By Lauren Korduner, Special to the Independent
Last week’s school board meeting made one thing abundantly clear. Laguna Beach parents are passionate about their children’s education.
Social consciousness, emotional intelligence and hands-on learning experiences were just some of the qualities that made the Community Learning Center at Top of the World Elementary unique, speakers said.
But the desire for “alternative education” must truly come from the community, including the teachers who deliver the lessons.
“That’s the piece that we’re lacking,” said District Superintendent Jason Viloria during the May 9 meeting.
Since the resignation of CLC teacher Melanie Whitenack in February and Kevin Nguyen’s subsequent resignation, effective June 22, no existing LBUSD teachers have stepped forward to permanently replace them. State code prohibits involuntary teacher assignments.
During the meeting, California Teachers Association representative Jim Rogers called this fact “troubling.”
Perhaps teachers have not come forward to volunteer for CLC positions because they see the driving force behind the program as obsolete—many of the innovations in teaching methods and approaches to learning have, in recent years, become mainstream.
“Education caught up with you,” said board member Peggy Wolff, addressing CLC’s first class of students and teachers directly.
“I can say with confidence that our teachers in this district adapt to change, innovate, collaborate—and they’re doing that with our students in every classroom,” Wolff said.
For her part, parent Shannon Huhn is hopeful for the future of CLC.
“Our school district is filled with experienced teachers who are passionate about bringing innovative ideas to Laguna Beach students. CLC started with teachers just like that, who combined their experience as members of the community with their experience as teachers to create a unique program,” Huhn said.
She hopes LBUSD teachers will seize upon the opportunity to create fresh, new programming should the board decide to continue CLC.
Violations of the California Education Code cited in a school board agenda only further the case for the storied learning center’s closure.
CLC’s small classroom size has created an inequity within the district, Viloria said. Also, “alternative schools” are required to submit annual evaluations. District researchers turned up no evidence of evaluations in recent years.
Viloria called the volunteer hours CLC parents are required to perform “a violation of the Education Code and the California Constitution.”
CLC parents may bristle at the last accusation. Some have preferred instead to call the six volunteer hours per student enrolled a “request.” But the CLC website states plainly, “Parental involvement in the classroom is a requirement.”
Regardless, district-wide declining enrollment puts the school board between a rock and a hard place, with respect to the program’s continuance.
Should the board decide to hire new teachers for CLC, specifically, and then face a situation in which layoffs were necessary, these new hires would be the first to go. Board member Ketta Brown said she would be opposed to hiring new teachers for CLC for exactly this reason.
“Our primary charge is fiscal responsibility,” Brown said. Whatever decision the board ultimately makes, she said, it is not one they make lightly.
An estimated $250,000 to $280,000 is spent on CLC during a given school year.
“These funds should be used for all students,” said Rogers, the union representative. “I hope that you can find a way to transition from CLC by using what’s best from CLC for use in the overall district.”
The school board charged Viloria with coming up with “options” for the next meeting. These included a combination class of grades 1 and 2 and possibly a mixed grade combination class of grades 1 through 4.
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