Ray Huard ...Vista Unified School District threw itself a birthday party bash recently, celebrating a year of achievement and starting a scholarship fund.
“Really, it is a great time to be here,” Superintendent Devin Vodicka said at a fundraising dinner at Shadowridge Golf Course.
An estimated $3,000 was raised as part of the celebration to go into a scholarship fund for graduating high school seniors, which Vodicka said was particularly significant this school year.
The graduating class of 2017 will be the first to be eligible for automatic admission to California State University San Marcos under terms of a 2013 agreement Vista Unified signed with the university.
To qualify, high school students must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or more and complete certain courses.
“Let’s keep our focus on kids and keep our focus on this particular class of seniors as they move forward,” Vodicka said. “Our purpose is to inspire.”
Setting the tone for the anniversary celebration, Board of Education President Rich Alderson said, “I don’t know that there’s too many places where we can get a celebration of 100 years of quality education.”
Vista Unified’s achievements have been recognized across the nation, with more than 2,000 educators visiting district schools in the 2015-2016 school year and more coming this year, Vodicka said.
“They’re reaching out to us, saying, ‘We’re hearing what’s happening (in Vista) and we want to see it,” Vodicka said. “It’s a great time to be here.”
Among the district’s more notable achievements cited by Vodicka were the September selection of Jenny Anderson as one of five San Diego County teachers of the year and a $10 million, five-year “high school of the future” grant won in September by Vista High School through XQ: The Super School Project.
Anderson, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher and coach at Vista Unified’s Casita Center for Technology, Science and Math, is one of five county educators who are finalists in the competition for state teacher of the year.
“It had been 25 years since the last time Vista had a finalist,” Vodicka said.
Another Vista Unified teacher cited by Vodicka, Anne Fennell, was one of 10 finalists in the nation for the 2016 Music Educator Award by the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation. Fennell heads the performing arts department at Mission Vista High School.
The achievement of Anderson and Fennell is “just a great reflection of the quality of teachers we have in the district,” Vodicka said.
The $10 million grant to Vista High School, aside from its sheer size, is notable because Vista High was one of only 10 schools to receive a grant from among about 700 that competed.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Vodicka said.
Vista Unified students also are making their mark, Vodicka said, citing former high school students Blanca Hernandez and Cassandra “Cassie” Molano and Vista Magnet Middle School students Lexie Kondo, Victoria Arsenault and Karsyn Lee as examples.
Blanca, who graduated from Vista High School in June, received the Princeton Prize in Race Relations for forming a school club that focused on helping English learners improve their language, social and academic skills.
Cassie, who graduated from Vista High School, was named a Gates Millennium Scholar and awarded a full college scholarship through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The middle school students designed and crafted an experiment that was performed on the International Space Station to see if a type of organic strawberry seeds would germinate in a microgravity environment. They did.
Vodicka said several district schools also received special recognition during the 2015-2016 school year.
Among them, Monte Vista and Temple Heights elementary schools were chosen from among hundreds in the country to receive grants to implement a program aimed at teaching children to become leaders. They each received grants of $45,000 from Leader.org to train teachers and put into practice a “Leader in Me” program, which teaches leadership skills, such as being proactive, setting goals and listening before speaking.
Also, Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts was one of two schools in the state to win recognition from the California Department of Education for three separate achievements – the academic achievement of its students, having an outstanding arts program and for being an overall model of excellence. Vista Academy was one of 496 Gold Ribbon Schools in California for the 2015-2016 school year.
Accolades also went to Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA) as one of three schools in San Diego County chosen as sites for Qualcomm-sponsored labs. The labs are modeled after Qualcomm’s Thinkabit Lab at its Sorrento Valley base. Middle school students use the labs to work on projects and learn about careers in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).
“More than anything, tonight is a celebration of 100 amazing years,” Vodicka said.