Northwood High School drama students to perform ‘The Ash Girl’ this week

Northwood High’s drama department is getting ready to stage a fall production of “The Ash Girl” Oct. 21 through Oct. 25 in the school’s theater. All shows start at 7 p.m.

Tickets, which can be purchased at the box office during lunch or before each performance, are $12 for students and senior citizens and $15 for adults. The Oct. 21 show is considered a preview performance, so those tickets are only $10 each.

Here’s a brief teaser of the plot, courtesy of the Northwood High website:

If you think this is just another reworking of the Cinderella fairy tale, think again. Our story begins in a big old house, with a girl who lives huddled deep in the protection of an ashy hearth. When the invitation to the ball arrives from the prince, Ashgirl must fight the monsters that have slithered and insinuated their way into her heart and mind.

FullSizeRenderDanyelle Dunavold, Northwood’s theater arts director, says her cast and crew have been particularly invested in bringing this story to life.

“The process of designing and creating this show has been incredibly powerful not only because the many students involved were engaged in the process from day one, but because of the empowerment of our student designers,” Dunavold said. “The play is entirely student run. The sets were designed by students using Vectorworks, an architectural drafting software. The costume design, marketing and publicity design, makeup design, props, running crew, box office, house manager, light board operator, sound, stage management – all performed by students.”

Be advised that a strobe light is used in the performance. For more information, call 949-936-7276 or visit the school’s website at

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

Uni High team earns grant funding to invent aerial search-and-rescue system


A team of University High students has been awarded $9,680 in grant funding to develop an aerial search-and-rescue prototype capable of locating lost hikers. Seriously. It’s all part of a unique program that encourages high schoolers to solve real-world problems with technological solutions. 

Uni is one of just 15 high schools nationwide to secure funding for its Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam this year. Founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994, the Lemelson-MIT program aims to inspire the next generation of inventors and promote economic growth.

Uni High science teacher and STEM coach Tinh Tran describes the program as “the ultimate in STEM project-based learning instruction.”

“There are no predetermined answers,” Tran said. “Where the project goes depends on hard work, skill, smarts and a bit of luck.”

“The team will likely experience many failures along the way and students will learn that it’s okay to fail – failure is an integral part of innovation,” he said. “By working in this type of learning environment, the students develop and practice 21st Century skills needed in a world that values collaboration, initiative, perseverance, flexibility, empathy, curiosity and creativity.

Tran began the InvenTeam application process last spring and even attended a training at MIT in June to refine his school’s entry. Months later, a panel that included educators, researchers, MIT alumni and former Lemelson-MIT award winners judged the proposals and named Uni among this year’s grantees. 

With almost $10,000 in funding, Tran will lead of group of 15 students in developing a high-tech system for locating lost hikers and others who go missing in wilderness areas. According to the proposal, the Uni invention will create an autonomous fixed-wing aircraft, a mobile data-receiving base station and a distress-signal-emitting radio wristband, and all of those components will be able to talk to one another.

“The InvenTeams program represents the future,” said Leigh Estabrooks, Lemelson-MIT’s invention education officer.  “We place an emphasis on STEM-focused projects to develop interest in these fields among youth. With InvenTeams, our primary goal is to foster high school students’ passion for invention, in turn inspiring them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering or math.”

Along with other local companies and organizations, Uni’s InvenTeam — or UNInvenTeam, as they’re calling themselves — is partnering with OC Makerspace, a company that offers community members a creative space to work on projects and connect with professionals.

The Uni students will develop their Aerial Wilderness Distress Monitor and Search System over the next nine months, and in June they plan to showcase a prototype of their invention at EurekaFest, a multi-day event held at MIT with activities designed to inspire youth and encourage creativity and problem-solving.

“The student inventors and I are absolutely thrilled and feel incredibly honored to have received an InvenTeam grant,” Tran told the NewsFlash. “The work we put in over the summer to research, brainstorm ideas, gather feedback from intended beneficiaries and prepare the final application really paid off. Now we get to have fun, because inventing is just plain fun.”

