University High Orchestra Takes First Place at National Competition

University High School’s symphony orchestra recently placed first nationally at a competition held in Tampa, FL.  The group was already in some pretty elite company.  Uni Orchestra

Uni’s Orchestra Director Grace Lee, said just ten of the top programs from around the country were invited to the National Orchestra Festival, which was organized by the American Strings Teachers Association and held March 3rd through March 6th.

“It was a wonderful experience, and the kids really enjoyed every minute of it,” Lee said. “From listening to top orchestra groups across the nation, to receiving valuable post-performance feedback from world renowned clinicians, to jamming out on electric string instruments, to learning how to play gypsy jazz, it was all an unforgettable experience the kids will remember for a lifetime.”

Three years ago, Uni’s symphony orchestra placed second in the nation.  This year, they returned to the competition with a renewed focus.

According to its website, the National Orchestra Festival invites youth, middle school and high school orchestras, which are selected to participate based on their applications and supporting materials. Groups can compete or receive evaluations for their performances, which are followed by educational clinics.


Woodbridge High School Named Top GRAMMY School in the Nation

grammyWoodbridge High School has been named the 2016 National Grammy Signature School for its outstanding music program.  This designation is one of the most prestigious accolades in music education.  Since the inception of the GRAMMY Foundation in 1988, IUSD’s four comprehensive high schools have received 12 Gold and Signature Grammy awards but this is the first-ever top honor for an IUSD school.

In 2016, the GRAMMY Foundation presented Signature School awards to just 13 schools across the nation.  The top three schools were designated Gold recipients. The best of the Gold recipients, Woodbridge High School, was named the National GRAMMY Signature School.  Woodbridge will also receive a $5,000 prize.

“This national honor is a tribute to our extraordinary music program, including our dedicated music instructors and students,” said Woodbridge Principal Chris Krebs.  “Winning this award is akin to winning a national championship in athletics.”  Krebs went on to praise the music instructors for their professional and personal investments in the program and its students.

In late 2015, the GRAMMY Foundation announced that all four of IUSD’s comprehensive high schools were named 2016 GRAMMY Signature School Semifinalists – a historical first – making IUSD the only district in the nation with four schools with this designation.  Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools were among 119 schools nationwide selected as semifinalists.

“This is a very important and prestigious honor for our students, staff and community,” said Brad Van Patten, Coordinator of Visual and Performing Arts.  “It is a testament to the entire K-12 program that allows for a quality music education with access and equity for every child in IUSD to help develop their individual talents in a collaborative ensemble that will be a part of their college and career skillset.”

Applications for the honor were submitted in the fall. Semifinalists were 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.

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.

Portola High School Update and Public Meeting Notice

Dear IUSD Community,

In the two weeks since my last communication with you about the Portola High School site, IUSD has been working closely with officials from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), regarding
their request to collect additional soil samples to reaffirm the safety of the site.  On March 8, DTSC Division Chief Dot Lofstrom and her team met with IUSD staff at the school site to determine where the additional samples will be taken and to develop a draft workplan.

Rendering of Portola High School Student Union

Rendering of Portola High School Student Union

District staff will present the draft workplan to the IUSD Board of Education during a public meeting on Tuesday, March 22 at 7 p.m. at the District Office (5050 Barranca Parkway, Irvine).  A representative from DTSC will be available to answer questions.  The community is invited to attend and to provide public comments.  For those who cannot attend the meeting, it will be broadcast live on Cox channel 39 and AT&T U-verse channel 99.

IUSD’s efforts remain focused on the safety of our community, while continuing to ensure that our process is as transparent as possible.  We have provided a comprehensive webpage that provides detailed information about the school site.

In addition, the District has developed a “Fact Check: Portola High School” document, which has the most factual and up-to-date information about the Portola High School site, including the more than 200 tests performed and clarification about the additional confirmation sampling.  Please take a moment to review this document.

As we prepare to open Portola High School this August, we join the community in its excitement about Irvine’s newest comprehensive high school that will serve generations of Irvine students and their families for years to come.  We look forward to reaffirming the safety of the school site and moving forward with this world class facility.

Thank you for your engagement and support of our students and schools, which enables IUSD to best serve our students.






