Capistrano Unified School District

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Capistrano Unified School District
San Juan Capistrano, California
United States
District information
SuperintendentKirsten M. Vital[1]
Students and staff
Other information

Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) is the second largest school district in Orange County, California, United States. It is the 8th largest district in the state[3] and the 78th largest in the country.[4] The district currently has 54,036 students[5] and administers 33 elementary schools, two K-8 schools, ten middle schools, six comprehensive high schools, five charter schools, and multiple alternative education programs.

CUSD has 40 California Distinguished Schools, 11 National Blue Ribbon Schools, 19 Golden Bell winning programs, and 36 California Business Honor Roll Schools, among many other award-winning schools and school programs.[6] The district has a graduation rate of 97.2%, much higher than California's average of 85.1%. Every CUSD high school is ranked in the top 1000 US high schools by U.S. News & World Report.

Formed in 1965, Capistrano Unified School District encompasses 195 square miles (510 km2) and employs 3,992 people, making it the largest employer in South Orange County.[7] With Laguna Beach Unified School District, it is part of the College and Career Advantage (formerly South Coast Regional Occupational Program) (ROP).

Service area[edit]

The school district serves all or part of the following cities and unincorporated areas:


Elementary schools[edit]

K-8 schools[edit]

Middle schools[edit]

  • Aliso Viejo
  • Ladera Ranch
  • Laguna Niguel
  • Mission Viejo
    • Newhart Middle School (California Distinguished School, National Blue Ribbon School, and California Business for Education Excellence "Scholar" School)
  • Rancho Santa Margarita
    • Las Flores Middle School (California Distinguished School and California Business for Education Excellence "Scholar" School)
  • San Clemente
  • San Juan Capistrano

High schools[edit]

  • Aliso Viejo
  • Dana Point
    • Dana Hills High School (California Distinguished School, National Blue Ribbon School, California Business for Education Excellence "Scholar" School, and U.S. News/World Report "Best High School")
  • Las Flores
    • Tesoro High School (California Distinguished School, California Business for Education Excellence "Scholar" School, U.S. News/World Report "Best High School," and Newsweek "Best High School")
  • Mission Viejo
    • Capistrano Valley High School (California Distinguished School, California Business for Education Excellence "Scholar" School, U.S. News/World Report "Best High School," and International Baccalaureate World School)
  • San Clemente
    • San Clemente High School (California Distinguished School, California Business for Education Excellence "Scholar" School, U.S. News/World Report "Best High School," and International Baccalaureate World School)
  • San Juan Capistrano

Alternative education programs[edit]

Student ethnicity[edit]

Ethnicity This district State average
White, not Hispanic 60.2% 28.6%
Asian 5.4% 8.3%
Hispanic or Latino 25.1% 48.6%
Multiple or no response 5.7% 3.1%
African American, not Hispanic 1.3% 7.4%
Filipino 1.6% 2.7%
Pacific Islander 0.1% 0.6%
American Indian or Alaska Native 0.1% 0.8%


In 1994, a science teacher refused to teach evolution because he felt it was a religion. In Peloza v. Capistrano School District, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the school district.

In 2012, Capistrano Unified School District was found guilty for the wrongful death of three-year old Kevin Cisler, who slowly asphyxiated to death on a bus ride home from preschool. The bus driver and CUSD employees failed to properly secure Kevin in his seat, which resulted in the child asphyxiating with the incorrect placement of his chest restraint and seat belt. In Cisler v. Capistrano Unified School District the jury found CUSD guilty and negligent in its actions.

In 2015, a principal was removed from San Clemente High School. This prompted community outrage and resulted in the removal of the assistant superintendent.[8]

Controversies regarding district management have prompted two efforts to recall school board members.

School board[edit]

The Capistrano Unified School District has a seven-member board of trustees, with each trustee representing one of seven geographic areas within the school district. Each trustee is elected to a four-year term of office. Trustees must reside in the area they represent.

Current board of trustees:[9]

  • Amy Hanacek, Area 1
  • Pamela Braunstein, Area 2
  • Lisa Davis, Area 3
  • Martha McNicholas, Area 4
  • Krista Castellanos, Area 5
  • Gila Jones, Area 6
  • Judy Bullockus, Area 7

The board of trustees is the policy-making body for the school district. It is charged with providing a quality educational program for students in kindergarten through grade 12 in accordance with the California Constitution, the laws of the state, adopted board policies, and the desires of the community.

As elected officials, trustees are state officers responsible for the governance of a political subdivision of the state. The school district is independent of city and county governments, but cooperates with them. In addition to establishing school district policies, the board adopts an annual budget and approves all expenditures, employment decisions, curricula, textbooks, and courses of study, and makes decisions on school sites, building plans and construction contracts. Trustees have no power to act individually in the name of the board. Formal action can be taken only when the board is in session with a quorum of at least half of the trustees.

The superintendent[edit]

The administration of the school district is delegated by trustees to a professional administrative staff headed by the superintendent. The superintendent acts as secretary to the board of trustees.

Superintendents since unification:[10]

  • 1965-1969   Dr. Charles F. Kenney
  • 1969-1975   Truman Benedict
  • 1975-1991   Dr. Jerome R. Thornsley
  • 1991-2006   Dr. James A. Fleming
  • 2007-2007   Dr. Dennis Smith
  • 2007-2009   Woodrow Carter
  • 2010-2014   Dr. Joseph M. Farley
  • 2014–present   Kirsten M. Vital

See also[edit]

External links[edit]