In the news: New era of testing begins for California students, state suspends API and more

It’s Friday the 13th, and lucky for you we’ve got another batch of Orange County education stories you may have missed.

  • The California Board of Education voted unanimously to suspend the Academic Performance Index for this school year as the state works to develop a more comprehensive accountability system based on multiple measures.
  • And if you’re a runner (or walker) and are looking for something to do this weekend, Yorba Linda has two suggestions that are not only fun but will benefit schools and the community.

State Board of Education suspends California Academic Performance Index

The California Board of Education has voted unanimously to suspend the Academic Performance Index for the 2014-15 school year as the state works to develop a more comprehensive accountability system based on multiple measures.

Califonria Department of Education LogoState Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced the move on Wednesday. Rather than focusing on test scores, he said, the new system would be designed to reflect multiple performance indicators, such as graduation data and student readiness for college and careers.

Established in 1999, the API relied on student test results to measure academic performance – and to determine which schools needed improvement. Scores for each school were based on a scale of 200 to 1,000, with 800 established as the state’s ideal target.

Though the traditional index has been suspended, Torlakson said results from the state’s new web-based assessments will be reported to districts, teachers, parents and the public.

The Orange County Register has more here.

Five O.C. teams selected to showcase technology projects at the CUE 2015 Annual Conference

Congratulations are in order for the talented young scientists, inventors and engineers selected to take part in the Student Technology Showcase at the CUE 2015 Annual Conference, which is the largest and oldest education technology conference in the state.

This year’s showcase will again feature the best curriculum-aligned student technology projects from across California. Here are the representative Orange County teams:

McPherson Magnet, Orange Unified School District

University of California, Davis C-STEM Program

McPherson Magnet C-STEMSeventh- and eighth-grade students from McPherson will display their robotics project, which is part of the C-STEM program created by the University of California, Davis. Using computer-aided drafting software and a 3-D printer, they designed and manufactured their own robot parts. In addition, they learned C++ — that’s the computer language used to program each modular robot – and applied algebraic thinking to solve and plot out complex robotic interactions.

Tustin High School, Tustin Unified School District      Tustin High Locking Skateboard Rack

Locking Skateboard Rack

Students from the Tustin High team aimed to find a way to develop affordable racks to secure skateboards at school. They designed a locking skateboard rack using SolidWorks 3D CAD software and built a prototype using a 3-D printer. Pre-production units were manufactured in their engineering shop. The plan is to install the units around the high school campus.

Brea Olinda High School, Brea Olinda Unified School District

Brea Olinda High Ninja Cyber Safety AcademyNinja Cyber Safety Academy

Students from Brea Olinda High researched current social issues that affect today’s youth. Addressing one of those issues, online safety, they created lessons designed for younger students to warn and inform of the hazards associated with social media. The lessons, created in an informational website, also included a post-quiz on specific topics.

Imperial Middle School, La Habra City School DistrictImperial Middle What's on Your Bathroom Shelf

What’s on Your Bathroom Shelf?

Eighth-grade students from Imperial Middle School created their own cosmetic product by expanding their knowledge of chemistry, including acids and bases. Working with industry professionals on formulations, they researched and created a natural and organic product. The young scientists then used technology to develop a commercial supporting the properties of their new cosmetic and developed a marketing and advertising campaign using social media. The project was featured in this video posted on the OCDE Newsroom in January.

Mattie Lou Maxwell Elementary School, Magnolia School District

Mattie Lou Maxwell Elementary FIRST Lego League Robotics ProgramFIRST Lego League Robotics Program

FIRST Lego League is a robotics program that introduces fourth- through eighth-grade students to engineering by having them build LEGO robots to complete tasks on a thematic play surface. Students at Mattie Lou Maxwell Elementary have taken a primary role in the creation of the robotics team at their school. They built an official playing field and Lego models, programmed a robot to perform a number of tasks and prepared a research project.

The Student Technology Showcase is open to the community at no charge. If you’re in the area, you can view projects from 10:15 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 21 in the lobby of the Palm Springs Convention Center at 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, Palm Springs.

For more information on CUE and the annual conference, click here.

In the news: A new Spelling Bee champ, OC student is quoted by the first lady and more

It’s Friday, March 6, and here’s a weekly roundup of Orange County-related education stories you may have missed.

