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Superintendent Finalists Give Best Pitch For Top Job


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— San Diego Unified's public job interview for a superintendent took place in the district's main auditorium. Never before have superintendent finalists faced the public before a superintendent was selected.

Retired principal Maria Garcia said she's looking for sincerity -- a quality she believes the district's leaders have been lacking.

"If you care about kids, you are willing to do the job," Garcia said.

The district's last two superintendent were Terry Grier and Carl Cohn.

Both men are veteran superintendents who are nationally recognized for their reforms. However, Grier and Cohn left San Diego long before the school board expected them to.

The trustees do not want that to happen again, and they're hoping involving the public makes a difference.

The three finalists include the district's interim superintendent Bill Kowba, longtime educator Debbra Lindo, and former schools chief Dale Vigil.

Each contender had 45 minutes to answer community questions and explain why they're the best person for the job.

Kowba is the district's acting schools chief, a trusted administrator and a former navy officer.

He told the audience that his biggest strength is that he never backs down from a challenge.

"This endless stream of budget cutting just has got to stop," Kowba said. "Through thick and thin, I have stayed. It has been so tough, draining and demoralizing. But if you're committed, you will stick it out. I'm here to stick it out."

Debbra Lindo began her teaching career in San Diego more than a decade ago.

Since then she has become a public school administrator in Oakland. She now runs a non-profit group that works to get kids into college.

Lindo says the key to getting all kids to achieve is involving each parent in the district.

"Many poor parents who lack resources also lack the skill, will, capacity and the know-how to actually do something different for their child," Lindo said. "That's where the education system and, the people in the system, can make a difference."

Dale Vigil is the most experienced of all the candidates when it comes to leading a public school district.

He recently stepped down as superintendent of the Hayward Unified School District. He was also a public school administrator in the Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts.

He told the audience that the school system has failed African Americans boys. He says helping those kids achieve would be one of his priorities.

"We have done a dismal job at educating them," Vigil said. "We need to take a look and ask ourselves, 'Is it institutional racism? Is it fear of the student? Or is it fear of the unknown? What is it that is not allowing us to tap the intellect that those young men bring to school?'"

Not as many people turned out for the town hall forum as district officials expected. The people who attended praised the district for making the process open and the candidates accessible.

Kim Coleman is a mother of four kids. She says each candidate had their strengths, however there wasn't one candidate who represented the total package.

Even so, she was impressed by the passion she saw on stage.

"They all have experience and really diverse experiences," Coleman said. "I think they all understand it is the student who needs to be served."

The school board plans to conduct final interviews over the two next week. Trustees hope to make their pick by then end of the month.


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