Candidates Responses to Questions
I believe in the limitless potential of every child, but today far too many district students aren’t reaching their potential. I know, based on years of leadership and management experience, that with clear goals and thoughtful plans centered around kids and families we can build a school district where every student in every neighborhood can receive the education and support services they need to succeed. My experience as a nonprofit executive, former teacher and educational program developer, small business owner, longtime community volunteer, early education commissioner – and the only candidate with a child in our schools – makes me uniquely qualified to serve on the school board. I’m a fourth-generation San Diego Unified graduate and bring the real-world experience to make the impactful decisions our district needs now.
My career started as a teacher in high-poverty schools. I then developed a statewide school fitness program, anti-hunger initiative and award-winning leadership and service learning program for high school students. I was Chief Philanthropy Officer at Jewish Family Service. There, I developed and implemented strategic plans and managed large teams that generated nearly $30 million annually through public and private partnerships to improve outcomes for children and families across San Diego. I’ve demonstrated my ability to solve challenging problems, lead diverse groups, and build consensus. I developed a school fitness program to reduce childhood obesity; lead and initiative to make it safer for students to walk and bike to school with educational programs and improved infrastructure; created the Hunger Advocacy Network to bring organizations together to reduce food insecurity; designed and ran leadership programs that increased self-efficacy for hundreds of high schoolers; envisioned and secured funding for kindergarten readiness and achievement gap prevention projects; and brought families and educators together to strengthen and boost enrollment at Franklin Elementary.
I’m vice chair of California’s Children and Families Commission where I recently advocated for and secured millions of dollars to support a new early childhood literacy program; chaired and serve on San Diego’s Human Relations Commission where I advocated for the creation of the city’s new office of Child and Youth Success and San Diego’s first ever United Against Hate Week; was president of and serve on Franklin Elementary School’s foundation, which facilitates community partnerships and funds STEAM programming; serve on San Diego Unified’s District Advisory Council and Franklin Elementary’s School Site Council, served on the Superintendent Search Committee, and Kearny High School’s Advisory Board.
1. Accelerate achievement and rebound from mental health challenges. I am committed to ensuring students across the district successfully rebound from the toll Covid has taken on mental health and student achievement. While many students are struggling, we know the pandemic exacerbated already stark gaps in opportunity and achievement for historically marginalized students.
Using research and best practice as our guide, I look forward to working with staff, board members, educators, and parent leaders to identify metrics we can use to a) evaluate the impact of significant recent investments in areas including mental health, UTK, classroom support, and literacy acceleration, and b) inform budget decisions for the new fiscal year.
2. Ensure effective implementation of Community Schools initiative. The implementation of Community Schools, using new state funding and existing community-based resources to support wraparound services that mitigate the impacts of poverty, provide meaningful family engagement, and expanded learning opportunities presents a unique opportunity for our district. This whole child approach is essential to closing the opportunity and achievement gap.
I am committed to making sure this game-changing initiative gets off to a strong start at each participating school and will collaborate with district, school site, and community partners to support the successful implementation and expansion of our Community Schools plan. I am particularly interested in ensuring we leverage services funded by community-based organizations and the County to multiply the impact we can make in the lives of students and families, support sustainability, and limit the fiscal impact on the district.
3. Recruit, Retain, and Develop Effective School Leaders. The latest research shows that an effective principal’s impact is stronger and broader than previously thought when it comes to helping educators, students, and schools realize their full potential. New findings also indicate effective principals can help prevent teacher burnout.
The district has begun work to invest in the development of principals and I would like to help amplify this work to ensure we cultivate instructional leaders that support, empower, and magnify the impact of educators and develop schools with climates that are culturally responsive, trauma-informed, and places where all students succeed.
One of the most important things I will be responsible for as a school board member is to provide fiscal oversight and accountability, and ensure our district is responsibly and transparently stewarding taxpayer dollars.
When it comes to district finances, one of my top priorities is to ensure San Diego Unified is effectively spending Covid-relief funds to address serious issues affecting our students, primarily lags in learning and mental health challenges. Recently released preliminary Smarter Balanced assessment data from LA Unified (San Diego has not yet released its assessment results) reflect the need for academic acceleration, and a variety of recent reports indicate unmet mental health and counseling needs to address the adversity and trauma many students experienced over the last two years. Before making recommendations about where we should make budget cuts, I would like the district to provide data about the impact of recent investments so we can see where we are moving the needle in terms of student’s academic and mental health needs – and which expenses may not be achieving the desired results and should be eliminated.
