Canyon High School takes the Orange County Academic Decathlon championship

OCADCanyon High School in the Orange Unified School District has earned top honors in this year’s Orange County Academic Decathlon.

With 50,675.50 total points, the Canyon squad was announced as the Overall Team Winner by the Orange County Academic Decathlon Association and OCDE on Tuesday night, drawing a round of uproarious applause in front of a packed crowd at Santa Ana High School’s Bill Medley Auditorium. Along with a plaque and scores of individual medals, the school picked up a $3,000 travel stipend to take on the best teams from 38 counties at the California Academic Decathlon in March.

And Canyon High isn’t the only local school that punched its ticket to the state contest.

By earning team scores that were among the highest in California, Valencia High School in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, Woodbridge High in the Irvine Unified School District and Westminster High in the Huntington Beach Union High School District also received invitations to compete at the state level. (Westminster was last year’s champion.)

Here’s a breakdown of this year’s winning Orange County teams by division:

DIVISION 1

  • 1st Place: Canyon High School, Orange Unified School District    
  • 2nd Place: Valencia High School, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District  
  • 3rd Place: Woodbridge High School, Irvine Unified School District
  • 4th Place: Westminster High School, Huntington Beach Union High School District
  • 5th Place: Trabuco Hills High School, Saddleback Valley Unified School District

DIVISION 2

  • 1st Place: Fountain Valley High School, Huntington Beach Union High School District
  • 2nd Place: Esperanza High School, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District
  • 3rd Place: Corona del Mar High School, Newport-Mesa Unified School District
  • 4th Place: Sonora High School, Fullerton Joint Union High School District
  • 5th Place: El Dorado High School, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District

DIVISION 3

  • 1st Place: Cornelia Connelly School, Private School
  • 2nd Place: Foothill High School, Tustin Unified School District       
  • 3rd Place: Yorba Linda High School, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District
  • 4th Place: Santiago High School, Garden Grove Unified School District  
  • 5th Place: Saddleback High School, Santa Ana Unified School District

Organized at the county, state and local levels, Academic Decathlons are scholastic contests in which nine-member teams battle for the highest scores on multiple-choice exams, speeches, interviews and essay assignments. Each team must include three “Honor” students (those with GPAs of 3.75 or above), three “Scholastic” students (GPAs of 3.00 to 3.74) and three “Varsity” students (GPAs of 2.99 or below). Each 10-event contest culminates with the popular Super Quiz Relay, which is held in front of a live audience. (You can learn more on the OCDE’s Academic Decathlon 101 webpage.)

Kristin Rigby, an OCDE program specialist of academic events, told us that Canyon High just rejoined the Orange County Academic Decathlon last year after a lengthy hiatus. The team is coached by teacher Khoa Dao, a former decathlete from Westminster High School, which advanced to the state competition when he participated.

The Orange County Academic Decathlon program is sponsored by the nonprofit Orange County Academic Decathlon Association and administered by OCDE. It’s also supported by the generous donations of community members and sponsors, including NuVision Federal Credit Union, C2 Education, Del Taco LLC, the Orange County Register, Learning.com, Aeries Software, Inc. and Teacher Created Materials.

In the news: New diploma options for OC students, perfect AP Spanish scores and more

Another week is in the books, and we’ve got a recap of some of the education news you might have missed.

  • The Super Quiz Relay marked the final event of this year’s Orange County Academic Decathlon, and the Orange County Register had it covered with a story and photos.
  • NewspaperOCDE’s new College and Career Preparatory Academy is designed to fill gaps in services available to young men and women who have aged out of the school system but still need to complete graduation requirements.
  • About 35 fifth- and sixth-grade students from Newport Coast Elementary School are taking coding classes offered by a local nonprofit.
  • The famous Harlem Globetrotters trotted through Orange County this week to spread a message of anti-bullying at several schools, including Richmond Elementary in Fullerton, Star View Elementary in Midway City, St. Joachim Catholic School in Costa Mesa and St. Anne School of Santa Ana.
  • A Fullerton School District board member who would have been up for re-election in November will have to wait two years to run again as a result of Fullerton’s transition from an at-large election system to geographical trustee areas.

That’s all for now.

OCDE in 30 Seconds: A brief look at the ‘Move More Eat Healthy’ program


Once again, we’re challenging staff members to explain Orange County Department of Education programs or services in under half a minute.

For our latest installment of “OCDE in 30 Seconds,” we caught up with Program Coordinator Chris Corliss to talk about the “Move More Eat Healthy” initiative. Take a look.

If you want to learn more about the program, check out this story from the OCDE Newsroom or visit this webpage.


Is there an OCDE program or service you’d like to see explained in 30 seconds? Send us a request at communications@ocde.us.

Students at Anaheim’s Loara High School bank on unique job training opportunity (video)


Here’s a story that’s earning interest.

Union Bank has opened an actual working branch on the campus of Loara High School in Anaheim. By all accounts, this represents a highly unique partnership that’s dispensing both lessons on financial literacy as well as bankable job training for Loara students.

We could probably deposit a few more bank puns into this post, but we think you should just check out the video, courtesy of our top-notch Media Services team.


Is there something cool happening at your school that you’d like to see featured on the OCDE Newsroom? Drop us an email at communications@ocde.us.

OCDE’s College and Career Preparatory Academy offers a path to graduation and much more

Kirstie Suarez’s family moved several times when she was in high school, bouncing between California, North Carolina and Florida before Suarez took her final classes at Saddleback High School in Santa Ana.

Somewhere along the way, she fell two classes short of graduating.

