By Rita Robinson | LB Indy
At the only official public forum prior to the Nov. 4 election, candidates running for the Laguna Beach Unified School District board voiced a wide spectrum of positions Wednesday at Top of the World Elementary.
Out of four candidates for three vacancies, voters can choose from two candidates who question “imposing” a new teaching curriculum called the Common Core State Standards or two candidates who embrace the new state-mandated computer-based program for keeping up with technology.
Since Laguna Beach is a Basic Aid school district, relying for most of its $46 million budget on local property taxes rather than enrollment-based state funding, challenger Annette Gibson proposed that LBUSD refuse adopting the statewide curriculum in part or total. She suggested that the district act independently, continuing its own curriculum. “Change for the better is how we put kids first,” she said.
The Common Core standards emphasize increasing the use of computerized technology, technical writing, new approaches to math and timed online test-taking.
Candidate Dee Perry, a retired teacher who ran unsuccessfully two years ago, said there is an over-emphasis on using computers while Gibson suggested that students continue to read printed books rather than reading from an electronic device. Gibson, who has three children in private schools, said she attended excellent public schools from kindergarten through college.
Ketta Brown, the only incumbent candidate, said Common Core will unify curriculum across the country, making it easier for students to adapt if families move from state to state. She also noted that the new standards were adopted after corporate leaders approached the state with complaints that students were not qualified for jobs compared to skills taught in Asian countries, such as China.
Brown conceded that the new standards will require more thinking from students and that thinking hurts. “It hurts right now,” she said to chuckles from the audience of an estimated 100 people. “I’m in grave pain.”
It’s a reckless idea to even think about doing anything other than Common Core, said first-time candidate Carol Normandin. Learning computer coding, she said, is “the foreign language that all countries speak.” She also pointed out that the state college and university systems require the new standards, adding that 40 percent of college entrants need to retake math taught in high school. “Don’t be afraid of Common Core,” she said.
Perry said she favored Common Core initially and now sees it as “taking out individuality.” She said Asian countries are now looking to the U.S. for direction on increasing ingenuity and individual creativity. Technology experts, Perry said, send their students to “no-tech” schools where they learn patterns doing things like knitting, not on the computer.
Perry and Gibson both questioned the district’s annual per student spending of $14,000, compared to $7,500 in Irvine and $10,000 in Newport, both cities whose schools achieve top-rankings. Both candidates also questioned the need for high administrative salaries and expensive consultants. Gibson noted that the district is spending $37,000 for a nine-day Common Core teacher-training program by Charlotte Knox, who is teaching several other trainings. Perry said more money needs to be spent on expanding learning experiences with guest specialty teachers and on the campus environment. She also suggested that teachers partner up to learn new approaches rather than being subject to surveys conducted by random visits from the school’s principal.
Normandin, who often read from notes she prepared from presumed questions, said teachers are now being encouraged to mentor each other and that the new high school principal, Chris Herzfeld, will strengthen that practice. She and Brown agreed that the district is effectively using its money.
Surprisingly, all candidates agreed that starting high school later, preferably 9 a.m., would benefit students as well as parents dealing with sleep-deprived teenagers due to changing circadian rhythms. Getting the CIF to change practice and game schedules would be the stumbling block, they noted.
Perry and Gibson also favored more community involvement, more transparency and live-streaming of district board meetings. “If I’m elected, the silence will end,” said Gibson.
The forum was sponsored by the Laguna Beach PTA Council and the Orange County League of Women Voters.