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Laguna Beach

Our School District is in urgent need of a leadership change

If you have kids in the Laguna Beach Unified School District, on Friday you received an email with the “Playbook” for the upcoming school year. The tardy document is poorly written, full of fluff, and lacking in critical details. This is consistent with how LBUSD leadership has been, in my opinion, mismanaging the challenges caused by COVID-19. Two weeks before school starts, our superintendent and school board cannot even provide an exact date of when students’ trimesters will begin and end. How is this possible with only two weeks until school resumes?

Parents are being asked to commit to either a “virtual academy” (the platform has yet to be named) or to a hybrid-cohort system that will reduce synchronous instruction to only seven hours per week if/when we move into Phase II/on-site classes. Details about the “virtual academy” will only be made available after parents have made their choice; however, how can anyone decide what to properly pick if we don’t even know what each option entails?

The playbook “Flowchart” on page six makes two things clear: 1) School leadership did not start preparing for this until June, which means they wasted more than ten weeks that they could have used to begin preparing for the 2020-21 school year, which should have included looking at options while consulting with parents; 2) It is also clear that there was not consistent consultation with parents or students, as nowhere in the chart do you see any relevant outreach for parents’ input in terms of options/alternatives/trade-offs. The trimester experiment is built on optimizations for teachers and staff at the cost of students’ education. 

The “virtual academy” has been put in as a last-minute option, which may have been in response to a petition in which over 380 concerned students and parents demanded an alternative to the trimester option. It seems as if it was never intended to be a real option due to the lack of details and poor District support for it. 

This fiasco and the impact it is having on our children is the direct result, in my opinion, of a lack of leadership from the School Board, the superintendent, and the leadership staff. I urge other parents to demand answers before we are forced to make year-long choices, to demand better options, and to make sure we bring better people to our School Board in November. Myself, I’m happy to vote for anyone that is not an incumbent now with the exception of Dee Perry, who is the only dissenting voice of a subservient group that does not appear to be asking the superintendent the right questions or pushing for good options when they are needed the most.

Manrique Brenes

Laguna Beach

The role and importance of the First Lady

I recently saw an article about significant First Ladies and I wonder if people think about this when they vote. Even though we are electing a President and a Vice President we are also brining in (so far) spouses who have been female. The spouses can and do pay a special role in the process of day to day activities as well as special functions and by accompanying their husbands on trips overseas. There have been in the past some very significant First Ladies who have taken on their own causes – Eleanor Roosevelt had many which she pursued and which have had a long lasting impact on our society. Michelle Obama also took on children’s health and even joined in exercise activity in public places like the White House lawn. Gerald Ford’s wife Betty came out about addiction – and even has a rehab facility named in her honor. Other wives did not take on public projects but did accompany their husbands on many trips and in many ways built relationships with other First Ladies.

Worldwide there are other First Ladies who had their own agenda such as Imelda Marcos – who could forget all those shoes, clothes, etc. Some women even have leadership roles in their countries – Germany, Scandinavia, New Zealand – and it seems these countries have done well to mitigate the virus. 

What brought this up – I also heard Dr. Biden, Joe Biden’s wife. She spoke recently and I found her interesting to listen to, articulate, her choice of words seemed to indicate that she was well educated and knew her subject matter. Unfortunately Mrs. Trump has chosen not to make herself very public, for whatever reason, and in fact has created controversy on some of her actions/activities. Even though I have tried reading biographies about her – I also have been informed that some of the facts in these books are “fake” (where have we heard that before). Since I haven’t learned much about her or have had an opportunity to listen to her speak on any given subject for any length of time, I don’t have a clear picture of who she is.

Given this, I again suggest that when voting, we think about not only the President and the importance of his manners, communication skills, ability to build relationships and rapports with others, understanding of our Democracy and our diversity of our citizens, having empathy with middle class, etc. but the role and importance of the First Lady as well. Many people talk about “pillow talk” between husbands and wives that often are vital in getting the perspective of male/female roles. 

Ganka Brown
Laguna Beach

Advocating for the preservation of the beauty of Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach has something to celebrate! This week, the President, after broad Congressional support from both parties, signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law. This law will finally permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This law provides much-needed funding to restore our parks and public lands by addressing severe maintenance backlogs.

Many local activists and environmental organizations have advocated for these provisions in Congress and on the streets of Laguna since the early 1980s. While we’re happy to have the Great American Outdoors Act codified into law, there are still many important efforts ahead – not just on Capitol Hill but in state capitals all across the country and here at home in Laguna. 