CCPA-logo.jpgFive years later, Suarez has made up that ground, and rather quickly, thanks to the College and Career Preparatory Academy, a brand new charter school approved by the Orange County Board of Education to assist young adults in need of a diploma or a path to higher learning.

“I work fulltime, so I don’t have a lot of time to be taking extra classes,” said Suarez, 23. “I walked in that first day and they immediately gave me assignments.”

Administered by the Orange County Department of Education, the College and Career Preparatory Academy represents a first of its kind for the county. It’s designed to fill gaps in services currently available to young men and women who are 18 to 25 years old and have aged out of the school system but still need to complete their graduation requirements.

Data shows more than 100,000 match this profile in Orange County alone. Despite an 85.3 percent graduation rate, more than 4,000 local students leave high school each year without their diplomas.

The College and Career Preparatory Academy offers them a way back, providing much needed flexibility to pursue lost credits at no cost. But it isn’t just about finishing high school. The academy also prepares students for college and career success, says Director Byron Fairchild.

“This program supports re-engagement in learning and workforce preparation,” Fairchild says. “It’s about expanding options within our county and strengthening the bridge connecting K-12 education, adult education and higher education to prepare students for productive workforce and career opportunities.”

The College and Career Preparatory Academy began operations in the fall, welcoming its first students on Sept. 9 from a single storefront building in Santa Ana. Word of mouth has since swelled enrollment to about 100 with two additional sites — one in Anaheim and a second Santa Ana location — but school leaders have much bigger ambitions. Additional locations are planned for the west, central and south regions of the county, and Fairchild says the school is capable of serving up to 1,200 students.

Dinah Ismail
College and Career Preparatory Academy teacher Dinah Ismail helps customize instruction to meet the needs of each student.

Teacher Dinah Ismail has been with the academy from the beginning. She says what’s most unique about the program is that it’s highly customizable to fit the busy lives of its students.

“These are often full-time parents, students who work full time, students who work graveyard shifts, so the flexibility of this program is something they’re very grateful for,” she said.

Most who enroll study at home with the help of an online learning tool called GradPoint, a product offered by Pearson Education. They then visit the academy for an hour or more a week for additional support and tutelage. Those who don’t have a computer can work from textbooks, and some have the option of checking out a laptop. Ismail said mobile hotspots will soon be added to the menu of available technologies for students without reliable Internet connections.

Suarez, who works full time for a local public agency, said she was able to complete two courses in about a month.

“The flexibility, that was my main concern,” she said. “I was able to take classes online after work and during lunch. I was very focused.”

Ismail says it’s all about customizing instruction to meet the needs of each student. If that means talking over the phone or exchanging text messages to explain specific lessons, so be it.

“It’s amazing. I’ve been in education in one way or another for 20 years, teaching for 13, but this is my favorite assignment because my students are at such a pivotal and awesome age in their lives,” Ismail said. “They’re coming back and figuring out what they want to do with their careers and their lives and their educational paths. I feel very lucky to be a part of that process and to help navigate that path with them.”

Data would indicate students who go back to get their diplomas are making a very wise decision. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average high school dropout earns $20,241 dollars annually, or $10,386 less than a high school graduate. (That’s about $36,424 less than a college graduate per year.) Fairchild and his team are acutely aware of these numbers.

“This charter is unique to our county in specifically targeting this out-of-school youth population in an attempt to reduce the number of young adults without a high school diploma,” Fairchild said. “The pairing of education, job readiness and workforce preparation is the key combination to motivate and guide students through the process of earning a high school diploma and pursuing a college and career pathway.”

The doors are open. Now it’s just about getting the word out.

“A lot of the students are telling their friends, neighbors and family because they know other people who are in similar situations,” Ismail said. “There are probably a lot of other students in the county who could benefit from this but don’t know about it.”


For more information about the College and Career Preparatory Academy, including enrollment options, call Sandra Quintanilla at 714-245-6417.

What is MTSS? Here’s your four-minute primer (video)


As we’ve mentioned here before, education offers more than its share of buzzwords, acronyms and jargon, but some are definitely worth getting to know a little better.

MTSS is one.

The initials stand for Multi-Tiered System of Supports, and it’s essentially a comprehensive framework that a number of schools are using to address each student’s academic, behavioral and social-emotional needs.

Because MTSS is becoming so prevalent on campuses across Orange County, we enlisted our Media Services team and experts from OCDE to produce the brief explainer video above.

Take a look!

Youth from OCDE’s Friday Night Live program host town hall meeting on underage drinking

Student leaders from the Santiago de Compostela Church Youth Ministry’s Friday Night Live chapter are getting ready to host a special town hall meeting on Saturday, Feb. 6 to discuss the dangers of underage drinking, as well as potential preventative measures.

OC FNLWorking in collaboration with the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the state Office of Traffic Safety and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the FNL members have taken the lead on planning and preparing for the meeting, which will feature prevention professionals and youth panelists speaking to an audience of parents and students.

The event is set to take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Santiago de Compostela Catholic Church, located at 21682 Lake Forest Drive in Lake Forest.

Friday Night Live is a high school youth development program that’s part of OCDE’s Orange County Friday Night Live Partnership. Students who participate focus on alcohol and drug prevention with the goal of promoting lasting change in their schools and communities.

Underage drinking remains a pressing public health concern that continues to take a toll on young people, as well as their families and communities. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, alcohol annually is responsible for the deaths of more than 4,300 underage youth.

Saturday’s town hall meeting aligns with a national SAMHSA-supported initiative called “Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking.” For more information, visit http://www.stopalcoholabuse.gov/townhallmeet or contact OCDE Program Specialist Elke Petras at epetras@ocde.us.