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Laguna Beach

LBHS girls win silver at the 2021 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics

Story by Steve Riches

Photos by Scott Brashier

Eight rising LBHS juniors (Tasha Denny, Charlotte Riches, Jordan Schneider, Cleo Washer, Lauren Short, and Myha Pinto) and two rising sophomores (Ava Knepper and Emmy Hensley) made up half the SET 16U Black team, which took silver in the highly competitive USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics (JOs) Championship. 

JOs took place last week (July 22-25) at pools across Los Angeles and Orange Counties, with the top 48 American teams in each age group competing. After the first day, the top 24 teams competed in the Platinum division, while the bottom 24 teams competed in the Gold division.

LBHS girls three

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Charlotte Riches and Cleo Washer in action

On Thursday, SET 16U Black won games against the team from Praetorian Bakersfield 26-4, and San Jose Almaden 18-3. Friday’s games were harder, as the girls battled with Royal from Fresno for a 14-8 win, and Glendora Foothill for a 12-5 win. 

Saturday was the critical day, as a win meant only one game that day, and a ticket straight to the semi-finals on Sunday morning. A very close game with Pasadena Rose Bowl resulted in a 10-6 win and the remainder of the day off.

LBHS girls Ava

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Ava Knepper takes no prisoners

Early Sunday morning, SET 16U Black played San Diego Shores, winning the game in a penalty shootout and taking the team to the final later that day. Despite having beaten Santa Barbara 805 for gold two weeks ago at the US Club Championships, this time, after a hard-fought game, Santa Barbara won 10-6 for gold, and SET 16U Black finished with a well-earned silver.

LBHS girls three

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Tasha Denny makes a great save

In the 16U Gold division, SET 16U Pink, with LBHS rising juniors and rising sophomores, finished in first place. In the 18U Platinum division, SET 18 Gray, with LBHS rising seniors, finished in fourth place, and SET 18U Black with LBHS graduated seniors finished in fifth place.

Another strong weekend of water polo for the Laguna Beach High School girls

As a warmup for next week’s Junior Olympics National Championships in Irvine, the LBHS girls were down in San Diego last weekend playing for their SET club team at the U.S. Club Championships. 

Another strong 18U Black

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The SET 18U Black team (recently graduated seniors and a rising junior goalie) won a gold medal, beating the SOCAL 18U team from Tustin 12-6

Another strong 18U Gray

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The SET 18U Gray team (rising seniors) won a bronze medal, beating the 805 18U team from San Barbara 13-6

Another strong 16U Black

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The SET 16U Black team (rising juniors/sophomores) also won a gold medal, beating the 805 16U team from Santa Barbara 9-7

Local Eric Silva drafted in fourth round of MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants


Like a lot of kids, Eric Silva – son of Monica McCusker and Tony Silva and stepson of Tyler McCusker, founder of Laguna’s KX FM radio – started playing T-ball when he was four years old. 

“Both his father and I were in athletics in school, and we saw what happened when parents put kids in sports, so we always thought we’d do the opposite,” says Monica. “We didn’t want to pressure Eric. But he put the little mitt on, and his dad said, ‘this is how you catch a ball,’ and when Eric caught it and threw it back, he wasn’t playing around.”

Local Eric little guy

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Young Eric 

Fast forward about 14 years to the present day. In the fall, Eric was planning to attend UCLA on a full-ride baseball scholarship and major in psychology, but then the draft happened – and happened big time.

Eric was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the fourth round (115th overall) – the only high school pitcher to be drafted.

Draft process

“As he continued playing ball, we knew he was talented, but not right away,” says Monica. “Sometimes we thought he wasn’t paying attention, then he’d catch a hit and throw it in, and it would turn out great.”

“To say that I’m proud would be an understatement,” adds Tony Silva. “Since Eric was four years old, he has had a natural ability that we just had to foster. He gravitated toward the game, improved every year, and excelled with dedication and hard work. It did take sacrifice on all of our parts as a family: the travel ball, countless practices, and many events and other things we had to opt out of as a family due to the baseball commitment. But I am so grateful, and we are tremendously blessed that it all worked out the way it did.” 

