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Meet the RSF School District board candidates

File photo
(La Jolla Light staff)

In the November election, Rancho Santa Fe voters will elect two school board members. In the running are candidates Kali Kim, Jee Manghani, Paul Seitz and Cristian Zarcu.

Meet the candidates, in their own words:

Kali Kim
(Copyright of Kali Kim)

Kali Kim
I grew up in Montana. After college, I moved to California and obtained my CPA license. My last professional position was with PricewaterhouseCoopers in the LA office. My family and I have lived in Rancho Santa Fe for over 11 years. Last year I had a lifer graduate from Roger Rowe and currently have a 4th grader at the school.

I have prioritized supporting the foundation and the district by volunteering as room parent and participating at various foundation and district events. I have also progressively increased my level of financial giving to be at the Summa Cum Laude Scholar Circle level, a testament to my support for the school and commitment to this district. I prioritize participation as I don’t take the countless volunteer hours and generous donations by participating families for the sake of our students and the long term financial security of our district for granted.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
This term brings the challenge of hiring and onboarding a new superintendent. Superintendent’s tenures of today are shorter with 5-7 years more common than tenures we enjoyed with past superintendents. This turnover, in addition to growing suspicion that our school systems have political and cultural agendas that we’re uncomfortable with and a considerable over-reach on that culture part from the left, makes the role of the governing board essential, providing direction in the mission and vision of the district and approving curriculum.

The second challenge will be improving the educational experience in middle school especially in math. Our testing data shows a decline in grade level proficiency starting in 5th grade as cohorts progress through the grades. Watering down our advanced classes to equalize the education or implementing a haste program with an honors label is not the answer.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to this board?
In this next year I will focus on middle school to implement best learning practices, taking from charter and private schools to challenge our students at all levels. Focusing on critical thinking skills in all subject areas and project-based learning to engage our students. The critical reading program being implemented in grade school is a great start and I would like to see more of these practices implemented in middle school. During my next term, I will continue to advocate to build an inclusive school community that is global in perspective embracing transparency with impactful parent involvement. I believe a truly safe school is a place where learning can occur in a welcoming environment free of intimidation, violence, and fear. We are one community composed of many families representing a broad range of viewpoints, cultures and backgrounds. I want every student, parent, and staff to be treated with dignity.

Jee Manghani
(Copyright of Jee Manghani)

Jee Manghani
My wife and I moved to Rancho Santa Fe over 12 years ago because of the excellent school district and rural community. Our two children currently attend Roger Rowe. I was elected to the Rancho Santa Fe School Board in 2018 and am currently serving as Board President.

I love volunteering for school events and am coaching a competitive Robotics Team at Roger Rowe. I hold firm to continuing Dr. Roger Rowe’s traditions of small class sizes and special enrichments, which have made our public-yet-boutique school unique for decades. My family is a member of the Scholars Circle of the RSF Education Foundation in order to help continue these important traditions.

I grew up in San Diego, got a Computer Science degree from UCSD which is where I also met my wife. I currently run a software consulting company and am also the President of the Soledad Investing Partnership.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
My number one priority right now is to perform a thoughtful superintendent search, which is a school board’s most important duty. We started this process in August, and we want to conduct this search carefully in order to find the right person who understands what it means to lead a school that is the crown jewel of a small community. The ideal candidate is an experienced superintendent and someone who understands the needs of a tight-knit parent population. Our community expects an individualized, high-quality education for every child, and a plethora of boutique enrichments.. The new superintendent needs to inspire excellence from our children and from the staff that is there to serve them.

The board wants to find a person who, like Dr. Roger Rowe, will end their career in our district. We cannot rush this search, and it requires steady and responsible leadership to make the right decision.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to this board?
I believe the board has been operating with a level of healthy debate and respect for one another. I have always sought to find common ground between board members. While I cannot expect us to agree on everything, we have seen many successes. Unanimously, we decided that in-person learning was the only education worth providing during the pandemic, and we re-opened on the first day of the 2020 school year. We had balanced the budget after a big deficit, and on top of that, gave our teachers a raise every year.

Even on issues where we voted 3-2, it was after healthy, yet vigorous debate. I have always respected differences of opinion. I have treated my Board members with respect and always sought to work as a team. I ask you for your vote, and you can visit my website for more information at www.jeemanghani.com.

