Spotlight Schools Newsletter June 11, 2024

🎓 Celebrating the Class of 2024 // Who will lead the O.C. Dept. of Education? // 🐕 School district salutes its service dogs // The O.C. cities ranked among the top 10 best places in U.S. to raise a family

Spotlight Schools Newsletter June 11, 2024
An Orange Unified School District student takes part in a graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of OUSD.

Congratulations to the Class of 2024!

Across Orange County, students are marking major milestones in their educational journeys this month. They might be promoting to middle school or high school, or they are seniors graduating and receiving their hard-earned diplomas.

👏 Spotlight Schools wishes every graduate the best in their next chapter in life whether it be college, career, travel, or something else. In fact, we want to know what's ahead for you and what you think other people should know who are following in your footsteps. We've already seen some inspiring stories of seniors who were accepted to numerous competitive colleges, and we applaud them. We know there are many other stories that deserve to be shared. Please respond to this email or email to share your educational experience within Orange County. We'll have more coverage of the Class of 2024 (including which high school had a 100% graduation rate for the second year in a row) in this newsletter. Yet we want to offer more coverage of these remarkable students in the coming months. So please feel free to reach out!

😎 And don't miss out this summer on hyperlocal education news. Follow us on Instagram and X (Twitter), "like" us Facebook and visit regularly. You can also fill out our reader survey!

Did a thoughtful friend forward you this newsletter? Feel free to sign up for it here.

Yours in knowledge,

Jeannette Andruss, Co-founder and Chief Editorial Officer

O.C. Board of Education to Select Interim Superintendent this Month

Retirement of Al Mijares means OCBE can handpick someone who shares its priorities, including to expand charter schools

During a May 22 special meeting, the O.C. Board of Education interviewed six candidates vying to be appointed O.C's interim Superintendent of Schools. YouTube.

A new era could be starting in the relationship between the Orange County Board of Education and the head of the Orange County Department of Education.

At its regular meeting on June 18, the OCBE is expected to name an interim O.C. Superintendent of Schools. The appointee would serve out the remainder of the term of Al Mijares, Ph.D., who is retiring at the end of June due to health issues. Dr. Mijares' term ends in 2027 and his appointed replacement could run for the position in the 2026 election.

Dr. Mijares has been the top elected education official in the county for 11 years. For the last few years, he and the board's conservative majority have disagreed on policy and have been engaged in numerous lawsuits. OCBE now has an opportunity to handpick someone for the elected position who shares the current board's priorities, including promoting and expanding charter schools across Orange County.

On May 22, the board held a special meeting where it interviewed the six candidates vying to become O.C.'s next superintendent.

Each candidate was allowed to make a ten-minute statement and was then asked the same set of questions which included: How did you deal with a communications failure? What are three ways you would cooperate with and support the board? What is your position on school choice? What did you learn from the Covid-19 pandemic? What is the primary purpose of education? Do you have any concerns that social emotional learning has led to "academic content displacement?" What role do you see for the superintendent regarding the Orange County charter community?

We've listed a brief summary of each candidate below. You can also watch each candidate's interview before the OCBE by clicking on their name.

Stefan Bean, Ed.D.

Dr. Bean is a longtime charter school administrator in Southern California and currently leads Irvine International Academy. Dr. Bean lost to Dr. Mijares in the 2022 election with the endorsements of most of the current OCBE trustees. During the public comment period at the May 22 meeting, most of the speakers urged the board to select Dr. Bean. During his interview, he told the board one goal he would pursue if selected is to "resolve any legal dispute between the board and the department by identifying mutually beneficial resolutions to enhance collaboration between the board and the staff."

Dennis Cole

Cole is the current director of district partnerships and operations for the O.C. Department of Education’s Alternative Education division (ACCESS). He’s also an elected board trustee for the Fountain Valley School District. In his interview with the board he said "helping youth grow is the reason I exist." Cole's definition for the primary purpose of education is: "to make sure that our students grow up to be effective members of our community, that they can pursue life, liberty, happiness, ... all the things that our constitution provides." He said anything that's not accomplishing that "needs to go by the wayside."

Charles Hinman, Ed.D.

Dr. Hinman came out of retirement in 2021 to serve as interim superintendent for the Westminster School District, the Fountain Valley School District, and for Oxford Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Orange County. He spent six years as superintendent for the West Covina USD and was also an assistant superintendent for the Newport-Mesa USD. In his interview, he said that he agrees philosophically with many of the board's stances. When asked about the purpose of education, he pointed to "powerful questions" that must guide educators: "What do you want kids to learn? How do you know if they've learned it? Here's ... the magic. How will you respond if they haven't learned?"

Maria Martinez-Poulin, Ed.D.

