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Phan Anderson, a parent in the San Dieguito Union High School District, will run against Trustee Julie Bronstein for the board’s Area 5 seat. Courtesy photo (Anderson)
Phan Anderson, a parent in the San Dieguito Union High School District, will run against Trustee Julie Bronstein for the board’s Area 5 seat. Courtesy photo (Anderson)
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San Dieguito parent challenges Bronstein for board’s Area 5 seat

CARMEL VALLEY — A San Dieguito Union High School District parent will challenge Trustee Julie Bronstein for her Area 5 seat in the November general election.

Phan Anderson, a Carmel Valley resident of 16 years and mother of three, announced her candidacy on Thursday amid a controversial few months for the district, including an active lawsuit alleging gerrymandering among school board members and the firing of its superintendent in late June.

Anderson is running on a platform she believes will get the district back on course. She is focused on promoting high standards in core subjects, supporting student potential through extracurriculars, transparency regarding district spending and subject matter, and promoting tolerance.

“The district has been distracted with controversies. I feel like we need to refocus,” Anderson said. “I believe so strongly in the value of education — this is a value that my parents instilled in me, and it’s something that I’ve experienced firsthand because, through education, I was able to overcome my social and economic barriers.”

A software engineer who graduated with a computer science degree from San Diego State University, Anderson moved to San Diego at the age of 10 with her family. She was born in Saigon, Vietnam, during the Vietnam War and underwent a harrowing journey in fleeing the country to a better life in the United States.

She and her husband decided to move to Carmel Valley so their children could eventually attend schools in the acclaimed San Dieguito district.

San Dieguito has drawn heavy criticism over the past year despite its academic reputation. Following a disastrous redistricting process that required the intervention of the County Office of Education, backlash arose against former superintendent Dr. Cheryl James-Ward in the spring following her comments that many Asian students perform well in school because of the wealth of local Chinese families, who she said have been moving “sight unseen” into Carmel Valley.

These comments struck a chord with Anderson and other Asian parents in the district, spurring calls for her resignation at a series of board meetings throughout May and June with hours of public comment.

In Anderson’s case, the situation also pushed her to run for a spot on the five-person school board, a decision she reached after discussions with other members of the district’s Asian communities. She said many were disappointed by Bronstein’s continued support for James-Ward despite her comments.

“As far as my opponent’s record, she has clearly sided with special interests more than the students, and we all see that,” Anderson said. “We needed someone independent on the board to represent us, and that’s when I decided to step up because I wanted to focus on the students and the parents in the community.”

Since the board ultimately selects the superintendent, she hopes she can make a decision representing the community’s interests when a new candidate comes forward.

“Our last superintendent failed us, and that’s one of the reasons I’m running. It’s going to be an important decision on who does that next,” Anderson said.

Area 5 covers the southeast portion of the district down to Sorrento Valley Road.

Anderson, whose commentaries on James-Ward and the current state of education have been published in The Coast News over the past couple of months, is running to represent the new Area 5 in the county’s adopted redistricting map, which features a northern boundary following Carmel Canyon Road to Del Mar Heights Road up to Summit Crest Circle and no longer extending north to San Dieguito Road.

Bronstein was chosen to represent Area 5 in a special election in 2021 and is running, hoping to reclaim her seat for a full four-year term. The Area 1 seat, currently occupied by Mo Muir, will also be up for election in November.

The board’s Area 3 seat is also vacant since the resignation of Melisse Mossy in April.