth science 5th grade curriculum standards into “view.” Students learned about the Space Station and how the camera works. Each student had the opportunity to select a location of his/her choice.  They then used latitude and longitude coordinates and uplinked them to request the image. Due to positioning of the ISS, student pictures were scheduled to be taken between January 25-31.  There was a Russian supply shuttle docked at the ISS during this time, so photos may contain part of that shuttle in them!


Students at both schools used iPads to remotely request images to be taken from a camera mounted on the International Space Station.  Each students used a map on the EarthKam website, selected an orbit and a location that they wanted a picture of. The orbits and Earth’s axis allowed for Southern Hemisphere pictures this week.

All students are very excited to view their photos next week.  They will be on the EarthKam website in a school gallery and can be viewed at school or home.

westpark creditElementary science specialist Vicky Anthony from Westpark Elementary also sent her 5th grade astronomers “on mission” and took the following photo of the Andes Mountains in Argentina, South America, near Argentino Lake. For those of you who speak satellite, the image was taken on 2015/028/19:43:37, Orbit 635, Nadir 49.86° S, 72.69° W, Center 49.86°, 72.69° W.

For more information about the Sally Ride EarthKAM, click HERE

For more information about our Elementary Science Specialist program, click HERE

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.

Uni High student selected as finalist for 2015 Intel STS competition

University High School senior, Yelena Mandelshtam, was one of forty students selected as a finalist in the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS) competition on January 21st.

This program recognizes the top high school science minds in the nation and is regarded my many as one of the most coveted and prestigious science awards a high school student can earn.

Finalists will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. from March 5-11, where they will undergo final judging, display their work to the public, meet with notable scientists, and compete for $1,012,500 in awards, including the three top awards of $150,000 each.

For more information about the Intel STS, please visit their website at www.societyforscience.org.

IUSD continues to seek feedback for Local Control and Accountability Plan

IUSD would like to know what you think about the new three-year accountability plan and seeks your input on future actions to improve student achievement.

Online Input Forum for IUSD's LCAPAs mentioned in previous posts, California’s new funding model for K-12 education requires every school district and county office of education to develop, adopt and annually update a three-year Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) with input from parents, students, and other key stakeholders.

Districts will use these plans to identify yearly goals, take action and measure progress for student subgroups across multiple performance indicators, including academic achievement, school climate, access to a broad curriculum and parent engagement.

IUSD’s LCAP isn’t due to the county until July 1, but you can get an overview by checking out this slide presentation from the Board of Education’s November 18, 2014 meeting and you can access the latest draft of the plan by clicking here.

Parents, students, district employees and community members are encouraged to review Irvine’s LCAP and submit feedback by way of this online input form before the plan is adopted in June. This is an important part of the process for budgeting and setting priorities for the district. Please take the time to share your thoughts.

Student inventors will showcase their ‘Astounding Inventions’ on Jan. 24

Some innovative student inventions will be featured later this month at the 28th annual Astounding Inventions contest.


Presented by Greenberg Traurig LLP and the Irvine Valley College Foundation, the event will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 24, in Irvine Valley College’s Hart Gymnasium. (Click to enlarge the flier to the right.)

Astounding Inventions is a unique fair established to promote student interest in math and science. Each year, Irvine and Tustin students in kindergarten through the eighth grade submit their own original inventions, which are judged and displayed. Last year’s award-winning entries included the “Baby Camera Flash” and the “Dolphin Wind Dynamics.”

The public will be able to check out this year’s submissions for free on the day of the event, and we encourage you to come take a look. There will also be stage shows and some interesting science displays, including robots, a “Make Your Own Slime” station, water rockets and a sea-life petting pool from the Aquarium of the Pacific.

For more information, click here.

City program to offer emergency response training for parents and teens

The start of a new year represents a good time for families, schools and businesses to revisit their emergency plans, stock up on supplies and seek out best practices.

CERT 010815To that end, the City of Irvine’s Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, is offering another 11-session training program for moms and dads of school-age children — as well as a separate 12-day program for teens.

The hands-on course for parents, focusing on such topics as personal and family preparedness, fire suppression, first aid and light search and rescue, will be held from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning April 14 and wrapping up on May 19. The teen program will cover similar topics from 3:15 to 5 p.m. every Monday through Thursday from Feb. 4 through Feb. 26.

The idea behind CERT is to prepare citizens to help themselves, their families and their neighbors in the event of a major catastrophic event. To receive certification in each course, participants must attend all of the sessions, which will be staged at the Irvine Police Department headquarters, Orange County Fire Authority Station No. 6 and Irvine City Hall.

You can learn more by clicking on the flier to the right, and you can get enrollment information by emailing CERT@cityofirvine.org or calling 949-714-7054. Space is limited, so don’t wait too long if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about the Irvine Unified School District’s emergency planning efforts, take a look at this recently updated Emergency Preparedness webpage. You’ll find information on emergency communications, lockdown training, Comprehensive Safe School Plans and more.

IUSD will take aging electronics off your hands at upcoming e-waste recycling event

Any chance one of your New Year’s resolutions was to declutter your home or office by getting rid of old electronics?

Recycling event 012415If so, you should probably take note of an upcoming electronics recycling event at IUSD’s headquarters.

School district staff are teaming up with a company called All Green on Saturday, Jan. 24, to collect televisions, monitors, DVDs, laptops, printers, cell phones, VCRs — do people still have those? — computer hardware and pretty much anything else that plugs in or uses batteries. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the district’s Administration Center, located at 5050 Barranca Parkway in Irvine.

Furniture, hazardous waste and kitchen appliances won’t be accepted, but if you received a new TV or computer over the holidays, and the old one is about to gather dust in the garage, you might as well bring it over to be recycled responsibly.

Proceeds will benefit the district office’s Green Team Initative. For more information, check out the above flier or visit allgreenrecycling.com.