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
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.
“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.
“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
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
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