NEWS

Big Gifts Boost Schools

Big gifts boost schools
Irvine Company commits $20 million to Irvine schools.

Peggy Goetz and Jeff Rowe
Orange County Register

April 11, 2006; Local 1

IRVINE – Donald Bren said Monday that what he learned in electives like art, music and science became a permanent part of his life, both personally and professionally.

The Irvine Co. chairman spoke at a ceremony Monday afternoon at Alderwood Basics Plus Elementary School and announced his gift of $20 million in the next 10 years through the Donald Bren Foundation to ensure that the Irvine Unified School District maintains its programs in art, music and science for fourth through sixth grades.

“This is the anchor stone of this community, this educational process,” Bren said after the ceremony. “It is an investment for our children and the future and for our company.”

Irvine Co. Vice President Mike LeBlanc, introducing Bren, said that education is a passion of the company’s leader. Through his foundation and the Irvine Co., Bren has given more than $200 million to education in Orange County, including about $66 million in the past 20 years for primary and secondary education.

It was Bren’s gift of a $700,000 annual matching grant through the Irvine Public Schools Foundation for the past four years that seeded the strong public support of elementary arts, music and science instruction, according to Tim Shaw, chief executive officer of the Irvine Schools Foundation.

The new gift will be used to guarantee support for more than 30 specialist teachers for the next 10 years, said Stan Steele, the school district’s coordinator of arts and music.

The donation will free up the Irvine Public Schools Foundation to seek support for more nurses and health clerks, and health education, counseling and other middle and high school needs, and other arts, music and science programs in the district, Shaw said.

School Trustee Sharon Wallin said she was appreciative of the “continued investment in education and the realization that this is such an important part of education.”

Superintendent Dean Waldfogel thanked the district’s specialist elementary teachers for staying through years of uncertainty and anxiety about funding for the programs. Such electives have been on the district’s cutting block over the past decade of increasingly tightened state school funding.

Though the district has consistently scored high on state tests — it has 18 of the county’s 25 schools that scored a perfect 10 on the two state test comparison indexes — Waldfogel noted that the creativity and thinking fostered by science and the arts are mostly outside the measurements of state tests. The value to the community, he said, goes way beyond test scores.

Bren said he had been dismayed to see enrichment programs put in the background in recent years, and emphasized the need for well-rounded students for the economic health of the community and the state.

Bren received two standing ovations from the crowd filling the multipurpose room during his announcement.

“I hope it will make a passion, and a positive difference in the lives of our children,” he said.

As a surprise for Bren, a fourth-grade string ensemble, a fifth-grade choir and a sixth-grade wind ensemble performed.

The Irvine Co. chief smiled through the performances and nodded while the fifth-graders sang, “I want to be the best that I can be and live my life with strength and dignity.”