Los Angeles Times

School board race sees new and familiar faces

Laguna Beach residents will make the choice Nov. 6 whether to keep familiar faces on the five-member Laguna Beach Unified school board or vote in favor of two newcomers.


The incumbents

William Landsiedel and Jan Vickers are both hoping to keep their seats. Landsiedel has been with the board for four years and served a six-month term in 2006.

"Everything is going great. I haven't heard a compelling need to change," Landsiedel, 62, said. "When you look at this record, from my perspective, it doesn't make any sense to change."

Landsiedel pointed to district successes such as an increased Academic Performance Index score. He said the district can't announce the current scores yet, but that it will show a significant increase from years prior.

He added the district is one of the only financially sound ones in the county, which means it's not facing the same issues as nearby districts — such as furloughs, program cuts and increased class sizes.

He used his daughter as an example, whose geometry class at Thurston Middle School was divided into two classes of 18 — which isn't atypical in the district, he said.

Landsiedel said he's proud of the increased Advanced Placement participation, which occurred after he spearheaded changes to AP admittance. Instead of testing in, the district approved allowing any child to take AP classes who had an interest.

Now, Laguna Beach High School has an 89% pass rate for AP exams.

He said his top issues are consistency on the board, financial stability, a balanced budget and the Common Core Standards.

Landsiedel said he's familiar with both of the new candidates, Tammy Keces and Dee Perry, and said he thinks they're one-issue candidates. He said he knows Keces personally but hasn't heard an argument of why he or Vickers should not return.

Landsiedel, an attorney, owns a private law firm and has more than 30 years of management experience as assistant chief counsel for the State Compensation Insurance Fund, the largest workers' compensation carrier in the U.S. He has a California teaching credential and has taught business law at Long Beach City College and constitutional law at Pacific Coast University, both for more than 10 years.

He earned his bachelor's degree from Cal State Long Beach and juris doctor from Western State University College of Law. His children attend Laguna Beach schools.

Vickers had her first term in 1981 and if reelected, it would be her fourth term on the board. She's served on the board a total of 22 years.

Vickers, 65, agreed that continuity on the board is essential, especially after the recent retirements of top administrators and new staff at the district.

She has elementary and early-child specialist credentials from UC Irvine, where she also studied for her undergraduate degree. She was the director at the School for Young Children at the Laguna Beach United Methodist Church for 10 years.

She's also an artist and has shown at the Festival of Arts and the Sawdust Art Festival.

Vickers grew up in a family of educators; both her parents were teachers and her brother is as well.

"It's the fabric of who I am," she said. "This is the way I've chosen to be of service and I really put a lot into it."

She's also been of service in a more personal endeavor: a foster parent. After her eldest son graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 1988, she began fostering children, mostly infants. She's fostered eight children over the years and adopted one, who graduated from the high school in 2010.

She said the experience has given her an invaluable perspective on working with children who have different levels of need.

A toddler girl she fostered had been in eight or nine homes before hers, she said.

"There's a lot of kids that don't get a very good start in life," she said. "That lack of stability and any kind of solid home — it opened up my eyes to how kids could struggle and how it could affect their experience at school."

Her top three concerns for Laguna Beach Unified are its finances, which she said should be the No. 1 concern for every district; Common Core Standards, which have allowed teachers to focus on quality versus quantity when it comes to teaching state standards; and Multiple Systems of Support, which focuses on the importance of best first instruction and intervention so that each child gets the support he or she needs.


The challengers

This won't be the first time Tammy Keces ran for office in the district. She ran for ASB president in sixth grade at Top of the World Elementary School, coincidently where she'll be for the candidates forum on Oct. 11.

Keces, 42, is a certified positive discipline educator and taught first grade for three years at New Horizon Elementary School, an independent Islamic school in Irvine. She also was a volunteer teacher of the GATE program at Top of the World in 2009. She said the program stopped after she left.

Parents and students in the community come to her to voice their issues with the district. Ultimately, that support led her to seek election, she said.

"There's an assumption that there's this level of excellence that we've already reached. Parents know that there's curriculum and implementation design that's not happening at our district," she said. "Over the last five years, teachers, parents and school board members have approached me about being on the school board, and I haven't responded until now because [now] I have the time and commitment to be able to do it."

She feels parents have issues that need to be addressed. She pointed to past PTA Coffee Breaks, where parents have brought speakers such as Dr. Jane Nelson, with whom Keces works.

She said she's regularly attended school board meetings, but when asked whether she's voiced any community concerns during public comments, she said she hasn't out of respect, and because she did not want to marginalize herself.

Keces said if elected, she would pay special attention to 21st-century skills and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), empowering teachers to seek professional development and promoting extracurriculars.

Keces has a bachelor's degree from UCLA and a master's from Teachers College at Columbia University. Her children attend Top of the World and the high school.

Dee Perry might be new to the race but she's a recognized face to many who have graduated from Laguna Beach schools.

Perry has 35 years of experience working at the district as a teacher of grades one through five, speech pathologist and special education.

Perry, 60, said she decided to take a shot at a seat because of discontent in the community.

"The test scores are good but there are a lot more to children than their test scores," she said. "People are ready for a change."

Perry said she's concerned about the state budget, giving parents a voice and improving writing skills at each school so they're better equipped upon graduation.

In contrast to the incumbents, she said she brings a lot of personal experience to the table, which she thinks will prove vital in decision-making. She's worked at Top of the World, El Morro, Thurston and the now-closed Aliso Elementary School. Her son graduated from Laguna Beach High School.

Perry was involved in a lawsuit with the school district, which was filed in 2010 and dismissed in January. Perry said she filed the lawsuit so the district would pay attention to the needs of ESL (English as a second language) and special education students in her third-grade class at El Morro.

She said the administration ignored items she felt needed attention and hoped the lawsuit would bring needed changes. She said she has observed changes, such as administration being trained to work with ESL students, who have unique challenges.

Perry has a bachelor's degree from the University of Redlands, a credential from UC Irvine and a master's from Western Washington University.


Twitter: @joannaclay

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times