Spotlight Schools Newsletter May 2, 2024

🏈 Districts Launching New Programs for Elite Student-Athletes // 🎨 Artist Transforms Schools' Handball Courts // OC Supt. of Schools Retiring // 🏆 New H.S. Rankings Released

Spotlight Schools Newsletter May 2, 2024
In this newsletter: Learn how two public school districts in O.C. hope to offer new options for student-athletes looking to excel in sports. Photo by Ben Hershey / Unsplash

New Series Alert: We're launching something new and we invite you to be a part of it. Introducing the Spotlight Schools "Principal's Perspective" series, an opportunity for administrators to share what's happening at their campuses in their own words.

As the leaders of school sites, principals are cheerleaders of their campuses; deeply invested in their students and staff. Spotlight Schools wants to shine a light on you. If you're interested, send us a story spotlighting something stellar from your campus. Email your essay to and put "Principal's Perspective" in the subject line.

Check out our first installment in the "Principal's Perspective" series from Gilbert High School Principal Jose Lara by clicking here or on the image below. Lara shares how his school's Sports Intervention Program is having a positive impact on students.

Remember to follow us on Instagram and X (Twitter), "like" us on Facebook, and visit regularly. You can also fill out our reader survey!

Yours in knowledge,

Jeannette Andruss, Co-founder and Chief Editorial Officer

Game Changer? Public School Districts Planning New Offerings for Student-Athletes

Screenshot from a presentation on a proposal for a sports academy at the April 16 meeting of the Fullerton School District's Board of Trustees.

Two Orange County public school districts are creating programs catering to student-athletes motivated to excel to the highest levels of their sport. 

The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District and the Fullerton School District are both working to launch different programs to offer students athletic training along with academics. Both programs could be available for the 2024-25 school year.

The Fullerton School District hopes to create the Performance Academy Sports Program. The FSD, which serves roughly 11,400 students in grades TK-8, said the program aims to fill a niche for advanced athletes by “offering first class coaching, conditioning, and strength training while attending free, in-person school,” according to a FSD news release.

Over the last several years, numerous sports training programs have cropped up in Orange County. Geared toward highly motivated young athletes, some of the programs are at private schools, and charter schools, while others require participants to be homeschooled or take part in online instruction.

“There has been a huge influx of students and parents looking for this specialized training, especially post-COVID,” FSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Adaina Brown, Ed.D., told the FSD Board of Trustees during a presentation at the April 16 meeting

Dr. Brown shared that her son participated in a sports training academy for football. But, she said, many parents want a program that offers in-person public schooling and sports training in the same location to save money, minimize driving, and simplify family schedules.

That’s where FSD hopes to offer something new, according to district officials.

If approved by the FSD Board of Trustees later this month, the program could allow qualified 6th, 7th, and 8th graders enrolled in the district to have a shortened academic school day, freeing up more time for sports training. 

Under the proposal, students could opt to go offsite to attend one of the existing sports training academies in the area. Or, students could choose to take part in what FSD stresses would be new and unique, and complete their advanced sports training at an FSD campus with Delta Prep Academy, an athletics training program for youth based in Tustin.

“So as you can see, in some cases, we're proposing a program that currently doesn't exist in Orange County. And it could be a niche, potentially for others, but actually for our own families,” FSD Superintendent Bob Pletka, Ed.D., shared at the April 16 meeting.

While the students in the program would be able to receive a free, public school in-person education from FSD, they would still need to be accepted into a qualifying sports training academy, which can vary in price. The cost to attend Delta Prep is $1,000 a month.

The district is currently accepting letters of intent to register for its program to gauge interest in the proposal. The forms are due May 16. The district plans to hold an information session at Parks on May 30.

👀 Find out more about FSD's proposed sports academy program here.

Placentia-Yorba Linda USD to create 'Universal Sports Institute'

Image from the PYLUSD website for its Universal Sports Institute shows what the campus layout would look like.

While the FSD program would set up a formalized framework geared to help student-athletes maximize their schedules, the Placentia-Yorba Linda USD is looking to transform a current district property into what it's calling the Universal Sports Institute.

According to its, website USI will “feature state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, including strength and conditioning rooms, speed and agility training areas, tumbling mat space, cold plunges, a therapeutic swim spa, turf training areas, batting cages, a golf simulator, and more!” 

The program would be open to 3rd through 12th-grade students in PYLUSD, which has more than 22,500 students at 34 school sites. Students would need to be enrolled at Parkview School, a “public independent-study school” that allows its TK-12 students flexibility in creating their schedules and courses of study. 

“This is a game changer for our district and the new direction for public education as parents and kids continue to seek options and specialization for their educational experiences,” PYLUSD Superintendent Alex Cherniss, Ed.D., told The Orange County Register.

👀 Find out more information about the PYLUSD program here.


O.C.'s Top Elected Education Official to Retire

O.C. Superintendent of Public Schools Al Mijares, Ph.D., reveals he's battling cancer and will retire in June; search for replacement underway

Al Mijares, Ph.D., has served as the Orange County Superintendent of Schools since 2012. Photo courtesy OCDE.

Following a lengthy medical leave of absence, Al Mijares, Ph.D., is stepping down from his position as Orange County Superintendent of Schools on June 30. The search for his replacement has already started.

