The Coast News Group
Members of the San Dieguito Union High School District's Chinese-American community, including (from left to right) Charlie Zhao, Jingjin Gao, San Diego Asian Americans for Equality President Joan Chen, and Julie Zou rally for the resignation of Superintendent Dr. Cheryl James Ward outside the district office Wednesday following her comments that Asian students excel in school due to wealthy Chinese families coming to the United States.
Members of SDUHSD's Chinese American community call for the resignation of Superintendent Dr. Cheryl James-Ward outside the district office on April 20. Photo by Laura Place
Community Commentary Opinion

Commentary: Superintendent’s remarks are wrong, racist and ignorant

By Phan Anderson

As previously reported by this newspaper, the San Dieguito Union High School District is currently embroiled in controversy due to comments made by Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward. 

At a recent training session James-Ward attributed the educational success of Asian American students to the advantages of wealth. 

The remark provoked outrage among many families who reside in the District. 

Many SDUHSD parents thereafter attended a board meeting to speak out and call for her resignation.  Afterwards, the District Board of Trustees voted 3-1 to place the superintendent on administrative leave, pending further action.

As a SDUHSD parent residing in Carmel Valley, I’m sharing my view of the matter, so that others will know how hurtful and insulting James-Ward’s comments were — so wrong, so racist, and so ignorant. 

The superintendent was wrong, both factually and morally. 

She claimed that Asians do well in school because the district has “an influx of Asians from China, and the people who are able to make that journey are wealthy.” 

But my family, like many others in the community, came with little money and without knowledge of the English language.  With hard work, we have overcome these economic and social barriers. Many parents who have spoken out had similar experiences. 

We are proud of our achievements, have taught our children to work hard, value education, and respect the traditions of family. 

James-Ward’s description, a gross generalization, is wrong and insulting. 

Many Asians have encountered discrimination in America, so it is especially hurtful to have the person in charge of our children’s education be so dismissive of their accomplishments.

Although James-Ward appears sensitive to racism (her comments came at a DEI workshop conducted by the district), her presumptions about Asian Americans are a clear expression of racism. 

If she were thinking as an educator, she’d try to understand what Asian American families are doing right, so that others could learn how to maximize their educational opportunities.

Instead, she focused on her false and unsupported perspective that our students succeed in school because they come from rich China.

James-Ward’s comments also reveal a profound ignorance of the Asian American community, a constituency which accounts for nearly one-third of the families in Area 5, which is represented on the Board by Trustee Julie Bronstein.

The superintendent’s apologies appeared disingenuous — she didn’t accept responsibility, said her comments were taken out of context, tried to deflect blame and tried to depict herself as a victim. 

She claimed that the turnout and criticisms of speakers against her were orchestrated by the California Equal Rights Foundation, failing to recognize that they are genuine, sincere concerns.

She is flat-out wrong. Myself and many other SDUHSD parents were moved to speak out by the offensive nature of her remarks. 

And James-Ward still doesn’t get it. 

Recently, she admitted in an April 25 interview with KUSI, “I kept going back over what I said, I could not find anything wrong with what I said.” 

She claims the backlash against her is driven by certain trustees, that being placed on leave was retaliatory. In an April 24 interview with NBC, she states that she is being “publicly lynched.” 

This is ludicrous!

Sadly, James-Ward ignores the voices of those she was hired to serve — the families of SDUHSD — many of whom she has grievously offended. 

Not only by her original remarks, but by her subsequent comments, in my opinion, she persists in her ignorance and continues to demonstrate that she is unfit to be superintendent.

This episode demonstrates how harmful it is to divide people into racial and ethnic groups. 

All Americans should be treated as individuals. It is our natural right.  The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

The concept of “face” is an important principle in many Asian cultures. 

In my opinion, James-Ward’s comments have damaged the face of the district and damaged the Asian community. She did this, but she can redeem herself and restore face to the district by resigning from her position.

We need to learn from this experience and move forward, with a new superintendent.

Phan Anderson is a Carmel Valley resident in the San Dieguito Union High School District.

Leave a Comment