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Board of Education leadership and college admissions scandal

We have lived in Laguna Beach for 21 years, and raised three children who attended our local public school system.

I confess that now that our children are grown, and that our national and international world consumes much of our attention, I am not following local politics as finely as I might. But, this disengagement with the minutiae of the local issues gives me perspective, and this is what I am seeing from 30,000 feet.

Our community has the dubious distinction of having four residents indicted in the Singer/college admissions scam. That’s four out of 33 parents across the whole country, in our little town of just under 25,000! I can’t say I am surprised. I participated in the Coffee Break parent education arm of the PTA for many years. Coffee Break (now Coffee Talk) often hosted experts on how to navigate the entire college selection process, how to enhance your child’s success, etc. and the room was always at capacity for such talks. Naturally, our own family actually went through the college admissions process for all of our children. I personally felt the intense pressures and near-hysteria engendered in the process. I watched as other parents founded charities for their children to run. I watched as the bumper stickers like “Proud (prestigious college) Mom” became fashionable. It all felt weird, skewed away from the children themselves and targeted more toward the cachet of the “designer” brand college and how it would reflect on the parents. But at the same time I felt the fear that if I didn’t pursue the private college counselor, or the extra exam prep, I would somehow be disadvantaging my kids in the heavy competition around the college admissions process.

I want to emphasize that for those parents who really went all-in for the joy and pride in their children’s accomplishments, I do understand. And I heartily respect the paths these children are pursuing, most especially when genuinely from the kid.

Perhaps unrelated, but certainly troubling to see, is the abrupt change in our local Board of Education by-laws to bar a duly-elected Board member to serve as president. I don’t understand the backstory on this, but read in Stu News this quote from Board member Carol Normandin to fellow Board member Dee Perry: “If you want to be president, you have to know how to conduct a meeting…You don’t know how to conduct a meeting. You caused this ruckus.” The tone struck me as both mean and condescending. And that led to the immediate four-to-one vote dumping the by-laws, clearing the way for another member to serve a third-term as president.

So, how are these two individual news items related beyond their obvious education focus? I am not sure. But I feel some light needs to shine in our little town on its own system of values behind education. Our Board of Education needs to behave with civility and respect to its duly-elected members. There should be more transparency on solid issues which are so very divisive as to require the elimination of traditional by-laws. As to the college admissions hysteria? Somewhere all the fear parents feel is motivating less-than-entirely ethical behavior, if not always illegal. It begs the questions: to what ends? And, what are we teaching our kids? 

Kate Rogers

Laguna Beach


How we got our daughter into Stanford

Here’s a hint: She did it on her own.

My wife and I were too busy with her little sisters, volunteering at school, doing for little ones what we’d done for her. She somehow transitioned smoothly to self-reliance, without needing to compete for attention.

I’d take credit for academic achievement, but in truth I was blindsided she was middle school valedictorian. Always asked to help with homework, too nice to tell me she’d passed my math and science skill level!

Living on Bolling AFB in Washington, she was competitive on the swim team, school and club soccer, but really stepped up earning stroke position on her crew team. 

Recruited by the elite Loomis-Chaffe Institute prep school founded by my ancestors in Windsor, Connecticut, I thought she should go. She chose to stay home with her family and friends, and go to D.C. public high school.

College was still over the horizon for me when she suddenly proposed options and budget for SAT prep courses she researched! Next thing I knew Michigan alumni wanted to fly her up to Ann Arbor for a game, military academies recruiters were at war over her, her counselor thought Yale was realistic, and she chose Stanford.

I knew enough to realize disappointment risk, so I got books on universities better than the Ivy League. She humored me, and applied only to Stanford. Her application essay was about her mom, and a box to add more about herself was blank – something l’d never do, so I asked why. “Dad, need to stand out, pretty darn sure I’ll be only applicant leaving that box empty.”

She got in, spent four great years at an amazing university, but what does she value most? Lifelong friends from all over the country and world, who she sees for reunions at least once every year.

If I did anything right it was never going to happy hour with co-workers. As a young Navy lawyer working long hours on White House staff, if I wasn’t on duty I was with family. Lots of invites to coveted “career opportunities” after hours, but if I couldn’t bring my wife and kids I didn’t go.

I never missed kids’ weekend sports, loved sitting on the bed telling my own children’s stories, repeated by popular demand for friends on sleepovers. Bedtime reading included “Treasure Island” and “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” until I became one more dad replaced by “Diary of Anne Frank.” We still fast forward the “When Somebody Loved Me” scenes in “Toy Story 2” about girls growing up, they know I can’t get through it.