In a statement issued on April 26, Dr. Mijares revealed he is battling cancer. Just a few weeks prior, he was hopeful of returning to work this summer. But plans changed.

"Yet after extensive discussions with my medical team and my family, as well as considerable prayer, it has become clear that I must choose a different path," the 71-year-old wrote in the statement. He had been on a medical leave of absence since August 2023, reports Voice of OC.

Dr. Mijares served in many roles in education over his career, including as superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District. He was appointed to lead the Orange County Department of Education in August 2012. He most recently won reelection in 2022, defeating a challenger that was endorsed by many of the members of the Orange County Board of Education.

It's now up to the OCBE to appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of Dr. Mijares' term, which ends in January of 2027.

The board released a timeline for the process this week. Candidates wishing to be considered for the position can see the requirements here. Qualified applicants must submit a resume and no more than three letters of reference to the OCDE by 5:00 p.m. on May 10, 2024.

While not on the agenda, the board members were expected to discuss the process to replace Dr. Mijares at the OCBE's monthly meeting held this week, according to longtime OCBE trustee Ken Williams.

In an email to Spotlight Schools, Dr. Williams described Dr. Mijares as "a graceful human being." He added, "It is no secret that we did not share the same governance positions and policies on how to best serve the children and families of Orange County."

The board has engaged in several legal battles with Dr. Mijares, including one lawsuit seeking to determine who has the final authority over the OCDE's $300 million budget. Dr. Williams said he hopes the lawsuit can be settled. "We’re hoping to put this litigation behind us," he said.

Read more at the OCDE Newsroom

School Districts move to fill vacancies on Education Boards

Both the Cypress School District and the Orange Unified School District have vacancies on their school boards. 

In March, Brian Nakamura resigned from his position on the Cypress Board of Trustees, leaving the seat representing Trustee Area A vacant. He had been a member of the board since 2010.

Orange Unified has two open seats on its Board of Education after former trustees Madison Miner and Rick Ledesma were recalled by a majority of voters in the March 5 Primary election.

The districts are looking to appoint people to serve in the seats until the November 2024 election. The deadline to apply for the positions has already passed.

In a post on its website, Orange Unified said 16 candidates had applied to be interviewed for the two empty seats representing Trustee Area 4 and Trustee Area 7. You can find the names of all of the candidates and see their completed applications here.

The board is expected to interview the applicants and select the replacements during a special meeting scheduled for today, May 2.

Interviews of prospective candidates to fill the Cypress school board vacancy are expected to take place at a special board meeting on May 6. The selected candidate will be sworn in at that meeting.

  • See which O.C high schools landed in US News and World Report’s latest rankings // OCDE Newsroom // Patch 
  • Will Garden Grove Unified stream school board meetings? // Voice of OC
  • Orange County High School ‘Artists of the Year’ named // The Orange County Register
  • O.C. schools honored for their environmental focus as California Green Ribbon Schools // OCDE Newsroom
  • Who paid for the successful effort that recalled two school board members in Orange Unified? EdSource 
  • A million pounds of donated produce: Westminster High School students mark Earth Day with milestone // L.A. Times
  • Assemblymember Josh Lowenthal wants to give school administrators the authority to suspend students for cyberbullying after his daughter was sent a swastika in social media // CalMatters
  • California is spending billions of dollars on career pathways for high school students // CalMatters
  • Ryan Seacrest visits Los Alamitos High School with some Griffin grads // Griffin Gazette

Artist Transforms Schools' Handball Walls in Huntington Beach

Moffett and Hawes Elementary Schools now have colorful courts

The mural at Moffett Elementary School in Huntington Beach. Photo by Robbie Simon

Can a ball wall be beautiful? Actually, the giant slabs of concrete ubiquitous at elementary schools make pretty good canvases.

Handball courts at Moffett Elementary and Hawes Elementary are proof.

This school year, the two campuses in the Huntington Beach City School District traded in the drab grays of their playing courts for walls that are now bursting with vibrant hues, exuding energy to match the enthusiasm of the kids playing at recess.

“We wanted something different, something that really stood out, something that was inspiring, new, fresh. We really wanted to excite and inspire our students,” Moffett Principal Forest Holbrook said of his school's mural project in a recent phone interview.

The result is a giant representation of the school’s name in blue, orange, yellow, green, white, and black that has brightened up the TK-5 campus.

“Our kids love it, our parents love it, our staff loves it. It's exciting,” Holbrook said, noting that classes have already started taking photos in front of it. The mural was paid for by the school's Parent Teacher Association.

Los Angeles-based artist Robbie Simon created the massive masterpieces at the schools. Simon, who grew up in Huntington Beach, said he did not expect to end up painting murals at schools in his hometown.

“I'm really appreciative of  both Hawes and Moffett for being open to it because I just think murals and public art of all forms and styles adds so much to a community,” Simon said.

🎨 Read the whole story at

Thanks for reading!

Since you made it this far, why not forward this to a friend and encourage them to sign up for the Spotlight Schools newsletter?

And... Please send us your thoughts, story ideas, and tips by responding to this email.

Sign up for Spotlight Schools, our free email newsletter

Get the latest headlines right in your inbox