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Bob Whalen: Not done with work on school board

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

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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

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more global society.

QUESTIONS

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

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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

oversight responsibility.

2. How will the board ensure the district’s financial health in an

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uncertain economy?

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

elementary schools?

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

solutions.


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