Meet the RSF School board candidates


Five candidates have qualified for the ballot for the Rancho Santa Fe School board’s April 24 special election. The following is a brief introduction to candidates (in alphabetical order) Thomas Barton, Elise Dufresne, Steven Hughes, Jee Manghani and Jon Yonemitsu:

Thomas Barton

A California native, Thomas Barton moved to Rancho Santa Fe with his wife in 2013 specifically so that their three daughters (currently in second, fourth and sixth grades) could attend R. Roger Rowe School.

Over the past 20 years, Barton has simultaneously pursued two career tracks as a real estate executive and as an educator. He completed his PhD at Yale University in 2006 and joined the faculty of the University of San Diego in 2007. In his 10 years as a professor at USD, he has served on numerous volunteer boards with wide-ranging responsibilities, including curriculum reform, academic program development and community outreach initiatives.

Why did you decide to run for the school board?

Roger Rowe has the potential to regain its place as one of the top-performing schools in California. My experience and skills equip me to add a valuable new perspective to the school board. I would draw on my extensive background in higher education to collaborate with the existing members to develop a master plan that would enable our school to put its considerable resources to better use and provide our children with a more immersive and exciting learning environment. While it is important to maintain the school’s infrastructure, another bond to fund a new gym is not the answer.

Elise Dufresne

Elise Dufresne has lived in Rancho Santa Fe with her husband and daughter for nearly a decade. Dufresne’s daughter is a student at R. Roger Rowe School.

Dufresne holds a B.A. in international security and conflict resolution with a double minor in Arabic and Hebrew from San Diego State University and a graduate-level legal studies certificate from the University of San Diego. Dufresne also completed her pre-doctoral research as a scholar at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California San Diego.

Dufresne is currently the principal of Dufresne & Associates, a political consulting firm focused on campaign strategy and communications which has been involved in campaigns ranging from local offices to U.S. presidential races. Prior to that, she did legal work for the Department of Defense. She also previously worked for San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, managing the city’s military and international relations and hosting foreign dignitaries and delegations.

Dufresne volunteers legal assistance to refugee and asylum seekers for Casa Cornelia which services economically disadvantaged victims of civil and human rights. She also volunteers with her daughter for Father Joe’s and St. Vincent De Paul Village, both of which service San Diego County’s homeless population, including women, children and veterans.

Why did you decide to run for the school board?

In order to effectively address the district’s ongoing needs, the board needs to have the trust of all stakeholders. The recent recall of the board’s appointee raises doubts about that level of trust. My hope is that this special election will ensure openness and transparency, restore accountability in the board’s decision-making process and help regain the community’s confidence -- all of which are essential to moving the district forward.

Additionally, our district has an excellent reputation as a result of the hard work and strong leadership of very dedicated and passionate individuals over many years. I’m running to continue that legacy by working collaboratively to maintain and enhance that reputation and continue to provide the highest quality educational experience for our children. I believe that includes cutting-edge, effective curriculums and learning tools, and state-of-the-art technology, programs and facilities.

Finally, I’m committed to demonstrating the strong leadership and decorum expected of an elected officeholder, and to making the tough decisions necessary while engaging in open, respectful and constructive dialogue with all stakeholders to build trust and confidence as we tackle the complex issues that our district faces together.

Steven Hughes

Steven Hughes has lived in North County his entire life and moved to Rancho Santa Fe in 2016 primarily for the school and community.

Hughes received his undergraduate degree from UC San Diego and his MBA from University of Southern California. He works in a family business alongside his three siblings — Hughes Circuits in San Marcos, a company with an employee base of about 185. At Hughes Circuits, he uses cross functional teams to solve problems which has helped him understand opposing positions and points-of-view and to be able to come up with agreeable solutions. He has to create an annual fiscal budget with certain constraints — experience he believes would apply nicely to a school board position.

Why did you decide to run for the school board?

How do the taxpayers and parents of our school know they are getting the absolute best for their children and our community as a whole? Are these funds being spent in the best interest of those paying while getting the highest rate of return for the students?

My daughter will be attending Roger Rowe in the fall as a kindergartner. I talk with many parents of students, both current and past, and hear nothing but great things about Rowe. With the continued decrease in state funding for schools, the demand to innovate, improve efficiencies and stretch our dollars is exacerbated. As a leader within our family business, I get challenges and opportunities to improve processes and efficiencies while under financial constraints. This requires analytical assessment on what is working and what needs to be improved, yet ensuring that changes do not negatively affect the good that is already taking place. I know how to deal with stakeholders that hold much clout yet often times have individual motives. Rancho Santa Fe is a unique community which requires unique and innovative ways to intertwine the needs of the community with the needs of the students. Let’s make our school the best in the nation.

Jee Manghani

Jee Manghani grew up in San Diego and attended UC San Diego, attaining a degree in computer science. He is currently running a software company and has founded a medical diagnostic company.

Manghani and his family moved to Rancho Santa Fe in 2010, primarily for its excellent school district and for the special charm of the Covenant. He has two children, one currently attending R. Roger Rowe and the other starting in the next school year.

Why did you decide to run for the school board?

I am running to reconnect the RSF School board to the community. Recent events have shown that the voters of the district feel the board is out of step with the community’s voice.

As the founder of several startups, I have the experience to clearly define goals and to seek stakeholder input, before moving forward with any plans. Improving our curriculum and preparing the kids for STEM fields is of first importance to me. I firmly believe in learning from other districts outside of our own.

I understand my role would be to serve the community. Building relationships and listening to voters’ concerns is the key part of achieving these goals. Let’s have the board and community work together to improve our school.

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Jon Yonemitsu

Jon Yonemitsu and his wife moved to Rancho Santa Fe two years ago to send their three children to R. Roger Rowe School and the attraction of living in a smaller, more rural community. Their three children currently are in grades four, two and kindergarten. Yonemitsu said they couldn’t be more thrilled with the decision to move to the Covenant —their family is a member of the Village Church and active participants in a variety of community programs.

Yonemitsu has a degree in finance and has been a defense trial attorney in Northern and Southern California for almost two decades. His volunteer activism during his professional career has been diverse, but a few highlights include being a founding member of the Emerging Leaders for the United Way of the Bay Area, lead partner in his firm’s Diversity Group related to recruiting, as well as founding his firm’s Asian American affinity division.

Yonemitsu has also served as a RSF Little League and Junior Dunkers coach.

Why did you decide to run for the school board?

I am running for the board (after originally being unanimously appointed by the current board) for these reasons:

I am experienced in collaborating with schools, its faculty and community members while serving as a productive board member for the Oregon State University alumni association for the last six years.

As a board member I demonstrated the leadership ability to provide structure and accountability processes in developing core visions and goals leading to record fundraising levels and fiscally responsible capital improvements.

Attending private and public schools, playing college athletics, obtaining a degree in finance, and practicing as a defense trial attorney for the last 19 years, I covet the impact a well-rounded, progressive educational experience has in developing exceptional, contributing global citizens.

It is a privilege to live in this great community with my family. So, I place a premium on being a thoughtful steward by holding true to fiscal responsibility, fostering community input, acting with dignity, having zero tolerance for self-serving disruptive agendas and always being mindful to embrace the wonderful history of our community.

I welcome the responsibility to govern and understand the need for diverse views to continue achieving extraordinary experiences and opportunities the school provides for our students.