Friday, May 30, 2008
There's a lot at stake for the San Diego Unified School District next week. That's because three of the district's five school board members are up for reelection. A change in trustees could set the district in a new direction or spark tension with the new superintendent.
Sheila Jackson is one of the school trustees up for reelection. Two teachers are vying for her position. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has the story.
Incumbent Sheila Jackson represents schools in southeastern San Diego. It's one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the district. It also has a large number of academically struggling students.
Most of the school kids come from low-income, minority families.
Jackson says despite socioeconomic challenges, students in her district are posting modest but steady academic gains. She says her efforts to attract dynamic principals to south San Diego is paying off.
Jackson: The leadership sets the tone for the schools. And not just strong leadership academically, but that they reach out to the community. That the community sees the schools as a beacon in the community.
Jackson says she's been working to foster a culture of education in the community in hopes of steering kids away from drugs and gangs.
The 51-year-old trustee has been a strong advocate for schools in her community -- ensuring they get the same attention, respect and resources as schools north of Interstate 8.
She's also been critical of charter school groups that want to establish new campuses in certain parts of the district.Jackson admits she's tough on charters.
Jackson: There are rules and guidelines to protect the children. And one of our mission is to protect kids. And so when you approve something that you know is flawed, I am saying its okay. It’s okay for you not to have these things in place to protect children and that should not happen.
Jackson's two opponents agree charter schools need solid academic plans in place, but the candidates are more friendly toward the charter school movement.
Meet Xeng Yang, a computer and math teacher who once taught at a local charter school.
Yang: I am a refugee coming from Laos. When I came to this country I was about 15, 17 years old…
…and years later graduated from college and became an educator in San Diego County schools.
Yang has three kids -- one of which attends a San Diego public school. He wants the district to turn its attention to the growing number of students who are learning English as a second language. He believes school officials are not doing enough to help families overcome language and cultural barriers.
Yang: We have parents coming in or new arrivals, they have no idea of what is going on in the public school system. So we need someone who speaks their language to help them in the classroom.
As a school board member, Yang says he would also bolster the district's career technical programs AND give teachers more time for development.
Yang: I would like to have training. Site training specifically that relates directly to their curriculum.
Candidate Majorie Thomas also believes the district should do more the train teachers. She believes that would go a long way to improve classroom instruction AND close the academic achievement gap.
Thomas: We're not very happy with our proficiency rates in literacy or math at elementary level. And its not because we don't have great teachers. But there are some obstacles. One is the lack of ongoing staff development and time to collaborate.
Thomas is a former biology researcher who switched careers late in life to teach in San Diego schools. She has since retired but says she still has a passion for helping poor and minority kids.
Thomas: Having come from poor rural segregated background in Florida where there were many who expected little from us, I know the feeling, how sometimes you're very discouraged that others don't think your kids can achieve. So my message is yes they can.
Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.