Paul Seitz
(Copyright of Paul Seitz)

Paul Seitz
Growing up in the outdoors of Lake Tahoe, I learned several early lessons: Success comes with commitment and dedication to excellence, and the path to excellence is through keen observation and skillful implementation.

After leaving Tahoe, I served in the Marines from 1996-2004. I was appointed to the rank of Sergeant and put in charge of uniting hundreds of young men from different backgrounds in the pursuit of a common goal. Teamwork and loyalty were the gold standard, and I forged a successful record of creating strong teams, putting the correct resources in place, and fostering motivation to reach the highest level, often when our lives were at risk.

I have a unique perspective and willingness to work as a team with this board, while also advocating for our kids’ education and safety. We can raise Roger Row back to a level of excellence, but only when we work together.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
The biggest issue that this district is facing is the quality of our children’s education. We are so far removed from what Roger Rowe set up for our students to excel. Academically, the curriculum has been completely watered down and access to advanced material is extremely limited. The math curriculum today, for example, is “whole-class” minded and not conducive to differentiation or forming small, tailored groups. It’s one of the reasons our students struggle in math.

The administration is inexperienced, removing literacy and math coaching and firing two teachers that the school spent a lot of money on training. These are some of the following programs that made our school unique and were dismantled, with the staff associated with them fired:
*Science discovery
*Ocean Week
*After-school robotics teams and competition led by teachers
*Choir competition at Disney for 1-5th graders

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to this board?
I really don’t like how the board is operating as it is supposed to be a team for the school. The two incumbents that are running really took the “team” away from the rest of the board, especially when they voted to extend the superintendent’s contract a year before she was up for a new one. As a result, the new incoming board members’ hands were tied and had to keep the superintendent or make school sink into the red before they were sworn in. I see the new members on the board really stepping up and requiring the administration to be more productive.

I will bring determination and hard work while prioritizing the kids’ education and safety. I will never settle for average and encourage the rest of the board to be proactive. We will find an amazing leader who will uplift our school and put the kids first.

Cristian Zarcu
(Copyright of Cristian Zarcu)

Cristian Zarcu
My name is Cristian Zarcu and I’ve lived in the Ranch with my wife and my three boys for the past five years. I’m running for the board because all of our children deserve better.

Our community has the resources to provide our public school with private education expectations and achievements. We have the lowest teacher to student ratio around for any public school, we remained open during the pandemic, and we have the most generous group of parents and donors contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, as well as countless hours of their time. So shouldn’t Roger Rowe be number 1, the top-scoring school in all of SD County? If we provide more dollars per student, why do we fall behind La Jolla and Carmel Valley schools, when their class sizes are larger, and their enrollment numbers four, five times higher?

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district?
Our biggest issue is the current leadership. I would focus on hiring a new Superintendent who understands that her job is to manage resources in order to provide an outcome acceptable to the parents: a superior education for all children. If 200 parents sign a petition to say that their children’s needs aren’t being met, then that should be the primary focus of our leaders, Admin as well as our Board.

Recent years’ test results show that too many of our students rank below grade level, attendance at our school has been slipping, and many frustrated families have left our district. That is unacceptable. I would make sure that the Administration focuses its attention back to the fundamentals of education -- reading, writing, math and science, and not allow distractions, like social engineering and indoctrination, to take away our eyes from what’s important: giving our children a solid educational foundation.

What do you think about how the board currently functions and what can you bring to this board?
The current board leadership is weak, ineffective, lacks direction and conviction, and is process rather than results-driven. Prioritizing excellent education in a safe and nurturing environment has taken a backseat to various social engineering projects, and has gotten lost in bureaucratic delays and protocols. A stronger board leadership is needed to hold the administration accountable and deliver results.

I bring substantial board experience, gained while serving on a university board since 2015, and also extensive business experience: 27 years managing several large trading businesses and more than 20 years as an executive committee member, charged with the responsibility to craft strategic visions, devise budgets and employee development and retention programs.

If elected, I would treat our school as a business where students are the customers, and excellence in education is our mission. However, in order to achieve excellence we need a business attitude, not a DMV mentality.


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