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: The 2016 Orange County Academic Decathlon concludes with a flourish

SuperQuiz5.jpgIn case you missed it, the Orange County Register published a fun recap — with nearly a dozen pictures — of Saturday’s Super Quiz Relay, which was the final event of this year’s Orange County Academic Decathlon.

You can find the newspaper’s online coverage here, and be sure to click on the accompanying photo slideshow.

Academic Decathlons are 10-event scholastic contests staged at the county, state and national levels, each culminating with the Super Quiz Relay, which is held in front of a live audience.

Next up, we learn which students and schools were the big winners. The 2016 OCAD Awards Ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at Santa Ana High School.

OCDE in 30 Seconds: We break down the Orange County Academic Decathlon in half a minute


What is the Orange County Academic Decathlon? Well, if you’ve got 30 seconds, we’ll tell you.

“OCDE in 30 Seconds” is a new feature that asks — or challenges — a staff member to describe an Orange County Department of Education program or service in less than half a minute.

For the video above, we reached out to Kristin Rigby, a program specialist in charge of academic events, to talk about the OC Academic Decathlon, which happens to be timely. The 10-event scholastic competition wraps up this Saturday with the always-entertaining Super Quiz Relay.

If you want to learn more about the Decathlon, you can check out this recent story from the OCDE Newsroom or visit the OCAD 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.

Area high school teams prep for the 48th annual Orange County Academic Decathlon

SuperquizgymOver the next two Saturdays, more than 500 students from 43 local high schools will participate in the 48th annual Orange County Academic Decathlon, which concludes with the rousing Super Quiz Relay on Feb. 6.

Schools will once again be competing for top honors – and an invitation to represent Orange County at the California Academic Decathlon in March. Last year, Westminster High School won the county championship; Irvine’s Woodbridge High placed second but finished eighth overall at the state contest in Sacramento.

OC decathletes will kick off the communications portion of the county competition on Saturday, Jan. 30 by presenting prepared and impromptu speeches, participating in personal interviews and writing essays at Tustin High School.

One week later, they’ll take 30-minute multiple-choice tests in the subject areas of art, literature, mathematics, music, science and social science at Westminster High School. Each of these areas, with the exception of mathematics, will be based on the 2015-16 theme, “India.”

As in the past, the event culminates with some of the most compelling drama. The Super Quiz Relay is a perennial crowd favorite that resembles a quiz show and sounds like a sporting event, with parents and classmates boisterously cheering on their favorite squads from the sidelines. The relay, which is open to the public, will begin at 2:30 p.m. in the Westminster High School gymnasium, located at 14325 Goldenwest St. in Westminster.

Founded in 1968 by former Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Peterson, Academic Decathlons are 10-event scholastic contests staged at the county, state and national levels.

Nine-member teams compete 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). Competitions culminate with the Super Quiz Relay, which is held in front of a live audience.

On average, Orange County decathletes report spending 20 to 25 hours a week preparing for the Academic Decathlon. About 10 of those hours involve working with coaches and teammates at afterschool meetings; the remaining practice time is spent studying alone or with teammates outside of school.

Along with logging long hours, teamwork plays a crucial role in each team’s success. Students create tests and quizzes for one another, host scrimmages and analyze the prepared and impromptu speeches and interviews of their classmates. Students who are stronger at one academic subject often tutor and coach their teammates.

“Decathletes often refer to their decathlon team as their second family because of the countless hours spent together experiencing the rigors of competition,” says Kristin Rigby, an OCDE program specialist of academic events. “The constant engagement in communication, along with the ability to collaborate with others, are important skills needed to succeed in the 21st century. For each Orange County team, the camaraderie and commitment towards achieving one common goal shines brightly.”

This year’s Orange County Academic Decathlon is supported by the generous donations of community members and made possible by sponsors including NuVision Federal Credit Union, C2 Education, Del Taco LLC, the Orange County Register, Learning.com, Teacher Created Materials and Aeries Software, Inc.

Top honors, medals and scholarships will be awarded at the OCAD Awards Ceremony at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16 in the Bill Medley Auditorium at Santa Ana High School.

For more information, go here, or contact Orange County Department of Education Program Specialist Kristin Rigby at (714) 966-4435 or krigby@ocde.us.

Parenting OC magazine is looking to recognize exemplary teachers in Orange County

Does your child have a star teacher? Or do you work with an educator who is doing extraordinary things in the classroom?Top-Teachers-2015-Group

Either way, Parenting OC magazine is seeking nominees for its third annual Top Teachers of Orange County issue by Friday, Jan. 29.

Here’s what the publication is looking for specifically:

School administrators, parents and students, we want to hear from you. Do you know an OC educator who gets an A+ in every area?

  • Who gets students excited about learning.
  • Whose students rank among the highest in test scores.
  • Who teaches life lessons along with academics.
  • Who is valued by parents, administration and their students.
  • Who consistently delivers year after year.

Nominations will be accepted at www.parentingoc.com up until Jan. 29. For more information, call 714-630-4510 Ext. 6.

