Meet the Del Mar Union School District candidates

Meet the four candidates in the DMUSD board election.
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This November, there are four candidates vying for two spots on the Del Mar Union School District board. Meet the candidates, Marianne Grosner, Erica Halpern, Gee Wah Mok and Kymberly van der Linden, in their own words below (in alphabetical order):

Marianne Grosner candidate
Marianne Grosner
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Marianne Grosner
Occupation: Parent, previously an IT professional of 15 years
Education: Foothill College, San Jose State University
Community Service: Current: OAH (Office of Administrative Hearings) Special Education Advisory Committee Member, Special Education Advocacy through SEALs (Special Education Advocate Leaders)

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Del Mar Union School District?

Lack of transparency and accountability are the biggest issues facing DMUSD. Families desire better communication. Launch, the distance learning program, is not meeting the needs of many students thus far. Several dozen families sent letters, including a PTA president, outlining concerns. They have also requested that the district create a Parent Advisory Committee for Launch. (As of Oct. 13, 2020, these families are still awaiting word regarding the formation of this committee. It was brought to the board’s attention during the Sept. 23, 2020 board meeting.)

Regarding transparency, are taxpayers aware that the acting chairperson of the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee for MM is paid by the district? He works for a law firm under contract for the district.

COVID-19 created a host of problems for special education students and the district’s responses have been disappointing.

2. How would you propose to address those issues?

Parents deserve to be heard. They have ideas and they want to collaborate with the district. Why don’t they create a Launch Parent Advisory committee and provide more support to the Launch teachers? In general, it would benefit the district to explore ways to rebuild trust. We need to find a way to bring the community together to create better outcomes for our children.

Another way that the district can be more transparent is by offering more information to parents on the inner workings of the district.

The special education department needs updated training to avoid further alleged violations of Federal law for special education students.

3. Do you agree with the way the Del Mar Union School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made.

DMUSD could benefit from a change in how they operate. The district should adhere to their own policies but also define clearer COVID-19 policies to avoid situations of confusion which have occurred and subsequently caused undue hardship on families particularly those in special education.

Our community has innovative ideas and they want to collaborate with the district. The district should find ways to engage with the community more to show they are listening and validate their concerns. And lastly, in the spirit of good governance, I would like to see the district issue a commitment to continue their adherence of the Brown Act.

It would be an honor to have people visit marianne4delmarschools.com to learn more. Thank you.

Erica Halpern
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Erica Halpern
Occupation: President and trustee, Del Mar Union School Board; Parent of three DMUSD students/graduates; Director of Programs, San Diego Social Venture Partners
Education: BA, Journalism, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; MBA, Finance, Columbia Business School; Masters in Governance, California School Boards Association
Community Service: Past PTA President, Del Mar Heights School; School Volunteer of the Year; classroom volunteer for nine years; Parent Representative, Earl Warren Middle School Site Council; VP of Philanthropy, National Charity League San Dieguito

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Del Mar Union School District?
Keeping our kids learning during COVID is our biggest issue. Our schools are open in-person and full-time. Parents can choose a dedicated remote learning program taught by our own stellar teachers. DMUSD is the sole district in San Diego to accomplish this, and it’s only possible because we have vigilantly built our budget reserve during my almost six years as trustee. Those savings make it possible to hire more teachers to lower class sizes, train every teacher on remote instruction, and implement extensive safety measures. While no one predicted this crisis, our conservative budgeting prepared us to address any eventuality.

Kids can’t wait out the pandemic. Their development continues, and it’s our job to make sure every child is learning at full tilt so they can reach their potential. As the parent of a third grader, I know that despite the challenges, DMUSD must continue to deliver exceptional education.

2. How would you propose to address those issues?
Keeping our kids in school safely requires continued focus and budget discipline. That approach allowed our schools to reopen both in-person and remotely, and it will keep our district ranked in the top 1% in California. Every child deserves the opportunity for success. That’s why our board prioritizes highly trained teachers, low class sizes, comprehensive support systems and early intervention.

Even the pandemic did not interrupt the rollout of the new full-immersion Spanish program this fall at Del Mar Hills Academy and Ashley Falls School. I have advocated for second language instruction since before joining the board. We now have an in-demand program that prepares our kids for the global economy.

My business and finance background gives me the perspective to ensure that taxpayers get the full value of our investment. We all benefit from high property values supported by top-notch public schools.

3. Do you agree with the way the Del Mar Union School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made?
I strongly advocate for transparency and open-mindedness from the district. The COVID-19 Dashboard on the DMUSD website is an example of timely communication. An informed community is best equipped to weigh in on decisions affecting our kids. We are fortunate to have highly involved parents and community members. The district should continue to find better ways to engage them that are meaningful and authentic.

We should keep our proven board intact and stop partisan politics from infiltrating our schools. Our board works collaboratively to reach the best decisions on behalf of kids. While we don’t always agree, we consider all viewpoints and get results.

Our supporters cross the political spectrum and are united by their knowledge of our work on behalf of kids and our community. Please visit HalpernMok2020.com to learn how Gee Wah and I will preserve educational excellence, maintain fiscal discipline, and keep our schools open safely.

