Lesser-Known Lessons Motivate School Candidates


By Rita Robinson | LB Indy

Two candidates for three seats on the Laguna Beach School District board have officially announced their intentions to run for election in November.

Dee Perry
Dee Perry

Dee Namba-Perry, who ran for the same post and lost two years ago, registered as a candidate with the Orange County Registrar’s office last week and Ketta Brown, running for her third four-year term, also filed for candidacy. The registrar requires incumbents file for the fall ballot by Aug. 18. School board incumbents Betsy Jenkins and Theresa O’Hare have yet to officially declare their intentions.

Perry, an elementary school and special education teacher as well as speech pathologist at all four Laguna Beach public schools for 35 years, said she has a unique understanding of the workings of the district.

“With my background of teaching in the district, living here and having kids in the district, I have a good perspective that would add value to the school board,” said Perry, who retired from teaching in 2010.

Her concern, she said, is about spending the property-tax dollars that provide 90 percent of the district’s revenue wisely. Other districts, she said, might be getting more for their money.

“Next door, in Irvine, they have 20 specialists in elementary science who come in and do hands-on science lessons and their budget for pupil spending is a lot less than ours,” she said. Perry wants to ensure that money spent is focused on assisting students, she added.

Ketta Brown
Ketta Brown

Brown feels she offers continuity and experience in a time when teaching and learning methods are being overhauled. The school district, she said, is under pressure to implement new state-mandated academic systems, including the Common Core State Standards, which require teachers and students to become more interactive on the computer in science, math and technical writing while stressing hands-on project collaboration.

“There’s so much new information, new programs coming down from the federal and state governments,” Brown said. “I realize now, having been on the board for eight years, that there’s a very steep learning curve involved. I think I can bring not a long history but at least a working knowledge of the stuff we’re trying to get implemented, how to do it and some of the pitfalls.”

The new standards, which are now being incorporated in public schools nationally, will become law in California by 2014. They are intended to make students more career ready and academically competitive with other countries, particularly Asian nations. Brown said the district won’t see the fruits of the new standards until the first kindergarteners graduate as seniors.

“It’s going to be a 13-year process,” she said. “We won’t see the full fruits of anything until I’m long gone so it’s key to implement everything we do with as much knowledge and forethought as possible.”

With the new standards, Perry said she wants to make sure teachers get enough training to feel competent in implementing the various aspects of the mandated requirements. The new testing requirements cost less than previous methods because it’s all done online, eliminating some printed materials such as testing booklets, supplements and instructions, she pointed out.

Perry said she’d also like more input from students about their educational needs. She feels this would engage students more in getting the education they want.

“Students have a good idea about what works for them and what doesn’t,” she said, adding that she’s read about other districts where students participate on interview committees for school principals. “We could value their opinion more instead of figuring out what we think is best for them,” she said.

Brown, like Perry, said she’s “fiscally miserly.” Brown worked professionally in bond underwriting and in managing assets for private financial companies.

Money needs to be spent with the long-run in mind and a return in value, Brown said. Experience has taught her that governing a school district considered small compared to others in the state remains an unwieldy bureaucracy because of overlapping requirements from federal, state and county authorities. “It’s everyone’s perception that, because we’re so small that we should be able to move like a steamboat rather than the Titanic, but what they don’t see that everything behind us is still the Titanic,” Brown said.

State rules affecting larger districts are overly cumbersome for a small district like Laguna Beach Unified. “For us to jump through the hoops is ridiculous, but we have to play by the same rules,” she said.

Perry said she’s had two years to think about how to run a campaign and feels more organized now with more help. A kick-off party was held at a friend’s house last Sunday and more meet-and-greets are being scheduled around town. “I’m throwing myself back in there again.”

“I was kinda in over my head. I didn’t have any political experience,” said Perry, who learned to accept help, monetary included, rather than trying to do it on her own.

Her other areas of interest are brain research and traveling. “There’s a lot of new brain research on how we learn,” she said, “and being able to use that to teach in the schools would help our students learn more effectively.”


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