Dr. Martinez-Poulin was most recently the interim superintendent for the Culver City Unified School District. Prior to that she worked as deputy superintendent for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, superintendent of the Whittier City School District, and a deputy superintendent for the Centralia School District. When asked if social emotional learning was causing "academic content displacement," Dr. Martinez-Poulin said: "I don't think there's displacement. I think there is a space to have both in education. We talk about being able to meet the needs of our students, social emotional, and also their academic development."

Ramon Miramontes, Ed.D.

Dr. Miramontes is the Deputy Superintendent of the O.C. Department of Education, a newly-created position he accepted in March 2023. Since then, Dr. Miramontes has fulfilled many of the duties of the O.C. superintendent while Dr. Mijares was on extended medical leave. Prior to coming to the OCDE, Dr. Miramontes served as the superintendent of the Buena Park School District. In his response to a question about how he would work with and support the board, Dr. Miramontes said: "I think, first and foremost, get on the same page. Understand a little bit more of how we might work together to model for other districts and other counties. ... When a collective governance team works together, you can get a lot more done."

Kirsten Vital Brulte 

Vital Brulte was most recently the superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District, O.C.’s largest, a position she held from 2014 until 2022. That’s when a newly elected board majority voted 4-3 to terminate her contract without cause. She also previously served as superintendent for the Alameda USD. During her interview, Vital Brulte expressed support for charter schools and said there is a lot to learn from their innovation. In regard to the purpose of education and the potential for "mission drift," Vital Brulte said: "It always concerns me when we are telling kids messages that are not appropriate for school. Again, as I said, parents are their children's first teachers, and we want to make sure that ... those values are coming from their parents and their families and guardians."


RELATED: Cypress School Board appoints interim Trustee // Spotlight Schools

Budget Deadline Approaching for School Districts

The time is now for local school districts to present and pass budgets for the 2024-25 school year. And it has not been easy process. California's budget shortfall, which last month Governor Gavin Newsom said was $27.6 billion, the drying up of Covid-19 era funding, and declining student enrollment are all creating fiscal challenges for many districts.

In March, the Los Alamitos Unified School District projected a $7 million budget shortfall over the next two school years. The Los Alamitos USD Board of Education is expected to hear a presentation on the district's updated budget at today's (June 11) meeting. You can find the agenda for today's meeting, which has the full budget as an attachment, here.

Faced with declining enrollment, the Anaheim Union High School District issued pink slips to more than 100 teachers earlier this spring. But it has since rescinded the layoffs, reports The L.A. Times, and will instead make alternative cuts. The AUHSD board will present its updated budget at a June 13 meeting.

Lawmakers must pass California's budget by June 15. School districts have until June 30 to pass their budgets.

🎶 Arts Education Funding Questions 🎨

Photo by Markus Spiske via Unsplash

In related news, despite California's budget shortfall, public school districts are seeing a boost in state funding for arts education programs thanks to the passage of Proposition 28 in 2022. The measure created a new ongoing stream of funding to TK-12 public schools that is expected to be about $1 billion total annually.

School districts must present how they plan to spend the additional funds that must be used to create new arts education programs. Eighty percent of the funds must go toward staffing for instruction in "dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts."

For example, a new dance class for boys is being offered next year at Los Alamitos High School, paid for with Proposition 28 funding, as The Griffin Gazette reported.

Scroll down on this CalMatters story for a search bar that allows you to see how much money your campus was allocated in Prop. 28 funds.

But it appears there have been some bumps in the road for districts trying to implement new arts programs, as CalMatters reported.

An arts coalition group accused some districts of misusing Prop. 28 funds to account for budget shortfalls elsewhere. Other school districts say they already have a robust arts program and are not sure how to spend the new funds. Some school districts are also seeking waivers from the California Department of Education to allow more flexibility in how they spend Prop. 28 dollars.

One question that appears unresolved is how art programs that are paid for by parent volunteer groups (Parent Teacher Associations, for example) will be considered in the funding equation.

“Where the [California Department of Education] could clarify but has not clarified is what constitutes baseline arts education funding at a school for the purposes of determining what is ‘supplanting’ versus ‘supporting’ existing arts education funds,” said Jessica Mele, the interim executive director of arts advocacy group Create CA, in a recent EdSource story. Mele added: “For example, do grant funds or PTA funds count? Or is it just state education dollars that count as the baseline? If PTA funds don’t count, then a school could use Prop. 28 funds for arts programming that were formerly paid for with PTA funds and re-allocate PTA funds elsewhere.”

🖼️ Spotlight Schools is continuing to report on how Orange County school districts are proposing to spend their Prop. 28 dollars and will have more coverage in the coming weeks.

Do you have a question about Prop. 28 funding you want answered? Respond to this email or send us a note at

This school year is coming to a close, but there will be some reigning Teachers of the Year in 2025. Last month, six educators from schools across Orange County learned in surprise announcements that they received the honor from the Orange County Department of Education.