Terry L. Walker
Superintendent of Schools, Irvine Unified School District

Irvine High Newspaper Takes First Place in County and Second in State

Irvine High School newspaper recently won first place in sweepstakes, as well as First Place in Best of Show, Div. 1, at the Orange County Journalism Irvine High JournalismEducation Association write-offs at Fullerton College.  More than 250 student journalists and 15 local schools attended the annual event.

Twenty-four El Vaquero student-staff members competed.  Anthony Nquyen and Brian Zhou placed in news, David Hsiou and Brenda Nguyen placed in editorial, Michelle Ma placed in feature, and Arvind Katta and Kevin Lee placed in news. These seven staffers advanced to the Southern California Journalism Education Association state competition on Saturday, March 12 in Long Beach. Sixteen El Vaquero staffers, overall, represented Irvine High at the state level and brought home a Second Place win, missing out on First Place by only one point to Beverly Hills High School.

Other Irvine High students who placed in county competition included Tyanna Adjie, Tiffany Chhuor, Joyce Hsiou, Patrick Nguyen, Claire Song, and Harrison Zhang in novice news; Anissa Govind and Hala Ozgur in editorial cartooning; Marwa Achikzai in critical review; Mona Chahine in news photography; and Teresa Kim and Saieashwar Mukund in news layout.

Congratulations to El Vaquero staffers for a great showing at both the county and state competitions!

Textbooks recommended for the 2016-17 school year available for review

Pile of Textbooks

High school textbooks recommended for IUSD adoption will be made available for public review on March 14.

These instructional materials are under consideration for 2016-17, covering the content areas of English/language arts, foreign language, mathematics, visual and performing arts, science, health, history and social science.

The books will remain on display at each of IUSD’s four comprehensive high schools throughout the adoption process, which is expected to conclude with a vote by the Board of Education on May 3.

565 Students Participate in IUSD’s 35th Annual Science Fair

IMG_2405This year marked the 35th anniversary of IUSD’s districtwide science fair in which 565 students submitted a total of 463 projects.  Once again, the event was organized and hosted by IUSD science teachers and specialists and sponsored by the Broadcom Foundation, in partnership with the Irvine Public Schools Foundation.

Submissions included “Extraordinary Elodea”, “Hydroelectricity”, “The Slime Awakens”, “The Effect of Varying Pitch on Voltage Generated by Vertical Axis Wind Turbines”, “Solar Powered-Water Desalination”, “A Math/Algorithm Model for Indoor Visible Light” and “The Exploration of Cellular
Responses to Transfection”

A select few of students were also presented an award from the Irvine Ranch Water District for projects that had water as the main theme. New this year, one student in High School was presented an award from Chapman University School of Pharmacy.

6th, 7th, and 8th graders who qualified are eligible to enter Broadcom MASTERS.  From there finalists enter the competition in Washington, D.C in the Fall 2016.

DSC01360DSC01383Eligible projects that entered in our district Science Fair can move on to The Orange County Science and Engineering Fair which is held on April 11-17, 2016. From there projects have the chance to move on to the California State Science Fair.

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:

  • SF2016 Awards Ceremony4To 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!

Portola High School Update from Terry Walker

Portola High SchoolDear IUSD Community,

This August, IUSD will open Portola High School, Irvine’s fifth comprehensive high school.  While there is considerable excitement about the opening of our new school, there continues to be misleading information disseminated in the community about the school site, which is on the former El Toro Marine Base.  I would like to take this opportunity to share information with you about IUSD’s actions to ensure the safety of the site.

Throughout the multi-year process, IUSD has worked with all necessary agencies and experts to vet and ensure the safety of the site.  In analyzing and determining the best location for Portola High School, IUSD’s process, procedures and findings have been based on the scientific studies, tested principles and protocols of such agencies as the California Department of Education, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the California Department of Public Health, the Department of the Navy, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  This well-documented and comprehensive process has been provided on our website, presented in Board Meetings, shared with the City Council, discussed at public events and with an array of diverse stakeholders such as the PTA, the Irvine Public Schools Foundation and community supporters.

Further, in 2014, the DTSC and the California Department of Education determined that the Portola High School site met the required state approvals for the development of the high school and gave IUSD the “green light” to move forward with the school’s construction.  As the lead environmental agency on this project, the DTSC has been responsible for providing oversight of the required testing and for analyzing the results.  Throughout this process, the DTSC has confirmed the safety and suitability of the site.

