The Coast News Group
Vying for Trustee Area No. 1 are Amy Flicker and incumbent Maureen “Mo” Muir. Melisse Mossy and Rhea Stewart are running for the No. 3 seat. Lea Wolf, Kristin Gibson and Dr. Cheryl James-Ward are competing for No. 5. Courtesy photo
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San Dieguito school board candidates discuss the issues







REGION — In an election year with record-breaking numbers of women running for office, one thing is clear about the San Dieguito Union High School District race: The board will be all women. No men are running in 2018, and Joyce Dalessandro and Beth Hergesheimer hold their seats until 2020.

Vying for Trustee Area No. 1 are Amy Flicker and incumbent Maureen “Mo” Muir. Melisse Mossy and Rhea Stewart are running for the No. 3 seat. Lea Wolf, Kristin Gibson and Dr. Cheryl James-Ward are competing for No. 5.

The Coast News reached out to the candidates for written responses to specific questions, which are summarized below.

Term Limits

San Dieguito does not have term limits. Dalessandro has served on the board for 22 years. Should term limits be imposed?

Flicker, Mossy, Muir and Wolf said yes. The latter three suggested two terms (eight years), while Flicker did not specify. Mossy pointed to a “constant stream of new and fresh ideas,” while Muir believes in balancing institutional knowledge with new leadership. Flicker wrote, “I believe that fresh blood and oxygen is good for ANY organization.”

Wolf stated the problem is “board members get stale, entitled, and lack motivation.” Additionally, she believes in “limited representation from union members or any political parties” to ensure that the board is “not funded or sponsored” by special interests.

Stewart did not take a position and encouraged people to run for school board “so that voters may continue to choose who represents them.” Likewise, Gibson did “not have strong feelings” but suggested allowing three terms because “it takes quite a while to fully understand all that is involved in this complicated work.”

James-Ward pointed to the “historical” knowledge and “sustainability of district leadership” gained from extended board service, while noting the “biggest reason for term limits” is to give parents of school-aged children an opportunity to serve.

Fiscal Health

San Dieguito has been deficit spending and tapping reserves. Budget projections predict that the district will continue to operate in the red this school year and beyond. What steps would the candidates take to rein in spending and get the district back to fiscal health?

Gibson suggested consulting with stakeholders to establish and address priorities “with a laser focus in terms of resources.” James-Ward said that in order to avoid “state receivership,” the district must “identify innovative ways to attract students who have chosen other schooling options,” make cuts or do both.

Flicker stated, “We need to evaluate and debate multiple” budget scenarios and advocate for fiscal responsibility, “but not at the expense of our teachers and our students.” Stewart said she’d apply her experience serving on the district’s Proposition AA Independent Citizens Oversight Committee to collaborate in managing the budget.

Muir explained that as a board member she has voted “in a manner that I had hoped would avoid the operational deficits referenced” and will continue to do so. Mossy suggested creating a budget task force, hiring a commission-based grant writer to apply for corporate and foundation funds, and developing “specific and measurable goals.”

Wolf expressed the need for more “visibility into the expenditures” and said the current board has “prioritized” union demands over students’ needs, which has resulted in “reckless spending.” Wolf wants to “evaluate what can be streamlined … and renegotiated.”

Innovative Instructional Programs

Some candidates have expressed that jobs of the future will require a different approach to K-12 education now. As such, what changes would they like to see made to the district’s instructional program?

Muir would like to “lower class sizes to enable more teacher student interaction” and wants the district to “better support our underperforming student groups.” Flicker believes the district needs “more technology, engineering and science/biotech offerings” since “we are rapidly moving towards an automated and techno-centric world.”

Education needs to be “highly engaging and personalized,” Gibson stated. She mentioned “Design Thinking,” which uses “logic and imagination to solve real-world problems.” Wolf said “the style of instruction is outdated and boring” and needs updating. She also wants to “integrate life skills” and “Tech-Ed” into the curriculum.

