Schools candidates discuss issues at forum

Laguna Beach Unified School District board candidates put their stances on the table at Thursday's forum at Top of the World Elementary. Incumbents pushed consistency and practicality, while newcomers argued they would bring a fresh perspective to the board.

The forum was hosted by the League of Women's Voters and Laguna Beach PTA.

Jan Vickers and William Landsiedel are the incumbents. Vickers, a former educator and artist, has served a combined 22 years on the board, starting in 1981. This would be her fourth term if reelected. Landsiedel, an attorney and college lecturer, has been on the board for four years and served a six-month term in 2006.

Tammy Keces most recently taught first grade at New Horizon Elementary School, a private Islamic school in Irvine. She was a volunteer Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) teacher at Top of the World in 2009, she said.

Dee Namba Perry is a retired teacher who taught at El Morro Elementary and Top of the World. She was also a speech pathologist at Thurston Middle School.

All of the candidates either had children or currently have children in the district.

For more information on the candidates, click here.


Should kindergarten be a full day?

The question was posed whether the candidates supported a half-day kindergarten or if they wanted a transition to a full day.

Both Keces and Perry were in agreement that a full day would allow more instructional time and argued that although the children get tired, they'd get used to it over time.

Perry argued that as a teacher she barely had 45 minutes of instructional time in a half-day schedule after calculating time spent in the library, recess, snack and using computers.

Vickers said that although it seems that instructional time is shortened, other activities kindergartners participate in — such as using computers — is learning and shouldn't be counted as time outside the classroom. Like many student issues there is a "real mix of parent feelings" when it comes to lengthening the day, she said.

Some children are older in kindergarten and some kids are younger and not developmentally ready for that much instructional time, she said. If a change were to happen, it would require collaboration of the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, teachers and the new common core standards.

Landsiedel said he was torn on the issue and thought that children today already have enough pressure academically.

He said that the half day is strenuous on teachers and that it seemed to be enough for the children.

"Right now, I don't see a compelling reason to change," he said.


Improving programming

Incumbents Landsiedel and Vickers touted the success of PLC, or professional learning communities, where teachers gather together and discuss best first instruction — sharing what works best for their students and what to do when a student requires an intervention.

"For years I heard teachers say they wanted time to get together and talk and solve some of these problems," Vickers said.

"We saw tremendous gains in every school," Landsiedel said, crediting the PLCs. He said the school outperformed Los Alamitos High School in API, which Los Alamitos said it thought was due to PLCs.

Perry said that since test scores are high, attention should be paid to other areas such as writing skills. She said past students have come to her and said they didn't feel as prepared after high school when it came to writing. She also wants to focus on character development through schoolwork.

"These API scores are important but won't be as important rolling forward," Keces said.

She cited a new computer program that will assess students skills throughout the weeks, which will offer the opportunity for project-based learning.


Nutrition reform

Both Keces and Perry were in agreement that nutrition could be improved at the district.

"There's about three or four days a month he'll eat at Top of the World," Keces said about her son. "If he could eat every day, he would."

Keces said that the "fake cheese" from sandwiches was being smushed into a ball and thrown by children.

Perry acknowledged the work of the Nutrition Committee, which Jan Vickers was on.

"I know that the Nutrition Committee worked very, very hard on this," Perry said. "Some people were putting in 20 hours a week besides a full-time job and children and didn't feel like they were really listened to."

Perry said although healthy items are on the menu, such as black bean pizza, she didn't know how palatable they were to children.

Vickers pointed out that the bureaucratic system isn't as simple as throwing bad food from your fridge into the trash. She said the district plans to do taste tests at Thurston Middle School, which they haven't done before, and will continue to do it at the elementary and high school level.

Landsiedel argued that the committee's ideas were heard.

"We pretty much put in every suggestion they wanted," he said, citing Farm to School, Chefs to School and the salad bar programs. He also noted grass fed beef and free range chicken items in the cafeterias and the upcoming Wave Rider Café at Thurston.

He said the revisions cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars. He pointed out that the sites are schools first, not restaurants. He also mentioned that only 18% purchase school lunches.

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