Irvine Unified Council PTA to hold forum for trio of Board of Education candidates

With three hopefuls vying for two open seats on the IUSD Board of Education, the Irvine Unified Council PTA will host a special Candidate Forum beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 23.

The event, which is open to the public, will be held at the District Office, located at 5050 Barranca Parkway. It will also air locally for Cox cable subscribers on IUSD’s channel 39 and via AT&T U-verse’s government and public television menu.

vote-300x298Irvine voters will head to the polls on Nov. 4 to fill two at-large posts on the five-person school board. Seeking a four-year term are incumbent Ira Glasky, an attorney; Bob Vu, an educator, scientist and entrepreneur; and Sharon Wallin, an incumbent who currently serves as board president.

At the forum, each candidate will have an opportunity to make a statement and answer questions presented by an impartial moderator from the League of Women Voters. The questions, developed by the Irvine Council PTA Executive Board, will be the same for all three candidates, and there will also be a limited amount of time for questions from the audience.

“The Candidate Forum has become an Irvine Council PTA tradition and helps us connect our families with the district and the issues we face in public education,” Irvine Council PTA President Connie Stone said.

“We face challenges and opportunities with increases in school populations throughout Irvine as well as implementation of Common Core,”  Stone said. “We are excited to hear what our candidates have to say about these issues and opportunities.”

No RSVP is necessary to attend, but organizers recommend arriving by 6 p.m. to ensure a seat. There may also be time at the end of the forum to chat with the candidates.

Posted in PTA

Latest federally-mandated asbestos inspections reveal no hazards in IUSD

An “extremely thorough” asbestos inspection that assessed every room on every IUSD campus over the summer has resulted in a clean bill of health for local schools.

Under the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, or AHERA, school district facilities are required to be re-inspected for asbestos-related hazards every three years. A team from the environmental services firm A-Tech Consulting Inc. was dispatched to Irvine to perform that work in late August and spent about a week examining IUSD’s campuses.

In a letter dated Thursday, Oct. 9, an A-Tech Consulting official confirmed that his company’s comprehensive evaluation revealed no asbestos hazards in Irvine Unified.

“The re-inspections were extremely thorough,” Project Supervisor Joseph A. Williams said. “We made it a point to go into every building, room and closet within each school and look at every material. At this time, our findings indicate that there is currently no asbestos hazard throughout the Irvine Unified School District.”

IUSD, which will be re-examined again in three years, tends to go above and beyond in testing its schools for potential hazards, says Joe Hoffman, the district’s director of Maintenance and Operations.

“We follow all the AHERA guidelines and re-inspect our schools continually to make sure they’re safe for students and staff,” Hoffman said.

Superintendent sends email to parents endorsing IPSF’s latest fundraising campaign

In a notice sent to IUSD families this week, Superintendent Terry Walker endorsed the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s latest campaign to raise money for local schools, noting that every dollar donated will be matched by the City of Irvine.

TerryWalker“These funds make a difference where it matters most – in the classroom,” Walker wrote in the Oct. 6 email. “At the elementary level, proceeds from this campaign pay for the qualified instructional assistants who work directly with your children, increasing the amount of one‐on‐one interaction. In our middle and high schools, class‐size support funds equate to additional staffing hours that reduce student‐to‐teacher ratios in critical subjects.”

“Though any amount is appreciated,” he added, “IPSF and IUSD are asking you to consider a tax-deductible contribution of $100 or more by the end of the calendar year. This revenue will make an immediate impact in our classrooms, and just imagine what our district could do if each of our 20,000 families participated.”

Here’s the full text of the superintendent’s email:

Dear IUSD community member:

Since 1996, the Irvine Public Schools Foundation has been an invaluable partner to our district, leveraging this community’s generosity and passion for education while facilitating a number of innovative programs.

Well, IPSF is once again leading the charge to ensure excellence in our classrooms with a new fundraising campaign, and the City of Irvine has offered to match every donation. That means if you donate a dollar to IPSF, the City will kick in an additional dollar, potentially generating nearly $2 million.