James-Ward thinks the district should take advantage of free online instructional programs like Khan Academy and UC Scout and that a “paradigm shift” is required to transition “teachers from dispensers of knowledge to facilitators of the same.”

Mossy also wants more technology integration. She recommends teaming up with biotech, health and other industries to weigh in on what “skills our future grads will need.” Stewart looks forward to supporting science teachers as they create courses and training around new state science standards.

Bios & Open Statements (excerpted)

Below are excerpts of the bios submitted by each candidate as well as portions of an additional statement they were asked to make about school governance that was not touched on in the questions above. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order by Trustee Area.

Amy Flicker (Trustee Area 1): “Family, community engagement, safety and wellness are important to her. Both of her kids have come up through SDUHSD. One graduated with honors from SDA, and the other is a Special Needs student currently at LCC. As a result, she has experienced a lot of what the District has to offer. She has served as PTA President at both Paul Ecke Central Elementary and Diegueno Middle Schools.

“On a more far reaching level, she currently serves on the Executive Board of the North County Coastal Regional PTA, which oversees both elementary and secondary schools from multiple school districts. She is on the Executive Board of the North Coastal Consortium for Special Education (NCCSE) and it oversees 14 school districts that range from Fallbrook to Del Mar. For SDUHSD she serves on the Special Education Taskforce, and the newly formed Social and Emotional Wellness Committee. … Finally, for the community at large, she is on the City of Encinitas’ Environmental Commission, serving as one of your Environmental Commissioners.” (Note: this bio was reverted to the third-person perspective to match the style of the others.)

“School Boards should collaboratively set a vision, be open and transparent, work closely with the Superintendent and hold him/her accountable. We must always maintain one focus, and that is to set forth policies, programs and procedures that are in the best interests of our kids.”

Maureen “Mo” Muir (Trustee Area 1): “Mo Muir is the current Vice President and only incumbent of the top rated San Dieguito Union High School District Board, and was appointed by her peers, as Vice President of the San Dieguito Union High School Facilities Authority, and the District Safety and Wellness Committee. Prior to being on the school board for the San Dieguito Union School District, she served two elected terms to the award winning Encinitas Union School Board. Mo has a Political Science degree from the University of San Diego.“Named ‘Educator of the Year’ by the New Encinitas Business Network. … Mo was appointed to the UCSD Life Sharing Board, and by the County Board of Supervisors to First Five, dedicated to improving the early development of children. She has also served on the Board of the Friends of the Encinitas County Library, the Kiwanis literacy program, and the Math 24 districtwide program.”

“One of the most important duties of a school board is to try to hire the best and most qualified Superintendent to lead the district. … One of the equally important top priorities is to make sure all of the district’s students get the support they need to optimize their learning outcomes and access to the workforce and higher educational opportunities.”

Melisse Mossy (Trustee Area 3): “A USC graduate with a background in business and education, Melisse Mossy is passionately committed to assuring all students receive an exceptional and world-class educational experience that will prepare them for the ever-changing global economy.

“At Rawhide Ranch, she worked tirelessly, with a very tight budget, to restructure the business for financial success. As a teacher she designed innovative reading programs and creative solutions to involve local businesses to support her classroom’s enrichment. Melisse Mossy is an enthusiastic, positive, and creative problem solver who will work tirelessly, with integrity, to support and advocate for our children.”

Why am I running? We have an outstanding district, and I am proud to be a part of it in many ways. I stepped out to seek election as a San Dieguito Union High School District Trustee for one reason… I love and believe in kids, and I want to do everything possible to give students the best opportunities for their future. My husband (Torrey Pines Class of 89 Alumni) and I have always taught our daughters that one person really can make a difference, and we must not sit on the sidelines when we can help another in need. I hope this is modeled and evidenced in how I have lived my life.”

Rhea Stewart (Trustee Area 3): “Rhea Stewart was born in the Bay Area and grew up in San Diego. At SDSU, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, a Multiple Subjects teaching credential, and a Master’s degree in education. Rhea works in educational publishing, specializing in mathematics and science curriculum development.

