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.

Temperatures near triple-digits in Irvine and elsewhere in Orange County

Here we go again. Irvine and other cities in Southern California are baking this week, and that means an increased risk of heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, particularly for those sensitive to higher temps.

HeatWaveThe Orange County Health Care Agency is once again advising the following:

  • Drink plenty of water, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Avoid unnecessary sun exposure. When in the sun, wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim, and use sunscreen.
  • Avoid strenuous activities if you are outside or in non-air conditioned buildings. If you are working outdoors, take frequent rest and refreshment breaks in a shaded area.
  • Never leave children, elderly people or pets unattended in closed cars or other vehicles.
  • Check on those who are at a higher risk to make sure they are staying cool, including seniors who live alone, people with heart or lung disease and young children.
  • Stay cool indoors. If your home is not air-conditioned, visit public facilities including shopping malls and libraries to stay cool.

The agency says signs of heat exhaustion can include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, headache, nausea or vomiting and dizziness. If you experience these symptoms, move to a cool location, rest and drink fluids.

Warning signs of heat stroke may include an extremely high body temperature; unconsciousness; confusion; hot and dry skin with no sweating; a rapid, strong pulse; and a throbbing headache. If these symptoms are present, call for medical assistance immediately. The Health Care Agency says heat stroke victims should be moved to a shady area where their bodies can be cooled with water.

For more information on heat-related illnesses, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

IPSF’s Spirit of Excellence Gala honors alumni, raises money for IUSD

The Irvine Public Schools Foundation held its 5th annual Spirit of Excellence Gala at the headquarters of Kia Motors America over the weekend. If you weren’t able to attend this year’s glitzy fundraiser, here’s what you missed, courtesy of the foundation’s online publication, Insights.

On Saturday, September 27, IPSF proudly hosted the 5th Annual Spirit of Excellence Gala at Kia Motors America.  The sold-out event, co-chaired by IPSF board member Grace Lin and sports broadcaster Jim Rome, began with red carpet arrivals, silent auction and cocktail reception.  Guests were ushered into the ballroom by members of the Irvine High school marching band as well as cheerleaders and football players from all four IUSD high schools in a spirited “pep rally” style opening.

IPSF GalaSinger/songwriter Nilu, a graduate of Woodbridge High School, performed at the event and was presented with a Rising Star Award by IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker.  Jim Rome brought his talk show format to the stage, interviewing NFL great Warren Moon about his football career.  Following the presentation of a posthumous Spirit of Excellence in Leadership Award to Dr. Kevin Armstrong, IPSF President and CEO Neda Eaton announced that IPSF would begin funding the Dr. Kevin Armstrong Memorial Scholarship for a qualified IUSD high school student. David Meltzer, co-founder of Sports 1 Marketing with Moon, announced the company would match funds from IPSF to fund the scholarship.

Rome also spoke onstage with ABCNews correspondent Aditi Roy, a graduate of University High School. Roy received the Spirit of the Excellence in the Arts award and reminisced about her time in IUSD schools and the impact it had on her career.

The evening featured a series of videos produced by Orange County Films and a live auction featuring six amazing experiences, including  a wine tasting trip to Bordeaux, France donated by Total Wine & More, a getaway at The Resort at Pelican Hill and an Angels Baseball Experience from Angels Baseball Foundation.

Great Park Neighborhoods was the presenting sponsor of the event and has already committed to sponsoring the next two Spirit of Excellence Galas.   Additional  sponsors included  Wells Fargo,  Waste Management of Orange CountyCox Communications,Rutan & Tucker, Citibank, Dr. Lin Reproductive Fertility Center and Jim & Janet Rome.  “We are extremely grateful to all the sponsors and gala guests,” said IPSF CEO and President Neda Eaton.  “The generous support of IPSF’s mission will provide more teachers and instructional assistants in each IUSD school.” While the final results are still being tallied, net proceeds for the event are over $435,000.


[Update, 9 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 2]  The Orange County Register has a breakdown of this year’s Spirit of Excellence honorees here.

Stumped on your science project? Come to IUSD’s Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night

Need help with that upcoming science project? Why not consult an expert?

Ask-A-Scientist 093014IUSD will once again host its Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School. The annual event will assist students in grades six through 12 who are working on this year’s science projects, as well as sixth-graders who have been tasked with making Rube Goldberg machines – like the ones in the Mouse Trap board game or the breakfast scene from “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”

As in previous years, Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night attendees will have an opportunity to chat with real scientists and engineers from places like Beckman, Allergan, Rockwell, the Irvine Ranch Water District, UC Irvine, USC, Irvine Valley College and Chapman University. In addition, IUSD science teachers will be on hand to help answer questions.

Attendance is free, but each child must be supervised by an adult for the entire evening.

Rancho San Joaquin Middle School is located at 4861 Michelson Road. Visitors may park on Michelson and Yale without being ticketed, even though it says “No parking.” (Note that this special privilege applies only to Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night.)

For more information, check out the flier, email or call (949) 936-5057.

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

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.

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

PortolaSpringsGB 092514

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IUSD in the News: Irvine High junior assists fellow student-musicians in Costa Rica

The altruism of an accomplished young musician from Irvine High School is the subject of this story on the Orange County Register’s website.

newspaperUpon visiting a music school in Costa Rica in 2013, junior Justin Koga was inspired by the passion of the local students — and concerned that there were too few instruments in good repair. So he took matters into his own hands, organizing a pair of concert fundraisers in Orange County and New York.

The money he helped raise paid for eight violins, three violas, three cellos and much-needed supplies, according to the Register.

“Sometimes you really need to go far to look at what you really have back at home,” Justin, 15, told the newspaper. “Music has played such a huge role in my life. It’s given me a lot; allowed me to travel, meet new people. And these kids, they wanted to play music and they couldn’t just because they didn’t have the instruments to play it.”

O.C. Register contributing writer Kiran Kazalbash has the story here.