Local Eric closeup

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Eric wears CIF SS Regional Championship medal – he pitched a complete game

“Eric brings people together, his attitude, his big heart, and that amazing smile radiates with such positive energy, you can’t help but cheer him on,” Tony continues. “And that has been one of the most exciting things to see throughout his journey: people joining his fan base. All aboard the E-train!”

Transfer to JSerra

For 13 years, he had been a shortstop, covering second, or third base. Then at Laguna Beach High School (LBHS), he was a two-way player – playing shortstop and pitching.

After three years at LBHS, Eric decided to transfer to JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano for his senior year.

“We value public education,” Monica says. “Our daughter Julianne still goes to LBHS.”

However, there were reasons behind the change. “Eric missed the rigors of being in school and as a private school, JSerra offered the opportunity for in-person classes,” Monica says, “and he felt he wasn’t going to be developed as a player" at LBHS.”

Local Eric team

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JSerra team after winning Trinity League Championship

Combined with JSerra’s excellent athletic program and the presence of a particular coach he wanted to play for, Eric made the decision to switch schools.

“He also wanted to play on a team with the potential to take him to a championship so he could prove himself,” Monica says. “He’s a team player, but he felt he had more opportunity to improve – and prove himself – at JSerra.”

Out of left field

During the pre-drafting process, Major League Baseball (MLB) scouts meet with the kids and parents, and Eric’s family interviewed with 20 out of the 30 MLB clubs – Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, to name a few – but the Giants weren’t one of them.

“It came out of left field,” Monica says. “The Giants weren’t in contact with us. We’d never met them, even one time.”

However, in later conversations, the Giants admitted that they had been watching Eric, saw his potential, and he was high on the board. Four scouts (and possibly the general manager) attended JSerra’s CIF Southern Section game against Harvard-Westlake of Los Angeles, and Eric was pitching.

Local Eric adult pitching

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Eric pitches over 90 mph

Even though JSerra lost 0-3, no one scored a point on the other team off of Eric. 

“He pitches over 90 mph, and he pitched lights out,” Monica says. “But even though they lost, the Giants saw him in an adverse situation and how he was able to carry on. In one of his weakest moments, that moment revealed his fate. There’s always adversity, it’s what you do with it.”

As reported in the OC Register, “All three runs for the Wolverines in their 3-0 victory were unearned. JSerra starting pitcher Eric Silva was outstanding, limiting the Wolverines to zero earned runs and three hits in his six innings. 

“It was a Silva throw to his left to first base, instead of to the plate, that was his only consequential mistake. Fielding a bunt in the third inning, Silva threw wide of first, enabling two Wolverines to score on the play. Silva’s stat line was terrific: no earned runs, three hits allowed, eight strikeouts, and two walks over six innings.”

“But they still lost,” says Monica. “Eric and JSerra’s first of the season. And it was his composure and command on the mound afterward that must have left an impression with scouts spectating in the stands.”

Local Eric family

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(L-R) Tony Silva, Julianne Silva, Eric Silva holding Lily McCusker, Monica McCusker, and Tyler McCusker 

Tyler McCusker has high praise for his stepson. “We told Eric when he was a freshman how different his high school experience was going to be. We warned him that, if his dream was to play professional baseball, he would have to make a lot of sacrifices: friends, parties, social media posts, and much more. To see a teenager take his future in his own hands, set and manifest a goal, be willing to make sacrifices to achieve that goal, and then deliver or exceed the expectations of everyone around him has been truly awe-inspiring. Eric has been the one to steer this ship. As his ‘bonus dad,’ I could not be more proud of our boy and proud to be a part of the village that supports him.” 

Monica adds, “There isn’t an Eric Silva without many people and many factors that aligned almost perfectly to get him to this moment. Every child has the potential, and it’s usually those around the child and their choices as caregivers that help contribute to the overall success. I always say it takes a village to raise a child and he is a shining reflection of his village. That and he is super talented and dedicated. No one I know in my life can or will do what Eric Silva does daily. Today we can all celebrate this great achievement with him.”

After the draft, Eric has 15 days to evaluate his options and either go to college or sign with the team.