As a nonprofit executive, I have had to make cuts to multi-million-dollar budgets and know that this work must be done thoughtfully and with the input of stakeholders to ensure we can continue to meet our goals and support student needs. Rather than approach the work of making budget cuts with a machete, we should instead use the surgical precision of a scalpel to prudently and thoughtfully cut spending in ways that limit the impact on students.
A primary cause of declining revenue, which often necessitates budget cuts, are precipitous drops in enrollment in recent years. Rather than focus solely on reducing spending, we should implement solutions we know can boost enrollment and in turn boost revenue through per-pupil spending. I know firsthand, based on years of involvement in my neighborhood school, that we can boost enrollment by meaningfully engaging families, investing in effective principals and teacher leaders, and providing an instructional program, afterschool programs, and school culture that meets families’ needs. At Franklin Elementary, where enrollment was steadily decreasing, the district invested in the development of a STEAM program and family engagement under the leadership of a strong principal and dedicated teachers, and enrollment increased from 245 students in the 2012-2013 school year to 397 in 2019-2020. Likewise, Gage Elementary, which had 361 students in 2012-2013 grew enrollment to 626 students by 2020 with a new Spanish Immersion/STEM program and strong family engagement strategy.
Recent examples include:
• The renaming of schools
• Controversial sex-education curriculum
• Ethnic studies curriculum
• Redistricting sub-districts
One of my top priorities is to be responsive to student and parent concerns. As the only parent running for the District B seat, this is something that is particularly important to me. As I meet with students and families, I consistently hear that the district lacks transparency, is not forthcoming about information that should be publicly available and does not seek input from or share information with them. This has created an environment of distrust and the perception that the district is not responsive to student and family needs.
Last spring, for example, the school board did not proactively or appropriately respond to student and parent concerns about the elimination of advanced course offerings at Patrick Henry High School. Despite students and parents voicing concerns to board members, the board did not respond until parents engaged the media and hundreds of students protested. A similar scenario played out when students and parents at Lincoln High School engaged the media about their frustration with the elimination of calculus this summer.
We must build a culture of open communication and transparency across our district and make it easy for students and families to engage in conversation with the board and access the information they need. As a board member, I intend to hold regular office hours – in person and via web-based video conference with translation services – to ensure students, parents, educators, and the public have ample opportunity to share their perspectives as I consider issues before the board.
I have served in leadership roles at large organizations and have overseen communications plans and activities, and know our district is not going to get it right every time. But what we can get right is the thoughtfulness with which we proactively communicate with stakeholders, and openly and honestly admit when things haven’t gone according to plan, and then seek input to make it better.
On the school board my financial decisions will always be guided by what is in the best interest of our students, and informed by research, data, and the voice and insights of our school communities. Rather than being reactive in our financial decision making, the district should proactively develop a strategic plan with specific measurable goals and a realistic multi-year spending plan that aligns with anticipated revenue over the coming years.
Cindy Marten, US Deputy Secretary of Education, and Godwin Higa on Trauma-Informed Schools and Restorative Justice
I was born and raised in Hawaii primarily by my grandparents in a second language environment who immigrated to Hawaii from Okinawa, Japan; my single mom died when I was fifteen, leaving five siblings and me with severe trauma and poverty. Hence, I personally understand the trauma and toxic stress students may be experiencing.
I am a retired principal with 35 years in education, including a GATE (gifted and talented education) mentor teacher. I was named San Diego Unified School District, District Teacher of the Year in 1997. I retired in 2017 as principal of Cherokee Point Elementary School, creating the first Trauma-Informed and Restorative Justice school in San Diego. This school is located in the Mid-City area of San Diego, with the highest percentage of Domestic Violence and crimes in San Diego. As a result, we had zero suspensions and no expulsions, with an average of 98% student attendance and one of the school district’s highest teacher retention rates.