To date, the District has conducted more than 200 tests throughout the school site.  Based on the results, the DTSC documented there is no threat to public health or the environment.  As part of this continued oversight, the DTSC has now asked IUSD to collect additional “confirmational” samples to reaffirm the safety of the site.  IUSD will begin this process immediately and will analyze additional soil samples.  The District will continue to fully comply with the DTSC’s requirements, protocols and procedures, in addition to state and local laws.

The DTSC believes this work can be done quickly with “little or no impact” to our construction – the timeline for opening the school remains unchanged.  IUSD will provide you with regular updates, including all test results.  As with all other Irvine schools, Portola High School will continue IUSD’s tradition of excellence and the Irvine community will be proud of its next comprehensive high school.

For more information about the Portola High School site and a history of IUSD actions and DTSC documents, please visit

Thank you for your engagement and support of our students and schools, which enables IUSD to best serve our students.






Terry L. Walker
Superintendent of Schools, Irvine Unified School District

Board of Education Votes to Put School Facilities Improvement Measure on June Ballot

Over the past several months, the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) has been communicating about the possibility of IUSD placing a School Facilities Improvement Measure on the June 2016 ballot, which would enable the District to begin modernizing schools that are more than 30 years old so that they have the same academic and safety features as Irvine’s newer school sites.  During Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, which included a public hearing on the matter, the Irvine Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously to place the measure on the ballot and to establish a School Facilities Improvement District (SFID).  The Board heard IUSD staff presentations and public comments from a capacity audience of parents, students and Instagram-logocommunity members before making their decision.

If approved by 55 percent of voters in the areas identified by the SFID this June, the measure will provide an investment of up to $319 million in addressing the serious school facility issues that have been identified. The cost of the measure will be $29 per $100,000 of assessed value, (as opposed to market value, which is typically much higher) over a 30-year period. To provide some perspective, the estimated approximate cost to the average property owner will be about $10 per month.

Funds from this measure would be used to upgrade Irvine’s oldest schools by:

  • Providing the facilities and equipment needed for career and technology classes so students are prepared for college and good paying jobs in fields like science, engineering, technology and skilled trades.
  • Providing classrooms, science labs and school facilities that meet current academic, technology and safety standards.
  • Ensuring that all schools have the classrooms and instructional spaces needed for Irvine’s world class art and music programs.
  • Improving traffic and safety in and around schools.
  • Updating instructional technology in the classroom for improved student learning in core subjects like reading and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
  • Replacing aging roofs, plumbing, electrical systems, and heating and cooling systems.
  • Ensuring classrooms, labs and other facilities are accessible for students with disabilities.

Only voters in the neighborhoods served by the oldest schools will vote on this measure and all property owners within the SFID will contribute to this investment in these schools. These are neighborhoods that are not currently receiving local facilities funding.  Most property owners in the newest areas, who are already paying Community Facility District (CFD) fees toward infrastructure and school facility construction, will not be impacted by this measure. However, all IUSD students and families will see benefit from the bond, as most IUSD high schools and middle schools serving graduates of Irvine’s newest and oldest elementary schools will receive significant improvements.

The possibility of a modernization measure comes at a critical time, when funding for IUSD is at an extreme low. As recently reported in the Orange County Register, “Compared to unified districts across the nation, Irvine Unified – with more than 32,000 students enrolled – gets nearly $5,000 less per student; unified districts statewide, on average, get roughly $1,500 more than Irvine Unified does per student.

Schools included under the measure are: 

Elementary/K-8 Schools Middle Schools High Schools

Bonita Canyon          Meadow Park

Brywood                    Northwood

Canyon View            Oak Creek

College Park             Santiago Hills

Culverdale                Springbrook

Deerfield                   Stone Creek

Eastshore                 Turtle Rock

Greentree                 University Park

Meadow Park           Westpark

Northwood                Plaza Vista K-8


Rancho San Joaquin

Sierra Vista

South Lake







For more information and ongoing updates about the School Facilities Improvement Measure, visit or email  In addition to the information above, the School Facilities Improvement Measure webpage provides the following information:

  • An overview of the need and why the Board voted to place the measure on the June 2016 ballot
  • Frequently asked questions
  • A map of the SFID
  • PDF copies of mailers and information the District has sent to voters
  • IUSD’s Legislative Priorities (including an overview of significant underfunding from the state)
  • General information points
  • Fiscal accountability information
  • Contact information
  • Key definitions


Teacher of the Year Announced for 2015-2016

Elementary Teacher of the YearTOY-TOP2

This year’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year is Stacie Grooters, a Science Specialist at Culverdale Elementary School.  She has worked for IUSD for more than three years.