As of this publication, the San Francisco Giants are trying to make it worth Eric’s while not to go to UCLA.

Council and School Board discuss collaborative efforts on overlapping issues in joint meeting


Discussion topics during a joint meeting between the City Council and the Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education on Thursday (July 15) covered equity education, electric bike safety, and exploring district-owned properties for the city’s housing element requirements.

Other items on the agenda included trolley status for the school year, potential for a second community pool, and reduction of water usage efforts.

The joint meeting started out with a number of non-agenda public comments that complained about the school district’s Equity Strategy Design and Capacity Building program. 

Speakers said that the program by Education Elements, a K12 company that consults with schools, districts, and learning organizations, was “critical race theory” and criticized its implementation.

Comments included saying the district is implying its schools and students are racist, calling the program a socialist framework, claiming it removes individual accountability and perpetuates victimhood, and that it demolishes and demeans blended families. One speaker claimed that parents want their children to feel included and united, not divided, which is what they felt EE’s educational equity plan does.

Education Elements’ plan, as described at several previous LBUSD board meetings, identifies the district’s priorities, sets goals, and helps district leadership take action to ensure an equitable environment that ensures belonging, dignity, and love for all students.

Superintendent Jason Viloria responded to the comments during LBUSD staff reports near the end of the joint meeting. There’s a need to clarify some misconceptions and misinformation out there, he said.

“I just wanted to clear up our work around equity, it has nothing to do with critical race theory. We don’t teach critical race theory in our schools,” and they have no intention to start, Viloria said. “Equity is really just about making sure our students have the resources that they need to be successful in school.”

As an example, Viloria said they have data that shows LGBTQ students in the district suffer higher rates of bullying than any other student in the schools. So, they need to ensure that the district provides the resources to the students to show them how LBUSD will support them through this, Viloria explained.

Equity is about ensuring that all students have the resources, materials, access, and support that they need to be successful, Viloria said. 

At another previous discussion on the topic, board members emphasized that there are many issues that cause students to feel marginalized and this gives them a great opportunity to learn and change.

Council and School Board protesters

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Anti-racism protesters at Main Beach last year

In another non-agenda discussion, during city staff reports, LB Police Department Interim Chief Jeff Calvert commented on the uptick in e-bike usage throughout the city. 

The School Resource Officers conducted a community forum in May with about 40 parents, covering bike and helmet safety. They also provided more than 40 presentations at different schools to connect with kids on the issue of e-bike safety and talk about relevant laws pertaining to e-bikes. 

The e-bikes are concerning, and City Council has received a lot of community feedback worried about a potential accident, said Mayor Bob Whalen.

“Whatever we can do to jointly try to educate on this and get students on board with the helmets and traffic safety laws, that would be much appreciated,” Whalen said.

Later, during the board’s regular meeting, LBUSD Board Member Jim Kelly commented during member reports that parents have mentioned the e-bike issue to him repeatedly.

“The electric bike thing is out of hand,” Kelly said. “We’re going to be going to a funeral of one our kids if we don’t get the police to enforce these kids being safe on these bikes.”

At the joint meeting, Kelly asked about the number of tickets given out to kids in an effort to stop this behavior. 

They’ve been primarily in “educational mode,” Calvert said. The e-bikes are an emerging technology, so they are also trying to understand it better.

Direction has been given to the officers to start on enforcement, Calvert added. Although he was usure of how many tickets they’ve actually written so far, the officers are out there actively looking for violations and they’re going to start writing citations to the kids.

LBUSD Board Clerk Kelly Osborne noted that when some kids start getting tickets the word will spread quickly amongst the students.

Parents need to get involved as well, Calvert said. They need to work collaboratively to ensure the kids are safe in town.

Calvert also gave an update on School Resource Officers. 

The SROs had some challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but were still able to engage with the kids, Calvert said. They taught a digital safety course, conducted more than 40 welfare checks, and are about to bring back their teen leadership academy. The Road Safety Expo is also returning this year.

A noteworthy discussion related to the city’s housing element was also discussed during the joint meeting.