If we helped her it was constant big extended family dinners with teachers, diplomat families from around the world. Thanksgiving once included a nun from Belgium, international lawyer from New Zealand, a Senator from Palau. Then there were D.C. to Laguna Beach road trips, long vacations back home.

Years later she toasted us, “I grew up in a home where I always knew I was loved for who I was and supported in success or failure. That gave me confidence to compete in sports and academics, have a really fun social life, but make more good choices than bad. When I made bad choices and needed help I could be honest with my parents.”

What we learned from her is that wherever you go to school, what matters is feeling a valued member of a learning community. I thought about that when I spoke at Thurston Middle School on career day, because I saw kids under pressure asking about college already. So instead of what students and parents hear at college orientation, I talked about hundreds of small schools where they could get as good an education for less and have more fun.

I told them how proud we were of our son who joined the Marines out of high school, and after serving his country honorably for four years, attended and graduated at a state university in Maryland. Only then did I mention we were also proud of our daughter who went to Stanford.

Our youngest daughter had four wonderful years at LBHS, then after Saddleback finished at Azusa Pacific. We were able to be a part of her life with her roommates who became part of our family. Those were some of the best years of our lives.

Parents in our town and around the nation too often think achievement by children in school defines achievement of parents in life, and use wealth to purchase influence to engineer education “success.” Not just infamous education scandals, but unfair advantage taken in pervasive petty corruption.

Sadly, that delegitimizes instead of valuing a child’s unique gifts, and stigmatizes children in their own hearts and minds for life. All I can say is, there but for the grace of God go those parents who don’t fall into that trap and take their children low with them, whether they get caught or not.

 Howard Hills

Laguna Beach


Reflections on the news

Walls – China has its Great Wall, Romans had their Hadrian’s Wall, Russia had its Berlin Wall, Israel has its Western Wall, so I guess it is only natural that Trump wants a wall – perhaps he could build one around Mara Lago to protect himself?

Some Laguna Beach parents rented service animals just prior to their children taking some finals to comfort them. Perhaps we can collect money and hire some comfort animals for the many children that are in “cages” because of their status as illegal immigrants?

I wonder what that person who picked up their dog’s poop, put it in a bag, tied and knot, and then tied the bag to a low branch on a pine tree in Moulton Park was thinking. I was able to reach up and bring it down. What other things are people thinking of doing to be cute or…?

I wonder how many more educational meetings are being assembled by Village Laguna and the Beautification Council so that we understand their mission and vote for their friends/candidates when they try again to take control of City Council and City Hall – the same control that they had during the late ‘80s and ‘90s? Please note that the information they collect from those attending will most likely be used to garner support for their campaign in 2020. 

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach


Dianne Russell’s “Death By Green” article

I loved this article and was excited to see St. Helena Island mentioned (even if it was in context of arsenic poisoning!). There were many accusations that the British were trying to poison Napoleon during his exile. In fact, after his death, books and articles were written claiming all kinds of appalling abuse. At least we know that it wasn’t intentional arsenic poisoning – the green was the fashion of the time!

My mother was from St. Helena, and the island is a beautiful gem in the middle of a vast ocean. Very remote, and until recently, only accessible by a 5-day boat journey from Cape Town. (There is now a small airport with a once-weekly flight from South Africa).

Thanks again for piquing my interest!

Suzi White

Laguna Beach


School Board’s Culture of Silence

The LBUSD School Board meeting March 12 was described to me by some present or online as “a new low,” “sour faces, poison tongues,” and “a mean girls soap opera,” which prompted a retort, “No, it was like those blended sequels, but this was Big Little Lies and Bad Moms Meet Mean Girls.”

But the most accurate description I heard was, “We just witnessed the selective silencing of an elected School Board member…so people who elected Dee Perry will not be heard equally…”

The community seems to like rotation of officers, so the Board first tried to keep the rule and just deny the benefits to Perry. The Board seemingly thought she would suffer in silence.

But she refused to be silenced without speaking up, and that stressed the culture of the Board.

One Board member asked seemingly middle school student council level questions about Board meeting procedures, directed to Legal Counsel brought in at taxpayer expense to defend the Board’s actions.

The lawyer did his best to treat the questions as adult level discussion, but in the end referred her to Robert’s Rules of Order rather than Board rules and legal issues the lawyer was being paid to explain.

