Robert Whalen has unfinished business on the Laguna Beach Unified
School District Board of Education.
“I feel a tremendous responsibility to see [the construction]
through,” he said. “I want to make sure it gets done in accordance
with the plan that the community approved,” he said.
Actively involved in the district since his now 19-year-old
daughter started kindergarten, Whalen wants to focus on a curriculum
that not only better prepares students for college, but also for a
more global society.
1. Will the board continue to oversee the details of the ongoing
construction at the schools?
Absolutely. I am running for re-election in large part because I
feel a deep responsibility to the community to bring the
reconstruction effort in on time and under budget. As the chair of
the District Facilities Committee from its inception in 1998, I have
an in-depth understanding of the planning that went into the
rebuilding program and of what we need to do to implement that plan.
The board receives detailed spreadsheets and updates on the
construction progress weekly. Finally, the Independent Citizens
Oversight Committee, consisting of a broad spectrum of community
members, will provide valuable information to assist the board in its
2. How will the board ensure the district’s financial health in an
The board has already taken the critical first step by
methodically rebuilding the district’s reserve fund over the last
five years. When I joined the board in 1997, reserves were at zero. I
advocated strongly for building a prudent reserve to guard against
economic downturns. I am proud to say that we have built our reserves
to nearly $6 million, which will enable us to ride out the current
difficult economic environment. The board has also moved aggressively
to cut costs through better purchasing practices and more efficient
energy use at our schools.
3. Do you feel that classroom size is an important issue at our
Small class sizes at the elementary level is critical to the
youngest students. The district has implemented a 20-1
student-to-teacher class size for kindergarten through third grade.
These smaller class sizes have greatly helped students advance more
quickly in reading and math because it allows much more individual
attention for students. Although the state funding for this program
no longer covers the cost to the district, the board has continued to
fund this program because of its substantial educational benefits.
4. Are you concerned that the current curriculum is more geared
toward preparing students for state testing?
I believe that state testing has had both positive and negative
impacts on our curriculum. State testing has increased the emphasis
on basic areas such as reading comprehension, grammar, math and
spelling at the elementary and middle schools. We have adapted our
curriculum to address these areas and the results have been quite
positive with improved scores in these critical basic skills. At the
middle and high school, preparation for state testing has constrained
somewhat the flexibility that teachers have in certain subject areas.
On balance, the curriculum adjustments for state testing have been
beneficial for our students.
5. How will the board help create a more global curriculum that
will prepare students for the future?
I have urged the district to re-institute foreign language
instruction at the elementary schools, because, in my view, it is
critical for students of this generation to be fluent in a second
language. The program has begun this year as an after-school program
with a great level of interest. The board has also discussed
introducing online learning courses at the high school, where our
students could take courses from colleges around the country that
would emphasize courses with a broader world view. This year the high
school has also introduced the requirement for a senior project
before graduation. I see this as a vehicle for students to undertake
a semester-long study of a real world problem and identify potential