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Retired Educator Chosen To Fill San Diego Unified School Board Vacancy

The seat where Marne Foster sat during San Diego Unified School Board meetings before resigning sits empty, Feb. 16, 2016.
Matthew Bowler
The seat where Marne Foster sat during San Diego Unified School Board meetings before resigning sits empty, Feb. 16, 2016.

Retired Educator Chosen To Fill San Diego Unified School Board Vacancy
GUEST:Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, board member, San Diego Unified School District

You were listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I am Tom Fudge. The scoreboard now has five members again and the newest trustee is Sharon Whitehurst Payne. Her appointment this week a bit scoreboard follows a troubling situation including former board member Marty Foster. She stepped down earlier this month hands admitted to criminal charge. She accepted gifts and uses her position for personal gain. Foster successor Sharon Whitehurst Payne holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership. She has been a teacher and administrator at San Diego unified for more than 40 years. She has never served on the scoreboard. She will be representing District EMAC -- E. She joins me in studio. Miss Whitehurst Payne, thank you very much. Thank you. I guess I should ask what it feels like to be appointed to the scoreboard? It feels like I have a challenge that I'm ready to meet and I am excited about doing it. It just a crack something, and only did 31 years with the San Diego city schools. And then 10 years with -- All I'm sorry. The more than 40 years of education. Absolutely. Know you will be serving at the school board district to, tell me a little bit about that district. District E is extremely diverse. Some -- we have a international community right in district E -- E. It is 40% Latino, we have Asians, Cambodians. We have a strong Somali and Ethiopian population. And we also have African-Americans, Anglos. It's a very diverse population. And it's a low income population to a large %? Exactly. Did you grow up in San Diego? No I spent 18 years in for joint -- Virginia and Norfork. Then I moved on to Durham, North Carolina race that three years getting my bachelors degree in math. Then from there I came out here and went back during the summers to get my masters degree.'s neck's with teaching job brought you -- Teaching. I was recruited at Duke to come to San Diego. What you think happen to your predecessor Marty Foster, I think it would be visit -- remiss if I didn't ask you. Frankly, my focus is going to be on the students. It has been unfortunate that we sidetracked with adult issues. But I think it's time for us to move forward. The board is taking up a policy and will be voting on that on March 8. For right now, my goal in my focus has been on the children. Let's not let them have a poor year because of adult issues. Running a large urban educational district is one of the most challenging jobs. The politics are very tough. What will you try to do for the district in your constituents as you service trustee? One of my main focus is right now is to actually see whether or not we can get some community involvement, not just one segment, but a larger community commitment to come in and help with the children. To serve them by volunteering to come and read, be there in the community, in the classroom, to know what is going on. That way they can offer the support of the children who really needed. The teachers union is very influential in politics. Is that okay with you? Do you sometime thing the interest of teachers sometimes run contrary to the interests of students and parents? Every group has pros and cons. But where I focus right now and I have made this clear to everyone is that if you want to serve children, the people who are at the front line with the teachers. When those children come in every day, that is who they deal with. And I have spoken to a number of teachers, and to see their frustration because they have to be sidetracked dealing with some issue from a child that they can't get to the class to teach that day. If we could just bring in volunteers to be in the classroom to sit to help children see that there are other adults in the classroom, I think that would help teachers. My goal is to focus on making a positive environment for the children so they can all learn. Finally, who are appointed to this position. Are you going to run for the position at the end of this year? I did pick up papers last night. I am running for this position. I believe that the citizens brief should have choices. If I do a good job, maybe they want me to stay on. If I don't do a good job, then I would be the first one to say hey let me go on and do other things. I am fine with that either way. Sharon Whitehurst Payne is the newest member of the San Diego city school board. Thank you very much for coming in.

Retired teacher and administrator Sharon Whitehurst-Payne was unanimously selected Tuesday night to fill the vacancy on the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education caused by the resignation of Marne Foster.

Whitehurst-Payne was selected among the four finalists who were each given 15 minutes in front of the board to answer nine questions that were supplied to the candidates in advance.

Whitehurst-Payne said her priorities are to bring together the community, move forward and begin the healing.

"I am committed to every child in this district," Whitehurst-Payne said from her new spot on the dais after being sworn into office. "Thank you all for this vote of confidence, I look forward to getting to work."

She told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday that she intends to run for the position in the June primary.

“I am running for this position, because I believe the citizenry should have choices and if I do a good job, maybe they’ll want me to stay on,” she said.

Because the seat representing Southeast San Diego is up for election this year, board members opted against holding a special election to fill the position.

The term she was elected to ends on Dec. 5, 2016.

Whitehurst-Payne said her focus will be on students and improving the educational experience for them.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve been sidetracked with adult issues, but I think it’s time for us to move forward,” she said.

The other finalists were Brenda Campbell, LaShae Collins and Erica Dibello-Hitta. They were selected from a group of 10 candidates who addressed the board last week. Collins will also be running for the position in the June primary.

Whitehurst-Payne has more than 44 years experience in public education, including 31 in the San Diego Unified School District.

"I am committed to public education," she said in her prepared remarks to the board. "We want to serve the needs of all students, not just one group of students."

In closing, Whitehurst-Payne quoted the late South African President Nelson Mandela.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure," she said. "It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us."

Marne Foster is pictured in this undated photo.
San Diego Unified School District
Marne Foster is pictured in this undated photo.

Foster resigned Feb. 7, five days after pleading guilty to receiving financial gifts over the legal limit. She admitted that a benefactor gave her son money toward a theater camp in 2014 and paid for his airline tickets.

The board deliberated in open session after hearing from the candidates and about a dozen District E residents.

Trustees John Lee Evans and Kevin Beiser praised Whitehurst-Payne as being the one who best articulated the difference in the roles between the board and Superintendent Cindy Marten.

Whitehurst-Payne took the oath of office at the end of the two-hour meeting. She was sworn in by San Diego County Office of Education Superintendent Randolph Ward and Bishop George McKinney of St. Stephen's Cathedral Church of God in Christ in Southeast San Diego.