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Laguna Beach Unified School District hosts annual Welcome Back Breakfast

For more than 20 years, Laguna Beach Unified School District has welcomed back teachers and staff with its annual Welcome Back Breakfast. The event gives teachers and staff an opportunity to focus on interpersonal relationships with colleagues before students return for the school year. 

Laguna Beach Ashton

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Time to reconnect with colleagues, Cpl. Cornelius Ashton in the background

LBUSD has been ranked #1 in Best School Districts in Orange County by data compiler Niche, which looked at school districts across the country leading into the 2019-2020 school year. Niche looked at data from the U.S. Department of Edudcation as well as test scores, college data, and ratings collected from Niche users.

At the 2019-20 Welcome Back Breakfast, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jason Viloria spoke about the district focus of every student, every day; continuous improvement; and relationships matter. 

Laguna Beach Viloria

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Dr. Jason Viloria speaks about the district focus of every student, every day

“I think we can all agree that our work is not easy and it will never be easy but there’s a reason we all keep coming back,” said Dr. Viloria. “We come back because we know the feeling of making a difference in the lives of our students. We discover their needs and support them so that they can excel, we challenge them and help them reach their potential. I know we will have a great year and I thank you in advance for your hard work and dedication to our students,” he concluded. 

The breakfast also included the introduction of new staff members, recognition of years of service, special recognition of employees of the year, and the presentation of the Spirit of LBUSD Award.


43rd VIC Skimboarding World Championship

43rd VIC red shirt

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Photo by Katie Arnold

The 43rd VIC Skimboarding World Championship was held over the weekend, August 17 and 18, at Aliso Creek. Winners included – Pro Women (3rd-4th): Chabe Blanco; Pro Women: Amber Torrealba; AM Women: Emily Redefer; Pro Men (3rd-4th): Austin Keen; and Pro Men: Lucas Fink.

43rd VIC sideways

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Photo by Katie Arnold

More winners – 40+: Dan Stafford; 30-39: Brett Mahon; 25-29: Frank Dondzik; 22-24: Matthew Hammond; 18-21: Russell Sullivan; 15-17: Zack Henderson, 12-14; Jude Young, 9-11: Dia Prietto; and 8 and under: Kaleo Prietto.

43rd VIC on wave

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Photo by Katie Arnold

Skimboarding is like surfing and nothing like surfing. It uses a smaller shaped board with no fins and allows the rider to glide across the shore break of a crashing wave. The sport was invented by Laguna Beach lifeguards in the 1920s using planks of wood to travel down the shore between coves.

43rd VIC orange trunks

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Photo by Katie Arnold

Now recognized as an international sport, skimboarding increases in popularity all around the world. Victoria Skimboards, the first to manufacture skimboards, hosts the longest running skimboarding championship in the world, held in Laguna Beach.


LBUSD Board of Education reaches consensus to reconvene live streaming of its meetings

At its August 13 meeting, the LBUSD Board of Education received an update on the audiovisual equipment that would need to be replaced in the boardroom to effectively live stream and record the board’s meetings. The information item included a discussion on requirements for ADA compliance.

At the meeting, the board reached consensus to reconvene live streaming of the school board meetings and provided direction to staff to bring action items for the purchasing of equipment to the August 27 board meeting. Staff is continuing to explore options for Closed Captioning (CC) services and will bring an item to the board for approval at an upcoming school board meeting.

Live streaming of school board meetings with resume when equipment is replaced and all necessary requirements for ADA compliance have been met, the date to be determined. In the interim, meetings will continue to be recorded and posted to the district website at www.lbsud.org within 24 hours.

Also at the meeting, a motion to retain The Aspen Group for training and implementation of its proposed Coherent Governance Project was voted down 4-0-1 with Member James Kelly abstaining.

To listen to/watch the meeting, click here.


Live streaming of school board meetings on tonight’s agenda

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education will discuss live streaming of its board meetings, discontinued in May due to ADA compliance concerns, at tonight’s regular board meeting.

Live streaming is on the agenda for discussion as an information item. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and information items are heard early. 

“Cost information and any data about the systems we can use will be [presented],” stated Board President Jan Vickers in an email. 

“There is interest to continue to provide the community with live streaming of the meetings and we hope the cost estimates will allow us to continue.”

Members of the public vehemently disagreed with the discontinuation of live streaming in May, and made their opinions known during subsequent meetings. 