Stacie loves teaching students and brings passion and commitment to hands-on lessons to get students excited about science.  She makes rigorous science curriculum accessible to all students by weaving in personal stories and humor.

“Students think they’re playing, not realizing they’re learning, being held accountable to work collaboratively and engaging in critical thinking,” said Culverdale Principal Aaron Jetzer.  “She has a wealth of information and stays current on new scientific discoveries, which she shares with students daily.”

Stacie infuses technology into her lessons to enhance the learning experiences for students.  She is one of a handful of teachers in California who uses augmented reality computers that feature sound, video, graphics and other data to develop engaging instruction for students.  She continually strives to create experiences for her students that will deepen their love of learning.



TOY-TOP5Middle School Teacher of the Year

Middle School Teacher of the Year is Henry Miller, an Music teacher at Sierra Vista Middle School.  He has been with IUSD for 26 years.

Henry strives to get the best out of every student in his music classes, whether it is a beginner or a highly experienced musician.  He is dedication and constructive teaching style have made him a well-liked and respected teacher by students, staff and parents alike.

“I have seen Henry teach for 12 years and have seen his program at Sierra Vista evolve into a program where students not only excel but love making music,” said fellow Sierra Vista Teacher Eric Zuercher.  “The students are learning, having fun and making music at a very accelerated level.”

In addition to Henry’s tremendous work in the classroom, he began volunteer charitable field trips to elementary schools to bring music to students with special needs, called “Giving Bach.”  Under his leadership, his students have formed an award-winning, extra-curricular jazz band.

Through Henry’s leadership, he is inspiring a lifelong love of music in his students and his passion for teaching has had a positive impact on all.




High School Teacher of the YearTOY-TOP3

The High School Teacher of the Year is Steve Sewell, a Social Science Teacher at Irvine High School.

He has worked for IUSD for 33 years.

Steve exemplifies dedication, commitment and collaboration inside and outside of the classroom. Under his leadership, Irvine High School involved more students in National History Day than any other high school in Orange County for the past two years.  Twelve of the projects became finalists and seven projects advanced to the state competition.  He has also organized an all-school canned food drive for a local homeless shelter, raised money for clean water in developing countries and lead or participated in a variety of school spirit initiatives.

“Steve’s dedication to the teaching profession and the District needs to be recognized,” said fellow Irvine High School teacher Jerry Judd.  “Steve’s contributions to our students and community each year make him an invaluable leader and an inspiration to his students and those who work alongside him.”

He continually looks for professional learning opportunities to enhance how he teaches students.  Steve has participated in the UCI Writing Project Summer Institute, the UCI Critical Thinking Project and a reading apprenticeship in History.

Steve continually strives to be the best teacher he can be and in the process has positively influenced those who work with him and those he teaches.

About the Teacher of the Year Program

Now in its 30th 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.”  Click here for the 2015-16 Teachers of Promise.

All of this year’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.

Teachers of Promise Announced for 2015-16

TOPToday, in addition to announcing the 2015-16 Teachers of the Year, IUSD announced four “Teachers of Promise.” This annual honor goes to first- or second-year instructors who go above and beyond while demonstrating professional curiosity and an unbridled enthusiasm for teaching.

The 2015-16 Teachers of Promise, as shown above, are Kevin Bui, a social studies teacher at Venado Middle SchoolKatie Miller, a third-grade teacher at Portola Springs Elementary School; Kim Morgan, a special education teacher at Cypress Village Elementary School; and Kristen Motooka, a culinary teacher at Northwood High School.

Kevin was recognized in front of his colleagues during a staff meeting at Venado, while Katie and Kim were surprised during schoolwide assemblies. Kristen was surprised in front of her culinary class at Northwood.  All four will be formally honored in May at the 30th annual Excellence in Teaching Awards Dinner.

Once again, congratulations to this year’s Teachers of the Year and Teachers of Promise.