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Seven candidates vie for three seats in Del Mar Union School District

La Jolla Light staff
(File photo)

In the Del Mar Union School District, voters will select three board members in an at-large election this November. Candidates for the seat include Katherine Fitzpatrick, Cinda Peck, Bill Porter, Danielle Roybal, Maniza Sheikhani, Doug Rafner and Scott Wooden. While her name will appear on the ballot, Esther Sheffrey has chosen not to pursue school board candidacy at this time.

Meet the candidates (in alphabetical order), in their own words:

Katherine Fitzpatrick
(Gail Conwell)

Katherine Fitzpatrick
My name is Katherine Fitzpatrick and I have been a proud resident of Del Mar since 1984. I am a graduate of Del Mar Heights, Earl Warren, and Torrey Pines. I earned a B.A. from UCSD in Latin American Studies, a bilingual teaching credential from SDSU, and a M.S. in School Counseling from National University. I have dedicated 20 years to serving in public education as a teacher and school counselor. I have three children ages 7, 6, and 3. Two attend Del Mar Hills Academy and my third will begin there soon. I am honored to be running for re-election to represent DMUSD for a second term. I care deeply about our children’s education and our community’s schools. I understand what it is like to balance a busy work and home life. I love spending time in nature with my beautiful children and surf as often as I can.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
District Design 2022, the 5-year strategic plan implemented in 2017, is reaching its conclusion.

It has succeeded in creating many lasting impacts- from shifting pedagogical practices and student learning outcomes to the redesign of classroom spaces and school buildings across the district. Creating a new strategic plan in the coming months which will carry our students, teachers, families, and community forward into the next five years is our district’s biggest opportunity. We have the potential to design an even stronger plan using the gift of hindsight and the wonder of the limitless future. Gathering authentic input from all stakeholders is the first step. Synthesizing this input into actionable and realistic goals that direct decisions will be essential. At the center of all our decisions are our students, who deserve an educational experience that instils within them a lifelong love of learning. By working together, we can make this possible.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to this board?
I am honored to have served the last four years with my fellow trustees- each of whom brings a unique set of values and experiences that help guide our board’s decision-making process. There are issues that we wholeheartedly agree upon, such as the desire to preserve fiscal responsibility, maintain a full and robust STEAM+ program, and empower our students to be critical and independent thinkers. There are other issues whereupon we differ. Having served as an educator nearly half my life, and as a parent currently raising very young children, I believe it is essential that we add invaluable early childhood programs to our schools. Universal Transitional Kindergarten, which is offered in nearly every school district in the state, is one such program. Our 4 year olds deserve to take part in the learning opportunities UTK provides and I believe DMUSD has the ability and support to bring it back.

Cinda Peck
(Copyright of Cinda Peck)

Cinda Peck
I graduated from the University of Kansas with a dual major in Music Education and Music Therapy. My degrees included a practicum in general education (K – Junior College) and Special Education. I have also earned a Multi-subject credential, a supplemental Business credential, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. I have taught in the Del Mar Union School District for over 30 years as a Fifth Grade Teacher and a Classroom Music Teacher. I have served on numerous District and Site Committees, creating curriculum and offering feedback on budget matters. I was honored as the Del Mar District Teacher of the Year in 2003 and by the San Diego Youth Symphony as the Music Educator of the year in 2013. I have been a resident of Carmel Valley since 1985 and raised two children in the Del Mar District. I have also been very involved with our community as the Player Agent and President of the Del Mar Little league, a Director of the Del Mar Chamber of Commerce, and the Board of the San Dieguito Boys and Girls Clubs.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
The biggest issue facing the Del Mar Union School District today is fiscal responsibility and how those funds are put to the best use. My priorities are the students, their needs and opportunities; the teachers, giving them the tools to support their students and families; and the programs that develop the whole child in the way each individual learns best. I believe that we should get more input from the Teachers and the Community before moving forward with expensive projects. Always keeping in mind that we should spend today’s money supporting today’s students and Teachers, while still maintaining a healthy reserve. If we truly listen to varied opinions, we can build respect and trust through collaboration.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to this board?
I believe that my experience teaching in Del Mar gives me a comprehensive perspective on the School District from all points of view. I support the current Administration and their tremendous efforts to keep our students in the physical classroom during the COVID epidemic. I support the Teachers and their efforts to provide a quality education for each of their diverse students. I support programs that go beyond the classroom experience and provide real world applications for their learning. I look forward to serving the Del Mar/Carmel Valley community by listening to their needs and being more transparent as decisions are made for our Students, Teachers, and Administrators.

