Schools Reopen with New Staff, New Classes


A record number of new teachers opened their doors to 3,037 students enrolled in four Laguna Beach Unified District schools this week.

Since July 1, the district has hired 43 new regular employees, a record at least in recent history for the district, according to Leisa Winston, director of human resources and public communications. Student enrollment decreased slightly to 3,037 this year from 3,056 students last year, she said.

“While our overall student enrollment numbers have not increased, there are particular grade levels across the district that required additional staff,” said Winston.  “For example, the large eighth-grade class that was at Thurston last year has now moved on to LBHS, which required additional staffing for the high school.”

Student enrollment at the high school is up to 1,140 students this year from 1,030 last year, confirmed high school principal Chris Herzfeld. Seven new credentialed staff, including five teachers, a receptionist and an athletic director, have been hired this year, compared to three credentialed employees hired last year, he said. Five retirements, two resignations and more students contributed to the number of new hires, he said.

Coach Ted Clarke advises QB Jack Simon on the sidelines.
Coach Ted Clarke advises QB Jack Simon on the sidelines.

The high school hired a new athletic director and head football coach, Ted Clarke, to replace retiring athletic director Mike Churchill and head football coach Corey Brown, said Herzfeld. Clarke was the varsity football coach at Ganesha High School in Pomona and San Dimas High School prior to being hired in Laguna.

The high school also has a new guidance, college and career counselor, Jeanne Brown, who replaces Dawn Hunnicutt. Hunnicutt was hired as a full-time high school English teacher.

Two new biology teachers, Jennifer You and Alexandra Holtz, join the high school staff in biology-chemistry and life science-marine biology, respectively. David Yang was hired to teach math, specializing in conceptualizing math principals and formulas to meet new state academic standards, according to Herzfeld. Yang previously taught advanced math and coached girls’ basketball at Garden Grove High School.

Declining enrollment at Laguna Hills High School prompted Patrick Pollock to apply at LBHS, according to Herzfeld. Pollock was hired to teach social studies. Pollock managed a small high-tech firm prior to teaching and coached boys’ varsity basketball at Laguna Hills.

Alexis Karol is the high school’s new drama teacher, replacing retired Mark

Alexia Karol
Alexia Karol

Dressler, who pioneered the program at the high school. Karol will also teach a new class, screenwriting and directing. She taught theater and English at Bolsa Grande High School, guest-directed at the Academy for the Performing Arts in the Huntington Beach and produced plays at the Orange County School of the Arts, Herzfeld said.

Dressler held two teaching contracts at the district and taught more than full-time with classes at the high school and Thurston Middle School. Thurston drama classes this year will be taught by a new teacher, Christina Wiggins.

Special education teacher Julie Yaccino was promoted to the high school this year. Her position adds another teacher to the existing staff of four full-time special education teachers to accommodate 85 special ed students, an increase of 25 this year, said Herzfeld.

Thurston also hired seven new certificated employees this school year, said Winston. Top of the World Elementary has six new classroom teachers, four replacing outgoing teachers and two due to increased enrollment, said principal Mike Conlon. The new teachers were added to maintain the school board’s mandate to keep class sizes down, he said.

Coding, a code word for computer programming, offers a new game plan for students at Thurston and the high school. From games to financial transactions, coding drives everything on the web, said Mike Morrison, the district’s technology director.

The class is the next level for coding clubs already going strong at both El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools, said Morrison. “I have developed a new curriculum based on several college intro programming and computer science courses,” said high school ROP teacher Kari Nies, who also works at UC Irvine as a software researcher.

The Thurston program asks children to solve problems in the form of puzzles or a maze using animation, like a bouncing ball or a friendly character, said math teacher Stacy Quirarte, who is teaching the Thurston class. Students will also create games with sound and music, program a lunar landing and even write their own programs, she said.

The high school offers an after-school coding class under its Regional Occupational Program. The elementary clubs follow teaching programs on the CODE website and the middle school and high school use Python programming language, said Morrison.

In the intermediate programs at the high school, students save information in a database and need to know how to retrieve it, said Morrison. The coding industry is growing and will offer future employment opportunities, he added. The technology requires math and analytical skills.   A good “coder,” he said can take a generalized concept and break it down into a glitch-free professional computer program.

Air conditioning, and just in time, is the biggest change at El Morro Elementary School, said principal Chris Duddy. And new carpets helped, too, he said. “Our four oldest buildings all received new carpets,” he said.  “The classrooms look great.”


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