Endorsement: Hazan, Higman, Willams for San Diego Unified school board
San Diego Unified needs trustees who are independent thinkers
The editorial board operates independently from the U-T newsroom but holds itself to similar ethical standards. We base our editorials and endorsements on reporting, interviews and rigorous debate, and strive for accuracy, fairness and civility in our section. Disagree? Let us know.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Friday that the overall 2022-23 budget surplus was on track to be $97 billion portends historic new funding levels for K-12 schools, on top of the surge that has seen annual education spending go from $79.3 billion to $102 billion since Newsom took office. Several bold new initiatives — including ones that would extend early education programs to children as young as 2 — are in the works. The view of many California policy makers — that education quality is a function of how much money is spent — faces a telling test.
These are the candidates we recommend on the June 7 primary ballot for national, state and local races.
But as voters consider their options in two San Diego Unified board races in the June 7 primary, they need to grasp the bigger picture of K-12 education in California. Funding is far from the only issue. It’s not widely appreciated that the most potent critiques of state public education over the past generation have been raised by civil rights groups, often backed by the Obama administration, who say the achievement gap seen in some communities of color isn’t just a function of poverty or racism. They say it is fueled by laws that systematically lead to the most able veteran teachers flocking to stable, affluent schools and that lead to the least qualified — and sometimes unqualified — teachers going to schools in the poorest neighborhoods. They also point to the state’s Dashboard program. It was supposed to let parents quickly judge whether schools are improving. Instead, it often obscures such determinations. Some lawmakers also note that the 2013 Local Control Funding Formula that was billed as specifically helping disadvantaged students get additional resources often did nothing of the sort — and that Newsom vetoed an effort to fix this wrong.
This is why San Diego Unified needs trustees who are independent thinkers — ready to challenge ideas from Sacramento or the superintendent’s office.
The district should be proud that test scores are improving. Officials believe district relations with parents and community stakeholders are strong. And the selection of Superintendent Cindy Marten as deputy secretary of education in the Biden administration backs the perception that California’s second-largest school district is doing well.
But the district has issues. Enrollment, as elsewhere, is down. The district’s historic hostility to charter schools remains despite their popularity. And its handling of blowback to the arbitrary, secretive cancellation of honors programs at Patrick Henry High School was appalling. But the biggest gripes are and should be about how officials handled pandemic-related school closures. By spring 2001, there was wide concern locally that officials were not sufficiently alarmed by the academic, emotional and physical toll of learning from home.
Now voters in district Sub-district B, covering the district’s northeastern corner, and Sub-district C, which includes the district’s western, coastal section, must decide which of three candidates in each race will finish first or second on June 7 to reach the Nov. 8 general election. None are incumbents.
In B, it’s early education commissioner Shana Hazan, retired principal/teacher Godwin Higa and vehicle service technician Jose Velazquez. Higa has an impressive resume and breadth of knowledge, and Velazquez’s readiness to challenge what he sees as facile trendiness will resonate with some. But Hazan — a former teacher, longtime community volunteer, nonprofit executive and parent of young daughters — is far more likely to be an effective trustee who can win support for her views if she is not on the same page as Superintendent Lamont Jackson or veteran board members who are allied with the local teachers union. In assessing the district’s pandemic response, she acknowledged the uniqueness and difficulty of the situation. But she also made plain her disappointment that the district “did not swiftly pivot” to constructive efforts to improve grossly inadequate online education. She also warned that the district’s hostility to transparency hurt it badly with the public — not just with journalists frustrated by years of stonewalling.
In C, voters can choose among parent/school advocate Lily Higman, educator/parent Cody Petterson and charter school businesswoman Becca Williams. Petterson is clearly well informed. But his views often suggest a general satisfaction with the district’s performance. In contrast, both Higman and Williams expressed frustration at the district’s pandemic response. Both offered thoughtful views about the value of transparency and the best ways to help students make up for their months of time wasted while distance learning. And refreshingly, both bristled at the idea that the district should be content over its record and responsiveness.
The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board endorses Hazan in Sub-district B, and Higman and Willams in Sub-district C. All three candidates would bring an outsider perspective that San Diego Unified — and government in general — could use.
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