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All hats are in for Laguna school board race

Mary A. Castillo

The filing deadline is past and four candidates have stepped up to

claim three vacant seats on the Laguna Beach Unified School District

Board of Education.


They are Kathryn Turner, Robert Whalen, Betsey Jenkins and Thomas

Wilson. The Coastline Pilot will profile the four candidates

throughout the next three weeks starting with Turner.

Incumbent Turner was first sworn in to the board the day before


the Orange County bankruptcy in 1994.

“The district had its own problems at the time and nearly went

into bankruptcy,” she recalled. “My first four years were spent

righting the ship but I couldn’t step away.”

Although she admits the district has come a long way from those

dark times, Turner is eager to spend her third term focusing on


“This will be the fun part,” she said. “I feel we can now finish


that conversation and make a difference in the lives of youngsters.”

Turner came to the board as the dean of health and sciences at

Laguna Beach City College. She retired from that position in 1998.

She brought with her the experience of a nursing instructor and later

a department administrator. The conversations among her colleagues

that focused on the problem of ill-prepared incoming students stayed

with her.

“I wanted to lend my support as an educator in higher education,”


she said.

The issues that Turner expects will stand at the forefront of this

election is the funding structure of the district, construction and

quality of education.

“This district is the only district in Orange County that is

funded solely on property taxes,” she said, remembering all too well

the precarious situation the district was in eight years ago. “As the

economy goes, so does the school district.”

Turner wants to explore and implement financial safeguards as well

as continue to keep an eagle eye on the district’s financial

resources, especially as El Morro enters Phase II of its construction

and new projects escalate at the three other school sites.

“This is a huge drain on our resources and it’s a massive project

that we can easily get lost in,” she said.

Although she is well aware of the need to manage the construction

project, she is determined to hone in education quality.

“Standardized tests do not tell us everything,” she said. “They do

not take into consideration environment, social pressures and

emotional health.”

Back in 1990, Turner with Susan Mas began what is now known as the

Quest for Excellence. Out of research and explorations conducted by

sub-committees consisting of teachers, board members, parents and

community members, the whole-child concept emerged. It is a concept

that is now reflected in the professional development courses as well

as in the schools. The Quest for Excellence revealed a need for

project-based learning and weaknesses in the service learning

requirement, academic support for struggling students and character


Turner looked to the improvements in the service learning project

as evidence of the district’s success in educating young people who

may go into the world as active and aware adults.

“Last year we had high school students waking up at 7 a.m. to test

the beach waters and then post their findings in the windows of store

fronts,” she said.

The students’ and community’s reactions to the program were so

positive that the high school is exploring ways to create

service-learning programs in business and health.

One of the things Turner is looking forward to are the results of

a student survey conducted last year among second-through 11th-grade

students to identify academic weaknesses.

Turner hopes that the survey will help grow the voluntary high

school freshman academy program and eventually include all students

who need extra academic support.

“I am focused on ensuring the best education for each student,”

she said. “I’ve been there when they needed me.”