By Amy Orr, Special to the Independent
Laguna Beach schools will see significant changes this fall with Dr. Jason Allemann starting as the new principal at Laguna Beach High School, while another era may be ending at Top of the World Elementary School, with the suspension of a 34-year-old program.
The Board of Education approved both decisions Tuesday, June 6.
Allemann is currently the principal of Dana Hills High School, a school he also attended. He is scheduled to take the reins at LBHS on July 1 and earn an annual salary of $176,334, according to the board’s posted agenda, which lists several new hires and resignations.
Staffing concerns were a major factor in the board’s decision to place the Community Learning Center on hiatus next year. CLC has provided an alternate learning program for Laguna Beach students since 1983; however, recent developments caused the board to re-evaluate the program. In February, CLC teacher Melanie Whitenack resigned and teacher Kevin Nguyen also gave notice, effective June 22.
Superintendent Jason Viloria said no internal volunteers responded to the job posting and outside hires would add financial pressure, noting that the district is currently overstaffed due to declining enrollment.
While responding to Whitenack and Nguyen’s resignations, the board discovered gaps in CLC’s compliance with the California Education Code. For years, the program has not undergone annual evaluations, its class-size ratio is significantly lower than elsewhere in the district, and it has mandated parent participation.
During recent board meetings, parents and students who support CLC have spoken passionately about the value of the alternate school and pleaded for its preservation. “No one took this decision lightly,” said board president Jan Vickers.
After intense discussion and debate, board members decided it would be fiscally irresponsible to hire two new teachers at this time. The resolution to suspend CLC passed with a 4-1 vote.
Viloria said CLC students will be placed in classes at TOW and El Morro next year while further evaluations are made about the future of alternate education in LBUSD.
The mood was lighter when Viloria named Allemann as the new LBHS principal.
“I am excited and eager to work with and meet the staff, students, parents, and other members of the greater school community. Completely honored to be part of an innovative district with unparalleled support,” Allemann said by email prior to the meeting.
Allemann will replace Chris Herzfeld, who has held the position since October 2014.
During his tenure, Herzfeld noted student improvement in college and career readiness with increased AP class enrollment, higher ACT and CAASPP scores, expanded career and technical education opportunities, and the recognition of LBHS as a 2017 Gold Ribbon School. Herzfeld also expressed pride in the development of a student culture through programs such as Link Crew, House of Representatives, Breaker Nation, and the athletic leadership team.
Reflecting on his experience at LBHS, Herzfeld said, “I am proud that we worked collaboratively as a staff to develop a powerful new mission statement, and then have focused all of our energies in pursuit of the ideals expressed within.”
For the past six years, Allemann has helmed Dana Hills High School, a school with 2,716 students. He said he took an untraditional path to school leadership.
As part of a senior project at San Diego State, where he earned an undergraduate degree in psychology, Allemann worked at an after-school child-care facility in Mira Mesa. He said his experience with the teachers and children at the school opened his eyes and helped him realize the importance and rewards of teacher-student interaction and academic success.
He decided to use his psychology background and become a behavioral therapist in a non-public school setting where he also taught students with a variety of needs. He said he found it rewarding to work with the junior high and high school students there. His master’s in social work came from California State University Long Beach and his doctorate in educational leadership of urban schools was from the University of Southern California.
Transitioning into education, Allemann held a number of posts – from academic counselor to high school principal – in the 33,000-student Anaheim Union High School District. RateMy Teachers.com shows positive online reviews of Allemann’s tenure at Katella High. A 2012 comment said, “Great principal, helped my students a ton. He really cares about the students and is highly visible on campus.” Allemann’s cumulative score on the site was 4.75 out of 5 possible stars.
Having led medium sized schools in Anaheim, Allemann said he wanted to challenge himself and manage a larger school in a larger district. He was hired in 2011 by the 54,000-student Capistrano Unified School District as principal of Dana Hills High.
Allemann’s three children currently attend CUSD schools and he said they will continue their studies there, near the family’s Dana Point home. Next fall, his older daughter will be a sophomore at Dana Hills High and his twins will be eighth graders at Marco Forster Middle School.
Intrigued by Laguna’s four-school district and its one high school of 1,140 students, Allemann is looking forward to his time at LBHS. He says he is excited about the small school size and the town’s community spirit.
“I love the idea of local businesses and board members working together to support the schools and their efforts,” said Allemann. “It’s all about teamwork and relationships between board members, teachers, students and parents. Educating people is society’s most important work.”
Allemann said he knows his job won’t be easy and dissension will occur. “But with mutual respect,” he said, “we can work and accomplish things together.”