Read about an energetic special education teacher in the Anaheim Union High School District, a 7th grade teacher who runs a "Scholars in Training" program in the Garden Grove Unified School District, and an engineering and science teacher expanding S.T.E.M. opportunities for students in the Santa Ana Unified School District now at

🍎 Summer Meals for Students

Under California's Universal Meals Program, every student is able to get free meals at school. But what happens during the summer when school is out?

School districts, public libraries, and local nonprofits are offering food and meals to Orange County's students that are 18 and younger.

For example, the Garden Grove Unified School District will be serving meals to students at 14 of its school sites through the National School Lunch Seamless Summer food service program. No enrollment is required. "A typical lunch may include a submarine sandwich, pizza, popcorn chicken, mini cheeseburger sliders, yogurt, choice of fruits and vegetables from the salad bar, juice and milk," according to GGUSD. Last summer the district served more than 114,600 meals.

Families in the Los Alamitos USD, Cypress School District, and Fountain Valley School District, can get fresh food through Summer Harvest.

And new this summer, the SUN Bucks program offers qualified California students an additional $120 to go toward the purchase of food. More information here.

  • Two O.C. cities among the top ten best places nationwide to raise a family, according to a new WalletHub study // N.Y. Times // Patch
  • Student killed in car crash on his way to El Dorado High School in Placentia// ABC7 
  • Fullerton School District’s new Performance Sports Academy is accepting applications through June 22 // Fullerton School District // The Orange County Register (subscriber only)
  • A milestone is reached in Westminster School District's Vietnamese dual-language immersion program // L.A. Times
  • Los Alamitos students win top honors in statewide film contest //  OCDE Newsroom 
  • Push to reshape O.C. Board of Education advances in state legislature // L.A. Times
  • Westminster student competes at Scripps National Spelling Bee // OCDE Newsroom
  • California teachers are using AI to grade papers. Is that a bad thing? // CalMatters
  • CA lawmakers introduce bill that would bar districts from passing parental notification policies for transgender students // L.A. Times
  • Supporters of proposition to enact new rules for California transgender students come up short in signature gathering; will focus on 2026 election // EdSource
  • 🐕 Ocean View School District celebrates Guide Dogs program // OCDE Newsroom
A student in the Ocean View School District pets a guide dog during the district's annual Service Dog Day. Screenshot from OCDE Newsroom

🎉 Celebrating the Class of 2024 🎓

Los Alamitos High School has 100% graduation rate for the second year in a row

The Class of 2024 at Los Alamitos High School had a 100% graduation rate. Photo by Jeff Gritchen/courtesy of Los Alamitos USD.

Students at Los Alamitos High School have done it again.

All 777 members of the Class of 2024 earned their diplomas. The school's previous class also attained a 100% graduation rate, according to the Los Alamitos Unified School District.

“Our success is a direct result of the unwavering dedication of our teachers, staff, students, and families,” LAHS Principal Christiana Kraus said in a news release.

On June 1, hundreds of LAHS seniors took part in the Graduation Parade in Rossmoor. The car parade was started after graduation festivities for the Class of 2020 were canceled amid the Covid pandemic.

Four years later, students from the Class of 2024 had their chance to be celebrated in the parade, the first class to emerge from the Covid experience that shaped their high school experience.

Some of the students reflected on the challenges their class faced and what makes them special.

LAHS seniors participate in the Graduation Celebration Parade in Rossmoor. Photo by David N. Young.

“I think the best thing about the class of 2024 is that we’re persevering, we’re super kind and considerate and we’re ready to go off to college. We’re excited,” said Jake Dingillo. “Four years of high school, we got through it and it was well worth it.”

Senior Allie Perez shared that a challenge her classmates might face is underestimating the value of advice from older generations. “I think a lot of people think they know more and don’t pay attention to the rules or advice, but I think that’s all young people,” she said.

Some had more practical responses that seemed to reflect the immense demands of being a student in 2024. Juggling academics, extracurricular activities, and spending time with family and friends, all while figuring out what the next chapter will be.

“I feel like time management is the greatest challenge to the class of 2024. I think that a lot of us do not know how to manage our time properly and we get ahead of ourselves,” said Brianna Bercian.

Graduate Owen Gooch said it would be a challenge for this year’s class to find their way in this world but he expressed confidence in his classmates. 

“I think personally that the biggest challenge is going to be finding our places in the world. We have a really special class with a lot of great people, and I think everyone here is going to be able to succeed in that,” Owen said.

This story was reported by David N. Young

🎓

👀 See more images and videos from graduation ceremonies and of seniors from across Orange County // OCDE Newsroom // The O.C. Register // Orange Unified School District

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