Spotlight Schools Newsletter March 1, 2024

🗳️ Who is Funding Local Campaigns? // CA Distinguished Schools Announced // Layoffs Looming? // ⛵️ O.C. Student's Olympic Dreams

Spotlight Schools Newsletter March 1, 2024
Campaign signs in Tustin. Photo by Jeannette Andruss.

Just a few days remain for voters to cast ballots in the March 5 Presidential Primary Election. I'll briefly recap the races impacting education in Orange County in this newsletter. But first, a look at the ways you can submit your ballot.

  • Vote Center: Visit any one of the Vote Centers across Orange County to fill out a ballot in person or to drop off your completed vote-by-mail ballot. Many Vote Centers are open now and several more will open on March 2. Find the Vote Center nearest you here. All Vote Centers will be open from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, March 5.
  • Drop Box: After completing your vote-by-mail ballot, drop it off at any one of the many ballot drop boxes located around the county. Find a drop box near you here.
  • Mail Your Ballot: Deposit your completed vote-by-mail ballot in a U.S. Postal Service mail box or turn it in at a post office. Your ballot must be postmarked and signed by March 5. No postage is required.

After you've submitted your ballot, you can track it here. You'll be able to find out when it's been received and processed. Check out this info graphic from the O.C. Registrar of Voters to learn more about the vote tabulation process.

It will take time to tally all the votes so we may not know the final election results for several days. Be sure to follow Spotlight Schools on Instagram for the latest on the election results. We will be posting updates daily.

And don't forget to follow us on Facebook and X (Twitter) . And check out regularly.

And if you're not a subscriber to this email newsletter --> Sign up here.

Yours in knowledge,

Jeannette Andruss, Co-founder and Chief Editorial Officer

🗳️ Races Impacting Education in Orange County this Election

Orange Unified Recall Election

Voters living in the Orange Unified School District will decide whether to recall board of education members Madison Miner and Rick Ledesma, part of a conservative board majority formed after the last election. Backers of the recall cite the board majority's firing of its former superintendent as the impetus for the recall.

According to campaign filing records, the pro-recall campaign has been supported through small donations from individuals, including current OUSD teachers, and a $5,000 donation from State Senator Josh Newman, a Democrat who himself was recalled in 2018. The campaign against the recall has received contributions from individuals, including $2,000 from Ledesma himself, and more than $40,000 from the Lincoln Club of Orange County.

The rhetoric has been heated between the pro-recall and anti-recall groups, especially on social media. At OUSD board meetings, speakers have clashed during the public comment period. Just this week, allegations of campaign signs being stolen surfaced, as KTLA reported.

For more on the OUSD recall, see // Ballotpedia

Orange County Board of Education

There are three seats on the Orange County Board of Education on the March 5 ballot. These races will be decided in this election. That means there are no run-offs for the OCBE seats in November. 

While the OCBE races are technically nonpartisan contests, the three incumbents, Tim Shaw, Ken Williams, and Jorge Valdes, are all backed by the Republican Party of Orange County. They also received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from political action committees advocating for charter schools. 

The three challengers, David Johnson, Nancy Watkins, and Beatriz Mendoza, are all endorsed by the Democratic Party of Orange County and the California Teachers Association. They also all received financial support from the Westminster Teachers Association Political Action Group for Education. 

Here is more information about the candidates:

O.C. Board of Education - Trustee Area 1 - covers parts of Anaheim, Garden Grove, Orange, Santa Ana, Stanton, and Tustin. (Find your district here)

O.C. Board of Education - Trustee Area 3 - covers parts of Yorba Linda, Brea, Villa Park and portions of Irvine, Anaheim, Fullerton, Orange, La Habra, and Tustin. (Find your district here)

O.C. Board of Education - Trustee Area 4 - covers parts of La Habra, Westminster, Buena Park, Fullerton, La Palma, and Stanton. (Find your district here)

👀 Enter the candidate's name into this campaign finance records database to see more.

For more, visit

💰 Unlimited Campaign Contributions for OCBE?