Gee Wah Mok
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Gee Wah Mok
Occupation: Attorney
Education: BA, University of California, Berkeley; JD, Cornell University Law School
Community Service: I am currently serving in my second year on the Governing Board of Trustees of the Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD). I previously co-chaired the successful campaign for Measure MM which generated funds for the repair and upgrade of DMUSD facilities. I enjoy helping out in my son’s classroom and volunteering with the PTA at Ashley Falls Elementary.

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Del Mar Union School District?
The main issue facing all school districts, including DMUSD, is how to provide education and operate safely in face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having successfully opened our schools several weeks ago, our focus continues to be maintaining school operations safely and supporting our children’s and families’ mental and social well-being as best we can. We must provide our children with opportunities for learning, while ensuring the safety of students, teachers, staff and the greater community.

2. How would you propose to address those issues?
Due to our board’s foresight to build up a rainy-day fund, we were properly positioned financially to support the school district in its reopening plans. DMUSD was among the first districts in the county to reopen and offer full-time in-person learning. For families where in-person school was not ideal, a new distance-learning program was created where students can receive the same exceptional teaching at home.

The board used its financial reserves to pay for extensive safety measures such as purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE), hiring additional teachers to lower class sizes, and training teachers on online instruction which has allowed our schools to operate fully while keeping our students, teachers and staff safe.

We must continue to listen to parent, teacher and community feedback to adjust our programs in order to best meet the needs of our children.

3. Do you agree with the way the Del Mar Union School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made?
Del Mar Union is one of the finest school districts in the state. We have incredible teachers and staff, highly engaged parents, and leadership that puts the needs of children at the forefront of their decisions. The district offers exceptional educational programming that focuses on problem-solving and critical-thinking skills that well prepares our students for secondary education and beyond.

There is always room for continued growth and improvement. The shift to Zoom board meetings has increased community participation which allows for more robust discussion and more informed decision-making. I welcome the community involvement and would like to see board meetings continue to be broadcast live and online even when we are able to meet in person again. Regular surveys and open forums are further opportunities to gather public input and better serve the community.

Please re-elect Erica and me so we can continue the good work for our community. HalpernMok2020.com.

Kymberly van der Linden
Kymberly van der Linden
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Kymberly van der Linden
Occupation: Real Estate Broker/Owner Linden Real Estate (2015 - Present), Entrepreneur / Owner NXT-GEN Dance (2018 - 2019 ), Real Estate Agent (2005 - 2015), proud mother of three girls and software developer/engineer - employed after college and left the industry in 2002.

Education: California Department of Real Estate - Broker License, C.A.R Real Estate Essentials - Certificates & Designations Courses: Accredited Buyer Representative Designation, Sellers Representative Specialist, Price Strategy Advisor Certification PSA, certifications in Trust Funds, Ethics, Fair Housing, and other real estate related topics. Bachelor Degree in Computer Science at UCSD.

Community Service: Graduation Party Coordinator - 2019, Room Mom (2018-2019 ), Entrepreneur of NXT-GEN Dance Studio to introduce various dance genres (lyrical, ballet, break dance, hip hop) to kids in the community, Sunday School Teacher - 2014-2015. Volunteer in my daughters’ schools and sport activities since 2005, both public and private schools, Del Mar Union School District, San Dieguito School District, Encinitas School District and San Marcos Unified School District.

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Del Mar Union School District?
Our schools are lacking programs that help each individual student grow.

  • We need programs to support underperformers and challenge overachievers.
  • We also need to help medically challenged students get the resources they need.

We’re putting too much focus on new technology, and have forgotten about the importance of traditional educational techniques.

  • Technology is constantly changing, but traditional skills--like cursive, penmanship, etc--will stay with students forever.
  • Computers are tools, not skills.
  • We need to strike a balance and give students all the learning techniques they need to succeed.

Lastly, we need to make sure that the money we spend on our children goes to the right causes.

    2. How would you propose to address those issues?

    • Students First Project: To secure the future of each individual child by providing them with resources to fall back on and opportunities to challenge them
    • Five Essential Senses - RELOAD: To help students develop fundamental pen-and-paper skills through writing, handwritten math, reading hardcover books, and arts/crafts.
    • Spend Wisely Initiative: Practical spending on what matters to preserve the culture of the school and the community.

    3. Do you agree with the way the Del Mar Union School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made?

    I believe DMUSD has the best interests of our children at heart. They are doing a great job but there are a few areas in which I hope to see improvement.

    In terms of new technology in the classroom, I think we are straying from what is important and what really matters for our kids. We need to build them a good foundation of traditional skills in conjunction with learning about new technology. We need to strike a balance and give students all the learning techniques they need to succeed.

    Regarding COVID--I applaud the actions that the DMUSD took to get students back to in-person classes. In conjunction with the Launch remote learning program, this is helping us get our children back to a normal school schedule. Ideally, we want all students in person, because our children need that face-to-face interaction more than they do screen time.


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