Cherokee Point Elementary School – Mid-city San Diego
The Huffington Post and The CA Endowment Foundation recognized Cherokee Point Elementary School as one of the nation’s few successful responsive Trauma-Informed Schools. Implementation of ACEs – (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study) (https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html) addresses the very causes of an unsafe school. I learned how to manage the constant battle with facilities that are not safe for kids and secure facilities to keep the threats out of the schools with proven safety preventative systems and protocols. I ascertained that challenges in our school system must be dealt with head-on. As a Citizens Review Board member for eight years, I learned from citizens’ complaints about how to address policies and procedures changes that need to be made for the safety of our youth.
Cherokee Point received the distinguished award from San Diego Unified School District for High-Quality Indicator for Supportive and Safe Environment – 2020 Vision. All these distinctions
My top 3 priorities:
1. School Safety – evaluate and meet with all departments to determine the most significant safety needs at all schools in the district to gain a consensus, examine current policies to understand what is working and what needs to be added to these policies, and visit all the schools with significant safety concerns to expedite the policy changes needed
2. Student mental health wellness – research the status of student wellness and meet with departments – student services, human resources, etc. to implement evidence-based procedures as quickly as possible
3. Ensure responsible fiscal practices are in place- review the current budgetary concerns and meet with the budget department, facilities managers, and others to learn and understand the district’s financial status
It is troubling to me that the top priorities of the other school board candidates are not focusing on students first but on trivial issues such as transparency, public notifications, and the loss of Advance Placement courses in some schools. Several of our kids’ surveys indicate a growing mental health crisis among our students. Kids are killing themselves. CDC reports that the third highest suicide rate in the nation is among youth ages 10-24, along with killing others. All because we are failing as educators to be courageous enough to face the elephant in the room and actively change how we do business in education. Until we deal with these challenges, students will continue to suffer and not achieve their fullest potential.
At this point of my understanding, we are overextended with upper administration for running schools effectively. In my experience, it appears that it doesn’t substantiate what is most needed in the school system. I would re-evaluate upper administration to examine what is needed.
I would review departments not servicing students and schools effectively and require an assessment process to ensure that each department is productively and efficiently serving students and schools.
After closely examining what is necessary for a high-functioning school district, I would recommend necessary improvement or downsizing of the departments where needed.
The renaming of schools, I have a personal belief this is non-negotiable-
The names of public places, streets, and schools send messages to our children about what we value most as a society. When those names reflect our broken and racist past, they also perpetuate the hurt intimately woven into this past. When our public schools are named after individuals who advanced slaver, systemic racism, and genocide, and we allow those names to remain on school property, we accept their values as our own. This is no longer acceptable. It is time to change school names and mascots that memorialize religious and confederate leaders whose names support and stain our history. Using such name tags for schools and symbols has traumatized students, families, teachers, and staff of all cultures. This is another form of historical and intergenerational damage.
I propose re-evaluating the district procedures of name changes with well-thought-out historical evidence and an investigative approach. Involving students, parents, and communities are essential.
Controversial sex education curriculum-
Concerns about the overexposure of sexuality by social media and media have sex education even more critical. Progressive learning with an age-appropriate curriculum is vital for the onset of puberty.
I would recommend involving parents along with mental and physical health professionals to participate in curriculum development at all levels. An open and transparent process leading to meaningful and educational outcomes is essential.
Ethnic studies curriculum-
We must expose our students to universal perspectives and diversity inclusion in our schools. Cultural understanding and acceptance of all people are essential. We live in a country with rich nationalities and cultures, making this nation exception and resilient. Ethnic studies are crucial.
I am on a local team that monitored and made suggestions to the State Ethnic Studies committee, which the state disbanded and repositioned to the local school districts. We continue inclusive activities and programs to monitor the community in the development of the Ethnic Studies curriculum; my concern is the notion of minimizing certain ethnic groups and the overuse of blending the curriculum into other subjects.
The emphasis on redistricting of the San Diego Unified School District B and others was to address both numerically and ethnically imbalances and ensure a diverse community of learners. I wholeheartedly support the process of redistricting every ten years to provide all students at the San Diego Unified School District are well represented.
The only “interest” must be based on what is good for our youth and nothing else. The Board of Education has become a political apparatus that, unfortunately, there’s a chance that vital decisions that affect students’ and adults’ well-being and safety are manipulated by non-educational institutions and self-serving agendas.
