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Laguna Beach

Aquathon participants to trek the coastline with friends and neighbors on Sept 22

Aquathon is back and it’s time again to trek the Laguna coastline with neighbors, friends, and visitors. This year’s Aquathon of Laguna Beach will go off on Sunday, Sept 22. Participants should arrive at Emerald Bay at 8:15 a.m.

Event coordinator Gary Cogorno says, “Last year approximately 120 participants left Emerald Bay with hurricane surf but made it to The Lost Pier Cafe and beyond, only to take the Laguna Trolley back to Aliso and rejoin those who did not venture past LPC.” 

In a Stu News article last year, Dave Csira said, “The Aquathon is a swim-walk (sometimes climb) that extends the entire coastline of Laguna Beach from tip to tip starting in Emerald Bay and ending in Three Arch Bay, or as far as one wishes to go. It has – or has not – taken place every year since it became a tradition in 1986 when four Emerald Bay residents thought it would be a hoot to snorkel the entirety of Laguna’s coastline cove-by-cove.”

As stated on the Aquathon website, “Word was spread by Aquathoners enthralled by the event, many of whom describe it as the best day in their life (those people really do need to get a life). Others describe it simply as an ‘intense spiritual experience.’ We say, ‘to each, his own.’”

Aquathon participants Csira

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Dave Csira with family and friends

The cutoff time for name entry is Thursday, Sept 19  at 11:59 p.m. However, donations will be accepted daily. Organizers ask that participants do not do the Aquathon unless they are an ocean-proof swimmer or have an Aqua-Buddy.

Participants’ names, after signing in via the website, will be at the Emerland Bay Main Gate entrance under Aquathon. It is requested that those participating be nice to the guards, as they have a good time seeing everyone wearing masks as they drive to announce themselves.

Organizers are asking for donation money as a fundraiser for the Laguna Beach Jr Lifeguard Foundation. Last year Aquathon wrote a check for $3,000 to LBOLF; the group requests everyone’s help in supporting again this year.

The website makes all participants review the Disclaimer in order to RSVP.

Organizers report that the legalities of trying to have a day outing with friends is getting long-in-the-teeth with the worry of possible injury; as if we arrive at the end without many “marks.”

The very unfortunate accident that occurred at the south cliff access route at Emerald Bay has caused Aquathon organizers to alter the takeoff as follows:

There are two possible routes:

One choice – Only swimming is allowed out of Emerald Bay. No cliff walking along the south end will be permitted.

Aquathon participants friends

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Having fun 

If it is a low-surge day, swim around the South Point to Shell Beach, then make a reef landing – the best choice would be about 250 yards. 

Or continue swimming to Crescent Bay or onto Shaw’s Cove for about 3/4-mile.

Another choice: after the send-off, get into a car and then drive to Crescent Bay or Shaw’s Cove to eliminate the entire rock climbing portion of the north coves. There are no parking meters along Cliff Drive at both of these beach entry stairways.

Low tide is 2.8’ at 8:21 a.m. and it remains “slack” until 9 a.m.

High tide is 4.5’ at 3 p.m.

Ray Meltvedt has once again volunteered to leave a water drop/mini-food supply at the Wood’s Cove stairway. Participants should be sure to leave some for Scott and Gary as they will be the usual caboose.

 Lunch and the Survivors Party will be at The Lost Pier Café (LPC) at Aliso Beach. Organizers ask that when participants sign up, they click if they plan to order a LPC Aqua-Sandwich, so that LPC can have adequate supplies – and use the link to advise if planning to end the day also at LPC. They are awaiting approval for a beer and wine license in time for Aquathon use. The concrete deck holds about 50 bodies. 

Showers are available but none of the large Ritz towels to use. Parking at Aliso is a great deal in the morning. And free Laguna trolley service is available for those who venture to TAB or Monarch to ride back to Aliso.

Aquathon water shirts both in-the-water and out-of-the-water weaves are available at the

Marc will have a discount code to use.

For more information, visit

Laguna Beach Unified School District names 2019 Spirit of Laguna Award recipient

Laguna Beach Unified School District has named Brandon Lee, instructional assistant at El Morro Elementary School, the recipient of the 2019 Spirit of Laguna award. 

Now in its 12th year, the award recognizes a district staff member who exemplifies extraordinary service to others. Lee currently serves as a lead instructional assistant at El Morro and forms a part of the Crisis Prevention Intervention team at the site.  

“I am so pleased that Brandon Lee was recognized as the Spirit of Laguna Award winner. He is always so engaged in his duties, happy to be here, and most importantly, builds meaningful relationships with students and staff,” said El Morro Elementary School Principal Chris Duddy. 

Laguna Beach Unified Brandon

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Brandon Lee with Board Member Dee Perry after receiving the Spirit of Laguna Award 

“He has a unique way of building connections with the students he serves by focusing on their strengths and building on them. It doesn’t hurt that he loves music and isn’t afraid to dance in front of the kids,” Duddy continued.

In addition to his work at his school site, Lee also serves on district-wide committees including the District Safety Committee and the labor negotiations team for the classified employees’ bargaining unit. 

“Brandon is an exemplary individual and is so deserving of this award. He is a kind and caring person and always willing to go the extra mile to help others regardless of the impact on his time,” said Director of Special Education Irene White. She continued, “He exemplifies the meaning of the ‘Spirit of Laguna’ award due to his outstanding dedication to serving our students and staff, initiative, motivation, and positive attitude.”

