How we worked together to create a great school district

As IUSD celebrates 50 years, here’s a look back at its earliest days.

Olson, 93, served on IUSD’s first board of education.

We moved to Irvine in 1969 because we needed a larger house for our growing family.

In 1972, one year after cityhood, residents voted to create the Irvine Unified School District, and I was elected to the first board of education.

I was an electronic engineer for Ford Aerospace and wanted to ensure we could provide the best education possible for our seven children and others.

At our first meeting in July 1972, we moved the meeting table from a stage to the floor. It was to remind us that a school system needs to be built from the bottom up, not from the top down.

During that first meeting, we also voted to put a $50 million bond measure on the ballot to build new schools. It was the largest such measure in Orange County’s history.

Irvine voters overwhelmingly passed the measure and, three months later, they approved the district borrowing an additional $44 million from the state’s school-building program.

To help plan all these new schools, we appointed parents to committees, giving them a voice in the design of their neighborhood schools.

We also had full cooperation with the city and Irvine Company.

Roland Dean Olson, left, breaks ground for a new Irvine Unified School District school in the 1970s.

For instance, the Irvine Master Plan called for schools next to city-owned community parks. That allowed us to share amenities such as tennis courts, ballfields and the aquatic center by Irvine High.

The Irvine Company gave the school board members a complete tour of the city by helicopter to help us select sites for future schools. That’s the kind of cooperation we had.

The shared goal was always to make schools part of the community, and I think it worked.

Another important decision was hiring Stanley Corey from Silicon Valley as our first superintendent. We told him he’d have two years to create a “superior” district, and if he succeeded, we’d continue to follow his lead.

He pulled together an excellent staff, and good things started to happen.

He created a culture of decentralization, allowing schools to develop programs and plans to meet the needs of their respective communities. He also instilled the idea of continuous improvement throughout the district, declaring, “Outrageous expectations should be standard.”

Over the years, I had the privilege to hand graduation diplomas to each of my seven children and a niece who was living with our family. They all look back fondly on their education in Irvine.

I like to think we started on the right track and helped instill the district’s desire to be the best, which it is today. I’m really proud that I was a small part of that.