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TOP EDUCATION STORIES OF 2007: Renewed campuses, leaders

1New superintendent selected

The Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education selected Robert Fraisse as its new superintendent in April.

Fraisse, an education veteran and leadership expert from the Conejo Valley, took the helm from Theresa Daem when she stepped down at the end of the school year.

Fraisse previously served as the Distinguished Educator in Residence at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, where he co-directed the doctoral education program and headed its educational leadership department.


He completed four years as superintendent at the Conejo Valley Unified School District in 2006; its demographics are similar to Laguna’s.

Fraisse also served on the Ventura First Five Commission, an organization focused on early learning programs targeted for children aged newborn to 5 years old.

2Renovation project advances


Following two years of quandaries, St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School received approval from the Planning Commission this month to go ahead with a planned renovation of its campus.

The South Laguna school, founded in 1957, has come out on top in tussles with the Coastal Commission, city and community over endangered birds, watercourses and construction vehicles.

The new campus will increase in size by about 4,500 square feet, but will not incur an increase in the maximum number of students allowed admission to the school.

3High school honored

Laguna Beach High School received the state’s highest public school honor, the Distinguished School award, earlier this year.

The honor is given to the top 5% of public schools in the state. The high school hasn’t received it since 1996, the year it was also designated as a national Blue Ribbon school.

It has since been nominated as a national Blue Ribbon school, with official notification expected next year. It was the only high school in Orange County to be nominated.


The honors coincide with Laguna Beach High School Principal Don Austin’s first year leading the school, following the hotly contested resignation of Nancy Blade in 2006.

4Steel steps down

Parent volunteers and district officials paid tribute to Bill Steel in honor of his tenth and final year chairing the SchoolPower Community Campaign.

Parent Carol Normandin will succeed him as committee chairwoman. Under Steel’s leadership, the foundation has raised more than $3 million for the district and its teachers.

SchoolPower is a volunteer-based, nonprofit organization which raises money to enrich the education of all children in the Laguna Beach Unified School District.

Funds raised by the organization are given to teachers in the form of grants for supplies, field trips, athletic programs and specific projects like science kits or supplemental reading materials.

SchoolPower provides about $250 in funding per district child for reading, writing, the arts, science, fitness, Spanish, technology and programs that emphasize the whole child.


“It’s a great school district, and we have, I think, the finest teachers in the county,” Steel said. “It’s been really fun to raise money for this district and the families in this district.”

5Schools close for fires

The Laguna Beach Unified School District closed its schools for two days during the October firestorms, creating a mixture of relief and annoyance for students’ parents.

The district cited poor air quality and the possibility of fire closer to home in the decision.

Anneliese’s Schools followed suit, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Laguna Beach immediately opened during the school day to offer working parents an option.

The decision followed improvements to the campuses made after a sobering fire preparedness report was presented to the district by a fire consultant.

Laguna Beach High School developed an evacuation protocol to house students from all four campuses during the fires, as it is the least threatened of the schools.