Lee was hired as an instructional assistant in the Laguna Beach Unified School District in 2013. He was recognized with the Spirit of Laguna Award at the district’s annual Welcome Back Breakfast for staff in August.

School Board feud continues


Embattled Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education member Dee Perry announced on August 27 via email from her attorney Kathleen Loyer that she will seek to resolve grievances with her fellow board members and the district through an alternative dispute resolution process (“ADR”), before deciding whether or not to file suit.

“I am only agreeing to not file immediately and try to settle in good faith. If a settlement can not be reached I will certainly file,” stated Perry on Thursday.

Loyer’s email to the press was not made public at the board meeting that night, at which members of the public continued to verbally support Perry in the ongoing riff between her and the other four board members.

 “Does the board value the time and effort its constituents are making to share their concerns about issues?” queried Sheri Morgan. “Would the board room be full if the community [was] not trying to hold the board accountable?”

A lengthy statement by Perry at the meeting took the other board members by surprise, but was applauded by the audience.

“I am tired of this board trying to shame me,” said Perry. “Let’s fix the problem. We all want the best for our community.

“Despite the scare tactics and petty politics, I am not backing down from this fight because I owe it to my constituents to fight for my voice on this board. I was re-elected to the board to focus on transparency, fiscal responsibility, and student-first initiatives that I’ve championed in my five years on the board.

“I can promise everyone here tonight that I will always do the best job I can, to serve our children and to serve our community. In order to do that, I must be allowed to do my job and I must have my full powers as a board member reinstated.”

Board President Jan Vickers addressed Perry’s comments via email on August 28 as requested by Stu News. 

“Surprised once again by Member Perry reading a prepared statement which reiterated claims she has made against the board in her NOI (Notice of Intent to file a lawsuit) and stating some of those things had actually increased. 

“Calling me out by name, Member Perry said, instead of attempting to silence her I should be leading to working together. I responded, in part, by observing that this approach (Perry’s unannounced statement) was not collegial – to not inform any others of the intent to read a prepared statement building on her previous claims and to play to audience comments on those issues is not going to allow us to move forward.

“Instead of letting us begin to move forward, [Tuesday night’s] display moved us further apart by her continued public accusations.”

Critics of board actions that they believe have marginalized Perry dominated the public comment period at the meeting, but did not appear to lessen the gulf between the board and the community.

The dispute began when the board veered from its traditional practice of elevating the board clerk, after one year’s service, to the presidency and voted to bypass Perry in favor of a third term for Vickers. The board has stated it was within its legal rights and acted in good faith; Perry and her attorney disagree.

Subsequently, the bylaw that encouraged this tradition was eliminated and the dissention between the board and Perry has escalated. 

The public expressed its dissatisfaction with the board for its decision to create a subcommittee to review confidential information, from which Perry is to be excluded from participating in.

The board has stated that despite forming the subcommittee, it has not met yet.

When asked if this would ultimately go to court, Loyer stated, “I’m still optimistic [that it will settle out of court]. I’m optimistic with a little bit of reservation because this is a tough issue…I think there are clear violations in the government code and her civil rights…If we go forward, she has to be made whole again.”

When asked about a drop-dead date for negotiations, Loyer stated, “I don’t have a drop-dead date because that’s not a good way to negotiate with people…We contacted them and we’re in the process [of setting up a negotiation meeting]. We have to work out the logistics.”

LBUSD Board of Education appoints TOW Principal Michael Conlon as Director of Human Resources

At the August 27 board meeting, the Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education voted 5-0 to appoint Top of the World Elementary School Principal Michael Conlon as the director of human resources. 

The new position was approved on July 16, as part of administrative restructuring at the district level.

Conlon has extensive experience in education administration, previously having held leadership roles at Saddleback Valley Unified School District and Los Alamitos Unified School District. He has served as principal at TOW since 2014.

LBUSD Board group

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Principal Conlon with a TOW family and Yadhira Rojas, the Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for English Language Development

“Michael has demonstrated the desire and drive to continuously learn and improve his skill set. He possesses a commitment to developing positive relationships with staff and problem-solving conflicts when they occur,” said Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Instructional Services Leisa Winston. 

“He has proven to be an effective leader and administrator whose work is characterized by a genuine concern for the entire school community,” she continued.

In his role as principal, Conlon has been an integral part of the LBUSD negotiations team and has led the process to hire several TOW staff. He recently completed a 70-hour personnel administration academy through the Association of California School Administrators and has participated in interest-based bargaining training. 

“I am excited about this opportunity and look to draw on my past experience in system implementation and change leadership to further enhance the services provided to the district through the department of human resources,” said Conlon. He continued, “It has been an honor serving as the principal at Top of the World Elementary and I look forward to continuing my support of the campus in this new role.”

“I am pleased that the Board was unanimous in approving the appointment of Mike Conlon as Director, Human Resources. In a small district where many staff spend their entire career, there are few openings to advance an administrative career and so we can lose top employees who must go elsewhere for career growth,” said Jan Vickers, Board President. 

“Mike rose to the top among a strong candidate field in part because he has been continuously improving through his site leadership at TOW and the personnel training. It is an added benefit that his leadership at TOW will make a transition easier as the school and all the staff have built a strong learning community.”

Conlon is expected to begin his new role in mid-September. The district will utilize an interim administrator for Top of the World during the recruitment process for a new principal, expected to begin in January.

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 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


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

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 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..

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