The Quest to Remake Capistrano Unified: A Parent’s Perspective

The Campaign to remake Capistrano Unified has begun in Earnest. In the interests of full disclosure, I wanted to note that I am for the Recall and for the replacement of the current trustees. I came to this conclusion after watching the campaign by the current trustees to impose an agenda that in my view that forgot what they were elected: to serve the Children of the District.

It began when I went out to a Community Meet and Greet organized by Capistrano’s Children First to start making inroads within the Community earlier in the year. I got a real sense of where things were when I saw the District go on strike. I joined the teachers on the picket lines to underscore how the Community was with them. In my conversations with them, I wanted them to realize that times were tough and the budget deficit at hand. The Teachers had to make compromises as well. When the community rose up to demand action, the Board had to relent. The recall petitions were filed and the battles lines were drawn. I was witness as the Community rose up and the Board ultimately relented.

The current trustees are running all out against a grassroots movement that has sprung up and epitomized by Children’s First. I can’t help but admire what they have done. They are running against a well-funded machine that seems to want to transform the District. The current trustees are lashing out at the challenges by painting them as pro union and out of the “mainstream”. The facts, though, are quite different. In the conversations I have had, I have found out that at least two of the current trustees have Union Affiliations. Mr. Maddox, the Current Board Vice President, is apparently affiliated with the Teamsters and has Teamsters Support. Furthermore, the Union representing the Teachers actually supported the current Board slate because they ran on a supposed slate to “reform”. What I have also found that the current candidates are in fact a cross section fo the political mainstream today. There are Democrats, Republicans and Decline-To-State Folks who are on this slate who are trying “make it right” going forward. One of them is a member of the County Republican Central Committee. The purists, though, will probably treat this poor soul as a “traitor” and a “RINO”.

Gary Pritchard and daughter Charlotte

Over the past few weeks, I had a chance to sit down with one of the Candidates, Gary Pritchard, for a chat. Like me, he is a parent and concerned. When I first got wind that he was going to run, I went out to his rally announcing his candidacy. In addition to being a parent, he is also an lifelong educator and works as a Professor at Cerritos College. When we had our sit down, I asked him about what prompted him to run and how he saw the race. We talked about the litigious stance of the current board. I found it quite amazing that according to Gary, the Orange County Board of Education provides free legal service to all boards throughout the County. Yet, the Board apparently decided to hire outsider Counsel to litigate a number of issues that could have been handled differently. They also were at the forefront of opposing Measure H which changes the dynamics in a major way.

As I continued my visit with Gary Pritchard, I asked him about the need to be flexible. He talked about the fact that the Education Code mandated how Trustees had to make the decisions as they did. One of the key things we talked about was Measure H. The need to hold each trustee accountable was quite important. Although trustees are responsible for a specific area, they are elected district wide that presents some challenges on their own. During our talk, I mentioned things about online initiatives such as Einztein, about the Khan Academy ( and discussed what has been happening in India with the advent of the 35 Dollar Computer. We also had a chance to talk about Charter Schools. He was for it as long as the Charter Schools stepped up and lived up and even exceeded the State Standards. He reminded me how the mandates from Sacramento helped to set the agenda and policy. But, what I found refreshing was how he was willing to think creatively with the mandates laid out by the State under the Education Code.

I got a chance to meet all the candidates at a recent Meet and Greet in Aliso Viejo. Although John Alpay was not there, the chance to meet the rest of the team underscored their commitment to the community. Gary Pritchard, Marth McNichols, Saam Alikhani and Lynn Hatton all spoke of their vision and their drive. They talked about how critical it was to really think different. I was quite impressed with how they understood the need to truly “go beyond the now” is the key to our future. All of them have backgrounds in Education, in Business, Project Management and have been involved in the District for quite some time. Saam Alikhani was the Student Trustee that was the voice of reason during the Spring Chaos and brings that level of continuity necessary.

As the Meet and Greet concluded, The President of Capistrano Children First left the audience with a stark message: there are no easy answers. She reminded the audience about the fact that if the Community expected the Board to get in and fix things tomorrow–they would be sadly mistaken. She shared with the audience the challenge by the “new” Board had to come up with an additional 10 Million Dollars in Cuts. I view this as disturbing especially in light of the fact that the State is yet to have a budget. The Board has told the Community that it has balanced the budget by dipping into the reserves.

After the formal chats, I had a chance to briefly share some thoughts with the President of Children’s First. I asked her the views of the Mayor of Mission Viejo about how the City was opposed to Measure H because she wanted to “go to all the seven trustees”. I also briefly talked to her about Moulton’s RMIQ–an grassroots initiative by a few Moulton Parents to help add additional resources. The need to “think different’ is ever more.

As I have been assessing where things stand, I admit I was shocked when I got a “CUSD WEEKLY UPDATE” from the Board. I was proud of the Report from the Board about the increase in the API score. The credit goes to the Teachers because they were able to achieve this in spite of a very challenging year. I also eagerly await the release of “Waiting for Superman” that will hopefully achieve for Public Schools what an “An Inconvenient Truth” did to change the debate and raise the level of awareness.

As I I hope to have a chance to chat with other candidates over the next few weeks, I sense a level of enthusiasm that is ever more.     The signs are up and The lines are drawn.