Council and School Board housing

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City Council and the LBUSD Board of Education discussed the housing element in a joint meeting this week

Community Development Director Marc Wiener presented the current status of the city housing element and using the district bus yard as a potential housing site. 

As part of the process in updating the housing element and in order to meet state mandates, the city is looking at potential candidate sites for where housing could be built.

The bus yard site is currently zoned for light industrial; residential is not allowed with the exception of artist work-live units, Wiener said. If it were included in the housing element as a possible site, it would need to be rezoned.

Nothing would happen to this site unless the school district found it viable from their perspective, Whalen emphasized. 

“I don’t know where the school district might be with this, but it’s certainly got some potential,” Whalen said. “If you’re even interested in exploring it, we would want to engage in a discussion with you about the potential for it.”

Overall, there was support from both groups in exploring the idea further. 

Kelly thought it was a great idea, but they still have to park the district buses somewhere. 

They still need a lot more information and data, added LBUSD Board member Jan Vickers. She also mentioned that there are a lot of restrictions on school district-owned land.

LBUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jeff Dixon said that a few members of the city’s Housing and Human Services Committee reached out to him and shared what they were looking at, in terms of finding potential affordable housing sites in the city.

They also looked at other district-owned properties, Dixon added, including the site of the old Aliso Elementary School on Wesley Drive (now Vista Aliso senior community), which is on lease until 2041 to National Church Residences, and even the district office parking lot.

These are just initial ideas that were presented, Dixon emphasized. The district is happy to work with city staff to evaluate the feasibility of these options, he added. 

The housing element will return to the Planning Commission in October and City Council in December. 

Council and the LBUSD board also discussed the potential for reduction of water usage. Both are big water users, Whalen said.

Governor Gavin Newsom has called for a voluntary 15 percent reduction in water usage compared to 2020 levels through actions such as reducing landscape irrigation, running dishwashers and washing machines only when full, finding and fixing leaks, and installing water-efficient appliances. 

The city is actively looking at ways to reach that goal, Whalen said. 

On the school district side, Dixon said they have made an effort in this department as well. For example, they got rid of the grass turf field at Thurston and replaced it with a synthetic field.

“That’s going to be very significant for us, in terms of water savings because irrigation is our biggest usage of water for the district,” Dixon said. 

Going synthetic with the district’s primary play fields not only reduces water usage, but also provides more multi-use fields for a wide variety of sports. 

“The district is always looking for ways to save and we’re big on sustainability,” Dixon said. “So (in regard to) water usage, regardless of a state mandate, we’d always look to find ways to reduce that use.”

Earlier in the joint session, Public Works Director Mark McAvoy provided an update on the trolley status for the school year. 

An update on the on-demand trolley service that the city is proposing to bring back to the neighborhood routes will be presented at the July 27 meeting, he noted.

They will be using smaller vehicles, will continue the high school routes and times, and add a trolley specifically to go to Thurston, McAvoy said.

The joint session discussion also covered the potential for a second community pool. Many officials sitting on both the district and city sides noted the need and community demand for it but finding a realistic location will be challenging.

“We’re persistent, we’ll keep at it,” Whalen said.

City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said city staff can work with LBUSD staff to gather data and put a report together for both ruling bodies. 

Council and School Board Admin

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

LBUSD Board of Education approved a new management position under the title of district athletics administrator

Following the special joint session with council on Thursday, the school board held their regular meeting.

They discussed and unanimously approved the transition of the athletic director role from a Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association (LaBUFA) position to certificated management position under the new title of district athletics administrator.

The new title also comes with a few job description changes, including additional administrative duties: 

--Develop and implement an intramural sports program at the middle school level.

--Supervise and evaluate all coaches and classified staff that support the athletics department.

--In conjunction with Human Resources, create a more formal evaluation process for coaches and assistant coaches.

--Coordinate the District athletic summer camp program.

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Public Communications Michael Conlon said the new evaluation tools to use with the coaches will help “tighten up” the process. 

The new administrator is responsible for the planning, development, and implementation of the policies, regulations, guidelines, and procedures pertaining to a high school interscholastic sports program; and will serve as an administrator of record for the interscholastic sports personnel concerning sports and recreation activities.