Promoting Respect, Trust, Collaboration, Transparency and Fiscal Responsibility are the many ways I can contribute to the Del Mar School Board and our community.

Bill Porter
(Conor Porter)

Bill Porter, Ed. D.
I am a resident of Carmel Valley where I have lived with my wife Monica since 1985. We have been married 35 years raising three sons who attended school in Del Mar. I have been in education for over 25 years, including 16 years in Del Mar where I taught special education, primary, and upper grades. In the Fall of 2013, I accepted a position as an elementary school principal in the Vista Unified School District, where I served for eight years. Currently, I am teaching 2nd grade and will be retiring next June. I hold a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from UCSD and CSUSM, a teaching credential and Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from CSUSM, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from San Diego State University. Prior to beginning my educational career, I served our country as a military Hospital Corpsman in the United States Navy.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
Biggest Issue: The Del Mar Union School District has a reputation for being a phenomenal school district with even more phenomenal students, families, staff, and teachers. The Del Mar Union School District is known for their innovative approaches to the teaching and learning process, which has consistently placed them at the forefront of admiration and acknowledgement by others in the educational arena, as compared to the majority of other school districts in San Diego county or across the state. To maintain such a high caliber of academic performance and teaching expectations, all stakeholders, especially the teachers, need to feel valued and efficacious about their involvement and participation in the educational process. Therefore, an increased focus on building trust, respect, and true collaboration with all stakeholders, should be the lenses through which all educational decisions are made, in the best interest of enhancing student engagement and student learning for all students.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to this board?
State of the Board: Anyone who steps up to run for a public office in service of their community should be commended. Therefore, I have no criticism of the current DMUSD School Board members. Board members give up many hours of their time to review data and reports presented to them by the Superintendent or District Office staff in order to be fully prepared for a Board meeting. This time commitment to serve on the Board is time taken away from their family and friends. Therefore, I want to commend the current Board members for what appears to be a collaborative, informed, and professional approach to their Board responsibilities. If elected, I will bring a wide scope of both private and public educational experiences including as a site and district leader, and as a classroom teacher. I believe my 32+ years of educational experience will enhance and balance the current Board’s professional knowledge.

Doug Rafner
(Copyright of Doug Rafner)

Doug Rafner
It has been my great honor to represent our community on the Del Mar School Board since 2010. I have and, if elected will continue, to put all students and their success first. I have been an advocate in support of teachers and pride myself in being responsive to the community. As an attorney/mediator, I have helped our board work through major obstacles, including the great recession and the pandemic. With an open mind and the ability to see all sides of an issue, I have worked with my fellow board members to help the district achieve some great and exciting accomplishments, including the opening of a state-of-the-art school in Pacific Highlands Ranch, and continue to assist in getting the Del Mar Heights to rebuild and other Proposition MM projects completed. But I have more work to do to ensure DMUSD continues to be the best school district in California.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
DMUSD is a community-funded district, meaning that it receives its funds differently than most other school districts in the state. For that reason, the budget is always an important issue. I can proudly say that throughout my time on the school board, our district has had a balanced budget. Maintaining a balanced budget remains one of the biggest issues facing the district. The district needs to continue creating and implementing a rigorous and robust curriculum in the most beneficial learning environment. For example, we recently began our Spanish Immersion program and have continually provided state-of-the-art facilities. However, achieving these goals without impacting the current curriculum or increasing class sizes may prove difficult. We must secure the success of all our programs, including our special education program, while also working with our teachers toward a positive and beneficial resolution of certain terms in the union contract.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what you can bring to this board?
The fact that the Del Mar Union School Board is a highly functioning board has been repeated to me by a number of vendors and providers who work with our district as well as many others. I believe our board works well together. To a person, we keep our sights firmly set on what is best for the students and the district has reaped the benefits of having a high-functioning board in its achievements. When there is disagreement, we work to resolve those issues in a civil and productive manner.