Viloria stated in an email on Thursday to Stu News that the current system does not capture the audio as well as it should, citing the December board meeting at which the recording equipment failed. 

The failure meant that answers to questions about some board decisions made at the meeting were unavailable to residents who disagreed with actions stemming from the meeting.

Viloria said the current system has had to be rebooted several times during meetings.

“So we are proposing to upgrade it and move the old video/audio equipment to the theater,” stated Viloria. 

The cost for meeting ADA compliance was previously estimated at $16,000 by the district but Viloria stated additional one-time costs for upgrades to the system will run another $40-$50k.

“Once we get direction, we can bring back an action item at the next meeting so we can get it all installed and working,” said Viloria.


Laguna Beach Unified School District rated No. 1 in Orange County by Niche

Laguna Beach Unified School District has been ranked number one in “Best School Districts in Orange County” by data compiler Niche, which looked at school districts across the country leading into the 2019-2020 school year. 

To arrive at the rankings, Niche performed a rigorous analysis of academic and student life data from the U.S. Department of Education as well as test scores, college data, and ratings collected from millions of Niche users. Rated second on the list was Irvine Unified School District.

It is an honor well deserved by all who work hard to provide great educational opportunities for all students attending school in LBUSD. Our board members are proud of the concentrated efforts that for a number of years have focused on every student every day, relationships so that every student feels connected to school, college and career exploration and preparation, and many more too numerous to list,” stated LBUSD Board of Education President Jan Vickers.

Laguna Beach High School

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Congrats to LBUSD for its No. 1 ranking by Niche for “Best School District in OC”

“Our administrators have focused on hiring dedicated, exceptional staff and providing staff, both certificated and classified, with meaningful professional development ensuring our students broad learning opportunities and enriching activities. Our staff challenge and push themselves to challenge and push their students to discover and reach their potential.

“LBUSD has remarkable students that families entrust to public education knowing those students will grow and learn with academic and social-emotional support. [Being rated No. 1] validates the success of LBUSD as we keep the focus on each student and meeting those needs.”

Each school district received a letter grade in the following categories: Academics, Diversity, Teachers, College Prep, Clubs & Activities, Health & Safety, Administration, Sports, Food, and Resources & Facilities. LBUSD received an A+ overall rating. 

LBUSD currently serves 2,855 students in grades K-12 and has an average student-teacher ratio of 22 to 1 with a 97 percent graduation rate. 

To see the complete list, visit www.niche.com.


Thurston Middle School to launch Kindness Challenge, more local businesses step up as sponsors

Students at Thurston Middle School are taking on a Kindness Challenge this year to pay it forward by doing acts of kindness or service, and in so doing are seeking business sponsors to assist in the fundraising.

Nine local business sponsors have stepped up so far including Stu News, Hobie, The Ranch, Roots the Beauty Underground, Lumberyard, gorjana, Laguna Beach Acupuncture, Team Laguna, and Anita Wang, MD.

Celine MacMillan says, “I’m going on my second year as PTA President at Thurston Middle School (6th-8th grade). I wanted Thurston PTA to have a fundraiser that aligns with Thurston’s message of kindness. I searched the web for ‘Kindness Fundraisers’ and came across the Raise Craze online fundraising platform, where students request money from family, friends, and neighbors and pay it forward by doing acts of kindness or service/volunteer work. It was perfect. It aligns with Thurston’s message of kindness and kindness never runs its course. Plus every single student can participate. I pitched the idea to Principal Jenny Salberg and the PTA board and everyone loved it. The last step was to get approval at our May PTA 2019 Association meeting and the Kindness Challenge Fundraiser received unanimous approval. This new fundraiser will replace the Epic Challenge Fundraiser.”

Thurstons Kindness Salberg

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Thurston Principal Jenny Salberg, seen here with last year’s WEB leadership team, is proud to participate in this year’s Kindness Challenge

For the past nine years, Thurston PTA’s biggest fundraiser was the Epic Challenge (raising money online and playing games in PE class). Last school year, only 30 percent of students raised money and they didn’t reach their fundraising goal. 

MacMillan says, “Epic had run its course and it was time to find a new fundraiser. I felt we needed something fresh and new that aligns with Thurston’s message of kindness.”

Raise Craze Kindness is a fundraising platform for students to request donations for their pay it forward kindness acts. Students create a personal secure custom website where they request donations from their families, neighbors, and friends to recognize their efforts in completing acts of kindness. The student can choose from a PTA selected list of kindness acts or create their own activity to promote paying it forward. 

