History of Irvine International Academy
Welcome to a dream come true: Irvine International Academy! Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I walk around our campus when I see what I always hoped was possible- children laughing, learning, excited about life and speaking Mandarin and English.
My journey to help build this school and my love for China began many years ago.
I am a career Elementary teacher. I love sharing my skills and passion with other educators! Eight times, I traveled throughout China, at my own expense, doing professional development during my school breaks. Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics and Area Chair of Applied Physics at Harvard University, asked me to speak at a conference on Peer Instruction in Beijing. However, my school district would not let me take the 4 days off to attend. So, I planned early retirement to focus on China. Dr. Lu, the top principal of China (Beijing No. 2 and 31 affiliated schools) mentioned I should begin a Mandarin Immersion school.
After much research and writing a 400-page petition and business plan, we first tried to present the idea of a Mandarin – English immersion school in a district in Riverside County, but it didn’t pass. Of that original School Board, Doug Husen (attorney and Superintendent of Crossroads Christian School), Miller Zhuang (Chinese educator), and Dr. Joleen Smith (Azusa Pacific University professor of Education) stayed committed and began our process in Irvine. We added Edward Watson, (PhD Education and parent) and businessman Glenn Rogers to enhance our expertise. During that time the Ontario-Montclair School District hired Aaron Scott and myself, to help create their Mandarin/English Immersion program.
I now had been working for three years without pay (actually donating $36,000 of my own savings in the process). Sometimes I was discouraged and thought the dream was dying. With my son Aaron, we stood on street corners across from Irvine’s elementary schools and parks collecting signatures, eventually 160 – more than the half required for a school of 192. We submitted to Irvine USD (IUSD), but they declined our petition (IUSD had never granted a charter). We appealed to Orange County Department of Education (OCDE), but they said we needed more Mandarin academic support.
I recontacted all the leaders of California’s Mandarin schools and reconnected with Principal Steven Chuang. He was considering leaving his current school and was interested. This is the same process used to hire Curriculum Director Kennedy Rocker; I contacted, interviewed, then introduced them both to the IIA Board for a vote. The Executive Director directly hires these right- and left-hand positions having confidence in them helping the school. This process is entirely different than hiring a teacher (advertise on Edjoin and interview in front of a committee).
Persevering through another year and another rejection from IUSD (very common for districts to reject charters), we appealed again to OCDE. Now with an original signing parent, Marybeth Chen, Steven Chuang as principal, plus the signatures of 9 Mandarin teachers, we were passed on January 6, 2021. Within 10 weeks, over 384 students were signed up for Transitional Kindergarten (TK) through 5th grade. Already, 124 new students are applying for the next year.
Irvine USD approved our request for this great campus at 4784 Karen Ann Lane. IIA is proud to offer Mandarin and English immersion, STEAM science because of a Kay Family Foundation grant, and classes with Orange County Music and Dance, funded with a Larry and Helen Hoag Foundation grant. Our Wonder Kids after school program is one of the city’s best. As an international school, our teachers speak Farsi, Korean, Russian, Spanish, French, Mandarin, and English.
One of my goals is to personally model and teach our children leadership, tenacity, and perseverance to strive for their goals. I ask you to celebrate Irvine’s first FREE, public, Mandarin/English immersion and Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) school.
Once again, Welcome! And thank you
Irvine international Academy is just that, international and opens up opportunities around the Pacific Rim.