The Del Mar Union School District welcomed Gee Wah Mok to the board on July 29, selecting Mok after a public interview process to fill the seat left vacant by Stephen Cochrane. The term will run through November 2020.
Board members selected Mok for his commitment to the district, his qualifications and the fact that he brings a fresh perspective from Pacific Highlands Ranch, representing an area that has not yet had representation on the board.
Mok was a candidate for the board in the 2018 election, running his own campaign while serving as co-chair for the Yes on Measure MM school bond.
“I’ve been actively engaged in this district ever since I moved into the area. I’m familiar with the issues affecting this district, I’m dedicated to this district,” Mok said. “I devoted significant time and energy to seeing the success of this district and I promise I will bring the same energy and enthusiasm to the work of this board.”
Mok and his wife moved to Pacific Highlands Ranch two years ago specifically for the school district. His five-year-old son will start kindergarten in less than a month at Ashley Falls School and he has a future DMUSD student in his six-month-old son.
“I have a love for education and I want to help provide the best education for all students in the district,” Mok said.
Mok won the seat from a field that included former DMUSD board members Darren Gretler and Alan Kholos.
Kholos, a parent of two children who attended DMUSD schools, was elected to the board in 2012. He served two and a half years until receiving a special work assignment that re-located him to Israel for four years. The corporate attorney for global medical technology company Becton Dickinson just returned to San Diego three weeks ago.
Gretler, a parent of three Ocean Air students, was appointed to the board in 2015 to fill the seat left by Kholos. He ran for the board in 2016 narrowly losing to Cochrane by less than 200 votes. Gretler is currently chief of staff to County Supervisor Jim Desmond and is a board member on the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation and the Torrey Hills Community Planning Group.
James Clapp, an Ashley Falls parent, also applied but withdrew prior to the meeting.
DMUSD President Erica Halpern said the board was fortunate to have three exceptional candidates to choose from.
“Each of them has a strong connection to our schools, each one of them has demonstrated a passion for education through action and involvement, each has shown his commitment to the school board by actually running for office in the general election and two of these candidates have recently served in this exact seat on this school board,” Halpern said. “I also personally know all three of them to be wonderful people. All of this makes this a very difficult if not impossible decision but we’re going to make it.”
Each candidate was given eight minutes to make a statement and was asked the same three interview questions.
Following the interviews, the board members struggled to make a selection, going through the “awkward” process of talking about the candidates while they sat in front of them.
“I really don’t want to make a choice between you guys, I wish we had two more seats so we could add you all to the board,” said trustee Scott Wooden.
The board attempted to find criteria that would narrow the selection, such as whether the candidate should have children currently enrolled in the schools. Halpern is the only board member with children currently enrolled in the district—Wooden and Doug Rafner’s children have aged out of the district and Katherine Fitzpatrick’s three children have yet to begin school in the district.
Wooden first nominated Gretler and failed to get a second. During the discussion that continued for over a half an hour, Rafner nominated Mok and failed to get a second. After more discussion, Rafner again nominated Mok and Fitzpatrick seconded. The vote to appoint him was unanimous and he was sworn-in by Superintendent Holly McClurg.
“It’s refreshing to see such dedication and I think each one (of the candidates) is going to continue serving the community and the district regardless of whether they are selected tonight,” Fitzpatrick said.
For Mok, education has always been a priority in his life. His parents immigrated from Hong Kong for educational opportunities and instilled in him a love for learning. His mother was a San Diego City librarian, supplying him the newest and best batches of books and educational materials.
Mok attended UC Berkeley and studied political science and business. He graduated from Cornell Law School and returned to San Diego to practice civil litigation.
“Seeking a quality education was the reason my parents left their country and what they wanted to provide me. I want to provide the same for my children and all students in the district,” Mok said. “I want all the kids in this district to have the best education and to be given all the resources and teachers that they need to flourish and love learning.”
After moving to Pacific Highlands Ranch, Mok got immediately involved, attending school board meetings and working the MM campaign. As part of the campaign, he most enjoyed engaging with his community and neighbors, something he wishes to continue doing as a board member.
“It’s important to me to be an active listener and hear what the community has to say and understand their point of view,” Mok said.
Mok anticipates the biggest issues facing the district will be balancing the budget, addressing the construction of the new schools, housing of students during construction, and social and emotional learning for students.
As the board’s only representative from Pacific Highlands Ranch, Mok said he brings a unique perspective about issues in the community, providing “eyes and ears on the ground.” Despite bringing that perspective, Mok maintained that as a board member “all decisions should be made in the interest of the district as a whole.”