The new position will be a 222-day work year and be placed accordingly on the 2021-22 LBUSD management salary schedule, which includes seven pay steps (step one is listed at $141,256) and a $1,500 mileage allowance.

The district has signed an MOU with LaBUFA agreeing to make this move temporary and negotiate in spring 2022 with the union, to discuss making the move permanent, Conlon said. 

The position will be posted later this week.

There was quite a bit of discussion and questions from board members about the hiring process, evaluating coaches, qualifications, and the work the director and coaches do. Overall, the board was supportive of the transition.

“This is a very, very important position,” Kelly said. “I think it should be a management position, and I think it should be a year-round position.”

Laguna Beach’s Cole McKechnie enters Class of 2025 Plebe Summer at the U.S. Naval Academy

Cole McKechnie, a graduate of Santa Margarita Catholic High School, was inducted into the Naval Academy Class of 2025 on Wednesday, June 30, and will begin six challenging weeks of basic midshipman training as part of Plebe Summer.

Approximately 1,200 candidates are selected each year for the Academy’s “Plebe” or freshman class, and each student is required to participate in Plebe Summer. Last year, the Naval Academy received over 16,000 applications for the Class of 2025.

During this time, plebes have no access to television, movies, the internet, or music, and access to cell phones is restricted. They are only permitted to make three calls during the six weeks of Plebe Summer.

Laguna Beach's Cole McKechnie

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Cole McKechnie

The pressure and rigor of Plebe Summer is carefully designed to help plebes prepare for their first academic year at the Naval Academy and the four years of challenge that await them.

As the summer progresses, the new midshipmen rapidly assimilate basic skills in seamanship, navigation, damage control, sailing, and handling patrol craft. Plebes also learn infantry drill and how to shoot 9 mm pistols and M-16 rifles.

Founded in 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy today is a prestigious four-year service academy that prepares midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically to be professional officers in the naval service. Students graduate with a Bachelor of Science and go on to serve at least five years as commissioned officers in the Navy or Marine Corps.

The Brigade of Midshipmen is comprised of approximately 4,400 students from every state and a handful of international students. Each yar, approximately 1,400 men and women are admitted to the Naval Academy’s incoming class.

Laguna Beach Dolphins win Orange County Friday Night Lights 7/8th division

Congratulations to the Laguna Beach Dolphins for winning the Orange County Friday Night Lights 7/8th division, which was comprised of 24 teams, on June 25.

Laguna Beach Dolphins

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(L-R) Sawyer Thomson, Charlie Kelly, Grant Regal, Otis Boultinghouse, Charlie Hunt, Jarod Sirsansie, Fletcher Liao, and Preston Towe. Player not in the picture: Henry Rounaghi. Coaches not in the picture: Tim Towe and Jake Hiemstra.

“The Spring 2021 regular season is in the books (whew!),” says Coach Tim Towe. “Whether you finished first, last, or somewhere in the middle, every team starts the playoffs 0-0. Last time we did this, only one of the #1 seeded teams won the championship. Upsets do occur.”

Two big weekends of water polo for Laguna Beach girls, team brings home bronze

After a long break from tournaments, the Laguna Beach High School Girls Water Polo team recently returned from the 2021 Futures Super Finals in Salt Lake City, Utah, with a bronze medal. 

The pre-season team was comprised of rising seniors, rising juniors, and a rising sophomore, while many of the teams at the Super Finals were graduated seniors going on to play in college next year.

The first game on Friday was a decisive 17-6 win against the Long Beach Wilson High School team. Then, in the first game on Saturday, the girls battled to an 8-6 win against Team Vegas. This team included some of the best girls of the Mountain West USA Water Polo Olympic Development Team. 

In Saturday’s second game, the girls had a nice 7-2 win against Surf League rival Los Alamitos. Sunday morning saw the girls play in the semi-finals against the Northern California powerhouse 680 Drivers club team. The girls fought hard, and tied it in the fourth quarter 2-2, but 680 ultimately won 8-5. 