Our district has seen what a dysfunctional board can do to a district. When I entered the school board in 2010, teachers and principals were leaving the district in droves. Student achievement was affected. I bring the continuity to this board that “righted the ship” back then and will continue to maintain the district’s successes into the next term.

Danielle Roybal
(Copyright of Danielle Roybal)

Danielle Roybal
I have lived in Carmel Valley for approximately 10 years. I am married to a fifth generation war veteran (service can be traced back to the Spanish-American war). We have a 10-year-old that attends school in the district and I’m interested in supporting our community. I hold a bachelor’s in Communications from UCSD and a Master’s in Business. I opened up the Chase Bank in Pacific Highlands Ranch in 2019. I have a strong understanding of the school budget as well as the concerns the community is facing. I have attended almost all school board meetings since third quarter of 2021. I would like to bring our community together by strengthening our schools, ensuring they are safe while we properly support each child. I want to ensure money is spent on our kids -not lawyers. For more information, please see my webpage: vote4roybal.org

What is the biggest issue facing the district?
The budget and how we are utilizing it, monetary priorities are simply not in the “right” place. For example, STEAM+ (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, PE) teachers are not permanently budgeted yet we have almost $18M in the general fund. We fundraise through DMSEF yet, according to the Coast News, over $1M was spent on lawyers (mostly to fight special needs’ parents) between April 2021-April 2022. In contrast, DMSEF fundraising efforts brought in $1.3M last year. Let’s take a more proactive approach with the community and grant services that tend to be cheaper than costly litigation (not to mention that most are federally protected). We currently have a healthy 23.8% reserve in the budget. This is enough to not only permanently budget STEAM+ teachers but also fund Transitional Kindergarten (TK). I am advocating for both and would like full transparency on where our public money is spent.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to the board?
I believe we need change on the board. The current trustees are not listening to public feedback. Parents and teachers have been very vocal in board meetings since February; however, the board has failed to address concerns. The public has requested an independent review of teacher morale (reference 2019 low teacher morale survey) as well as an independent review of the Special Education department. They have requested items to be placed on the agenda; however, the board has collectively failed to address these concerns. The board has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the public. Unfortunately, they have not taken action and it is now election time. What I bring to the board is the ability to empathetically listen while working on solutions to achieve collective goals. I have a strong financial background. I understand the budget. I also understand the community and our collective voices.

Maniza Sheikhani
(Courtesy of Maniza Sheikhani)

Maniza Sheikhani
My name is Maniza Sheikhani and I am proud resident of Carmel Valley since 2017. I have a Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of Kentucky, with experience in the healthcare field as well as a background in business administration. My husband and I are parents of two beautiful children that attend schools in the district. Currently I’m a Realtor, and work hard every day to use my skills as a certified negotiations expert to bring together many competing interests to resolution. I’m an involved room parent that understands the issues that our families face in our district. I’m passionate about helping our children have a successful future and in doing so, will always listen to and address the needs of our community. We need unity in our community.
For more visit: Vote4Maniza.com

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
Declining enrollment (therefore declining funding for the district), underfunded budgets, along with a lack of transparency to real issues facing the district and it’s families only highlight some concerns that are plaguing the district. Many recent board meetings have been packed with families and school faculty with a growing number of concerns and a real fear of retaliation. The district has not addressed concerns for independent reviews of teacher mental health and special education. With only two board members that have children in our district, how can they possibly have an understanding of what the real issues are? Alongside developing beautiful schools, ensuring the latest technology, and state of the art furniture- we need to ensure that our children aren’t forgotten. Education at its core needs to be focused on to ensure all of our children are getting access to the best possible education. We can do better.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to this board?
I am committed to serving the community with our diverse set of needs and concerns. We need transparency, honesty and collaboration and I’m committed to delivering that. Currently our board does not have a method of actually having real conversations when there are issues. Board meetings are one way conversations that don’t deliver any real solutions to issues that are brought up. My goal is to work together with current board members to create more effective methods of communication and conflict resolution. There is power in involving our students, community, parents and teachers to the decision table.

