Five Candidates Vying For Two Seats On The San Diego Unified Board
Monday, February 10, 2020
School board races are usually far from the highest-profile political contests, but candidates for San Diego Unified’s board of trustees say the stakes are high in the March primary.
Three seats are up this year on the five-member board. Incumbent Richard Barrera running unopposed in Sub-District D. Three candidates are competing for Sub-District A, which will be vacated by Board President John Lee Evans. And incumbent Sharon Whitehurst-Payne is being opposed in Sub-District E.
“I think a lot of people don’t pay attention to it because they don’t know what the school board does,” said Crystal Trull, who is vying for the Sub-District A seat, which covers the neighborhoods of Clairemont, University City, Mira Mesa and Sorrento Valley. “I think it’s one of those mysterious kinds of entities.”
San Diego Unified is the second-largest district in the state, serving more than 120,000 students and employing 13,000 teachers and staff.
While school boards of past decades focused largely on test scores and budgets, candidates in 2020 are also concerned about issues like school discipline, student health and building relationships with students.
“If a parent has to go to the school board to make their point, there’s been a breakdown somewhere,” Trull said.
Trull currently works as a nonprofit consultant and teaches courses on nonprofit governance at UC San Diego and the University of San Diego. She said she’s seen how collaborations between leaders can lead to more productive relationships with the communities they serve.
The other candidates in the District A race are entrepreneur Stephen Groce and health educator Sabrina Bazzo.
“I know the issues that our families face. I’ve seen them first hand,” she said. “I can bring that parent perspective and the organizational perspective of working within the system.”
Groce said leading the district requires knowing that you only have one chance with students.
“We have one opportunity. There’s no refunds,” he said. “That’s why we have to make sure the students in the K-12 and the K-14 system have equitable opportunities so they can learn as much they can.”
As a business leader, Groce wants to build relationships with local businesses and public agencies to find alternative funding sources for the district.
Bazzo, a health educator who is endorsed by the San Diego Educators Association, said the district has to be more holistic about how students are assessed. She said schools shouldn’t be valued just by their test scores.
“San Diego Unified School District is the second-largest district in the state, and a lot of people don’t realize that,” she said. “You’re going to be one of the few voices at the district level.”
While District A serves largely affluent communities, schools in Southeast San Diego’s District E have the highest percentage of students in the district receiving free or reduced-price lunch.
Whitehurst-Payne said the district leadership has made progress in serving the students in her community, specifically in special education.
“Children come to our schools in District E’s community not with the same set of resources that children in say District C, the coastal areas, or District A or some of the other districts,” she said. “They need to overcome a lot of barriers before they even get started.”
Her challenger is LaWana Richmond, an educational leadership expert at UC San Diego. She says she isn’t satisfied with what Whitehurst-Payne calls progress.
“There’s still a very big picture of haves and have-nots,” she said. “There are some schools that are doing really well, and there are some schools that are continuing to do very poorly. I can just point to the data.”
Richmond was a former student at Lincoln High School. She says she promises to keep students and families at the center of all her decisions if she’s elected, whether it’s trying new ideas or building off the successes of past school boards.
The top two vote-getters from each sub-district in March will move onto an at-large district election in November. Board member Richard Barrera is running unopposed to hold his seat for District D.
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