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McQuary, Nordstrom Vie To Represent San Diego Unified’s Coastal Schools

Marcia Nordstrom and Michael McQuary are shown in this undated photo.

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: Marcia Nordstrom and Michael McQuary are shown in this undated photo.

At a recent San Diego Unified event, school board incumbent Michael McQuary shook hands with community members and greeted school police officers who had recently taken him on a ride-along. You got the sense this retired school teacher was in his element. Indeed, his calendar is filled with district ribbon-cutting ceremonies and assemblies.

McQuary won his school board seat representing Sub-District C after running unopposed in 2014. History nearly repeated itself this year, until Marcia Nordstrom jumped in as a write-in candidate during the primary.

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Because the top two vote-getters advance to the November runoff, both will appear on the ballot. Nordstrom received 2,518 votes. McQuary received 29,447 votes.

McQuary hopes the outcome of next month’s election is the same so he can help set the district’s priorities heading into 2030. That process is just beginning, as the district’s 2020 plan — to bring quality schools to every neighborhood and ensure every graduate is qualified for college — winds down.

“We want to continue the progress for all students to be prepared for college, career and civic engagement. And I want to add global engagement,” McQuary said. “We want our students to have multiple languages, we want students to have cultural competencies so they can sit across the table with any family in any part of the world and any neighborhood in San Diego and be able to have a conversation.

“We want students to be registered to vote,” he continued. “And just like we want students to have a driver’s license, I think children should also have a passport.”

Video by Roland Lizarondo

McQuary, who has also served on the Pacific Beach Town Council and several Rotary International clubs, said his connections as chairman of the San Diego International Sister City Association might help in establishing service learning projects abroad. The association coordinates with 16 sister cities across 15 other countries.

But what will he do from the dais to realize his vision?

“We set the direction, we hire the people to fulfill that, and we hold them accountable and we drive the programs,” McQuary said. “And that’s one reason why I’ve been able to achieve the outstanding results that we have now. We have the highest graduation rate of any urban school district in California, we have the lowest dropout rates, we are closing the achievement gap.”

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“I applaud him for that,” said McQuary’s competitor, Marcia Nordstrom. “There are a lot of other issues that a trustee has to address.”

Nordstrom is a parent of high school-age children, has also served on the Pacific Beach Town Council and is a real estate professional.

“I want to be able to bring my background and experience, which would bring more diversity in terms of balancing the board,” she said. “This is a ($1.4 billion) budget that they oversee, they’ve got bond issues, they’ve got real estate management. There’s so much going on with this district. I believe that the educators are very well-represented on the board, so I see myself as an asset.”

Nordstrom said her first act as a trustee would be to look closely at spending and then communicate her findings clearly to constituents. As part of this, she would assess the district’s 83 departments for effectiveness and duplication.

“The number one deliverable that this district has is educating the child. So I would not want to be looking at layoffs as the first place for budget cuts,” Nordstrom said. “I would want to be going to different departments and finding out what’s going on, where are the inefficiencies? We have to make every dollar count.”

The district has had to make deep budget cuts in recent years, trimming the central office, laying off support staff and offering early retirements to keep teachers in the classroom. McQuary pointed out that the district has a positive financial rating from the San Diego County Office of Education, which means the district will be able to meet its fiscal obligations in the coming years.

RELATED: San Diego Unified Pursuing $3.5 Billion Bond Measure For November

But the process of finding cuts to balance the budget has helped to fuel a feeling among many that the board isn’t transparent enough. Nordstrom said her No. 1 goal as school board member would be to improve communication.

“I have a promise, and it’s not a political promise, it’s a real promise,” she said. “I want to be the most transparent trustee on this board, and how I would do that is by having monthly newsletters and quarterly town hall meetings.”

Nordstrom is endorsed by the Republican Party of San Diego County and San Diego City Council members Lorie Zapf and Chris Cate.

McQuary is endorsed by San Diego Democrats for Equality, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of the Pacific Southwest and UFCW Local 135.

Sub-District C includes schools in San Diego Unified’s coastal region. November’s vote for the district is citywide.

Michael McQuary is a former teacher who joined the board in 2015. Marcia Nordstrom is a parent and real estate professional.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated Marcia Nordstrom had been endorsed by San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman. As of Wednesday, Oct. 3, Sherman has not endorsed her.

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