In related news, a recent Voice of OC story uncovered that when it comes to campaign donations, the Orange County Board of Education has no limits. While California and some cities and counties cap the amount that can be donated to a candidate, Voice of OC found that those limits do not apply to the OCBE.

“My understanding is we have no campaign limits,” OCBE Trustee Mari Barke said in an interview with Voice of OC. “I think that’s unusual.”

Voice of OC reported that $700,000 in campaign contributions to OCBE trustees in recent years came from advocates of charter schools, including over $320,000 from the Charter Schools Political Action Committee. The donations come as charter schools have greatly expanded in O.C. with approvals from the OCBE.

Read more from Voice of OC.

RELATED: Lawsuit accuses OCBE Trustee Ken Williams of assault in road rage incident // L.A. Times // Voice of OC

Ocean View School District Shifting to Trustee-Area Based Elections

The change will take effect for the 2026 elections

The Ocean View School District Board of Trustees during the Feb. 13, 2024 meeting. Screenshot from YouTube.

The Ocean View School District is changing how it elects members to its Board of Trustees. 

At the board’s Feb. 13 meeting, trustees voted 3 to 2 to initiate shifting from at-large elections to ones based on trustee areas starting in 2026. The board’s vote starts a multi-step process to split up the TK-8 district covering parts of Huntington Beach, Westminster, Fountain Valley and Midway City into five trustee areas.

The move is happening to ensure OVSD is complying with the California Voting Rights Act and to avoid "potential for costly litigation under the CVRA."

  • "What I do know is I don't like setting money on fire, and I like the money in this district to go to the students," OVSD Board President Jack Souders on why he voted for the change.
  • “We haven't been sued yet, have we? We have not. This is a solution looking for a problem,” OVSD Trustee Norm Westwell on why he opposed the shift.

Read the whole story on

Budget Outlook Worsens for TK-12 Education

We already know that California is facing a giant budget deficit. Now, a new report from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office shows the fiscal outlook for TK-12 funding could be worse than previously believed. 

In a recent report, the LAO projected a bigger drop in state revenues that “will likely reduce state funding for TK-12 by an additional $7.7 billion — $5.2 billion in 2023-24 and $2.7 billion in 2025-26. That would be on top of the $13.7 billion shaving that Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his proposed budget,” reports EdSource.

The news comes as school districts are already dealing with other financial pressures including inflation, "the expiration of COVID-19 funding and declining enrollment, particularly in areas like Orange County, where birth rates have dropped and soaring housing costs have made it difficult for many families to buy a home," as OCDE Newsroom reported.

Some Southern California school districts are already planning to cut jobs. The San Diego Unified School District is facing a nearly $94 million budget shortfall. It recently told one of its unions that the district might have to eliminate 10% of its 600 administrative positions, reports Fox 5 San Diego. 

There is a March 15 deadline for public school districts to notify employees if their position might be cut in the 2024-25 school year. That means layoffs could be on the agenda at many local school board meetings this month.

Spotlight Schools will be following the developments. Please reach out at to share what's happening in your district.

2024 California Distinguished Schools Announced

Orange County had 38 middle and high schools recognized by the California Department of Education for the honor

A post on the Instagram account for the Irvine Unified School District announces four of its campuses were recognized as California Distinguished Schools.

The list is out for the 2024 California Distinguished Schools. On Feb. 29, the California Department of Education announced that 293 campuses statewide were given its highest recognition. That includes 38 middle and high schools in Orange County. 

The Capistrano Unified School District had six campuses recognized, the most of any local district this year. 

“These schools were recognized for excelling in closing the achievement gap and delivering exceptional student performance. We always knew they were great, thanks [to] the California Department of Education for agreeing,” Capistrano Unified wrote in an Instagram post.

The California Distinguished Schools program uses a school’s performance on metrics featured in the California School Dashboard in its awards, including students' scores on state testing.

See the full list of Orange County schools honored as 2024 California Distinguished Schools at

ANOTHER RECOGNITION: McGaugh Elementary School in Seal Beach was the only school in Orange County to be named a 2024 Purple Star School by the California Department of Education. McGaugh was recognized for its commitment to military-connected students and their families. (Full disclosure: my kids attend McGaugh). Spotlight Schools will have a story on what this honor means in the coming weeks.