Two big team

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Back Row (L-R): London Boyd, Isabel Foley, Lauren Smith, Carly Rohrer, Ava Knepper, Charlotte Riches, Emily Shabunov, and Lela McCarroll; Front Row (L-R): Lexi Parness, Cleo Washer, Lauren Schneider, Hannah Carver, and Ava Houlahan

This sent the Laguna girls to the bronze medal game on Sunday afternoon against Stanford University’s club team, another very strong team from Northern California. The game started out close with the Laguna girls down by one goal after the first quarter. Then at halftime, Laguna was up by one goal. After three quarters, the game was tied at 8-8. In the fourth quarter, Laguna was able to prevent Stanford from scoring any more goals, while adding four goals themselves. The final score was Laguna 12, Stanford 8, resulting in a well-deserved bronze medal for Laguna. 

Last weekend, the girls were back in action again, playing for their SET Club teams in the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics National Championships qualifying tournament. The SET 18U Black team (graduated seniors) and the SET 16U Black team (rising juniors/sophomores) both qualified in first place. Also qualifying for the Junior Olympics were the SET 18U Gray team (rising seniors) and the 16U Pink team (rising juniors/sophomores).

The Junior Olympics National Championships will be held July 22-25 in Irvine.

LBUSD Board approves $200K agreement for equity work


Laguna Beach Unified School District officials unanimously approved a contract last week that focuses on equity work.

Members of LBUSD Board of Education voted 5-0 on Thursday, June 24 to approve a $199,500 agreement with Education Elements for Equity Strategy Design and Capacity Building for the 2021-22 school year.

In response to racially fueled events across the country last year, the board approved a resolution in Support of Anti-racist Education in October. To support the effort of design and implementation, LBUSD engaged in a partnership with Education Elements, a K12 company that consults with schools, districts, and learning organizations. The resolution states that the district will purchase, develop, and offer training resources that support critical dialogue and effective implementation of anti-racist practices across all of LBUSD. 

Following a study session on March 25, a steering committee has been collaborating with the EE team to determine scope, understand LBUSD priorities, set goals and commitments around racial inequalities, and planned actionable next steps.

On June 24, most board members were impressed with the work so far and on board to continue the program.

Board member Jan Vickers said she’s worked with a number of groups over the years, and they don’t always measure up, so she went into the steering committee meetings a little cautious.

“I have found, a lot of times, groups to be, basically, fluff and no substance,” Vickers said. “But I was really, really pleasantly surprised with their knowledge base, their background basis in education, (and) their ability to quickly let us see, here, that marginalized students go far beyond a racial issue.”

There are many issues that cause students to feel marginalized, Vickers said, and this gives them a great opportunity to learn and change, by identifying these issues by actually getting out there and interviewing people in the community, which is during part two of the Listening and Learning phase (September through November).

Although not everyone was as confident in the process. Board member Dee Perry raised several concerns about the program and the cost of the contract.

“I’m proud and grateful that we are working on this topic,” Perry said, but she’s heard both positive and negative feedback, and they need to listed to all of it. 

LBUSD protesters

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Anti-racism protestors at Main Beach last year

Her main concern centered on the lack of concrete results so far.

“People were excited that we were going to do this work, but they haven’t seen any tangible results with their kids,” Perry said. “They haven’t seen anything positive that has helped their students after nearly six months and $50,000.”

Vickers noted that it’s been emphasized multiple times that this is a long-range project.

“And that to see any immediate results would mean that we would be putting things into place that aren’t going to have the depth or the ability to make really substantial changes,” Vickers said. “Systemic changes are going to take a long time…you can’t do it overnight.”

That was accentuated during the study session, she added. 

“You need to go slow to go fast,” Vickers said. “There must have been a misperception that there would be something concrete that people would see with their students in this first bit of time.” 

They should emphasize and communicate better about the length of the process, Perry responded. But it would also be helpful for parents and students to have something tangible or take some kind of action, even just having a book to read, that could show progress to people outside the steering committee. 

“Otherwise, it looks like everybody who is in this group is sold, and thinks it’s great and gung-ho,” Perry said. But many “people on the outside, don’t see that.”

Something by the end of the year would be beneficial, she added. 

