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Vision, Commitment for Reopening the Community Learning Center

By Ron Chilcote
By Ron Chilcote

I write as an initiator and proponent of the Community Learning Center (CLC) alternative school that since 1983 has brought distinction and community respect to the Laguna Beach Unified School District. In the face of community support it recently closed for lack of teachers willing to take on the challenge of a different learning experience.

For all of its humble beginnings in temporary facilities, the CLC was about to move into a new facility at Top of the World Elementary School. It was a highly successful and popular program that should carry on, and it is incumbent upon the superintendent and the school board to ensure that it continues well into the future.

I visited the school several times over the years, once with two Chinese academics. As we walked into the school early in the morning, the children broke into a song about peace and peoples getting along in the world. Immediately one of the children asked my friends to show them Chinese characters on the whiteboard, and within minutes all of us were looking at words and trying to communicate in the language. It was an astonishing encounter.

I recall the CLC initiative many years ago to plant an organic garden not only as a new learning experience but to awaken the community to organic practices and learning about nutritious food. It likely led to the current amazing gardens now tended by students at the school.

The CLC evolved through Dialogue on Schools, a group of concerned parents who over nine years met monthly, published a newsletter, and focused on ways to innovate and help improve Laguna schools. It grew to several hundred and leaned on me to carry its ideas to the school board. At my initial board meeting my vote assured a majority resolution to abolish smoking in the board meeting room, likely the first public smoking ban in California. At the second meeting, I conveyed a Dialogue insistence that corporal punishment be banned from the schools (principals at El Morro and Thurston had used paddles for discipline); nearly  100 parents spoke out against the practice, and while the board kept its policy intact corporal punishment was never used again. At a later meeting we adopted a community guide to the school budget and a participatory approach whereby each school proposed its budget based on the possibility of an increase or decrease in available funds; suddenly hundreds of parents and students became involved in an innovative process. At the high school, three teachers, Anita Dobbs, Dan Foster, and Etta (Mooser) Krackovic, established an alternative school and helped students find ways to enhance their education and go on to universities and productive careers.

Just before I left the board in 1983, fellow board members Jan Vickers and Carl Schwarz joined me in approving a plan to establish the CLC, originally envisaged as a K through 12 alternative school that would depend not only on teachers, aides, and parents but also involve older students in a learning process with the younger students. It actually began as K to 5, later 1 to 4 grades in an open classroom. Kathy Reynolds coordinated the program for many years and wrote a very popular and instructive book about it, “The School with Gentle Eyes.” It depicts not only her many years in directing the school, but an exceptional experience that all of us, especially past parents and students, should remember and use as inspiration to find new direction and reopen the CLC.

Reopening the school will require:

  • Our new superintendent investing his skills and enthusiasm in a search for a new vision that builds on past successes and offers interested parents and students an opportunity to formulate a new alternative program.
  • School board leadership that ensures adequate funding for recruiting (within or outside the school district) experienced and skilled teachers and aides, supplies, and equipment to meet the needs of a new school.
  • Teacher and staff support, encouragement, and ideas.

There are many like me who are willing to lend support. We call upon the school district to resurrect the CLC.

Ron Chilcote is a former member of the Laguna Beach School Board (1975 to 1983) and the founder of the Laguna Beach Educational Foundation (known as Schoolpower). He is professor emeritus of economics and political science of UC Riverside, and, as conservationist, a founder and director of the Laguna Wilderness Press.




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