2011 In Review: Principals shift at LBUSD schools

Laguna Beach High School Principal Don Austin left his post after five years with the high school to assume his new position as assistant superintendent of educational services at the Huntington Beach Union High School District.

Thurston Middle School Principal Joanne Culverhouse moved up to take the position at the high school in the summer, fully assuming the role at the start of the academic year.

Jennifer Salberg was promoted to principal at the middle school and Mikael Modeer was hired as assistant principal. He was previously assistant principal at Oak Crest Middle School in Encinitas.


2. Track closes during non-school hours

Laguna Beach's Board of Education saw an uptick in public comments in March when concerned citizens approached the board about the closure of Laguna Beach High School's track during non-instructional hours.

About six months prior, the board had banned the use of the track and only allowed its use during school hours, citing safety reasons. Many residents said they hadn't heard of any threats to student safety.

Supt. Sherine Smith read a statement to the group, which explained that while all perspectives were considered, the board came to the consensus that student safety was priority.

"It is important for us to be proactive rather than be placed in the position of being reactive after the fact," she said. "The safety of students is our obligation and first priority."


3. Students from sister city visit

In October, the Laguna Beach Sister Cities Assn. helped coordinate a visit from students from Laguna Beach's sister city, Menton, France.

Odile Dewar's French class at Laguna Beach High School had been in contact with the French students for 18 months before the visit.

Their time here included dinners at Laguna restaurants, trips to local hotspots and time spent at LBHS attending classes with their American counterparts. They also spent a day in San Diego.


4. Science teacher under review

A Laguna Beach High School teacher who allegedly showed up late and drunk at school was placed on a 45-day employment review in January by the Board of Education.

Joanie McKnight was sent home Dec. 10, 2010, after the principal asserted she smelled like alcohol.

McKnight received notice from the district Jan. 13 that said she had been tardy, under the influence of alcohol and insubordinate, according to her lawyer.

McKnight's husband spoke on her behalf at a board meeting, saying McKnight had been under personal stress and overslept on the morning in question but "the allegation that she went to school drunk is untrue and absurd."

Spanish teacher Rod Ortiz also spoke on her behalf and said he saw no evidence of her being intoxicated.


5. Tennis courts not up to par

Residents repeatedly attended school board meetings this summer, upset over alleged degradation of the high school's tennis courts.

A local father of two students, David Vanderveen said he'd noticed the damage on the courts for a couple years.

Supt. Sherine Smith and Norma Shelton, assistant superintendent of business services, explained that the courts are jointly owned with the city and that negotiations are required to move forward on the necessary renovations. Shelton noted the upgrades were on the district's facility project list, but that other projects that are pivotal to the health and safety of students take priority.

Smith said she will meet with the city and come back to the board with a better idea regarding possible plans.

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