Demerits Threaten CLC’s Future

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Longtime practices by the Community Learning Center at Top of the World Elementary School and recently scrutinized by school administrators prompted discussion of the possible closure of the 34-year-old alternative school during this week’s school board meeting.

CLC parents and students sell homemade wares to benefit a homeless organization at the farmers market in Laguna Beach last December. From left, parents Deborah Johansson, Nicole McMann, Laura Sauers and Gerri Machin with  Magnus Johansson, Hendricks McMann, Callum Murray and Max Sauers.
CLC parents and students sell homemade wares to benefit a homeless organization at the farmers market in Laguna Beach last December. From left, parents Deborah Johansson, Nicole McMann, Laura Sauers and Gerri Machin with Magnus Johansson, Hendricks McMann, Callum Murray and Max Sauers.

Recent resignations by CLC’s two teachers prompted a review of hiring practices and uncovered a dilemma for administrators as well as other irregularities in the program, according to a school district staff report.

A California Education Code section prohibits involuntarily teacher assignments, but no current district teachers applied for the CLC openings. To continue the alternative school, administrators would need to hire two extra teachers and board members seemed reluctant to endorse that approach.

CLC teacher Melanie Whitenack resigned in February and was replaced by Jennifer Sweet for the remainder of the year, said TOW office attendant Claudia Redfern. Kevin Nguyen also gave notice, effective June 22, district officials said.

The district’s internal research also turned up three other apparent education code violations.

CLC’s parent participation requirement violates state Education Code and the California Constitution, according to the agenda report. CLC also is out of compliance because records indicate required annual evaluations did not continue past the first few years of CLC’s start in 1983, the report says.

Lastly, school regulations require districts fund alternative programs at the same level of support as other programs for students of the same age level. Currently, CLC enrollment stands at 35 students. The agenda report says CLC’s student ratio “has created an inequity” compared to similar class size ratios in grades one through four elsewhere in the district.

CLC class size is capped at 20 students in each of its two combination classes of first and second grade students and third and fourth graders, district spokeswoman Leisa Winston said. Class size in the regular first through third grades is around 20 students, but average class size in fourth grade is about 25-26, she said.

As of May 2, 37 students are wait-listed for entry into the first-grade CLC class in the fall. Another 17 students have been accepted for enrollment in grades two through four, the report says.

Nine former and current parents whose children are enrolled in CLC voiced their opposition to the program’s closure, describing how their families benefitted from its unusual structure, where students remain with the same instructors for several years. Two other speakers questioned the relevancy of the current program.

Speaker Megan Hunt praised the program and said she valued its instructional concepts of mindfulness, thematic learning and emotional management.

Parent Sheri Morgan suggested board members should incorporate CLC concepts districtwide.

Board member Peggy Wolff said curriculum innovations adopted by CLC are now practices used by other educators. “Kudos to the parents that brought them up,” she said.

And board member Ketta Brown, while echoing the sentiment of speakers that valued the bond among CLC families, said she felt similar support throughout the TOW school community.

CLC was established in modular units on the Top of the World campus in 1983 as a result of a board task force. Its guiding principle was to offer every student the opportunity to learn in an environment structured to meet individual needs and learning styles. Teachers emphasized personal responsibility, respect, self-directed learning and making a socially conscious contribution to society.

Superintendent Jason Viloria said to sustain an alternative program requires interest by teachers and the school community. Viloria said the board will continue to explore options before closing the program.

In other business, Laguna Beach High School Athletic Director Lance Neal said a student survey showed interest in other sports, lacrosse, wrestling and sand volleyball. The board agreed to consider expanding the sports lineup in the future.

The board approved moving spring break to the second week in April.

And the board hired Dr. Michael Keller as director of social emotional support, effective July 1.

Keller is currently director of special education in the Los Alamitos Unified School District and has experience as both a school counselor and a nationally-certified school psychologist.

 

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