Partnership between OCDE, OC Waste & Recycling wins top environmental award

GEELA2A waste-reduction partnership between the Orange County Department of Education’s Inside the Outdoors program and OC Waste & Recycling has received the state’s highest environmental honor.

On the heels of netting a major accolade from the California School Boards Association, Project Zero Waste, a service-learning program that empowers students with hands-on environmental science instruction, has earned its collaborators the prestigious Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, or GEELA.

OCDE and OC Waste & Recycling were jointly recognized — along with just 11 other organizations — Tuesday night at the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Sacramento.

In the photo above, CalEPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez, left, is joined on stage by Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County’s superintendent of schools; Isabel Rios, recycling and environmental programs manager with OC Waste & Recycling; Lori Kiesser, development director for Inside the Outdoors; and state Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach.

“This is a tremendous honor for our program,” Kiesser said. “The GEELA represents the top environmental award in the state, and it’s a testament to the collaborative efforts of Inside the Outdoors and OC Waste & Recycling, which are promoting sustainability and changing lives.”

Project Zero Waste teaches students the science of solid waste through Inside the Outdoors field trips as well as in-class lessons taught by Traveling Scientists. Program participants get to apply what they’ve learned to the design and implementation of solid waste reduction campaigns, which include campuswide recycling efforts, school gardens, community clean-up activities and other student-led activities.

The program, which in December earned the California School Boards Association’s Golden Bell Award, has offered science instruction to more than 325,000 students since it began in 2009. Follow-up assessments show these lessons increase STEM knowledge by an average of 14 percent, and schools engaging in Project Zero Waste have reduced their trash by up to 20,000 pounds annually.

Geelaseal“The lessons learned by students participating in Project Zero Waste extend beyond academics,” Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares said recently. “In applying science lessons to develop solutions to real-world problems, students gain team-building, creativity and leadership skills.”

Established in 1993, the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award is presented annually to individuals, companies and organizations that use sustainable business practices to conserve energy, reduce waste or prevent pollution while contributing to their local economy.

Finalists are selected by a panel of judges that includes the Governor’s Office and the secretaries of the California Environmental Protection Agency; the Natural Resources Agency; the Department of Food and Agriculture; the State Transportation Agency; the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency; the Labor and Workforce Development Agency; and the Health and Human Services Agency.

Each year, the panel evaluates and announces winners in the following categories: Environmental Education; Ecosystem and Land Use Stewardship; Climate Change; Zero Emission Vehicle Dealers; Sustainable Practices, Communities or Facilities; and Waste Reduction.

For more information on the GEELA program and this year’s recipients, click here. To learn more about Project Zero Waste, check out the video below, and be sure to visit the Inside the Outdoors website to get involved. 

Mijares: OC Pathways initiative has much to celebrate at the end of its first year

From the Desk of Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools


On a cool December morning, in a historic airplane hangar at the Orange County Great Park, some of the region’s top educators and business leaders gathered for a very special birthday party.

OC Pathways, an initiative that brings together schools, colleges and businesses to create new career paths in targeted industry sectors, was celebrating its first year — and what a year it’s been.

Al MijaresOver the past 12 months, more than 8,600 high school students have enrolled in OC Pathways programs, receiving career preparation in the fields of health care, biotechnology, engineering, advanced manufacturing, information technology and digital media. In our community colleges, more than 12,500 students have participated in OC Pathways coursework, earning roughly 600 certificates and 85 degrees.

Led by the Orange County Department of Education and Saddleback College, OC Pathways was launched in 2014 through a California Department of Education grant. Along with its efforts to partner schools and colleges with industry leaders, the project creates work-based learning opportunities for students — these include internships and mentorship — and empowers educators with innovative teaching strategies.

In just the first year of this initiative, more than 2,500 students participated in one or more work-based learning experiences, and we have seen a 13 percent increase in the number of articulation agreements that allow high school students to receive community college credit for taking career technical education courses.

Moreover, OC Pathways has established 53 additional businesses partnerships that will help strengthen the 21st-century workforce.

On Dec. 2, the leaders of many of these businesses were among the 300 or so who gathered in the Great Park’s Hangar 244 for a morning showcase that featured incredible displays from local schools, colleges and businesses, as well as video profiles of students who are on successful career tracks thanks to OC Pathways.

NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, who made two trips aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, was riveting as our keynote speaker at the end. I was also honored to say a few words, joining Saddleback College President Dr. Tod A. Burnett, OC STEM Executive Director Dr. Linda Christopher, Orange County United Way president and CEO Max Gardner, and four very impressive high school and college students.

Thanks to the unparalleled levels of collaboration between Orange County’s secondary and postsecondary partners, OC Pathways has already racked up more achievements than can be listed in this column, and we’re just getting started.

Just think of what can be accomplished in year two. 


You can learn more about OC Pathways’ efforts to promote college and career success by visiting the OC Pathways website. To find out how you can get involved, click here.