Should You Take Your Kids Out of School to Travel?

My family went out of town during the Presidents' Week break our school district has in February. But my children have also missed class to travel. Thanks to their amazing teachers, they typically do Independent Study while we're on vacation.

I was recently interviewed by the travel publication AFAR on this topic and I encourage you to check out the story. And Spotlight Schools wants to know what you think about this. Parents, teachers, and administrators: should kids miss school to travel? Respond to this email message or email with your perspective. Your comments could be part of a future story.

  • Santa Ana Unified votes to fly the Pride Flag from its district office// Los Angeles Times
  • Impasse declared in negotiations between Brea Olinda teachers and district // The Orange County Register
  • Student Enrollment declines at Capistrano Unified // Capistrano Dispatch
  • Orange Unified School District to rent part of former school site to Orange County Classical Academy // The Orange County Register 
  • Meet the two people hired to tackle AI in education at the Orange County Department of Education // OCDE Newsroom 
  • Sleep deprivation impacting Los Alamitos High School students // Griffin Gazette
  • New polls show teens, parents, and educators divided on whether schools should teach about gender identity // The New York Times // The 74 // Chalkbeat 
  • California lawmaker introduces bill to require an armed school resource officer at every public school campus //
  • Bill would implement paid pregnancy leave for public school teachers // Press Release from CDE
  • Finalists for ParentingOC’s Top Teachers and School Employees announced // ParentingOC
  • Woodbridge High School appears on KTLA Morning News // KTLA  

Update on O.C. Student's Olympic Dream

16-year-old Stewart McCaleb competing to sail for Team USA

Last month, Spotlight Schools wrote about 16-year-old Stewart McCaleb's quest to sail for the United States in the Paris 2024 Olympics. Last week, the sophomore at Los Alamitos High School was in Florida competing in a qualifying regatta for a spot on Team USA in the sailing event known as the Men’s One Person Dinghy.

John McCaleb, Stewart's dad, said it was a fabulous experience. "Stewart was both humbled by the competition and amazed he led them a few times," McCaleb wrote in an email. He said the scores were what they expected and shared that Stewart dealt with "some truly grueling weather conditions" on the second day including heavy rain, lightning, and some hail. That day he had his second best finish, but it "zapped his fuel tank for a few days," McCaleb wrote.

McCaleb added that while Stewart may not be representing Team USA at the 2024 Olympics, he personally knows the two sailors who will, and, perhaps even more exciting, they now know Stewart.

And Stewart is continuing his dream to be in the Olympics. He hopes to compete on his home surf in 2028 when the Summer Games take place in Los Angeles. 

“There's the four year cycle so I have another four years after this one to really get my best game on for L.A. 2028," Stewart said last month.

Stewart McCaleb is a 16-year-old Los Alamitos High School student hoping to represent Team USA in sailing. Photo courtesy of John McCaleb.

Read more about Stewart at

The Importance of Local Nonprofits Supporting Students

Employees and supporters of The Youth Center in Los Alamitos pose outside their new location. Courtesy Photo.

For many school districts, it isn’t just the teachers and staff on campuses and school districts supporting students. Nonprofit organizations in the community are also key in helping children succeed.

For the Los Alamitos Unified School District, that includes the Los Alamitos Education Foundation (LAEF) and The Youth Center. Both organizations provide enrichment opportunities for kids in the area including after-school classes. LAEF has been integral in the creation and staffing of WellSpaces at the district's nine campuses, providing mental health support for staff and students. LAEF just wrapped up its annual fundraiser where it hosted a gala and had an online auction all February to raise money for its many programs. (The co-founder of Spotlight Schools is a donor to LAEF.)

Now The Youth Center is launching its annual One Grand Project fundraiser. It has a goal to raise $100,000 during the month of March. Supporters are asked to join them by pledging to raise $1,000 within 30 days in March. The fundraisers will become part of a collective effort to offer essential resources for community youth. Become a fundraiser for The Youth Center's One Grand Project here.

The information for this story was provided by Bella Kim, Marketing Intern for The Youth Center and former Editorial Intern at Spotlight Schools.

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