Just as the new school year gets up and running, a surprising four candidates are running for two seats on the Laguna Beach school board in the Nov. 6 election.
Incumbents Jan Vickers and Bill Landsiedel learned only recently that two challengers, Dee Perry and Tammy Keces, will contest their re-election.
“At a time of district strength, both educationally and financially, it did seem out of the blue, especially considering we have not had any members of the public attending our meetings as interested potential board members,” said Vickers.
Landsiedel echoed Vickers’ surprise over facing a challenger at a time when test results show academic improvements district-wide. He hopes Laguna will avoid what he termed the “Capistrano effect,” where single-issue candidates are elected that can hamper an effective board.
“I believe that this is a very bad time to change board members,” said Landsiedel, citing an administration led by a relatively new superintendent who hired two new assistant superintendents and three new directors due to a wave of retirements. Such a change “would put our leadership at a significant disadvantage,” he said.
Noting district achievements ranging from rising test scores to more nutritious lunch offerings, Landsiedel said it is “difficult to believe that we need a change.”
Perry and Keces, neither of whom have previously sought public office, say they decided to run because they believe their
experience as teachers to be valuable, they see room for change, and they currently can make the time commitment necessary.
A Laguna Beach native and the mother of three children, aged 10, 13 and 16, who currently attend school here, Keces has 20 years of experience as an elementary school teacher, most recently as a first grade teacher in a private Irvine school. People have been asking her to run because of her hands-on experience as an educator as well as her day-to-day involvement as a parent. Friends have used her as a sounding board because they find her to be approachable and she hopes to continue that relationship in a more official capacity as a school board member.
Citing her success applying a “really innovative, project-based curriculum” in her classroom in Irvine, Keces said her strengths are in curriculum design and professional development.
Her vision for the district involves a “21st century” learning approach that advocates critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation.
“I respect and appreciate the foundation that exists right now,” she said, adding that she wants to take it to the next level.
Keces takes a distinctive stance on substance and alcohol abuse. “I want this to be a school issue and not a community issue,” she said, suggesting that teachers and administrators need to “really connect” with students through positive dialogue and mutual respect. Such connections will help kids build their self-esteem and make them want to work harder, she said.
Having taught in Laguna Beach schools for 35 years, both as an elementary school teacher and a speech pathologist, 18-year resident Perry said that she understands the district and hopes to use her knowledge and experience to benefit the community. She retired in July 2010, having last worked as a third grade teacher at El Morro.
If elected, Perry hopes to promote a culture of “listening to parents’ concerns, fostering their ideas, and respecting their ingenuity and contributions.” She would like to see greater transparency, better response to recommendations of the nutrition committee, the establishment of a privately funded outdoor classroom and teaching garden at Thurston, and more encouragement of students’ critical thinking, among other issues.
Perry wants to be a voice for students and has created a public Facebook page, following advice of former students as the best way to stay in touch.
A Laguna Beach resident for over 40 years, Vickers has racked up a combined 22 years, on and off, as a school board member, including three consecutive terms since 2000, and three stints as board president. Besides her experience as a parent with two sons who have gone through Laguna Beach schools, Vickers has a background in education as a teacher and school administrator, and has been a substitute teacher in all of Laguna’s schools.
Vickers emphasized that doing their best for the students depends on a high level of collaboration by board members that often requires research, compromising and reworking decisions to achieve continuous improvement. Board members backgrounds and passions may differ, “but what we cannot have are personal agendas,” she insisted.
Prior to the current four-year term, Landsiedel was appointed to the board in 2006 to replace Kay Turner, who died while in office. An attorney with a private practice, Landsiedel previously taught law and was assistant chief counsel to a large workers’ compensation insurer.
Landsiedel, whose two children attend school here, highlighted the district’s sound financial position, including its substantial reserves.
During his tenure, he noted that all four schools earned the designation as California Distinguished Schools and LBHS was named a National Blue Ribbon School, standardized test scores have gone up and more students are taking and passing honors and AP courses. He said the current board members work well together, put kids’ needs first and lack a special agenda.
Keenly aware of future potential budget constraints, Vickers and Landsiedel pointed out the importance of state ballot initiatives on school funding on the November ballot. If they don’t pass, major mid-year budget cuts will ensue, predicted Vickers. Landsiedel urges residents to approve the governer’s tax proposal in order to maintain high standards in schools.
Voters can get a better sense of all of the contenders at a school board candidate forum on Thursday, Oct. 11, at Top of the World Elementary School.