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Meet the candidates: RSF School District board

File photo
R. Roger Rowe School
(Staff photo)

With no incumbent in the running, the Rancho Santa Fe School District community will be electing three new board members this November. Seven candidates are vying for the spots: Chris Blatt, Jason Karches, Rosemarie Rohatgi, Annette Ross, Paul Seitz, John Tree and Ellen Williams. Meet the candidates in their own words (in alphabetical order):

Chris Blatt
(Courtesy)

Chris Blatt
Occupation: Retired Military / Housing Specialist for Disabled Veterans
Education: Engineering
Community Service: President, Planning committee (downtown district)

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Rancho Santa Fe School District?
Although there are many items and issues facing any school at any time, the main ones continue to be whether we are preparing our kids properly for the next step in the educational ladder. Every parent wants to have their child be exposed to the best programs, best events, best teachers, and best learning environment. We are constantly comparing and measuring to make sure that we are achieving the results we expect and need to continue to do so in order to stay on top of the ever-changing environment. Ensuring all the kids have the most exposure to the best programs is the way to accomplish this. Balancing this during the normal growth cycle of kids with a wide age gap and all the challenges that come along with it like social media, bully behavior, etc. is no easy task.

2. Do you agree with the way the Rancho Santa Fe School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made?
Although the school is running well and it is so great to have the kids back in the environment where learning is best, there is still a degree of transparency that does not exist between board members/administration/teachers/parents that is not beneficial for the kids. We all remember the massive teacher layoff that occurred and how many parents and teachers were not only surprised at the event, but how the event was executed. Clearly the budget had to be balanced, but it is not clear whether all avenues were explored nor was there any feedback as to how the situation was created in the first place. Learning from the past mistakes is the only way to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated in the future.

Jason Karches

Jason Karches
Occupation: Local business owner
Education: BA Political Science, Minor Public Administration, Masters Business Administration (MBA)
Community Service: Deacon and chair of Community Outreach at the Village Church

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Rancho Santa Fe School District?
Experts agree the impact of COVID 19 will likely be present through late 2021. The most immediate issue needing board attention is the creation of a long-term plan to ensure protocols are in place to provide sustainable and flexible quality education to both distance and in-person students all the while ensuring teachers have the support and resources they need in this new instructional environment to avoid burnout and discontent. Long-term, the uncertain financial setting caused by COVID 19 requires a leader who cares about the long-term needs of the community and has a proven record of using careful and prudent management to navigate organizations through financially challenging times.

I am running for the school board because I care for this community. I dream that one day my 10-year-old daughter will eventually raise the 4th generation of my family in RSF. Learn more about me at JasonKarches.com.

2. Do you agree with the way the Rancho Santa Fe School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made?
The current school administration, teachers, staff, and board have been working hard during this unprecedented time and deserve much praise. Once the safety protocols have been proven to keep our children and community safe, my focus will shift to ensuring our superintendent has the tools and resources she needs available to her so that she can accomplish the goals set forth by the current school board. I believe we should prioritize our focus on the retention and recognition of our excellent teachers. More frequent curriculum review and adoption in collaboration with our teachers’ feedback should also be encouraged. Finally, the board will need to work on maintaining and improving the various programs which make our school special (programs and services for students with special needs, extracurricular activities and sports, music, art, drama) all the while holding firm on fiscal responsibility with a balanced budget. For more information please visit www.JasonKarches.com

Rosemarie Rohatgi

Rosemarie Rohatgi
Occupation: Snoring and sleep apnea specialist
Education: UCLA Sleep Medicine Mini-Residency, OHSU
Community Service: Board of directors, RSF Community Center; RSF Educational Foundation, Scholar Circle, Summa Cum Laude Donor (highest tier donor level); RSF Educational Foundation Community Partner Gold Level (2nd highest tier donor Level); Board of Director, American Parkinsons Disease Assocoation; Board of Director, San Diego Parkinsons Association; Parishioner at Church of the Nativity, RSF Senior Center presentations; Father Joe’s Village serving meals.