All financial decision-making must always be in our student’s best interest. The school board members must be in a bi-partisan and non-bias position to serve all students and their parents from various political parties.
Please visit Higa4kids.com for more information.
I’m a mom, former classroom teacher, and the founder of successful network of charter schools. I understand what the rhythm and flow of a well-ordered school feels like. I know what it’s like to be a teacher and feel the need to be backed up by administration. I also know what it’s like to be a parent who loves their own kids more than anything and wants the best for them, realizing that I need the help of a community to do this.
My first priority would be to establish a good rapport with current board members, including the student board members. I hope to bring a diverse perspective that is also effective because of mutual respect, understanding and good listening practices. Lots of my campaign messaging has involved speaking out against past mistakes of this board, and poor leadership. I don’t do these things to hurt feelings or morale, but to shine a light on weaknesses that can be addressed. I hope to bring this board together as we move into a new era of school board leadership.
My second priority would be to present a case for overhauling the board member job description and list of responsibilities. This board is the final arbiter in a budget exceeding $1.7 billion and the bi-monthly meeting is an insufficient minimum requirement.
My third priority would be to present high quality Ethnic Studies curriculum models for review and dialogue. There is no reason why Ethnic Studies cannot be the favorite class of most students and parents. I believe San Diego can lead the nation in this effort. I hold that it is possible to present all of history with its darkness in a way that does not give rise to new forms of demonization and dehumanization. I have a background in developing integrated humanities programs that bring together history, English and social sciences. I’m excited at the thought that I could lead what is sometimes a controversial topic into something that manifestly benefits the whole curriculum.
Cutting any school budget is an unpopular scenario. When looking at this budget the greatest areas of spending that could see a reduction while inflicting minimum damage are the benefits packages. I believe that this district could continue to give employee pay raises and sustain a 10% cut to the budget if the benefits packages were revised.
The public needs to feel included on input. I believe that holding regular town halls dedicated to public participation would be helpful in this regard. The current board procedure allows for 1-3 minutes of public comment, typically at the end of a long meeting. Board members cannot immediately respond to public comment. I believe this deters civic participation, and good discussions from taking place. Holding public forums dedicated to the public is the answer.
It’s clear that labor interests have become the main driver of financial decision making for SDUSD. This is a 5-0 labor backed board. I would like to mention that I’m the only non-labor-backed candidate still on the ballot this election cycle!
I was born and raised in the district and have resided here for 47 years. I attended San Diego Unified K-12 (La Jolla Elementary, Muirlands, and La Jolla High) and serve on the Site Governance Team and School Site Council at my children’s district elementary school. I received my PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego, where I currently teach. As a lecturer in the Anthropology Department, I develop syllabuses, plan lessons, deliver lectures, perform grading, manage the online assignment and grading portal, and handle all course logistics. I also serve as a Senior Advisor for Education and Environment at the County Board of Supervisors, where I’ve gained valuable experience in navigating and helping to guide large public agencies. I’ve spent the last six years helping to plan, moderate, and emcee trainings and workshops on public education policy and administration, including community schools, science-based closure and re-opening, recovering from pandemic-related learning lag, Brown Act compliance, special education policy and funding, navigating the Board-Superintendent dynamic, and developing Local Control & Accountability Plans (LCAPs). In addition to my PhD, I hold a Bachelor of Arts in English from UC Berkeley and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. I have deep, life-long roots in the communities of the district and have served on numerous local boards, including the San Diego River Conservancy, La Jolla Town Council, San Diego International Sister Cities Association, and Sierra Club San Diego.
1. Understanding is a precondition of effective action. As an anthropologist, I am acutely aware of the necessity of understanding an organization from the inside: how power is actually distributed, how administrative decisions are actually made, how information is shared and controlled, how institutional culture affects assumptions and decision-making, and how board decisions are translated and implemented in school sites and classrooms. My first objective if elected is to understand San Diego Unified from the inside and to establish relationships of mutual communication and support with hundreds of students, parents, teachers, administrators, classified staff, community members, and other stakeholders.
