In a surprise development, Laguna Beach High School and Thurston Middle School will both undergo a change in leadership beginning next year as a result of a decision announced Thursday by high school Principal Don Austin to depart at year’s end.
In a meeting convened late Thursday, the school board approved the appointment of middle school Principal Joanne Culverhouse to succeed Austin as well as naming her assistant, Jennifer Salberg, to succeed Culverhouse as principal at the middle school.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be selected,” said Culverhouse, who 12 years ago started with the district as principal at El Morro Elementary. She said she looks forward to continuing the tradition of academic excellence at the high school and understands the important balance between academics and extracurricular activities. “I’m a huge fan of athletics, as well as the visual and performing arts,” added Culverhouse.
Salberg said that she is honored and excited by her promotion and “passionate about starting the school year.” She served as the assistant principal at Thurston and the high school for a combined 12 years.
Board members seemed delighted to fill the position from within the district. “It gives us continuity,” member Jan Vickers. “That’s really positive.”
“I’m so excited for both of you,” said board clerk Betsy Jenkins, addressing Culverhouse and Salberg. “Each of you is tailor-made for the position.”
Jenkins added that Culverhouse probably knows every student at the high school, since, barring relocated students, they have all come through Thurston.
“You have been with many of these kids since kindergarten or first grade,” echoed school board president Theresa O’Hare, picking up the thread. “You know this community and that is very important.”
O’Hare said Salberg has served Thurston well while assuming Culverhouse’s duties during her recent absence. “It gave us a chance to see you shine.”
Austin announced his resignation to accept a position as assistant superintendent of educational services in the Huntington Beach high school district, pending the approval of its board.
“Dr. Austin leaves Laguna Beach High School better than he found it,” said O’Hare, but added that, “I am sure he would be among the first to tell you that our success is supported by the contributions of the entire community, both on and off campus, and is not dependent upon the efforts of any one person.”
In a letter of thanks to staff, family and friends, Austin ran through a laundry list of the school’s growth during his tenure, particularly in academic achievement, but also in athletics and the visual and performing arts.
Austin praised the “excellent” administrative staff and said, “our classified staff is simply as good as it gets.” He paid special tribute to his administrative assistant Durinda Klein “for her numerous attributes that collectively make her one of the best colleagues I have ever had.”
Praise for the students was no less effusive. “They are uncharacteristically kind to each other and will do great things in their futures,” he predicted.
Austin said that he will face new challenges and unfamiliar faces as he transitions to his position in Huntington Beach. “I only hope that the experiences I have in Huntington can match the relationships and successes we have had together in Laguna Beach,” he said and offered an assurance that “Laguna Beach High School is in good hands.”
“Don has been a strong and innovative leader at LBHS,” said Supt. Sherine Smith when reached for comment on Thursday. “We will miss him greatly and wish him the best in his new position as assistant superintendent.”