For example, we must continue to preserve the architectural and historical heritage of Laguna. Laguna and its greenbelt have been recognized by the National Park Service as a Historic American Landscape, a “touchstone of national, regional and local identity” and a “fragile place…affected by forces of nature, commercial and residential development, vandalism and neglect.” Laguna residents are proud of this recognition. The City Council’s current efforts to weaken our historic preservation ordinance make our advocacy all the more critical. 

Unless everyone values the beauty of Laguna Beach, we may lose what so many have worked for over the past 100 years to create.

Johanna Felder,
President Village Laguna

Regarding schools


Please keep your children of all ages out of schools.

It just isn’t safe.

Susan Axelrod Hart

Laguna Beach

Finding political center on public school solutions

Over the past two years I have spent quality time with School Board members, Superintendents, teachers, parents, and students in New York, New Jersey, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington, DC (where my daughter-in-law is a Milken Award winning public school teacher and two grandkids are in public schools).

Especially since the onset of the pandemic, some schools where I did research are experiencing a more extreme social and political polarization syndrome than at any time in the past. It is when the known breakdown of good civic order does not get corrected according to the rules that apply to all, the public begins to lose confidence and patience in the normal process of deliberation and compromise that leads to solutions restoring good order. 

Many school districts where teachers, parents, and students were achieving before, and are adapting creatively and innovatively even under restrictive pandemic academic programs, still are in a state of disarray and acute controversy in the school governance process. Sound familiar?

All one need do is listen in on the public comment sessions at our rigidly scripted School Board meetings, read editorial commentaries in local papers, or toxic social media debates I now try to avoid. Polarities in our schools’ governance culture is pronounced. As recently as last week we saw editorial comments asserting diametrically opposite narratives. One writer insists the school district is open, transparent, inclusive, and responsive to public input, the next letter is demanding an end to abuses and waste, as well as personnel and policy chaos.

I’ve attended more School Board meetings in the last 15 years than any member of the public not there in an official capacity. Whether I speak or write about our schools, I try to recognize strengths as well as weakness, what the School Board and staff got right as well as what I believed to be wrong. I have found that unless you are totally positive and supportive you are labeled totally negative. And I have had critics of the Board tell me I am a sell out when I support the Board on issue where I think they get it right.

In the weeks ahead, I intend to write and speak about how all of us, starting with me, can do better at restoring social cohesion and civility in the school governance process. I have heard a lot of good ideas about compromise and reconciliation from educators, school board members, parents, and teachers all over the state and nation.

I have been homeschooling grandchildren and helping my daughter teaching in a DC public school prepare and train for teaching online in just a week from now. No one knows how long it will be like this. I am learning a lot about learning in the year of living in the pandemic. 

I am convinced good can come from this adversity for our families and our schools. Suffering is an ordeal we would never ask for, but it is one of the mysteries of life that there are great gifts to be found in overcoming the ordeal of suffering.

Adversity can change social brittleness that makes us judgmental, and soften our hearts so we can again be more forgiving and caring. Not because we forget about that was right or wrong in the past, but because we learn from what went wrong, and do more of what is right and less of what is wrong to meet the needs of people and our community in the future.    

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach

Focusing our attention on what really matters

Laguna Beach is the town we all love. Yet something might be blinding our decisions regarding the 2021 elections. I am concerned about any hesitancy to rid the Oval Office of what I believe is a cancer.

The Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law by the man in the Oval Office, is one instance where the means seem to justify the end. It’s interesting to note that Mr. Trump considers himself an environmentalist, and compares his legacy as rivaling President Teddy Roosevelt’s. Yet he is still unable to read from his script the pronunciation of “Yosemite” (Yo Semites) of our country’s greatest national parks.

Please remember that Mr. Trump was convinced to support the bill by two Senate Republicans from two Western states: Senator Steve Daines of Montana, and Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. Both Republicans are facing very tough re-election battles, and this measure would definitely improve their electoral chances. Although the vote was bi-partisan, not one Democrat was invited to attend the signing of this bill, endorsed by so many Democrats. Of course Mr. Trump refers to this as the “Republican Bill.” Let us not be deceived.

While Mr. Trump is enamored with “great environmentalist” added to his legacy, let’s see what remains of our environment after his decimation of Obama laws regarding pollution, drilling for oil, pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Does he really believe his face belongs on Mt. Rushmore?

How does this relate to our Laguna Beach? Does anyone believe that this Great American Outdoors Act will imbue residents with more passion to save our city as it is? Or is it another distraction from issues that concern all residents...opening the schools, helping the businesses in town, addressing the concerns about the enforcement of rules posted around our town regarding the wearing of masks?

We must continue to focus on the pandemic, and monitor all the destructive acts the present administration has wreaked on our country and our environment.

Jahn Levitt

Laguna Beach

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