Irvine 92620 Has Northwood High School, #9 Rated Public High School In Orange County, CA


Northwood High School (Irvine 92620) has had a rapid ascension to the top that can be credited to a deliberate attempt by staff to mold the school into a mirror image of its phenomenally successful sister schools – University, Irvine and Woodbridge high schools, all part of the Irvine Unified School District.  It opened in 1999 but the first graduating class did not graduate until 2002, three years after the school’s opening.

Teachers and administrators unabashedly admit they lifted the best elements from the other three high schools, including teaching strategies, block scheduling, and top teachers and administrators. Northwood also re-created Irvine High School’s enormously successful faculty mentoring program, in which students are paired with a teacher all four years and meet with that faculty member during homeroom multiple days a week.

“We stole all the best concepts from what the other schools did,” said counselor Natalie Hamilton, who has been with the school seven years. “A lot of the best staff came from the other schools.”

Northwood, which opened in 1999, is nestled in the foothills of northeastern Irvine, at the edge of the developed portion of the city in the Northwood Pointe community. It’s surrounded by avocado groves and dirt roads, although grading is taking place behind the school for a new housing development called Orchard Hills.

The sprawling campus consists of a circular grouping of two-story, tan-stucco buildings with teal-tinted windows. Many of the classrooms are connected to “pods” – common areas filled with computer labs that are designed to promote interdisciplinary learning. The campus also features a state-of-the-art, 680-seat theater.

The campus converges on an outdoor quad area where a mature oak tree serves as the focal point. The prominently displayed tree has become a symbol of pride for the school and a consistent source of rumor and folklore.

“There’s a rumor that it’s worth millions,” Principal Leslie Roach said, laughing. “But there’s nothing special about it. … I suppose it’s a symbol of growth.”

Northwood’s staff prides itself on what it considers to be a younger, hipper approach, less entrenched in traditions than other schools.

“I relate to the kids with pop culture,” said English teacher Jennifer Gray, who has been at the school for four years. “I’m able to remember what it’s like to be in high school and the conflicting priorities. Or, I’ll say, ‘Steinbeck is good. I know it’s different – just trust me.’

They respond to that.”

Like the other three Irvine high schools, Northwood is known for its diverse, highly tolerant student body. In addition to ethnic diversity, it’s home to a developmentally delayed population that is fully integrated into campus life.