  • An emotional week comes to an end for students, faculty and parents at El Dorado High School in Placentia, as they continue to comfort and support one another after the loss of a much-loved teacher.
  • Get inspired by the cinematic work of young filmmakers from the Huntington Beach Union High School District as their 42 short films are featured on the big screen at the fifth annual Surf City Student Film Festival tonight.
  • And student scientists from Laguna Beach and Laguna Hills high schools presented an update on their grant-funded solar-water purification project as they continue working toward their goal of supplying clean water to a village in Kenya.

Experience history through the eyes of students at National History Day – Orange County

To study history, you basically have to become a detective. That’s because historians, like detectives, ask questions, analyze evidence for clues and apply investigative skills to reconstruct history.

Well, more than 450 students from 32 schools and 11 districts recently accepted the challenge to be history detectives for the annual National History Day-Orange County competition. Their scholarly projects, representing the culmination of months’ worth of research and preparation, are set to be displayed and judged from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 14 at OCDE’s main campus.

National History Day OC LogoEach year, more than 500,000 students in grades four through 12 take part in National History Day contests at the local, state and national levels. Working as individuals or teams, participants conduct extensive research on a historical topic before submitting projects related to an annual theme.

This year’s theme is “Leadership and Legacy in History.” As usual, projects will include original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and even documentaries.

The public is encouraged to support Orange County’s youngest historians by checking out their work on March 14, and the official awards ceremony will follow two days later. But that’s not the end of it. The top entries will advance to the state finals in May, and California’s highest-scoring projects will compete at the National History Day contest at the University of Maryland at College Park in June. (Hopefully some locals will be making the trip.)

For more information, click here.

OC’s champion speller headed to Washington D.C. to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee

“Foreordained” – meaning to dispose or appoint in advance – was the final word that officially clinched the title of Orange County Spelling Bee champion for 12-year-old Sarika Rau, a seventh-grade student from Sierra Vista Middle School in the Irvine Unified School District.

spelling bee winner photo
Winner Sarika Rau, left, and runners-up Kelly Hong and Ayush Nabar show off their championship trophies at the Orange County Spelling Bee.

After four hours and 18 rounds of intense competition on Saturday, Rau walked away with a large trophy and a copy of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. She also earned a bid to compete in the 88th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will take place in Washington, D.C. in May.

The Feb. 28 contest hosted by the Orange County Department of Education and held on its main campus featured 47 of the county’s best spellers in grades six, seven and eight from public and private schools.

They each earned a spot at the countywide Spelling Bee by winning preliminary events at their schools and a countywide written round last week with 117 competitors.

Second-place honors went to Kelly Hong from Heritage Oak Private School in Yorba Linda, and Ayush Nabar from Brea Junior High school in the Brea Olinda Unified School District placed third.

To check out in-depth coverage from the Orange County Register, which has sponsored the OC Spelling Bee for the past 26 years, click here.

Outstanding OC school workers honored as 2015 Classified Employees of the Year

The Orange County Department of Education has announced the top classified school employees for 2015.

Established in 2008 by the California Department of Education, the Classified School Employees of the Year program annually highlights the contributions of employees who have performed exceptionally in support of public school students, from preschool through grade 12. Classified workers with a minimum of five years of service are eligible for the recognition, whether they serve at traditional schools, charter schools, district offices or county offices of education.

More on the selection process in a minute. Without further ado, the 2015 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year are:

Janelle CranchJanelle Cranch, a buyer technician who works in the district office at the Irvine Unified School District, has been a vital employee since 1989. Known for her customer service and leadership, her expertise is regularly sought after, and she has served in a variety of committees with IUSD.

Janelle is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and inspires others through her level of commitment. From initiating a Red Cross Blood Drive to advocating for educational funding, Janelle is an active and engaged member of the community.

Described as a tenacious advocate for staff and students and an iconic leader, she serves as chapter president of IUSD’s California School Employees Association. Her commitment, compassion and work ethic have earned her a reputation as one of the most beloved and respected members of the school community.

Colleen Keegan LambColleen Keegan Lamb is a lead food services worker at Capistrano Valley High School in the Capistrano Unified School District. For 13 years, Colleen has been an integral part of her school, developing relationships with — and advocating for — the students she serves. Often arriving on campus before sunrise, she works diligently to ensure that more than 2,400 students and more than 100 employees receive daily meals in a safe and clean environment.