2. Successfully implement Universal Transition Kindergarten (UTK). UTK is the most ambitious expansion of instruction the district has undertaken in decades. I believe deeply in the necessity of early childhood education, and I am a long-time supporter of free, public, high-quality pre-kindergarten for all children. Universal TK also helps address our region’s childcare crisis and is an invaluable support for working families. The challenges in implementation are substantial, however. We have a critical shortage of certificated early childhood educators, there are still kinks to work out with the model of having preschool teachers and certificated kindergarten teachers share a class, many UTK teachers are concerned that the curriculum is not adequately play-based, in alignment with children’s developmental needs, and we need to allocate capital improvement funds to ensuring that UTK classes have classrooms that are conducive to early learning.
3. As secretary of Torrey Pines Elementary’s School Site Council and Site Governance Team, I am highly aware of the concrete consequences of declining enrollment on budgeting, staffing, and instruction. San Diego Unified needs to confront our enrollment declines head on. We know, in general, the factors contributing to enrollment declines across the state—most of which are beyond the ability of districts to directly affect–but in order to address enrollment declines we need accurate, cluster- and school site-specific quantitative and qualitative data on the extent and local drivers of enrollment declines. Subdistrict C has already suffered the most severe declines in enrollment. With 180,000-some citizens of voting age, it currently enrolls just over 8,000 students, compared to Subdistrict E, which has roughly the same population but enrolls 31,000. Some decline may be able to be slowed or reversed by improvements in instruction, facilities, and communication, but the District will ultimately have to dedicate staffing and resources to helping school sites downsize in educationally, administratively, and financially effective ways.
If we have learned anything from the experience of students, parents, teachers, and our community in relation to district decision-making, it is that major decisions should be made in genuine consultation with impacted communities. An across the board 10% cut in budget is obviously not the kind of decision that I would tolerate being made without substantial, formal, intensive consultation with a broad cross-section of SDUSD stakeholders. This consultation would have to involve multiple community forums, well-promoted and scheduled to maximize accessibility for students, working parents, educators, and community members, with childcare, food, and transportation subsidies to facilitate equitable access. Board members must ultimately cast their own vote, informed by their values and their long-engagement and familiarity with their constituents, but they must be able to clearly articulate the ways in which input from stakeholders impacted their decisions. That said, San Diego Unified and its schools are already operating on very lean budgets—as I know first-hand from working on site governance—and my number one priority will always be fighting for full and fair funding for our district and its students.
Recent examples include:
• The renaming of schools
• Controversial sex-education curriculum
• Ethnic studies curriculum
• Redistricting sub-districts
As a senior staffer at the County Board of Supervisors and a regular attendee of San Diego Unified Board meetings, I am very familiar with both the necessity of community engagement and the associated
challenges. I would break the question into two parts: the level of genuine engagement and the extent to which decisions reflect the various preferences of parents and voters. With regard to the level of engagement, I would say, frankly, that formal board meetings do not offer the kind of dialogue and discussion with their representatives that many parents and community members desire and to which I think they are entitled. I believe that trustees should make themselves available—within the constraints of their schedules and outside employment demands—to parents and other constituents. This would ideally take the form of regular fora for student, family, and community engagement outside of bimonthly board meetings. With regard to ultimate outcomes of board deliberation, we live in a highly partisan political environment. The United States is the most politically polarized country in the developed world. There will always be vocal constituents demanding adherence to their views, however narrowly partisan or reflective of community consensus they may be. Every major decision results in some portion of the constituency feeling that their needs or values were not reflected. We have elected school boards specifically in order to ensure that the work of school districts is aligned with the needs and values of the families and communities they serve. I believe candidates should have deep, long-term roots in their communities, should have wide-ranging, long-standing relationships with their constituents, and should clearly express their values and priorities in the context of elections, in order to ensure that their governance is aligned with the interests and highest values of the communities they serve.
Yes. Certificated teachers, classified employees, and administrators are the fundamental element in TK-12 education and their salaries, benefits, and retirement make up nearly 90% of General Fund expenditures. It’s difficult to imagine how their interests and perspectives could fail to affect SDUSD’s financial decision-making. The Board must ultimately preserve the financial solvency of the District, but teachers, classifieds, police officers, and administrators are necessarily key stakeholders in budget discussions.
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