Local Currents: Play Like a Champion


“Nobody and I mean nobody comes into our house and pushes us around. Play like a champion!” –Skipper quoting Knute Rockne at the 2013 Laguna Beach High School graduation ceremony.


col local currents David Vanderveen by Gabe Sullivan-2968High school graduation is a time of high expectations. Last Thursday I sat with many other families and proudly watched my son and his fellow class walk the Irvine Bowl stage and enter adulthood.

I had mixed feelings that I wished I didn’t as I watched our talented kids leave the nest–part of which is managed by a superintendent and school board that are failing to deliver minimum ethical standards and transparency for our schools.

At a time where many graduates are making plans to head out into the world, they will quickly find out how prepared they are for life outside our beach bubble. The next phase of life, whether it is work or education or both, will up the ante in terms of the contributions that are required; the world demands significantly more value from students as they leave home and high school.

The first speaker at the graduation was Skipper Carrillo, famous for his support of the high school baseball team with his catch phrase, “Have a homerun day!” He quoted Notre Dame’s famous football player and coach, Knute Rockne, about defending your home and putting your best effort into life.

Skipper inspires us because of the limitations he has overcome personally to give our town so much positive energy. He invests his love, time and talents into our schools and kids on the purest level; solely for the joy it provides everyone who meets him.

After the graduation ceremony, I bumped into school board member, Jan Vickers who greeted me with a smile and asked how I liked the event. I told her it was well done, and I meant it. Graduation was heartfelt, inclusive, well-orchestrated and a great send off for the next generation of Laguna’s ambassadors headed into the world.

But Skipper’s quote hit home on another level this week as well, and unfortunately, it is less positive.

Our school board needs to get more directly involved in district oversight and management. After a long and tedious process of working to get more direct community communication and engagement, the system used to record board meetings and post those meetings to the public “failed to work” on the same night that Supt. Sherine Smith proposed significant pay increases and unusual staff hiring to support what must be considered inside friends from the troubled San Juan Capistrano school district where she worked previously.

When the school board was challenged by Laguna residents to reschedule and record proceedings for public review, Smith’s response via email on behalf of the school board was, “As announced at the beginning of the Board Meeting, our recording equipment malfunctioned, so there is no recording. As you may know, there is no requirement for recording meetings.”

I’m curious how one announces that recordings are not happening to people who cannot hear them.

The board and Smith promised transparency and publicly available recordings earlier this year following highly questionable and hotly debated proceedings. It is a minimum requirement for basic community communication. It is unethical to allow controversial review and voting during recording malfunctions, intended or not.

There has been on-going controversy both with the level of work performed, the pay scales and the cozy hiring practices that are happening in the district’s administrative offices. With the appearance of cronyism in Smith’s hiring practices, transparency should be a top priority for basic ethical concerns as well as real liability.

The example we must set for this graduating class and future students on the school board and in district administrators is how and why public school employees should behave. Conflicted, insider hiring of past friends and colleagues needs independent and competitive review. This is not happening now.

Our school board and superintendent are failing Public Ethics 101.

This is our house. We should not allow ourselves to be pushed around. Transparency is a right. If we want our kids to play like champions, we need to set a better example.


David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].

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