These funds make a difference where it matters most – in the classroom. At the elementary level, proceeds from this campaign pay for the qualified instructional assistants who work directly with your children, increasing the amount of one‐on‐one interaction. In our middle and high schools, class‐size support funds equate to additional staffing hours that reduce student‐to‐teacher ratios in critical subjects. In addition, IPSF supports music education for students in kindergarten through grade six, as well as grants that enable our teachers and counselors to pursue new technologies and 21st-century learning strategies.

Though any amount is appreciated, IPSF and IUSD are asking you to consider a tax-deductible contribution of $100 or more by the end of the calendar year. This revenue will make an immediate impact in our classrooms, and just imagine what our district could do if each of our 20,000 families participated.

Keep in mind that IPSF is the only organization with the reach and resources to impact every school – and every child – in our district. If you’ve ever considered making a contribution to preserve excellence in the classroom, or even to help maintain the property values that are linked to our schools’ performance, now is the time.

To make a donation, or to learn more about the partnership between IUSD, IPSF and the City of Irvine, please visit the foundation’s website by clicking here.

As always, thank you for supporting education in Irvine.


Terry L. Walker
Superintendent of Schools

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.

Gas line breach prompts brief evacuation of students and staff at Irvine High

Irvine High School students and staff were briefly evacuated to nearby Heritage Park on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 8 after a gas line was accidentally breached on campus.

No students or staff were injured as a result of the breach, which occurred at about 8:50 a.m. during construction work on a new classroom building. The Orange County Fire Authority and The Southern California Gas Company were notified immediately, and the line was capped about an hour later.

Fire officials performed a thorough inspection before giving the all-clear to return to campus.

Q&A: IUSD’s director of education technology talks latest classroom innovations

Kris LinvilleIf you want to know all about the latest instructional technologies being used in the Irvine Unified School District, Kris Linville is your go-to guy.

He’s the district’s director of educational technology, and he leads a tech-savvy team of educators and specialists dedicated to enhancing classrooms with tools that maximize the time and talents of IUSD’s teachers. He’s also a former teacher who spent 11 years at Sierra Vista Middle School, leading video production and web design courses.

At the risk of feeling like we attended school in the Dark Ages, we recently caught up with Linville, a former IUSD Teacher of the Year, to talk about the latest developments in Ed Tech, including a new web-based system designed to revolutionize classroom-to-home communication.


So, what’s new and exciting in Ed Tech?
Well, for Irvine Unified, what’s new and exciting is we are implementing a program called Canvas, which is a course management solution, or CMS.

Canvas is going to be a way for a teacher to communicate with students and parents at home by essentially having a website where they can post announcements and course documents, and where they can host collaborations and discussion boards. That teacher could also do some form of flipped teaching, which is where they record a video of themselves and present it as an online lesson for their students.

What’s nice about Canvas is that it’s not some open website that anyone can go to. Previously, if a teacher had a worksheet that they made a copy of, they could never publish that on a public website. But because this is closed, if a teacher has permission for that worksheet to be handed out to students, they’re actually allowed to host it on their website. So you can imagine a kid who forgot their worksheet, or maybe the parents want to see what’s happening in the class. There’s also a nice calendar feature. A teacher could actually go in, put down all of their assignments, field trips, any major activities happening and it’s set up in the calendar so that students can be notified.

At the high school level, there are some nice mobile apps, so if a student has a smartphone or an iPad they actually can be notified on those devices, and they don’t need to have a home computer to look at the homework or anything like that. They can actually access those files on their smartphones or tablets.

How will Canvas benefit IUSD students?
We’re finding that school-to-home communication through a product like this is allowing students to be more successful because their parents can be more involved with what they’re learning, and then also teachers are responding to fewer individual emails because they’re actually able to communicate more effectively to a broader audience.

