IUSD Receives Most Distinguished School Awards in Orange County

CA Distinguished Schools Logo

IUSD is the only school district in Orange County to have four schools named 2019 California Distinguished Schools. Irvine and Woodbridge high schools, and Rancho San Joaquin and Sierra Vista middle schools all received this prestigious designation.

Schools earn the distinction for achieving exceptional student performance for two consecutive school years — factoring in test scores, suspensions and graduation rates — or for closing the achievement gap between two school years.

Elementary and secondary sites are awarded in alternate years, spotlighting exemplary programs and practices that can be replicated elsewhere.

“IUSD is proud of the students, staff and parents at these four campuses, which exemplify our mission to provide the highest quality educational experience we can envision," said IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker. "To have a single California Distinguished School in your district is cause for celebration. To have four in one year is phenomenal.”

The Distinguished Schools program, which returned last year, was on a three-year pause while California transitioned to its new assessment and accountability system. From 2015 to 2017, California recognized schools with the California Gold Ribbon Schools Program.


Below are the highlights of what each of IUSD’s awardees have done to enhance teaching and learning on their campuses:


Irvine High School


Irvine High has implemented Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) to tackle absenteeism and tardiness.


When first implemented in 2002, Irvine High’s attendance data showed 43% of students had one or more single-period unexcused absence per month. By 2008, the school reduced the rate to 8%.


“This recognition is an honor,” Principal Monica Colunga said. “We are proud of the experience we are able to provide the students that attend Irvine High School. This recognition is made possible through the hard work and commitment of our staff, the ongoing perseverance of our students, the partnership with our parent community and ongoing support from our district office.”


Woodbridge High School


Since the 2012-2013 school year, Woodbridge has made efforts to support equity, inclusion and access in its college preparatory and AP/Honors course offerings.


The school focused on embedding co-teaching support across the core disciplines, removing non-college preparatory course offerings, adding AP/Honors courses, and increasing enrollment in AP/Honors course offerings.


Woodbridge student performance data has either increased or stayed consistent in nearly every category, even with the free and reduced lunch percentage of the school increasing from 13.7% in 2012 to 22.7% in 2018.


During the 2012-2013 school year, Woodbridge was the lowest performing high school in the IUSD, per the Academic Performance Index Growth. As a result of the school’s efforts, the percentage of students who meet or exceed expected performance levels in ELA is now the highest in the district, and the math scores are trending upwards.


Each of the last six years, Woodbridge has seen growth in AP enrollment, the number of students taking examinations and the number of students passing examinations, all with a consistent passage rate above 85%. In addition, ACT and SAT scores have improved each of the last five years.


“Woodbridge High School is committed to supporting inclusion, access and equity for all of our students,” Principal Christopher Krebs said. “The initiatives described above are validation that we are successfully investing in the students who most need the support, and fulfilling our promise to provide the highest quality education we can envision.”


Sierra Vista Middle School


For the past two years, the school has had a focus on enhancing student wellness -- emotionally, socially and academically. Along with IUSD’s initiative of the Speak Up We Care campaign, Sierra Vista staff has implemented several new practices to support overall student well-being.


This year, the school changed its grading practices to promote student understanding and willingness to take intellectual risks by learning from errors. Sierra Vista also focused on activities to improve student’s opportunities to demonstrate acts of kindness and caring for others as a part of “The Charger Way” of behavior – respect, integrity and responsibility.


“In 2017, Sierra Vista was awarded the distinction of California Gold Ribbon School,” Principal Lynn Matassarin said. “To receive state recognition again in 2019 as a California Distinguished School acknowledges that we are fulfilling our educational philosophy which states, ‘Sierra Vista Middle School is what all schools strive to be: A caring, student-centered school in which learning matters.’”


Rancho San Joaquin Middle School


Rancho’s staff is committed to meeting the needs of all students. It is the collective thinking and efforts of the school’s staff in opening doors and providing support for students of all ability levels.


Over the past few years, Rancho has made changes to some of its academic programming to 1) increase access to its most rigorous offerings and 2) provide structures and practices that help support the school’s growing population of English Language learners while maintaining high-performance expectations.


“We focus on high standards for all,” Principal Mike Modeer said. “We focus on rigor and intervention. We focus on mindset and mental health. And we focus on achievement and the growth that occurs in moments of failure.”


Principal Modeer continued, “The quality of what we do at Rancho to address the academic and the socio-emotional needs of our students is top-notch. This achievement honors and affirms the dedication and teamwork our staff puts in every single day. It also, without a doubt, honors and affirms the hard work and dedication of our students.”

Last year, four IUSD elementary schools were named Distinguished Schools – Brywood, Deerfield, Plaza Vista and Turtle Rock. In 2017, Irvine High School and Sierra Vista received Gold Ribbon Designations.

Since 1986, IUSD schools have received 74 Distinguished School/Gold Ribbon and 17 Blue Ribbon designations.