New Capistrano Unified board sworn in after contentious recall

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For years, the phrase “contentious school board politics” and Capistrano Unified have gone hand in hand. The school district in south Orange County swears in a new school board this evening at 6 p.m. Many people hope the friction will be a thing of the past.

Incoming Capistrano Unified school board member Gary Pritchard is a college music instructor with a background in orchestral conducting.

He says those skills will come in handy on the school board. "The idea of leading a diverse group of people, I think that has some advantage, being able to think on your feet. I was a jazz pianist for a while, so, some bit of how to improvise in difficult situations."

For years, Capo Unified’s school board has been more Ornette Coleman than Duke Ellington. Pritchard’s on the board after a teachers’ union-endorsed recall of two board members.

The union supported him, he says, but he dismisses the idea that he’s beholden to their agenda. "The voters thought that we would be, and I’m hoping the teachers felt the same way, that we were the best possible choice to help our district move along in terms of student achievement and making sure we serve a very diverse population down here in Orange County."

He and the other new board member the union's endorsed will get to demonstrate that independence in the months ahead as the teachers union negotiates with the administration over salary freezes and benefits. Pritchard believes a teachers’ strike like the one in April is unlikely. Their challenge is like that of all other districts – how to improve or maintain learning as cuts force districts to raise class sizes and lay off essential employees.

Also taking the oath with Pritchard will be returning board members Anna Bryson and Ellen Addonizio. Along with Pritchard, John Alpay and Lynn Hatton will join the board for the first time.