Orange County’s public school students consistently outpace the state on English language arts and mathematics assessments and graduation rates. In the 2020-21 academic year, about 91 percent of Orange County students who entered ninth grade in 2017 graduated on time four years later, an improvement of more than 2 percentage points in two years.
In 2014, OCDE introduced an ambitious Strategic Plan in support of the vision that “Orange County students will lead the nation in college and career readiness and success.” That roadmap, which was refreshed in 2016, featured eight strategic priorities covering such areas as college and career readiness, technology, special populations and the whole child. It also included desired outcomes and key performance indicators.
College and Career Readiness
OCDE in 2014 established the OC Pathways initiative, a countywide consortium that connects educators and industry leaders to create work-based learning opportunities for students while empowering educators with 21st-century learning strategies. Partners have developed coursework that combines rigorous academics with career preparation across 15 industry sectors.
In 2017, OCDE, leading a consortium of six regional county education offices of education, announced a partnership with Khan Academy aimed at increasing student access to the nonprofit’s free online tutoring programs that help prepare young people for college. In addition to its menu of tutorials and SAT practice materials, Khan Academy has teamed up with the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program to become the official practice partner for AP.
Communication and Collaboration
Under the leadership of Dr. Mijares, OCDE has placed a premium on communication and collaboration. In 2015, OCDE created the OCDE Newsroom, a website featuring news and information about the department and Orange County schools. With new stories appearing almost daily, the OCDE Newsroom covers a range of topics, from honors and instructional strategies to policies at the state and national levels. Dr. Mijares also directed the creation of a companion site — The 101 — to unpack complex educational issues.
OCDE’s educational and technology teams provided comprehensive support to school districts during all phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to launching a website to help educators, counselors and families maintain instructional continuity during distance learning, OCDE staff distributed nearly 1,800 hotspots to help local districts expand connectivity, and the department worked with the state to deliver about 500 laptops. OCDE also advised local districts on how to obtain wireless equipment and devices for distance learning while acquiring technology for its own alternative and special education programs.
During Dr. Mijares’ tenure as superintendent, OCDE has won five prestigious Golden Bell awards from the California School Boards Association. Earning recognition were Project Zero Waste (2015), the multi-agency Gift of History program (2016), OCDE Project GLAD National Training Center (2017), the OCDE-led California Multi-Tiered System of Support (2019) and the OC Pathways initiative (2021).
The Whole Child
In 2016, OCDE was tapped by the state to become the lead agency overseeing an ambitious initiative to scale up California’s Multi-Tiered System of Support, which aligns new and existing strategies to meet students’ academic, behavioral and social-emotional needs. Based on the theme “All Means All,” MTSS provides core supports for all students, additional assistance for some, and targeted interventions for those with the greatest needs. The goal is to empower educators to identify and resolve challenges before they escalate into larger barriers to learning, and it encourages school staff to know the name, face and story of every student on a campus.
OCDE launched the One Billion Acts of Kindness initiative in 2016. While the campaign seeks to quantify kindness with the goal of reaching one billion acts, its broader aim is to promote character, improve school climates and amplify civility in Orange County and beyond.
In partnership with local districts, OCDE made it a top priority to support the mental and physical health and wellbeing of students returning after distance learning. Much of that work centered on providing robust training and technical assistance aligned with MTSS. OCDE also developed resources and trainings for school employees and families who experienced trauma related to COVID-19, and the department used grant funding to hire seven regional mental health coordinators, creating a countywide infrastructure to strengthen procedures and protocols.
OCDE and the Sheriff’s Department team up every summer to host the Safe Schools Conference with the California Department of Education. This three-day event brings together more than 500 educators and law enforcement representatives from throughout the state to discuss issues and trends related to campus violence, bullying, social media, human trafficking, gangs and substance abuse. OCDE hosts other trainings and workshops throughout the year, covering a range of topics including school safety plans, earthquake preparedness, behavioral threat assessments, resilience strategies and active-shooter behavioral indicators.
In an unprecedented campaign to reopen schools, OCDE collaborated with the OC Health Care Agency and local school districts to establish education-specific clinics that offered voluntary vaccinations for school employees. The first OC School POD — short for point of dispensing — opened in February 2021. By April 2021, OCDE had administered approximately 15,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to school employees.