Hopes Are High for the New School Year

Laguna students were welcomed by new principals at two schools as well as by several new teachers elsewhere in the district at the school year began anew this week.

Eighth-graders who waved goodbye to Thurston principal Joanne Culverhouse in June were greeted by her when they entered the high school as freshmen this week.

Culverhouse said that after spending the summer preparing, she is eager to have the students back in school and looks forward “to extending the long tradition of academic, artistic, and athletic accomplishments Laguna Beach High is known for.”

Culverhouse replaces former principal Don Austin, who left in July to take up a post as assistant  superintendent in Huntington Beach.

Thurston’s assistant principal Jennifer Salberg was promoted principal at Thurston. A newly hired assistant principal, Mike Modeer, fills Salberg’s spot.

Enrollment figures were up in all schools as the doors opened, with net gains of 45, 22, 24 and 28 students at Top of the World, El Morro, Thurston and the high school, respectively. Assistant superintendent of instructional services Nancy Hubbell cautioned that there may be unanticipated no-shows and that the numbers won’t be firm until after the first week of school, but she said they don’t anticipate any difficulties in accommodating the new students.

In addition to the leadership changes, the district welcomes six new teachers, two school psychologists, three counselors and one nurse, as well as 12 new members of the clerical and support staff. Hubbell said the district looked for candidates who were qualified, but also enthusiastic about continuous improvement in a collaborative environment and knowledgeable about best practices. She described hiring personnel, “who light up when they talk about working with kids.”

Hiring requires constructing a detailed job description, screening applications, initial interviews of 15 to 20 top candidates, secondary interviews, reference checks and final interviews by Hubbell and Supt. Sherine Smith.

In her outline of the district’s strategic goals, Smith emphasized focused efforts by teachers to refine common assessments and tweak instruction to best meet student needs.

At the same time the district is transitioning from the dictates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 to embrace the state board of education’s “Common Core State Standards” (CCSS) for English and math at each grade level.

According to Hubbell, college and career readiness is a goal the district is pursuing at all levels to ensure that Laguna’s graduating students are truly ready for their post-high school endeavors.

Course changes this year, which seem to reflect that goal, include the replacement of the freshman-level world geography class at the high school with the new global studies and study skills class; the addition of a college prep calculus class at the high school in addition to advanced placement calculus; and a reconfiguration of the algebra classes at Thurston and the high school. Instead of algebra IA at Thurston followed by algebra IB at the high school, Thurston students will take algebra readiness, to be followed by algebra I at the high school, and students needing extra help will have the option of an algebra support class.

If standardized tests are any indication of a successful education strategy, the outlook is good. Last year’s California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test results indicate that a majority of second through 11th-grade students in the district tested at levels that were either “primarily advanced” or “proficient.” And last week Laguna’s scores for California’s Academic Performance Index (API) tests came out to confirm that the district broke the 900 mark, where the statewide goal is 800.

“We have great energy at all levels going into this school year,” exclaimed Hubbell. “I hope our students are excited to come back to school, because we are excited to begin another school year packed with learning, laughter, and singular experiences for our kids,” agr

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