Then the same Board member’s spouse complained that I was repeating myself and making his wife late to come home! Then he questioned my right to address legal issues because I am a lawyer in Washington DC and not in California.

Does California really need more lawyers? Was I there as a lawyer, and if so who was my client? Or was I citizen volunteer just like his wife?

If not illiterate about civics he would know I was using my three minutes on multiple agenda items to prevent the Board majority from silencing me, and each time I spoke augmented the official record with new and different facts about Board actions. 

That was called creating a record for future political and legal purposes, so stay tuned.

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach


Disappointed in City Council for not hiring a historic preservation planner

It was disappointing to read that the majority of the City Council is not in favor of hiring a historic preservation planner, which has been supported both by the Task Force and the Heritage Committee. Many of the complaints heard before the City Council concerning historic preservation could have been mitigated by a more knowledgeable person at the counter in City Hall. The Heritage Committee does not see these applications.

I commend Toni Iseman for recognizing the resident serving aspect of this position. Having a knowledgeable person explain both the benefits and the responsibilities of owning an historic structure would make it possible for the applicant to make an informed decision. Ideally this position should be filled by someone with experience with historic preservation in other municipalities and also qualified to do historic assessments. Handing a resident with an historic structure a list of resources just doesn’t cut it.

One of the reasons people come to Laguna Beach is that we are not like our neighboring communities. Part of this is the historic nature of our downtown and our neighborhoods. Hiring someone experienced with historic preservation can help preserve one of our greatest assets, while giving residents the information they need to make informed decisions about their properties.

Anne Frank

Laguna Beach


Having a fenced yard should not be a requirement for adopting a local pup in need

I visited a local animal shelter for the sixth time in one week, trying to adopt a dog with my son. Sadly, we were unsuccessful, despite our best intentions to adopt. We were told that because we didn’t have a fenced yard, we were not qualified to adopt.

My 9-year-old son and I were disappointed that we were not considered “qualified candidates” to provide a loving home for a local dog in need. Our rescue dog of 13 years, who was blind, recently passed away, and we were looking to provide a forever home for a local pup in need.

As to the specific policy referenced, I don’t think under any circumstances in Laguna Beach it would be safe for a dog to be left unattended in a “fenced in backyard” …coyote bait? So, who is to say that a fenced yard is “preferred” to three times a day romping around the greenbelt on the other end of a loving leash?

It was also made clear that the shelter did not like the idea that I would be “crating” the dog at night. I have had a dog in the family since I was a young child, and I can tell you from our experience, the very best way to make a dog feel safe and loved is to create a “safe bedtime experience” that may include a crate. 

Every dog I have ever owned has been trained to “go to bed” in his crate...In my, and many other’s opinion, it’s perfectly acceptable as a loving place for the dog to sleep.

My son and I have found our forever pup, and she is happy to be a safe “inside dog,” that will always be accompanied outside, on a leash, with love. 

Caroldean Ross

Laguna Beach


School Board represents community not education bureaucracy

We were hoping for some original thinking and new ideas from our newest School Board member, James Kelly, but my wife and I were disappointed by “Positive Outcomes” (March 4, Stu News).

Instead of enlarging the community/school’s narrative he’s seemingly fallen lockstep with the same old shrill chorus trying to silence open and fair discussion that addresses both strengths and weaknesses, positives and negatives, in School Board governance practices.

Those of us who went to school here, whose children and grandchildren attend local schools, don’t need to be told our public education system is excellent. We’re tired of apologists for the Board hiding behind the success of teachers, students, and parents while pontificating against those who know the Board can do even better for students.

We put students first by advocating more competent oversight representing our town’s diversity. The Board should not practice denial about serious District policy and program failures.

Mr. Kelly insists he’s seen nothing but civility, good morale. He needs to take off his apparent education bureaucracy blinders and spend enough time in Laguna to know a lot of parents with kids in school won’t even come to Board meetings or speak in public about school experiences for fear of retaliation.

Unfortunately, there’s more. Kelly was less than candid claiming “I was not sworn in as a board member until January and therefore did not attend the organizing meeting at which the board president was chosen.

He did not need to defend himself, but when he chose to it was wrong to use “therefore” to reverse actual cause and effect of his absence. His inauspicious choice of words seemingly mean he was precluded from attending December’s organizing meeting and voting on election of the President because he was not sworn in.