Perry also mentioned speaking to a local resident who has studied these topics and was very disheartened after listening to the board’s study session. 

“She said it was mostly rhetoric and no action, it appeared any implementation was down the road; and she felt that preparation was lacking for our particular situation,” Perry said. 

The scope of work is divided up into several parts over the next year, with outcomes attached to each section, explained LBUSD Superintendent Jason Viloria.

Over the past several months the conversation has revolved around identifying the groups that need to be involved and focusing on how to engage with them, he added. Next, they move on to the engagement plan of listening and learning, which will be shared with the broader community and the school board, likely at another study session. 

He feels confident they are headed down a path toward an optimal end result. The team has a high work ethic, high productivity, and a high satisfaction rate with the services and end results they provide, Viloria said. And, if they felt they weren’t headed in the right direction, the team could pivot and adjust the process as needed. It’s a very flexible, he added. 

Perry’s other concerns included why the Education Elements officials weren’t planning on being on campus at the start of the year (although the detailed proposal includes numerous workshops and sessions, both in-person and virtual, throughout the entire process), how the data would be gathered (whether or not students and parents would complete surveys or whether kids would be pulled out of class), and that some kids were still being disregarded. 

Perry suggested not delivering the full amount of funds upfront.

“I think that it would be prudent to…give them maybe half the money for five months and see how they do,” Perry said. “And it’s not just the money that I’m worried about, it’s really the needs of our students…I would just like to be a little more cautious, both with the money and the time.”

The terms of payment are already structured so the funds don’t go all out at once, Viloria explained. There’s an initial payment and then a second billing at six months, he said. So, if they are not receiving what’s expected at that time, there would be a discussion about the direction of the program. 

Questioning if they could break the contract if it wasn’t working out, Viloria said that would have to be discussed with the LBUSD legal department.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jeff Dixon clarified that the terms for termination are laid out in the master agreement, which isn’t listed in the new agreement. They have all the typical terms in place, Dixon confirmed. 

It would be easier to understand and appreciate if she were in the steering committee meetings, Board President Carol Normandin told to Perry. There is a lot of emotional growth and detailed explanations of the scope of work during those meetings, she added. 

This contract is larger than the first exploratory one because through the heartfelt work by the committee, identifying more marginalized groups and expanding the work beyond just the board resolution, it’s now broader and more inclusive, Normandin said. 

As far as why they aren’t physically on campus, Normandin explained that Zoom worked so far during the pandemic, and it helps the district save money.

They don’t know what the fall holds, in terms of COVID, and virtual versus in-person programming, Viloria said. They are unsure of the spacing requirements and what that entails. But they are looking forward to spending time in Laguna Beach, Viloria said. 


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Education Elements’ equity strategy will be implemented across all of LBUSD

The Education Elements approach for LBUSD’s 2021-22 year starts in August with campus and leadership learning. As the team engages with campuses and leaders in the upcoming school year, it’s important to provide context for the work and opportunities for learning, the proposal from EE explains. They will provide several sessions at the campus and district level to provide an introduction to this work and give opportunities to engage in concepts related to power, privilege, and bias (topics and content TBD). 

“These sessions will provide the groundwork for fruitful discussion and collaboration and help leaders and teachers to identify and articulate a shared philosophy and vision for this work,” the proposal reads. 

Between September and November, the program will move into the stakeholder “Listening and Learning and Equity Inventories” stage. This process will help the team understand to what extent the organization prioritizes and takes action to ensure an equitable environment that prioritizes belonging.

At the end of the year, the focus will then shift to strategy and design until approximately March 2022. A plan will be created that ensures belonging, dignity, and love for all students. 

The final step is implementation capacity building during the first six months of 2022. Education Elements will help scale the plan and support the broader organization. 

According to the more detailed plan shared in the proposal, there are numerous workshops, sessions, and stakeholder listening meetings, both in-person and virtual, throughout the entire process. 

The steering committee will continue to guide and shape the work along the way. The board will still ultimately be the decision-making body. A website is also in development that will share the progress, ideas, and communication.

