By Pablo Jaime Sainz
Located in the southwestern corner of the United States, the South Bay Union School District has a unique position in San Diego’s educational panorama.
With schools in Imperial Beach, San Ysidro, Nestor, and South San Diego, the District has experienced a decrease in enrollment. This year it has 362 less students than last school year.
The three candidates for the November 2 school board elections said they want to make sure the 8,882 students currently enrolled in the District receive the best education. The two candidates who receive the most votes will be elected.
And all three candidates said the District needs to pay special attention to the Latino student population, which represents 76% of the student body.
Elvia Aguilar, Nick Inzunza, and Dee McLean are the candidates for the Governing Board.
Elvia Aguilar, is the owner of a pre-school in Chula Vista and is seeking reelection, has served 13 years as a South Bay Union School District Board Member.
Aguilar said she got involved in the community as a school volunteer and that her three children graduated from South Bay Union schools.
Aguilar said she is very proud to be the only Latina on the Board. “I’m here to serve all children, but I think that I can relate very well to children who speak a second language, just like I do,” said Aguilar, who was born in the U.S. but grew up in Tijuana. She moved to San Diego after getting married.
Aguilar said that language plays an important role in the decisions of the district, since language misunderstandings can create a barrier between parents and their children’s education. She added that parent participation is key for the children’s success.
“Due to a lack of knowledge of English, many parents don’t feel they’re prepared to participate in the schools. I have worked very close with Latino parents so that they can overcome this.”
If she’s reelected, Aguilar said she will contribute her 13-year experience as a board member to solve the challenges the District is facing.
“We have a huge problem: The District is not growing in numbers. We have about 400 less children this school year. This translates to less funding for our schools.”
Aguilar said that to face the budget cuts, South Bay Union will have to develop a plan with the input from the comunity.
She’s endorsed by the South Bay Union teachers, Rep. Bob Filner, and Assemblywoman Denise Moreno Ducheny.
“But most importantly, I have the support of many parents from the District,” Aguilar said.
Nick Aguilar, uncle of the National City mayor by the same name, is the newcomer to this race He is retired after 30 years of experience as a school psychologist for the National School District. Inzunza currently serves in the TiaJuana Water District Board and supports maintaining the water board.
He said that, if elected to the South Bay Union District, he will put his educational background into practice.
“I feel that I’ve always been an advocate for students”, Inzunza said. “I came up through the public educational system, so I can understand many of the issues.”
He said that although the District faces difficult times due to the budget cuts, the main concern should be providing students with a quality education.
“For 30 years we’ve had a budget situation. This time is no different”, Inzunza said. “I see this as an opportunity to refocus and work with what we have. It doesn’t cost a lot of money at all. Having kids do their homework is not going to cost any extra money.
Having parents participate more in their children’s education is not going to cost more. I’m looking at the situation very positively.”
Among Inzunza’s ideas is to motive the District’s Latino students and their parents. “We still need to lay a long-term vision for our kids in order to stay in school. Some people are talking about our kids getting a college education, but more than half of them are still not graduating from high school.”
Dee McLean, who’s served on the board for the past eight years, is seeking reelection. She said that her experience, together with her 29-year career as an educator at the Sweetwater Unified High School District, has given her the tools necesary to lead the community.
“During my time on the South Bay Union Board, we have focused, successfully, on instructional practices which have resulted in improved test scores,” McLean said. For that reason, she said, she wants to continue serving as a board member.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done. We’ve done a lot to increase student achievement but you’re never satisfied. We always can do a better job. There’s still a lot of room for improvement,” she said.
“Since we’re in a budgetary crisis, the District needs continuity and experience,” she said. “We need to maintain the budget cuts as far from the classroom as possible.”
McLean also said that as a board member, she will continue to be an advocate of bilingual education. This is especially important for Latino students, many of whom are English learners, she said.
“I want to be sure there are consistent transitions to English-only classes,” she said. “Bilingualism is the greatest gift we can give students”.
“I have a record that’s strong. I will strive to maintain high quality programs in the South Bay,” she said.
McLean said she’s endorsed by the District’s teachers, all four board memembers, and Imperial Beach Mayor Rose.