An accurate statement would candidly inform the public he didn’t attend the December meeting where he would have been sworn in and voted on election of the President, and “therefore” wasn’t sworn in until attending his first meeting in January.  

Not trust-engendering and a bad example for students expected not to make excuses for skipping class, to me. Claiming prior business commitment with more than a month of notice about an official meeting also reflects unwillingness to adjust priorities to meet responsibilities he asked to be entrusted to him, I believe.

Since he was a no-show for the election of presiding officers, his vote on the repeal of the equal Board member participation rule, broken for purposes of exclusion rather than inclusion it seems, will show Kelly’s true colors.

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach


Obituary

Dr. Paul Prewitt 

Obituary Paul family

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

Dr. Paul Prewitt and his family

Dr. Paul Prewitt passed away on February 26, 2019, at the age of 73, due to complications from Parkinson’s Disease. Paul was in the loving presence of his immediate family at the time. Paul was born in New York to Millard and Hortense Prewitt, where he spent his childhood as the youngest of four children. 

Paul was a loving son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, doctor, veteran, and the kindest and most ethical of human beings, who will always be remembered and never forgotten. 

Dr. Prewitt received his Bachelor’s Degree from Yale University, prior to completing his Medical Doctorate at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York. Dr. Prewitt served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, where he was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California. After his military service, Dr. Prewitt maintained a successful private medical practice in internal medicine at South Coast Medical Center (Mission Hospital) for over 33 years, where he served as Chief of Staff and was greatly respected by his colleagues and patients alike.

Paul met the love of his life during college on a blind date. Paul and Lucinda (Cindy) were married in 1967 and had two children. Paul enjoyed many passions including traveling the world, taking photographs and entering photo contests. Most important to him was the quality time spent with family and loved ones. During the last several years, Paul negated the obstacles of his disease with the loving experiences he frequently shared with his grandchildren and family. 

Paul was predeceased by his father, mother, and brother Eric. He is survived by his wife Cindy of 51 years, his daughter Jenn, his son Sean and wife Thanya and three grandchildren, in addition to his oldest brother Richard and sister Anne. 

A private memorial will be held at sea for his immediate family on March 26, 2019, followed by a celebration of life from 5 to 7 p.m.  Please contact the family for more information. 

Being mindful of his dedication to medicine and helping others, the family requests any donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation (www.michaeljfox.org) for the fight against Parkinson’s in lieu of any flowers.


Laguna Beach Lifeguard Tryouts 2019

 Saturday morning at approximately 9 a.m., close to 30 young men and women charged into the Pacific Ocean (57-degree water temperature) to begin the first challenge to become a Laguna Beach Lifeguard candidate. Without any body protection of any kind they are instructed to swim out to an offshore buoy, round it and turn south towards another buoy located some 600 meters away, then make the return trip through wind ripping, raging storm surf to complete the 1,500 meter swim (without fins) in under 20 minutes to qualify for the next two sprint trials. Those participants that cannot complete this endurance swim or complete it under the 20-minute deadline are disqualified from this year’s class of candidates.

These tryouts have always been held in the winter months during the coldest conditions. In my opinion, these are not tryouts…this is abusive hazing from a sports club that has continued without any consciousness for 50 years. There is absolutely no reason to hold the tryouts in the dead of winter conditions, or to require the participants to have no protection from the severe cold burn on their bodies let alone the possible bacteria contamination from the direct contact of the polluted waters from the storms. In my opinion, this isn’t a test for the participants…it is a jealous moniker for the guards-past who had to endure such physical abuse. The time for this right-of-passage needs to stop now. I believe this is untainted human cruelty disguised as a civic honor.

This year, many witnessed a young woman, pushed to her limits, collapse while still in the water nearing the shoreline, and if not for the quick reaction of a veteran lifeguard present (in full wetsuit and fins), I believe we might have witnessed our first death in these trials. You heard me right. Emergency services were called to respond (paramedics and the Fire Department) and although the young woman recovered consciousness, her ordeal was orchestrated by the Laguna Beach Lifeguard Department.

What will it take before the City Manager, City Council, and Lifeguard Chief wake up to the reality that their actions may bring a lawsuit to the City and the dishonorable firing of the Chief for what many believe is this continued cruelty? Exposing a talent of swimmers to hyperthermia and the damage it brings oneself is not badge of honor. Stop this practice of insanity now.

John Slowsky

Laguna Beach Lifeguard 1968-1973

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