Principal Jenny Salberg says, “Personally, I think it is amazing to align messages to our middle school students that kindness counts. With the partnering of our PTA fundraiser: Kindness Challenge, it will allow us to highlight and focus on all the kind things that our middle school students do to support one another and support our community.”

Thurstons Kindness assembly

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Courtesy of LBUSD

All students can participate in the Kindness Challenge

The Kindness Challenge will be for all 6th, 7th and 8th graders. The goal is to net $40,000 to help fund Thurston PTA expenses, which benefit students, teachers, and the school. 

“In order for Thurston PTA to reach our $40,000 goal, we need business sponsors,” says MacMillan. 

Stu News is a proud sponsor of the program. 

MacMillan says, “Thank you to the following businesses who have already become a Kindness Challenge Sponsor: Stu News, Hobie, The Ranch, Roots the Beauty Underground, Lumberyard, gorjana, Laguna Beach Acupuncture, Team Laguna, and Anita Wang, MD.”

The school is also going to tie the Kindness Challenge with Thurston’s Film Festival (all videos are of students doing acts of kindness and/or service/volunteer work), where students can create a video of their Kindness Challenge and inspire other students to pay it forward. 

This will be Thurston’s first annual Kindness Challenge event and the biggest fundraising project to support the programs sponsored by the PTA for the school year. Now they need the community to join them through corporate or family sponsorship. 

To potential sponsors, they say, “Let us promote you as you promote our students. Kind sponsors like you will help make Thurston Middle School’s Kindness Challenge a success!”

To support the project, go to www.thurstonmiddleschoolpta.org for more information on sponsorship levels and benefits, sponsorship levels for monetary and in-kind donations, and prize donations for opportunity drawings for the middle school students – and to view the Kindness Challenge Raise Craze video. 

Thurston Middle School is located at 2100 Park Ave. 

For questions, contact Celine MacMillan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Laguna’s U16 water polo girls win first place in the Platinum Division at the Junior Olympics

Lagunas U16 group

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Photo by John Singer

For the third year in a row, Laguna’s U16 water polo girls, representing SET (Saddleback-El Toro), have won their division in the Junior Olympics. The team is primarily made up of LBHS sophomores and juniors. In the semifinals game against SoCal on July 28, the team won 8-2, followed by a championship victory against Rose Bowl 10-5. Nicole Struss was named Most Valuable Player. The team is coached by Ethan Damato, who is also the head coach of the LBHS Girls Water Polo program. 

Back Row (L-R): Lela McCarroll, Imani Clemmons, Carly McMurray, Ella Schneider, Jessie Rose, Emma Singer, and Nicole Struss; Front Row (L-R): Laine Hourigan, Rachael Carver, Melanie Damato, Emma Lineback, Molly Renner, Izzy Rosensitto, Ava Houlahan, and Skylar Kidd.


Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach announces chair of 11th Annual Girls Night Out event

The 11th Anniversary and Grand Finale of Girls Night Out will be held on Thursday, Sept 19 from 6 - 10 p.m. at the beautiful Wilson home in Laguna Beach. 

The Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach is proud to announce that the chair of Girls Night Out this year is Gretchen McConnell, owner/partner of Starfish Laguna. 

Gretchen has been a supporter of the Club for almost 10 years now and has a real passion for giving back. She has held a variety of fundraisers to help various charities in our community. Gretchen commented, “I am thrilled and honored to serve as chair of this fantastic event.”

Boys and Girls Gretchen

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Owner/partner of Starfish Laguna Gretchen McConnell is chair of Girls Night Out

This event marks 11 fabulous years of our community’s women supporting the Club. The ladies enjoy an evening in a beautiful oceanfront home, amazing food, signature cocktails, wine, martinis, shopping, pampering, and fun. In addition to all of that, each lady will go home with a swag bag full of girly goodies.

Early bird tickets are selling fast and can be purchased at www.bgclagunabeach.org.

This event is generously supported by Wilson Automotive Group, Montage Laguna Beach, Newport Lexus, Starfish, and Winston’s Crown Jewelers.

For more information, contact Michelle Ray-Fortezzo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (949) 715-7584.


Former LBHS athlete Dain Blanton appointed head coach of USC Women’s Beach Volleyball

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Dain Blanton, formerly of Laguna Beach and an Olympic gold medalist, was selected as the new head coach of the USC Women’s Beach Volleyball program – as announced on July 26 by USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann. Blanton racked up a long and successful athletic career at Laguna Beach high School (LBHS) from 1987-1990 and went on to win gold in the 2000 Olympics for Beach Volleyball.