“With husband Scott, Rhea moved to Cardiff in 1989 to send their children to the best schools in the County. … Rhea is a long-time advocate for education. She served on the Cardiff School District Board of Trustees from 2006 to 2010. In 2012, she was Vice Chair for SDUHSD’s $449 million Proposition AA, which funds school improvements. Since 2013, Rhea has served on the District’s Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), and was President from 2013-2018.”

“As a Board member, I’ll bring effective communication and the ability to collaborate with my colleagues, to help define a successful path for the new superintendent. I will also focus on establishing positive, respectful working relationships with my fellow Board members, and the District’s teachers and staff. My experience as on the District’s Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, as a volunteer at Oak Crest and SDA, and a Cardiff School District Trustee has prepared me well to serve as the SDUHSD Trustee for Area 3.”

 Kristin Gibson (Trustee Area 5): “Kristin holds a BA from Wake Forest University, a California Teaching Credential, and an MA in Educational Technology from San Diego State University. She began her career as a teacher in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District and is now a faculty member in SDSU’s School of Teacher Education, as well as a contributor to projects at the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education.

“She has served two terms as a trustee in the Del Mar Union School District, currently as board president, and she holds a Masters in Governance from the California School Board Association. Her child has attended public schools in Carmel Valley since Kindergarten and Kristin has also contributed to our local schools over the past decade as a member of the Pacific Trails Planning Committee, the Pacific Trails and Ashley Falls School Site Councils, and the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation.”

“As a parent and as someone who has been personally affected by gun violence, I am passionate about school safety. I attended Sandy Hook Elementary School as a child and I’ve had the honor of collaborating with the founders of Sandy Hook Promise … One component is the establishment of an inclusive school climate in which all children feel deep and meaningful connections to teachers and peers.”

Dr. Cheryl James-Ward (Trustee Area 5): “Dr. Cheryl James-Ward has more than 25 years dedicated to public education as a teacher, professor and an educational leader. Cheryl is the new principal at a public high school [e3 Civic High] recognized as one of the most innovative schools in the nation (CNNMoney). This 21st century high school is focused on design thinking, project-based learning, and internships for all students.

“Dr. Cheryl James-Ward is a former NASA engineer and tenured professor at San Diego State University, Department of Educational Leadership where she taught school leaders and aspiring administrators. She was a principal in Pasadena, Long Beach and Encinitas.

Cheryl earned her B.S. in Mathematical Sciences from UC Santa Barbara and Doctorate of Education from USC. Dr. Cheryl James-Ward also earned the USC Meritorious Award for Dissertation of the Year.”

“One other issue that needs to be addressed is the frustration of the San Diego STEM business community with not being able to find enough local employees to meet the workforce needs. We need a workforce development office to partner with the business community to ensure we are readying our students for those jobs and to ensure that our students can be gainfully employed after high school and/or college.”

Lea Wolf (Trustee Area 5): “Lea Wolf is a long-time Carmel Valley resident and a former New Yorker. Like many in the community, she is an immigrant and believes her diverse cultural background as a Russian-Israeli enables her to see things through a global lens.

“Wolf is a successful entrepreneur with diverse business expertise and professional acumen. The organizations she has co-founded center on addressing social issues through innovative technology. She is an educator and an ATD-certified coach who developed a proprietary collaborative and cross cultural communications methodology e-LEADERSHIFT™. Wolf has a daughter who attends Canyon Crest Academy and together they developed the community program, Deeds-by-Kids, aimed at character development and life skills for kids.”

“Leadership’s role is to setup a vision, establish structure, provide support, ensure accountability and most important advocate and promote students’ interests. The majority board members have created a culture of secrecy, stonewalling, and lies. The majority board members who are backed by SDFA, teachers union, have infused much fear, distrust, and anxiety in our community. The SDFA use their deep pockets and resources to unleash retaliatory and bullying tactics against those who dare to speak out and shed light on their deplorable practices. … Students should not be impacted by political warfare! They are the future of our country. We must address their needs so they succeed.”