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Rancho Santa Fe School District?
Strengthen our curriculum to exceed that of private schools. We should support those with gaps to fill, so they are prepared for the rigors of high school, college, and beyond. We should deliver enrichment to those who are exceeding expectations. With the resources we have, why should we settle for equivalency to local public schools?

Involve our local community. Could a local veteran recount his/her experience to provide context to a history lesson? Could a retired scientist talk about how drugs are developed to bolster a science lesson?

Instill a spirit of responsibility. We should incorporate a monthly volunteer program, so our children can give back. This will teach them to how to engage with individuals of varying socioeconomic classes and different ethnicities.

This is my vision. This vision aligns with Dr. Rowe’s intention, in seeing each student as an individual and meeting their needs academically, socially, and athletically.

2. Do you agree with the way the Rancho Santa Fe School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made?
I’ve attended 17 of the last 20 school board meetings (more than any other candidate), so I’m familiar with the issues facing our district, and if elected, I will immediately hit the ground running.

I’ve appreciated what the board has done with maintaining our budget and reopening our school. I’ve appreciated the increased weekly communication. Communication will continue to be of importance, particularly if the pandemic worsens.

I would like to see an improvement with an individualized approach to responsiveness by the board and superintendent as well as individualized growth for students. I would also like to have a parent voice on our social-emotional learning committee.

I operate on fact-based decision making, even if the decisions are controversial. I’m an advocate of quantifiable metrics and actively tracking performance at every board meeting. If we fail to deliver, then we should be held accountable. An informed community can make the difference! You can reach me at RoseForRSF.com

Annette Ross
(Courtesy)

Annette Ross
Occupation: Author
Education: BA, Sarah Lawrence
Community service: Board member, Dana and Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation; Wings For Life Ambassador; Board member, Connecticut Health and Patient Safety

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Rancho Santa Fe School District?
Right now I think our biggest issue is the Covid pandemic especially with the onset of flu season. I hope to keep the children in the classroom with safety for all as the number one priority. Being proactive will help us achieve that. Remote learning is available, as we work to make that as seamless as possible, but in-person learning is optimal and paramount!

2. Do you agree with the way the Rancho Santa Fe School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made
Overall, I’m very happy with the district and feel grateful to live in such a wonderful community. Our daughter is in second grade at Roger Rowe and she is excited to go to school every day. To me, that speaks volumes about the teachers and the school environment. In addition to maintaining high standards of education we could add greater differentiation for children who are excelling and need to be challenged. I would like to help create a vibrant library program. My hope is to bring authors in to share their work and to provide age appropriate and high quality literature for them. This is a gentle way to share the world with our children!

Paul Seitz
(Courtesy)

Paul Seitz
Occupation: Horseman/ranch owner
Education: USMC
Community Service: Rady Children’s Hospital Toys for Tots, work with military/vets who suffer from PTSD

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Rancho Santa Fe School District?
Easy to say COVID and move on to the next question. We are very fortunate to have amazing people in our community that helped the school board and administration to successfully get us open. Our distance learning really needs a lot of help. Many parents who decided on that were told it was going to be creative and very flexible. It’s anything but, and creates burdens for teachers. Further, the board led the public to believe the Swivl cameras would be ready to go the first day of school for the 20% of parents who initially chose distance learning. It was never discussed in a board meeting that the cameras had not been received or were late.

Given the current surplus, it’s important that we bring back to our school the extras that made it great: Literacy specialists, dedicated librarian, K-3 science specialist, public speaking for elementary, Spanish, and other special events like ocean week and the international festival.

