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Evans to Challenge Lee in District A

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

The San Diego Unified School District is facing a potential leadership overhaul. That's because three of the five San Diego school board members are up for reelection next week.

One of the seats up for grabs belongs to incumbent Mitz Lee. The vote in this district would be a local referendum on the implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has the story.

School board member Mitz Lee represents the central and northern parts of San Diego. She burst onto San Diego's education scene several years ago as an outspoken parent.

Her grassroots activism helped her secure a seat on the board in 2004. The 53-year-old trustee says she grown and evolved since then.

Lee: So I was very, very idealistic. I thought things were going to be changing. But then you realize there are so many parameters. So I guess I have grown to really consider those constraints.

Constraints like the district's current budget problems. Lee has spent long hours trying to find ways the district can cope with a $53 million loss in state education funding.

She is also trying to forge a working relationship with district's new Superintendent Terry Grier. This will be the third superintendent Lee has worked with in less than five years.

Despite all the changes, Lee says students in her district are making gains on state test scores. She also says middle and high schools are adding innovative programs in hopes of bringing parents back to neighborhood campuses.   

Lee: One of my visions and goals that I always strive for is ensuring that every school is a good school in each neighborhood. That they would be able to send their kids and not to be riding on the bus 6:30 in the morning to go to the school that they think can provide them with a good education. 

Lee says she's a data-driven person who likes to work behind the scenes. She comes from the Philippines where education was seen as a way out of poverty. She strongly supports the federal No Child Left Behind Act, saying it forces schools to give students the best education possible.

Lee's challenger, psychologist John Evans , has a different opinion. 

He believes the federal accountability system unfairly punishes schools. Evans wants the district to step-away from relying on tests to guide its mission. 

Evans: One thing I would like to have is a more comprehensive school evaluation, looking at critical thinking, art and music development, physical fitness involvement of parents and community. All of this would be ways to evaluate what our schools are doing rather just producing robotic test takers.

Evans is 54-years-old and has three grown children. He's also an educator whose spent time in the Peace Corps working with rural school teachers. He describes himself as a strategist, listener and team builder -- qualities he says is missing from the current the school board.

Evans: In previous years, the district, going back to the Bersin years, was obviously clearly divided on a three-two vote on almost everything. And I would describe the current board as being more of a one to one to one to one, in terms of there are five individuals who are marching at different times and different directions.

And Evans says the school board can't afford to do that when the drop-out rate continues to climb.

If voters choose incumbent Mitz Lee they'll be voting on a continuation of the No Child Left Behind Act. If they choose challenger John Evans, they would be appearing to vote for a change to current district policy. 

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.

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