Laguna Beach Unified Board of Education approves 4 percent salary increase for all employees

The Laguna Beach Unified Board of Education has approved a 4 percent salary increase for all non-temporary employees. It strives to recruit and retain the best professionals in the educational field to serve our students from Transitional Kindergarten (TK) to career. 

“LBUSD staff holds an in-depth understanding of the systems needed to address each students’ individual academic and social-emotional learning needs,” states Board President Carol Normandin. “The Board is so proud of all employees for their unwavering dedication as they tirelessly worked to develop innovative ways to ensure all students received the best education amid the biggest crisis in education in our lifetime. While a raise doesn’t seem like enough, it is the amount that balances our commitment to fiscal solvency and a true testament of support to the most important resource we have, our employees.”

The process of recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining high-performing staff is of paramount importance to the district as it works toward its mission of ensuring each student gains the knowledge, experience, world perspectives, and skills needed to become a lifelong learner and producer in a competitive and interconnected world. 

“We appreciate the collaborative relationship we have with our two bargaining units,” stated Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Mike Conlon. “Our employees have led valiantly during the pandemic, and we are grateful for the opportunity to increase district-wide compensation after assessing our budget.” 

“When we ask ourselves how we can provide the highest quality education and experience for our students, the answer is clear – by investing in our staff,” said Superintendent Jason Viloria. “We want to recruit and retain the highest-quality employees to serve our students and deeply appreciate our Board prioritizing this as an ongoing, multi-year strategic goal.” 

Employees can expect the raise to take effect at the beginning of the next fiscal year, starting July 1, 2021.

Board approves LBUSD Superintendent’s extended, increased employment agreement

Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education approved an amended employment contract for the superintendent of schools during a meeting this week.

Board members voted 4-1 on Thursday (June 24), with member Dee Perry dissenting, in support of the increased and extended agreement with LBUSD Superintendent Jason Viloria.

The amendment establishes a four-year contract, commencing July 1, with a minimal salary of $322,149.

On June 8, the board approved a negotiated agreement with the Classified School Employees Association and a salary proposal for unrepresented and management employees which included a 4 percent salary increase. Since the June 8 meeting, the district has also entered into agreements with LaBUFA and a salary proposal for a 4 percent salary increase, which was also presented.

In accordance with the current employment agreement, the superintendent shall receive any increases given to the administrative unit based on the results of negotiations. Any such upward adjustment shall be in the form of a mutually agreed upon written amendment and shall become a part of the employment agreement.

In an effort to maintain equity with other certificated and administrative personnel, the superintendent shall also receive a salary increase each year of this agreement, based on the average or median percentage increase given on the administrative salary schedule for a step and column raise, or as a result of negotiations, explained Board President Carol Normandin.

Normandin explained that the contract continues to provide for a monthly allowance of $250 for expenses, health, and welfare benefits and other fringe benefits provided to all other certificated management employees, 25 days of annual vacation, and 12 annual sick leave days, as provided in the education code.

The term of the agreement shall be extended to June 30, 2025.

Board approves Jason Viloria

Submitted photo

LBUSD Superintendent Jason Viloria

Perry explained her no vote was in opposition to the four-year extension.

The superintendent has done an amazing job keeping the schools safe and he has amazing potential, Perry said, but there’s room for improvement. 

Other districts have board policies that require the superintendent to be visible and accessible to community members, working with them to further the district’s goals, and to build a strong, positive community attitude toward the school system, Perry said. There are not many people who have that positive attitude, she said. 

As Perry started to talk about families leaving the district and describing part of what she thinks the superintendent should do in his role, Normandin stopped her with a reminder that the discussion was about the contract only. 

The board discusses the employee as a person and their performance during closed session only, Normandin said. The position and contract are the only topics of discussion during an open, public session. It could be a potential violation to discuss the superintendent as a person, she explained.

Superintendents, in general, should build a strong public attitude toward the school system, Perry stated. At this time, she could not support a four-year extension, she said.

For most of the years that she’s served, the four-year contract was standard, said board member Jan Vickers.

Other board members supported the extension as a way to build longevity and stability in LBUSD management. 

They want to see growth year over year, said Board Clerk Kelly Osborne, especially in light of COVID.

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