Of his time at LBHS, Blanton says, “I started there on the beaches in Laguna, and now I’m happy to have achieved another chapter in my career.”

Prior to his appointment as head coach, Blanton was a volunteer assistant coach at USC for four seasons (2015-18) as the Women of Troy won the 2015 AVCA national crown and the 2016 and 2017 NCAA championships. USC also captured back-to-back (2016-17) Pac-12 titles.

As quoted in a USC Trojan press release, Swann said, “We are delighted to have Dain Blanton back with our women’s volleyball program and this time in a leadership role as the head coach. He was vitally involved in all three of our national championships and we believe that he has the experience, knowledge, ability, and confidence to maintain our program at a championship level. He not only is an excellent teacher of the sport and in-game strategist, but he is charismatic and has strong communication skills. Most importantly, he truly cares about developing each student-athlete as a whole person and providing them with a well-rounded collegiate experience.”

Former LBHS closeup

Courtesy of USCTrojans.com

Dain Blanton, new head coach of USC Women’s Beach Volleyball

Of his selection, Blanton said, “This is an amazing opportunity to lead the USC women’s beach volleyball program and I thank the administration for the faith they have in me. During my four years as an assistant here, I saw how this program stood for excellence and success and I saw the support we received from the Trojan Family. I felt that we could do something special here and we did, we won a lot. That experience inspired my goal of becoming a head coach and, if I could do so, to be the head coach some day at USC. With my background as a player and coach, and my time at USC, I think this is a perfect fit. I look forward to continuing the championship tradition of the USC women’s beach volleyball program.”

 Blanton replaces two-time National Coach of the Year Anna Collier, who retired from collegiate coaching in June after serving as the only head coach in the program’s eight-year history.

 Blanton helped USC produce eight AVCA All-Americans and had a hand in coaching USC’s top pair of Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes to the 2015 AVCA Pairs National Championship and the 2017 USAV Collegiate National Pairs Championship (the duo also won Pac-12 pairs titles in 2016 and 2017).

Former LBHS girls

Photo by Ed Chan/VB Shots.com

Dain Blanton, right, coaching Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes while all three were at USC in 2017

 During the 2019 season, Blanton served as a color analyst and sideline reporter for ESPN, covering the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship, and the Olympic Channel, covering the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship.

Blanton’s career at LBHS

Although he excelled in volleyball during his time at LBHS, Blanton also had an impressive record in basketball. 

Frank Aronoff, LBHS Scorekeeper, reports that in 1990, during Blanton’s participation in basketball at LBHS under Coach Ed Bowen and Assistant Coach Bret Fleming, he led Laguna to SSCIF D4 Finals. Blanton was selected all-league and all-CIF in 1990 and led the team in scoring, averaging 18.0 points per game. He holds the school record of 19 for free throws during a game against Chino in 1989.

During his LBHS volleyball career under Coach Lance Stewart, Blanton participated in the All Pacific Coast League in 1989 and in 1990 was chosen as League MVP, All CIF, and Orange County Player of the Year.

After graduating high school and receiving a scholarship in volleyball, Blanton went on to Pepperdine University where he was an All-American and on the 1992 National Championship team as a sophomore. He graduated with a degree in Public Relations and a teaching credential in Physical Education.

After graduating from Pepperdine University

Upon graduating, he joined the Pro Beach Volleyball tour and became the first African-American to win a major title when he won the Hermosa Beach Grand Slam in 1997. From there, Blanton directed his energy and attention toward a new goal of becoming one of the best players in the world. 

On September 26, 2000, Blanton and his volleyball partner Eric Fonoimoana struck gold at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. According to teamusa.com, it was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport when they took down the world’s top-seeded team from Brazil. More than 10,000 spectators cheered as Blanton and Fonoimoana played a near-perfect tournament and stunned the Brazilians to reach the pinnacle of the sport.

He then partnered with current USC men’s volleyball head coach Jeff Nygaard at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and became the first US male beach volleyball Olympian to play in two Olympic Games.

In his career, Blanton had two FIVB World Tour gold medals and six medals total and was the first male African-American to win a major beach volleyball event, the 1997 AVP Hermosa Grand Slam. He played his last professional event in 2010, on the AVP Tour.

