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Southeastern San Diego School Board Candidates Make Their Case To Voters Citywide

Last school year it was all eyes on Marne Foster. Now two candidates are competing to replace her in District E and put the focus back on students.

Nearly 60 percent of voters in June chose LaShae Collins, 35, to replace Marne Foster on the San Diego Unified school board. The former trustee resigned after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for receiving financial gifts above the legal limit.

Unlike other races, school board elections aren't finished if someone comes out on top in the primary. In November, all voters in the city will decide who will represent District E schools in Southeastern San Diego.

Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, 65, is running against Collins and is Foster's interim replacement. She said June's outcome was by design.

"It would be a waste of resources — of my time, my volunteers' time — to focus on trying to win something when I would be on the ballot anyway. That was a no brainer," Whitehurst-Payne said. "My strategy was to get through the year offering children services and meeting their needs, and then to go into campaigning."

Now Whitehurst-Payne is running on the work she did as interim trustee.

Instead of canvassing, she said she walked school hallways to see where she was needed. And at Crawford High School, she said she found a school in disrepair.

Photo by Susana Tsutsumi

This map shows the boundaries of San Diego Unified School District's District E, which includes the neighborhoods of Encanto, Oak Park, Paradise Hills, Rolando, Valencia Park and Webster.

Sharon Whitehurst-Payne

Age: 65

Family: Married

Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics, Duke University; doctorate in education leadership, UCLA

Career: Interim trustee with the San Diego Unified School Board; former teacher and consultant with the district for more than three decades

Hobbies: Traveling

"(Crawford) became my project school," Whitehurst-Payne said. "I think at almost every board meeting thereafter I was reporting on the school and what was happening at it. And the other board members became aware of it and the staff decided to make it a priority."

Funding from Propositions S and Z was used to make improvements at Crawford over the summer, including a fresh coat of paint for the mid-city campus and technology upgrades to its library. Construction on a new stadium is also underway and is expected to be completed in March, 2017.

The work on these projects was approved before administrators appointed Whitehurst-Payne. But Whitehurst-Payne said the projects got done sooner because she knows how to work with individuals at every level of the district.

"I know the system and you can't game me, because I was there," Whitehurst-Payne said. "I know the little games that are being played or not being played. I spent time in the classroom. I was a math teacher at Roosevelt, at O'Farrell, at Mission Bay High School."

However, Debra Maxie, a vice principal at Crawford, refuted the claim that Whitehurst-Payne was instrumental in getting these projects done sooner.

In a written statement to KPBS, Maxie said: "Prior to the appointment of Dr. Whitehurst-Payne as District E board member, all of the projects mentioned had established beginning as well as completion dates and have since followed the agreed upon timeline."

Whitehurst-Payne said she also spent 17 years working in human relations at the district, and another teaching in the School of Education at Cal State San Marcos.

RELATED: Two Educators Compete To Represent Southeastern San Diego On School Board

LaShae Collins

Age: 35

Family: Married with two children

Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees in education, San Diego State University; doctoral candidate in educational leadership, SDSU

Career: Adjunct professor at SDSU; district director for Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego

Hobbies: Playing piano, dancing, family time

LaShae Collins said that's why voters should choose her. As a parent, her perspective isn't entrenched in district operations.

"Parents agree, community members agree, business leaders agree that it's time for change," Collins said. "It's time."

She said she'd leave her mark by increasing transparency in the district and access to its decision makers.

"When you really, really care about education and really care about your community, you're going to do everything you can to make sure that the vital information — really anything you get — is going to come back (to the community)," Collins said. "They can know that I'm being transparent. This is what's going on and I know it may not always be what you want it to be, but this is what's going on and I want to hear from you."

In addition to being a parent in the district, Collins works for State Assemblywoman Shirley Weber and as an adjunct professor teaching Africana Studies at San Diego State.

She said her other big mark would be expanding a program called Compact for Success, which guarantees SDSU admission to Hoover High School students who meet certain benchmarks.

"One thing that I'm really, really passionate about is getting the Compact for Success program put in District E. Period," Collins said. "I think that this population of students should be able to have that opportunity right at their fingertips.

"But second to that," she continued, "we need to get this budget straight to make sure we do have equity across the board."

Both candidates said they're focused on ensuring the students they represent — those in some of San Diego's lowest income and most diverse communities — have equal access to educational opportunities.

Collins said, for example, high school students in the area should have the same number of college-level course offerings as those in other areas.

Whitehurst-Payne pushed through a proposal this summer that expanded the courses district wide, but they were ultimately scaled back at Lincoln High School in District E because of low enrollment.

Collins said music is another place where equality is lacking.

"Yes we have a large number of schools that are thriving — strings, drums, band, all that good stuff," Collins said. "But when you look at District E it's very minimal and the quality is very, very low."

Whitehurst-Payne said she's already talked to district staff about it.

"The first couple of weeks that I was on the board, I actually went to a lot of instrumental concerts for each grade level, and I was looking for the student diversity among the student population," Whitehurst-Payne said. "I didn't see it, so I talked to the folks at the district and they assured me that that is at the top of the list for them to address."

Neither candidate is proposing a sea change once in office.

Both echo district leadership on the need to improve neighborhood schools so fewer families choose to send their kids elsewhere. The difference between the two is management style and background.

And with a ballot that counts this time, both Collins and Whitehurst-Payne are eager to point out those distinctions.

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