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San Diego School and Community College Boards : Voters Pave Way for Education Changes

Times Staff Writer

The Election Day success of four new representatives to San Diego’s local school and community college boards promises to increase the visibility of area educational issues.

The two new district trustees to the five-member San Diego Community College Board promised in post-victory interviews Wednesday to bring a bolder, more aggressive stance to the long-somnolent body that oversees Mesa, City and Miramar colleges, as well as several continuing-education sites.

And the two new members to the San Diego Unified School District board said they will actively push the numerous reforms and experiments already under way in the nation’s eighth-largest, urban district for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Immediate Change Predicted

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“I think there are going to be some things that will change immediately,” said Fred Colby, who handily defeated longtime incumbent Gene French for one of two contested college seats.

“Along with (new trustee) Evonne Schulze, and the new chancellor, Bill Wenrich, the spirit of new blood is going to bring a tidal wave of new attitudes and new excitement about our community colleges.”

Colby said he will immediately raise the issues of illegal activity by the district’s foundation, the approval last year of lucrative medical and pension benefits for board members, and the district’s lack of visibility--despite its large size--among state lawmakers in Sacramento, who decide annual funding.

Colby defeated French with a strong, well-funded campaign backed by a majority of the faculty at the various college campuses, who were upset by what they felt were years of neglect by the board about salary and working conditions.

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“I don’t want to go into this in a combative way, but I think the election shows that the public thinks the issues I have raised are important. . . . This board for years abdicated a lot of authority to the administration, but that is not going to be my style, nor is that the style of the new chancellor,” Colby said.

A Board in Transition

Schulze, who ran for an open seat against only token opposition, was pleased with the election, which paves the way for the largest changeover on the board in more than 20 years.

“Psychologically, it will be a big morale boost to the district,” said Schulze, who previously served on the statewide Board of Governors for the community college system. “It’s going to allow issues to be discussed that weren’t brought to the board in past years because the feeling was that no one was listening or that nothing could be changed.”

Schulze said she will work to modify a requirement that new faculty members be hired at a certain initial salary, no matter what their experience or qualifications.

“And I am concerned that there be much more communication between teachers, the staff and administration,” she said, adding her praise of the new chancellor’s open office hours twice a week, which will let anyone talk to Wenrich without an appointment.

Schulze withheld judgment on the controversial district foundation, which is now the subject of a legal battle between the district and disgruntled faculty members, who allege the foundation illegally used revenue belonging to the district.

“I want to take a good look at it now that I am privy to more information as a member than I was as a candidate,” she said.

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Board President Charles Reid, a longtime member, is expected to align himself on key policy issues with Colby and Schulze after often being on the short end of votes with previous boards.

Reid promised that “with regard to the rhetoric about the foundation, I want to make it crystal clear to all faculty, students and citizens that if there is something wrong with the foundation, we are going to fix it.”

Heated City Schools Race

In the most hotly contested race for the San Diego city schools board, parent activist Ann Armstrong easily defeated 12-year incumbent John Witt in his bid for a fourth term.

“It tells me that people want a new person and feel comfortable with my community-oriented program,” said Armstrong, who campaigned hard for a more comprehensive drug-education program at all schools.

“We’ve got to make this a priority,” Armstrong said. “It’s got to start early and be ongoing.” She acknowledged recent efforts by school administrators to better coordinate the haphazard mix of district and private drug-education efforts.

Armstrong will also push to introduce in the elementary schools, at least on a pilot basis, the district’s new enhanced basic-skills program, which provides tougher courses in math, English, science and social studies. The program is being tested at the high school level, and Armstrong believes elementary and junior high students need to be prepared for a more difficult curriculum.

Also Wednesday, new board member Shirley Weber, who overwhelmingly won the open seat of retiring trustee Dorothy Smith, called for tougher elementary education, particularly kindergarten through fourth grade.

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School Restructuring

“I am tired of remediation and catch-up programs and want us to change our mentality on that,” said Weber, a professor of Afro-American studies at San Diego State University who will represent much of the city’s urban core.

As a means toward that goal, Weber promised to back the district’s experiment with school restructuring, which allows an individual school to design its own program.

“I also believe I must work hard to motivate parents in my district to work harder, to change parenting attitudes, to get the churches even more involved in motivating more interest in education,” Weber said. “Even with great programs at the district level and in individual schools, we will continue to have a tremendous number of children falling through the cracks if we don’t get better parent and community involvement.”

Weber pledged to boost efforts already under way in Southeast San Diego by activist Walter Kudumu and others to turn more families toward the benefits of education and away from the influences of gangs and drugs.

She also hopes to use her academic experience in multicultural issues to alter the district’s race-human relations programs more toward multiethnic issues, such as black-Asian tensions, and away from a predominant white-non-white emphasis.

Board member Susan Davis was reelected to a second four-year over token opposition.


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