Newport-Mesa State of the Schools breakfast reflects on a year of change


The Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s fifth annual State of the Schools breakfast Tuesday brought together community leaders to reflect on the district’s recent changes, challenges and achievements.

The event at Corona del Mar High School was led by the Newport-Mesa Schools Foundation and sponsored by various community businesses.

Foundation President Pat Courter said the organization has given more than $7 million in teacher grants in the past three decades and that this year’s breakfast alone raised more than $20,000 — the best figure to date.

Students were a big part of the breakfast as CdM High’s madrigal singers performed the national anthem and the school’s Associated Student Body president and vice president spoke on behalf of the district’s students.

“There’s an overwhelming amount of extracurriculars and opportunities our community has made available to the student body,” said Tati Bruening, vice president of Corona del Mar’s ASB. “Every student has the freedom to … find their identity outside the classroom through student-run clubs, top-caliber sports programs, arts departments, [Regional Occupational Program] courses and [Career Technical Education] pathways, just to name a few.”

John Drake, director of curriculum and instruction for kindergarten through 12th grade, said the district added three new CTE pathways this year, including one for engineering and design at Corona del Mar.

“Currently we have 11 complete CTE pathways throughout our comprehensive high schools, with 25 courses that are not only aligned to industry standards but also aligned to our core curriculum standards, so that while they are preparing for potential career opportunities, they are also preparing for college if they so choose,” Drake said.

This year, more than 3,000 Newport-Mesa high school students are taking at least one Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course, according to Drake.

Beyond academics, student health and safety were areas the district focused on in the past year.

Sarah Jocham, assistant superintendent of student support services, said the district is “seeing more and more” students with physical and mental health issues ranging from diabetes and allergies to depression and substance abuse.

Last year, the district started hosting seminars for parents and students on topics such as suicide prevention and drug and alcohol awareness. Topics this year include student resiliency and cyber safety, Jocham said. Newport-Mesa is the only district in Orange County to run a school health center, she added.

The district has adopted two new safety programs: Titan, an emergency communications and alert system, and Raptor, a visitor management system that aims to prevent sex offenders from entering school sites.

“We have spent a long time over these last several months to really analyze and look at our safety practices here in this district, as all school districts have had to do,” said Russell Lee-Sung, Newport-Mesa’s deputy superintendent and chief academic officer. “This year we are taking our training and drills to a higher level. We have to in this day and age.”

Newport-Mesa has an operating budget of about $350 million, with an additional $150 million dedicated to facility construction, according to Supt. Fred Navarro. Some of the projects underway are a theater at Estancia High School, two synthetic turf sports fields at Corona del Mar High and completing installation of air conditioning at all school sites by 2021.

“Everything we do today we do with an eye for ‘How is this going to make things better for the next generation?’” Navarro said. “It’s really not about today. It’s about tomorrow.”

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