2. Do you agree with the way the Rancho Santa Fe School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made.
We have to be a team. No matter what your beliefs on the major cutbacks were, the way they handled them was terrible. We need to rebuild support for our teachers. We were told severe budget cuts were necessary due to lower enrollment. Enrollment does not entirely determine how Rowe is funded. Rowe receives the same percentage of tax dollars regardless of enrolled students. The board was not transparent and was disingenuous when they said Mrs. Tripi interviewed teachers and reviewed programs. Teachers who were let go never had a conversation with Mrs. Tripi, let alone an interview. Pink slips were cruelly issued in the middle of the day to unsuspecting teachers, some who had been there for over a decade and in the middle of lessons with their students.

John Tree
(Courtesy)

John Tree
Occupation: Brigadier General in US Air Force Reserve, and business owner of a packaging distribution company in San Diego county
Education: B.S. from United States Air Force Academy, MBA from Chaminade University in Honolulu, and M.A. in Economics from University of Oklahoma
Community Service: 30 years of military service, plus former Boy Scout leader, Eagle Scout, active in local school issues

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Rancho Santa Fe School District?
The biggest issue at the moment is public safety in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic. We need to do everything we can to protect our children, teachers and staff during this crisis. I’m very proud that our school is open, and I’m committed to doing everything possible to keep it open. I realize we all have fatigue from COVID-19, and I’m worried that we might let our guard down. So we need to continue to remain vigilant and do our part to keep our school safe and open.

We also need to ensure that we remain fiscally strong. I am a fiscal conservative and believe the school district needs to operate within its means. I also believe that we must have a school board with strong governance skills that is fully transparent with the community.

2. Do you agree with the way the Rancho Santa Fe School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made.
I believe the district has operated at a very high level over the course of many years, which is why we are so highly regarded! Excellent reputations don’t form overnight, so it’s a real tribute to the hard work, excellent management, parent involvement, and fiscal discipline all the way back to R. Roger Rowe himself. When my wife and I moved here from Los Angeles, we specifically chose to live in this community so that our two boys could attend this school. Of course the district continues to need strong leadership and community support. I want to bring my skills and leadership honed over 30 years in the military and in the corporate world to build upon the great legacy of the past and contribute what I can to an even brighter future.

Please visit my website at johntree.com, and I ask for your vote for the RSF School Board.

Ellen Williams
(Courtesy)

Ellen Williams
Occupation: Preschool owner/ gym owner/ consultant
Education: Undergraduate- UC Berkeley, Master’s in Education- USD, JD- USD (in progress)
Community Service: Foster Parent -10 years and 7 amazing children, youth program director - Stone Church Willow Glen, 2005-2012, media literary instructor - CSEC group home in San Francisco and Zephyr Point 2010-2014, UCSD Border Health- 2014-present, OWLS program chair USD Law - 2017- present, Auction Art Mom for Kindergarten- in process.

1. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Rancho Santa Fe School District?
The biggest issues facing our school are safety during the pandemic and the economic fall out after the pandemic is over. We are at a great advantage economically, but should be involved with community outreach for our students to assist the rest of San Diego during this trying time. In addition taking our already excellent academics and creating them to be world class by implementing projects discussed by my colleagues: library program with authors and writing, Spanish language instruction, S.T.E.A.M. education integrating the sciences with artistry that is essential for innovation, and a more robust athletic program for all ages. We also have the resources to initiate an individualized curriculum, helping our brightest shine brighter and ensuring all students make academic strides and that they are fully prepared for life (and high school).

2. Do you agree with the way the Rancho Santa Fe School District operates? If not, what changes do you think need to be made
We moved to Rancho Santa Fe for the schools, so I think they’re doing a great job overall. I am new to the district, but I have apprised myself of the cut backs from a few years ago. I don’t think it’s fair to any volunteer board member to arm chair quarterback their decisions. I can say that transparency is the hallmark of my leadership and if elected will be central to my tenure. In addition, I will bring the entire community into the decision making process of our community school. Listening and taking input from parents, students, teachers, and administration as well as the community at large will create more of a stake for the entire community in Roger Rowe being the hub of the Ranch. Leveraging that input from the community and the brilliance, experience, and expertise of our community members will take our school from great to world class.


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