Broadcasting career

In 2007, Blanton began broadcasting beach volleyball games for a small cable station and then got an opportunity at Fox Sports West to cover high school football. From that start, he has been climbing the ladder covering many sports including NBA, beach volleyball, NCAA volleyball, basketball, and football, and MLB while working for ABC, NBC, ESPN, Fox Sports Net, and Universal Sports Network. 

Another of Blanton’s career highlights included a stint as on-air broadcaster for NBC during the Olympic Games. Hopefully, we’ll see him on-air again as a broadcaster for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan.


Laguna girls bring home gold, silver and bronze from 2019 Water Polo Junior Olympics 

Last weekend in Irvine, Laguna Beach girls in three divisions again brought home medals from the 50th annual USA Water Polo Junior Olympics National Championship. Junior Olympics is the world’s largest water polo tournament, this year hosting 866 qualifying teams from across the United States. 

For the third consecutive year, Laguna’s 12U girls earned a gold medal and the National Championship title in the top Championship Division. Laguna’s 14U “A” team, playing in the finals for the 3rd consecutive year, won a silver medal in the Championship Division. The Laguna 14U “B” team won a bronze medal in the Classic Division. 

Laguna girls 12U

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Photo by KLC Fotos

12U Girls (L-R): Coach Marc Umeda, Siena Jumani, Molly Wilkerson (co-MVP), Elizabeth Nicoloff, Maya Tovar, Kaelyn Chism, Kara Carver, Presley Jones, Kirra Pantaleon, Katelyn Stayt, Sofia Umeda (co-MVP), and Coach Rob Carver

“A gold, silver and bronze was a great JOs result for our girls. I am very proud of how hard they all worked,” said Laguna Beach Water Polo Club Director Chad Beeler. 

The 12U Girls started the tournament on Thursday with an 18-1 win over Arroyo Grande and an 18-2 win over the Trojan USC club team. Friday, the girls beat Huntington Beach 18-3 and Long Beach Shores 14-12. Thanks to two wins on Friday, the team only needed to play one game on Saturday, and beat Northwood 9-7 to go directly to the semis on Sunday. They then beat Vanguard 11-5, earning a spot in the finals against Los Angeles Premier, winning 12-8 for a gold medal. 

Laguna girls 14U

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Photo by KLC Fotos

14U A Girls (L-R): Lauren Schneider, Livvie Oullette, Jordan Schneider, Avery Montiel, Ava Knepper, Charlotte Riches, Cleo Washer, Helene MacBeth, Lauren Short, and Myha Pinto

Also playing in the Championship Division, the 14U A girls started out Thursday with a pair of wins, 17-0 over American River and 14-4 over Stanford. On Friday, the girls prevailed in a tough game over Santa Barbara Premier, 8-5. Their streak continued with a 6-3 win over Corona Del Mar. The 14U A girls also only had to play one game on Saturday, a nice 10-6 win over the other Santa Barbara team, SB 805. 

The girls proceeded directly to the semis on Sunday morning, where they crushed San Diego Shores 9-1. The championship game against SOCAL

was a defense-led battle, and the ninth meeting this season between these top two US 14U teams. The previous eight games were split between four wins for Laguna and four wins for SOCAL. The Laguna girls went out hard, taking the lead in the first quarter. Despite a scoreless third quarter for both teams, SOCAL ended up with 5-2 win and the Laguna girls earning a silver medal. 

Laguna girls 14U B

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Photo by KLC Fotos

14U B Girls: Back row (L-R) – Sophia Arata, Taylor Naughton, Makenna Jenal, Nina Rogers, Eleanor Ramsey, Sophie Colladay, Chiara Amoroso, and Ryley McDennon; Bottom row (L-R) – Rebecca Storke, Claire Turner, Grace Fermelia, and Coach Bridgette Alvarez (missing is Bella Nenadov)

Playing in the Classic Division, the 14U B team’s first game on Thursday saw a win over Gold Coast 17-1 followed by a loss to SOCAL B 6-8. On Friday the girls won both their games, 10-7 over San Diego Shores B and a 9-3 win over Santa Barbara Premier B. As with the 12U and 14U A teams, the 14U B girls also only had to play one game on Saturday. This was against San Clemente Tritons who they beat 6-5, taking them directly to the semis on Sunday morning. This close game against the SET B team resulted in a shoot-out loss. The bronze medal game saw the girls again play the SOCAL B team, in a high-scoring 15-13 bronze medal-winning game. 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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