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Election 2022: Three candidates seek District C seat on San Diego Unified School District board

Lily Higman, Cody Petterson and Becca Williams (from left)
Lily Higman, Cody Petterson and Becca Williams (from left) are running for the San Diego Unified School District board’s District C seat.
(Courtesy photos)

Three people are running for the San Diego Unified School District board to fill the District C seat being vacated by incumbent Michael McQuary.

McQuary, an eight-year trustee, is not running for reelection.

Each member of the five-trustee board represents a geographic area, or sub-district, of the school district. Only voters living in each sub-district can vote for the representative of that area.

District C covers the coastal section of San Diego Unified, including Point Loma and Ocean Beach.

A primary election will be held Tuesday, June 7. The top two vote-getters will move on to the general election Nov. 8.

The San Diego Unified board oversees California’s second-largest school district, with about 95,000 students and a $1.7 billion budget. The board hires the superintendent, decides the district’s budget, approves contracts, sets district policies and more.

There are three candidates in the race on the June 7 ballot for the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education, District C. The two candidates with the most votes will advance to a Nov. 8 runoff.

Here are the candidates for District C:

Higman, 55, moved to San Diego 11 years ago. She is a parent of three children who go to Pacific Beach Middle and Mission Bay High schools.

She has served on several school and district councils, including school parent-teacher organizations, the district’s gifted education committee, calendar committee, Local Control and Accountability Plan committee and the Mission Bay Cluster council.

Higman, a Democrat, said the district needs to improve how it listens to and communicates with stakeholders, from how it treats public comments during board meetings to how it responds to parents’ concerns. She said she and her colleagues on district committees have put in hours attending meetings and gathering feedback to make recommendations to district leaders on issues like when to start the school year and how to distribute federal Title I funding, only to have the district decline their recommendations.

“That was really frustrating. It felt like they didn’t even want to listen to us,” Higman said. “I feel like our voices, the parents’ voices, and even the teachers’ voices and the community’s voices and the student voices are not being heard.”

Higman said she plans to scrutinize the district’s budget and increase discretionary funding for schools. For example, she said Mission Bay schools have to continually raise funds for basic student materials such as calculators and books.

“Parents have to pick up the slack and raise money more and more,” she said. “Shouldn’t the district be providing the calculators?”

Petterson, 46, was born and raised in La Jolla and went to San Diego Unified schools. He has two children who attend Torrey Pines Elementary School.

A Democrat, he manages intergovernmental affairs for San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer and is an anthropology lecturer at UC San Diego.

For five years he has advocated at the federal, state and local levels on progressive issues related to education and the environment. He also has worked for five years with a local group called Educate for the Future, which supports and trains school board members.

He said his priority would be to advocate for more state and federal funding for schools. As a member of Torrey Pines’ school councils, he said he has seen how the school has received less money from the district in recent years to cover many needs such as substitute teachers, counselors and visual and performing arts classes.

“We need additional per-pupil funding,” Petterson said. “That is self-evident to anybody who’s engaged in our education system. That reality’s obvious to any teacher.”

Petterson also said the district needs to do more to help schools deal with the pains of downsizing amid declining enrollment, which he said is largely driven by San Diego’s lack of affordable housing.

Other things Petterson wants to do include increasing the district’s environmental sustainability, creating more community schools, expanding pre-kindergarten, increasing student representation in gifted education and improving district communication with families.

Williams, 31, is a Wisconsin native who moved to San Diego from Texas in 2019. She has two children, a 3-year-old and 1-year-old who are not yet in school. She is a manager with the K-12 curriculum company Kingfisher Education.

Williams, a Republican who was a classroom teacher for one year, founded a network of three charter schools in 2016 called Valor Public Schools in Austin, Texas. The network focuses on classical education and liberal arts.

Williams said she is running for the school board because every family deserves a great public school, but she sees more families opting out of district schools in favor of other options like private school.

“It’s putting a strain on families to move toward other types of educational models or private schools, and that’s unfortunate that they don’t feel like they can choose their local public school as an option,” Williams said.

She said several parents have left because they were frustrated that San Diego Unified kept schools closed for 18 months during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the side effects of the closures, such as online abuse, were more harmful to kids than COVID itself.

Parents also are leaving, she said, because they don’t like what San Diego Unified is teaching about race. She said she thinks the district is teaching ethnic studies in a way that views all of history through the lens of race, makes people admit they are part of racism and divides people based on their race.

“When I talk to parents, there’s a concern about political ideologies replacing the classic basics of learning how to read and write,” Williams said.


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