In seeking election Nov. 6 to the San Dieguito Union High School District Board of Trustees, candidates participating in a public forum Wednesday, Oct. 17, agreed on one thing.
The goal in representing a district whose schools perennially rank as among the best in the state should be to maintain and refine that level of excellence.
All seven candidates vying for three seats on the five-member board participated in the forum.
It was held at the district’s Earl Warren Middle School campus in Solana Beach by the North Coastal Council of PTAs and the Earl Warren PTSA, and moderated by League of Women Voters representative Lois Martyn.
The candidates are Amy Flicker and Maureen “Mo” Muir in Trustee Area 1; Melisse Mossy and Rhea Stewart in Area 3; and Kristin Gibson, Cheryl James-Ward and Lea Wolf in Area 5.
“I think we’re going in a great direction,” Muir told the audience of about 100. “It is a great district but we need to do better.”
Said Mossy, “We want to be the leaders, not just in the state but in the nation. We want to be the district (in which) everyone is coming to see what is happening and why it’s happening well.”
Muir is the only incumbent in the three races since Area 3 Trustee John Salazar and Area 5 Trustee Amy Herman are not running. Muir’s subdistrict, Area 1, covers the northwest corner of the district, including much of Encinitas and south Carlsbad.
Muir is the board’s vice president as well as vice president of the district’s Facilities Authority and and she is a member of the Safety and Wellness Committee.
Flicker, Muir’s challenger, has performed many volunteer activities. She serves on the district’s Proposition AA Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, which monitors how the district’s $449 million facilities bond measure passed in 2012 is being spent.
She also is a member of the district’s Special Education Task Force and its Social Emotional Wellness Committee.
She contended that while the district is successful academically, the board is failing its leadership role, as illustrated by the ongoing turnover of superintendents in recent years.
“I believe that we need to have a restoration of proper governance on the board,” Flicker said. “I believe that we’re really functioning with a dysfunctional board.”
Mossy is a credentialed teacher with experience both in education and business, including being the managing director of a multi-million dollar company.
“Now, I have the time to impart all of my passion, my experience and my love for education and kids to your kids,” she said.
Mossy is vying with Stewart to represent the area that occupies the central swath of the district and encompasses Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and southern Encinitas.
Stewart, a former Cardiff Elementary School District trustee, was a leader in the campaign for Proposition AA, and has been a member of its oversight committee since 2013.
She cited her experience on the committee as having prepared her for the challenges of being a board member.
“Based on that experience, I will be prepared for the fiscal work ahead — managing the current budget and shedding light on this year’s spending and how it will influence our budget in 2019 (and future years),” Stewart said.
In Area 5, the southeastern section of the district blanketing Carmel Valley, future leadership is up for grabs among Gibson, James-Ward and Wolf.
Gibson is a Del Mar Union School District board trustee currently serving as the body’s president. She is a faculty member at SDSU’s School of Teacher Education, among other involvements.
“I was asked to teach at San Diego State University training teachers to be teachers,” she said, while adding that serving as a school board member helped her gain a different perspective.
“Being on the school board I gained experience that I think I can bring here to help San Dieguito with what they’re dealing with and what the schools in general are dealing with,” she said.
A former NASA engineer, James-Ward has more than 25 years of experience in public education and is the principal of e3 Civic High, an innovative charter school housed in the San Diego Public Library.
She said she is known as a “turn-around” administrator brought in to turn the tide in schools that were not doing well in meeting acceptable standards.
When asked what she believes is the best approach to disciplining students, she talked about her experience on a panel examining the issue.
“We looked at that data and said, “Okay, we’ve got to suspend for certain things, but how do we prevent kids from being in that place in the first place?”
With her background as an entrepreneur, Wolf has focused on using innovative technology to address social issues.
She developed a proprietary communications methodology titled e-LEADERSHIFT and with her daughter created Deeds-by-Kids, which involves youths in community services projects.
Wolf’s remarks focused on the need to empower students and give them more of a voice in their education.
“I see our kids (as) vulnerable today,” she said. “Schools exist for students but are run by the adults who do not understand the students. That is why I got involved.”
In her closing statement, Wolf said, “I’m confident that together, we can solve any problem. But really first and foremost, we need to change the way we work in this district. We need to shift the culture. We must be student-centered first.”
The Nov. 6 election will be the first in the district in which the jurisdiction has been divided into five subdistricts, with each area represented by one trustee.
To ensure compliance with the California Voting Rights Act and avoid costly litigation, many cities and school districts have switched from at-large elections to elections by subdistricts.
In the at large system, any voter within the district could vote for any candidate, regardless of where they lived. In the subdistrict system adopted by San Dieguito, voters in one of the five areas can only cast ballots on a candidate who lives in that area.
In 2020, the district’s electorate will vote on candidates for Trustee Areas 2 and 4, which are now represented respectively by current board President Beth Hergesheimer and Joyce Dalessandro.