PTA Coffee Break: Kicking off the season with thoughts from leaders

Last month at the Aliso Creek Inn, PTA's Coffee Break kicked-off the season by welcoming leaders and parents alike to catch up on the latest developments for Laguna Beach Unified School District.

This year we welcomed two-year veteran Supt. Sherine Smith, and brand-new Asst. Supt. Deni Christiansen. Also present were high school Principal Joanne Culverhouse, Thurston Principal Jenny Salberg, El Morrow Principal Chris Duddy, Chief Technology Officer Victor Guthrie, Director of Special Education Irene White, Asst. Supt. of Business Services Dean West, and Shannon Soto, director of fiscal services.

Coffee Break spokeswoman Cindy Newman-Jacobs reminded all parents to consult the website: She emphasized that while all speakers are recorded and archived on the website, the flesh-and-blood attendance of parents in the room is a key part of what Coffee Break is all about — that is community.

Also, Newman-Jacobs invited all to make suggestions as to what content they would like Coffee Break to pursue. This is parent education "for the people, by the people."

Smith stated her goal as promoting "high quality education as the gold standard" in Laguna Beach. She reported that standardized test scores, while not completely tabulated yet, suggest another year of improvement for our district, which speaks positively to efforts of all the staff in the face of the $6 million budget reduction over the past four years. She touted the unique "personality and passion" of Laguna Beach, which she believes makes this rosy picture possible.

The most galvanizing of the speakers was Christiansen. Her exciting mission is to transition the district to the new Common Core Standards which must be in place by 2014-15. These standards have been developed in response to private sector feedback that current schooling just isn't turning out highly effective participants for the global workplace. These standards stress the importance of critical thinking across disciplines, emphasizing thinking skills over simple content recall.

"Laguna Beach is poised to lead in the state implementation of the Common Core Standards," Christiansen said.

The remainder of the morning was spent hearing about new enterprises underway at the various school sites. Duddy reported that all elementary school teachers received "depth/complexity" training over the summer, and have also been exposed to "cognitively-guided instruction." They are developing a common core unit to pilot by year-end. El Moro is partnering with the Crystal Cove Alliance in building an outdoor classroom adjacent to the school to include a weather station and monitoring of an invasive African frog species.

Salberg discussed a new system to help new students transition to middle school. She described an initiative to bring the Boys and Girls Club organization on site during lunch to organize activities for students who may be having trouble finding their niche.

Culverhouse talked about last year's efforts to bring social sciences and English classes into a pacing alignment. Through the professional learning community, Saddleback College's dean came and spoke to the English department, and then teachers were able to go sit in on college writing classes.

Culverhouse celebrated the 94% of 2012 graduates who went on to a two or four-year college, while also proudly announcing the 89% pass rate of the 278 of students who took AP classes last year.

For more information about Coffee Break, visit

KATE ROGERS is a mother of three and a member of the Coffee Break committee.

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