Touted as the “lunch lady we all wish we had,” Colleen is known for greeting students by name and checking in with them on school, sports and life in general. When conversations arose about the possibility of eliminating the breakfast break, Colleen voiced concern for the students who might have a difficult time getting a morning meal.

As a cancer survivor, Colleen demonstrated her spirit, courage and strength throughout difficult treatments and surgeries. She became a role model for students, having open conversations and donating proceeds from a fundraiser in her name to Breast Cancer Awareness.

Deborah MilovicDeborah Milovic is an attendance and health clerk at Taft Elementary School in the Orange Unified School District. Deborah provides encouragement to struggling students and is there to calm those who are injured or ill. Deborah goes to great lengths to find the resources that families need and has taken Spanish classes to communicate with families in the community.

An advocate for children, she has donated her services to the Assistance League of Orange, the Orange Chamber of Commerce and the Orangewood Children’s Foundation. She is always willing to volunteer for school events, from the Taft talent show to the community track meet. Most of all, she is eager to serve the students, parents, teachers and staff at Taft Elementary.

Her student-centered perspective is evident in her everyday interactions. She makes a lasting impression on those around her, and students frequently come back to the campus to share their appreciation for all she did to encourage them and make their lives better.

Alfredo PerezAlfredo Perez is the head custodian at Rea Elementary School in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. After a decade of service at Rea Elementary, he is considered a patriarch in the school community. Known as “Uncle” to students on campus, Alfredo treats the children and staff as family, greeting them with smiles and genuine warmth. Alfredo makes a point of spending time with students at the lunch tables and considers it an honor to serve as role model and mentor.

As a parent of a kindergarten student at the school, Alfredo is involved in all aspects of the school and works tirelessly while exuding positive energy and optimism. Coworkers say his impact on the school community is tangible. He participates in Family Nights and is always first to volunteer to take work home and help with other school activities.

Virginia Tse-HoriuchiVirginia Tse-Horiuchi, an instructional aide, is responsible for teaching technology and maintaining the computers for 700-plus students and more than 30 teachers at Meairs Elementary School in the Westminster School District. Known as a “technology guru,” Virginia can install, maintain and troubleshoot every piece of technology at the school.

Committed to her professional development, Virginia is always learning and willing to share her knowledge. As a leader in her field, she is regularly called upon to support computer labs and train new hires throughout the district.

She actively participates in school activities and has been a volunteer coach of the Meairs Running Club. Virginia is respected and admired by both students and staff and is known for being patient and kind.

Donna WittenbergDonna Wittenberg is a driver trainer and transportation warehouse operations lead at the district office in the Cypress School District. Donna is responsible for planning and scheduling bus routes, as well as driving a bus, training bus drivers and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the department.

Donna consistently displays her ability to solve problems, analyze projects and develop safe routes for students. She is supportive and understanding of students, including those who require special considerations due to behavioral, learning or physical needs. She approaches her work with passion and compassion for the children she serves.

Dedicated to making the community a better place, Donna devotes extensive time to volunteer in campaigns that benefit students and families. Some examples include participating in the CHiPs for Kids fundraiser campaign, arranging to provide a district bus with the goal of filling it with toys for children in need during the holidays and coordinating the School Bus Safety Rodeo, involving bus drivers from all over Southern California.

“On behalf of the Orange County Department of Education, I wish to commend Janelle Cranch, Colleen Keegan Lamb, Deborah Milovic, Alfredo Perez, Virginia Tse-Horiuchi and Donna Wittenberg as the 2015 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year,” said Dr. Al Mijares, county superintendent of schools. “These individuals truly exemplify the intent and spirit of this award, performing essential services with commitment, passion and attention to detail. We are incredibly fortunate to have staff members of this caliber working to support our students each and every day.”

A committee consisting of community representatives and educators selected this year’s Classified Employees of the Year in the areas of child nutrition; maintenance, operations and facilities; transportation; para-educator and instructional assistance; office and technical services; and support services and security. A total of 60 employees were nominated in Orange County, and judges evaluated each application based on a state selection criteria organized around four themes — work performance, school and community involvement, leadership and commitment, and actions that go above and beyond.

Each of the six Orange County finalists are now scheduled to be honored at the OCDE Board of Education Meeting on April 15, and they’ll be eligible to compete for recognition at the state level.

In all, there are more than 20,600 classified staff in the county, performing essential work in areas including transportation, security, food services, maintenance and operations and instructional assistance.