Scott Wooden
(Copyright of Scott Wooden)

Scott Wooden
For those new to the district, I was elected to the board in 2010, at a time when the district was in turmoil, having gone through 3 superintendents in 4 years, and losing all the top administrative staff, including some principals. My goal was to bring stability to the district, providing mutual respect, trust and leadership principles that put ALL children first every time. I have a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and a strong proponent of our STEAM+ programs. I served as both DMUSD President and Clerk and completed the CSBA “Master’s in Governance” program to become an effective board member. I have been married for 23 years and lived in the district since 2002 with two children attending DMUSD schools. We chose DMUSD because of the schools. I am committed to continuing the reputation for our school district’s excellence and working as part of a successful governance team.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
The biggest district priorities are completing Proposition MM capital improvement projects, including the DM Heights rebuild and Hills modernization. We must maintain our financial stability while keeping the goals important to parents, such as small class sizes and a robust STEAM+ program. I also believe we should strengthen parental involvement. This pandemic limited what interactions we could have in the classrooms and resulted in a loss of face-to-face communication. However, we did keep the schools open and gave parents a choice in education. Maintaining strong relationships with the teachers is another area of focus. There are always areas where we can improve, and I requested professional surveys of all the stakeholders to identify what changes should be made. We will address those in our new 5-year vision. Finally, I am the only DMUSD candidate endorsed by Reform California advocating for school accountability and transparency.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to this board?
We have a functional board which is why Del Mar is the finest elementary school district in the state. Our strong governance team works together pursuing educational excellence for ALL students, including those in our special education program. DMUSD schools stayed open during the pandemic, offering options to parents, and maintaining quality education for all students. We prioritize our small class sizes and STEAM+. Our budget is balanced, our reserve is healthy, and we have Facilities and Strategic Master Plans to guide us. Proposition MM projects are moving forward, Pacific Sky school is complete, and the Heights rebuild is in progress. We are currently updating our strategic vision, identifying areas of focus to improve. Again, this board works, and it has since I joined it. It is important to keep moving forward with continual learning, while rejecting a union takeover or single-issue candidates.

Esther Sheffrey
Please DO NOT VOTE for me. After much deliberation with family and friends, I realized that at this time, I cannot fully honor the commitment such a position requires. This decision was made shortly after San Diego County closed the candidate registration window, and rules do not allow for my withdrawal. So instead, I want to urge all voters to strongly evaluate the other candidates and their positions. If transparency, accountability, and integrity matter to you, ask yourself, will these candidates exercise their power as board members to ensure these principles are upheld? DMUSD has a lot to be proud of, and our school communities are top notch; BUT behind all the glossy advertisements there are issues with our school board, as it currently functions, that need to be addressed, especially when it comes to budget and administrative oversight. Checks and balances appear to have ceased existing.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
Has your email or phone call to a school board member ever gone unanswered? Have you attended or watched a video of a school board meeting in which the concerns and requests of community members are ignored? Have you been shocked by DMUSD media coverage? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then the logical conclusion is that change is needed.

The job of a school board member is thankless, yet crucial to our community. Everyone who steps up to the plate and serves a four year term(s) deserves our gratitude. That said, two of the incumbents on the ballot will go on to serve 16 years if elected again. How much has your life changed in 16 years? How much has our community changed in 16 years? DMUSD is long overdue for new perspectives. Longevity tends to breed complacency.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to this board?
The state of California clearly defines the responsibilities of a school board. They outline how a board must function as one entity despite different views; while also collaborating with the superintendent and district staff to meet the community’s needs. DMUSD has been fortunate to have had dedicated board members and staff capable of seeing our district flourish in tough times, and look ahead to a more modernized future. Somewhere along the way though, the dynamics of power have shifted in such a way that the board is failing to hold the district staff accountable to the principles our district cherishes and promotes. If the current board claims otherwise, then the issue is transparency. Either way, change is needed. Please vote. Please weigh your options carefully. I would be honored to have your vote in the future, but this year, don’t waste your vote on me.


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