With social media that’s available nowadays, students are already going to websites like Facebook and conferencing and collaborating with their peers. They’ll ask, “What’s due in this class?” or “Is anyone else having problems with No. 3?” And teachers don’t have a problem with that – it would be the same as if I went to your house and said, “Let’s do homework together.” So the next thing is, instead of it being on a public site that’s data-mining your information and where we don’t have the same way of regulating off-topic comments and pictures, we are now housing all of this on Canvas. So a teacher might have a video conference for 40 or 50 students the night before a final exam to answer questions. Meanwhile, it’s closed and compliant with the Family Education Rights Privacy Act and the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

How is this being rolled out?
We had a program before the school year started where we trained teachers. We are also offering monthly Canvas trainings, and we’re getting asked by specific sites to go out and do trainings. Of the courses that have been set up in Canvas, we have well over 50 percent of our teachers using it, and for the month of September we had 13,000 kids log in to use this, out of 32,000. That adoption rate is actually faster than we thought it would be.

And it’s not just being used at the elementary level or K-12. Harvard just adopted Canvas, and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business is using it as well. That’s one of the reasons that our secondary teachers wanted Canvas; they wanted to have a product that when the kids graduated from high school, they would have that similar feel at the college level.

Again, we’ve used products similar to this, but the power of having Canvas as our district-supported CMS is that all the kids are in there. Students don’t have to create new accounts for each class with separate logins. Each teacher’s classes are already generated, and students’ logins and passwords are the same ones that they would use to get on district computers. It’s all synced together.

What about parents with multiple students in the district?
It’s just one login for each parent. You’ll be linked to your children in the district, and you can see the calendars specific to each student.

Last time we spoke, we talked about the “Bring Your Own Device” movement, or BYOD, which encourages students to use their smartphones, tablets and laptops at school. Is there still momentum for this type of program in Irvine?
Yes. In fact, we just upgraded the bandwidth of all the sites, so elementary and middle schools are now at 500 megabits-per-second and the high schools are up to one gigabit-per-second. By upgrading the bandwidth, now when we start updating all the Wi-Fi, which we’re doing across the district, then that opens the door for BYOD.

Until the bandwidth and the Wi-Fi are set up, we will struggle with BYOD because even though a principal might be on board and say, “I’m OK with kids bringing their own devices,” there’s no point in bringing a device if it can’t connect. And we still see that problem where we go to a site and a teacher is very excited about a lesson and there are issues with student connectivity. The goal of our IT department is to make it feel seamless, the same way that you can go into an airport or a coffee shop, the same way you have 3G on your device and no matter where you go now you should be able to jump on and do some research and find information. That’s how we want our kids to feel when they’re at school. That being said, our goal at the high school level is to go BYOD probably within a year.

As a former classroom teacher, what value do you think technology brings to instruction?
I think technology has the power to elevate classroom engagement, allowing students to use all of their senses. You can go on Google and visit The Louvre and actually explore the museum and see a 360-degree panorama view. Things that couldn’t be done before are now possible with technology. We have teachers who are connecting with other classes across the U.S. We’ve had authors reach out and talk to classes with a video connection, and it’s all because of technology. These lessons contribute to a different level of student engagement, and adaptive assessments help to personalize instruction.

What we’re trying to move away from is technology being icing on the cake — and something that only certain teachers know how to do — to it being an ingredient in the cake. For that to happen, our infrastructure and our broadband and all of those things need to work seamlessly.

I understand the new computer-based state assessments tied to the Common Core standards are heavily reliant on a technology infrastructure. Is IUSD prepared for those?
Yes. Last year was the pilot for the new adaptive assessments, and bandwidth wasn’t an issue for our sites. We also had a lot of staff training on how to use it. I think our previous assessment coordinator, Irene Brady, did a great job, and now we have Alyssa Honeycutt in that role, and our district is prepared for the tests this year.

Lastly, how do Ed Tech’s goals align with the new Common Core standards?
If you look at some of the new standards, technology is in there. For instance, a standard might focus on presentation skills and might specifically say that the student has to use some type of media or technology to present. So, if the kids are being asked to do that as part of a standard, we have to make sure that teachers feel comfortable doing that. The big approach for Ed Tech is we need to look at Common Core and determine how many of these standards tap into using technology, and we have to make sure that teachers feel confident and comfortable using that technology.