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Mas leaving for more work

Mary A. Castillo

After 17 years of service to the Laguna Beach School District,

board President Susan Mas attended her final meeting Tuesday. She

will focus 100% of her energy on expanding El Sol Science and Arts

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Academy in Santa Ana.

But when pressed to talk more about her achievements, true to

character, Mas wanted to share the accolades with others.

“I think there are a lot of things I’m really proud of,” she said.

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“But I’m most proud of the achievements of the teachers, the kids and

the staff in creating an excellent public school system.”

A resident of Laguna since 1977, Mas began her work with the

district back in the late ‘70s as a consultant on the Community

Energy Cooperative at Top of the World Elementary School. Before that

time, she worked in Latin America in community development. When she

returned to the United States, she began working on utility and

energy conservation in schools, colleges and universities.

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“I got involved because I was concerned about writing and I wanted

to see more writing done,” she said with a laugh. “That was my first

campaign, and I’ve learned a lot since then about what a school board

member does.”

Among the most notable of Mas’ contributions is the summer CREATE

program, which from 1992 to 1998 brought kids from different

socio-economic backgrounds in the arts together for two weeks.

“The best in painting, drawing, dance and drama were chosen,” she

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recalled. “The kids from out of town lived with families in town, and

it was really a great program.”

However, alongside the triumphs were the rocky times, most notably

in 1998 when financial insolvency loomed over the district.

“I think the lesson that I’ve learned is that you keep focused on

the kids and what is good for the kids,” she said of that time in her

career with the school board. “One of the challenges of a school

board member is making decisions with less than perfect information.

You have to learn how to do that and be able to say, ‘Well, I made

the best decision I could at the time, given the information I had.’”

Mas stressed that the hard work and mission to steer the district

toward greater stability resulted in approval the board received from

the community when the “R” bond measure passed with an overwhelming

majority in June 2001.

“It was a wonderful vote of confidence,” she recalled. “It speaks

well of everyone who is on the board, not just me.”

Even though she is concerned about the changes on the horizon for

public schools throughout the county, Mas is confident that she is

leaving the school district in good hands. She said the district’s

Quest for Excellence and the whole-child philosophy is working to

allow teachers and staff to prepare the next generation of

decision-makers and leaders who will face a more global environment

and accelerated pace of change.

“I think that it is absolutely essential that we have a strong

public school system,” she said. “We must have educated and engaged

individuals if we’re going to make our democracy work.”

* MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot.

She covers education, public safety and City Hall. She can be reached

at mary.castillo@latimes.com.


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