PTA COFFEE BREAK: Promoting positive behavior

Laguna Beach Unified School District officials shared their thoughts on the beginning of the school year to parents Wednesday at the PTA’s monthly Coffee Break at the Surf and Sand Resort.

Superintendent Robert Fraisse told parents about the district’s intent to have research on the International Baccalaureate program complete by the end of the year, with policies to be put in place in the spring in time for a launch next fall, should the district decide to go forward with the program.

Laguna Beach High School Principal Don Austin said he is developing a stronger plan to address his campus’ needs; this is his second year leading the school.

A major focus for Austin is the development of clear commitments, which he started working on in a “Jerry Maguire-like” moment in his office. After developing a set of commitments for himself, he began encouraging counselors, teachers and students to develop their own sets.


All of the commitments are being posted on the school’s Web site.

“This is more than just a poster on the wall,” he said.

Student athletes have begun a Champions of Character program from Vanguard University, which Austin hopes to expand to the entire school in the future.

He also described a mentoring program in which the school’s most at-risk kids have been partnered with faculty mentors.


“Our goal is to have less kids fall through the cracks,” he said. “We’re going to try to create healthy, individual thinkers.”

Thurston Middle School Principal Joanne Culverhouse is focusing on the school’s harassment policy; the leadership team visited every classroom on campus earlier this school year, where they spoke about the issue.

“I think that middle school is a very, very difficult age,” she said. “Everything that they’re going through is monumental.”

Priorities at Thurston are improving its Positive Behavior Support program and its related SMART Card program, which give students incentives to excel.

“There is a huge connection between the academic connection and the social connection at all schools,” Culverhouse said.

Students who earn cards will be able to participate in mini-assemblies by invitation only, where they can win gift cards, T-shirts and other prizes that are meaningful to them.

“Yes, we do ‘buy’ the children at Thurston Middle School,” Culverhouse said, laughing.

Chris Duddy of El Morro Elementary described his own Positive Behavior Support program, where kids learn character and how to be respectful and responsible.


Disaster preparedness is another priority at the school, which has been working with the adjacent state park to clear brush from the school’s perimeter.

Enrollment has increased on campus, with students coming from as far away as Ireland, despite declining enrollment in other county districts.

Ron LaMotte, principal at Top of the World Elementary, said his school is going to improve what already works well.

The staff’s theme this year is “Perfecting the Art and Science of Teaching” by using research to improve each teacher’s own unique methods.

A new shared reading interventionist will help kids with English skills, and the school’s PTA has started a new environmental committee.

The school’s Positive Behavior Support program has introduced a Treasure Tower for kids to select prizes, and the school’s ABCs of behavior have become part of the school culture.

Ping pong tables also have been purchased for the school.