A milestone anniversary for Irvine Unified School District was commemorated with a big gift from the Irvine Company and Donald Bren Foundation Tuesday night: A $4 million check to the district, boosting the company’s years-long support for a program that promotes art, music and science education for elementary school students in the city.
The contribution was presented during Irvine Unified’s annual State of the District event, which took place at Woodbridge High School’s new performing arts center.
District Superintendent Terry Walker said the money was like an “exciting 50-year-anniversary birthday present.”
With this year marking a half-century of IUSD, Walker’s remarks during Tuesday’s event centered on a theme of “50 years of continuous improvement.”
The $4 million donation presented to the district represents a boost in an annual contribution the Irvine Co. has been committed to since 2006.
The Irvine Co. and Donald Bren Foundation in 2006 created the Excellence in Education and Enrichment Fund, initially committing $20 million over 10 years to the school district. The program it supports allows IUSD to employ specialized teachers who provide lessons to kids in fourth through sixth grade on music, science and art. The contributions come in $2 million installments each year.
In 2016, the company extended the fund another decade.
“Education has always been at the core of our planning principles in Irvine,” Irvine Co. Senior Vice President Jeff Davis said in a statement, adding that the money gifted Tuesday “deepens our company’s decades-long partnership with IUSD, students and families to support enrichment programs in science, art and music.”
The district’s partnership with the Irvine Co. has been “critical in addressing areas of support and areas of enhancement that otherwise wouldn’t have it,” Walker said.
Because of Irvine’s – and Orange County’s – high cost of living, “it makes it really challenging to have such a limited budget,” he said, “when we’ve got so much to do and in an environment where it’s expensive to have people and retain people to come and work in the school system.”
Any extra contributions are carefully put to use to maximize their benefit, Walker added.
The Excellence in Education and Enrichment Fund helps the district provide extra weekly lessons in science and music and several additional art classes per year for upper-elementary school students. Since its creation, more than 150,000 students have attended the classes, which help set a “foundational” base for students as they enter high school, Walker said.
Considered one of the highest-performing school districts in the region, Irvine Unified enrolls more than 36,000 students students in its 43 schools (including two virtual academies).
Last year, IUSD students on average scored higher than the state mean on art and science Advanced Placement exams and the California Science Test, according to the school district’s annual report. They outperformed the average scores across California and globally on several AP exams, including Art History, Music Theory, Biology and Physics.
“This fund has been a cornerstone of our instructional profile,” Walker said. “For sure, it’s going to leave a lasting impact on the lives of current and former students.”