The Rancho Santa Fe School District appointed new board member Scott Kahn on Friday, May 20 just four days after the resignation of 11-year board member Richard Burdge. The board selected Kahn in a 3-0 vote with one abstention after an open interview session with candidates Chris Blatt, Kyle Jones, Kyri Van Hoose and Brian Vincik.
RSF School District Board President Tyler Seltzer said that he felt confident with the decision to go ahead with the appointment process for the board vacancy and felt even better about it after getting five highly qualified candidates to choose from.
“I could go and make an argument pretty confidently for everybody on this list and if you’re not picked I hope that you will be open to running again,” Seltzer said.
The seat Kahn has been appointed to will be up for election in November, along with Seltzer and Todd Buchner’s seats.
Frank said his abstention was not about the candidate but about the process.
“My preference is that we move forward without appointing another board member,” Frank said at the outset of the meeting. “I think that the applicants are tremendous so no slight to them, but I may abstain from the voting because I think that we have four good, experienced members to go forward and pick the superintendent. I just want it to be known that my abstaining has nothing to do with shirking my responsibility.”
Frank did make a motion to postpone the decision for a couple weeks but his motion was not seconded.
Kahn, a resident of Rancho Santa Fe for seven years, has twins in the fourth grade. His wife, Shaunna, has been actively involved with the Rancho Santa Fe Education Foundation and Kahn said he had already been thinking about running for the school board — he said the vacancy just accelerated the process.
Kahn recently retired from Illumina, a biotechnology company where he was the vice president of commercial enterprise informatics, and he said he was looking for something to do with his extra time.
He believes he brings unique qualities to the board as he spent the last 20 years in the corporate world, looking at performance, hiring the right people and figuring out ways to make a business run better. As a former assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Kahn said he also understands a bit about the education side and feels very strongly that science and technology are the things that are “going to propel the world forward and I would like our kids to be a part of that activity,” Kahn said.
“I finally had the time, I’ve always had the interest,” Kahn said.
In the interview process, Marti Ritto asked what his three top areas of focus would be as a board member and guessed correctly that one would be science.
“I believe very strongly in science. That is not a myopic statement. For me, science is very broad and I’d love to find ways to expose kids to a lot of science,” he said, noting one thing he would change is to make sure students were introduced to other fields, beyond oceanography.
He said other areas of focus would be technology, particularly the exciting robotics program, and foreign language, as he found a lot of value in learning French as a grade-schooler in New Jersey.
Kahn said he looks forward to the opportunity to help hire a new superintendent. When asked by Todd Buchner about the qualities he is looking for and what he might ask of a candidate, Kahn said the superintendent needs to be a very strong administrator and he would want to know how they manage performance, their approach to the budget process, how they set goals and how they see themselves engaging with the community.
Kahn said he would like to add an element to the interview process to see how candidates handle parent engagement by sitting down with various groups of parents and see how the candidate interacts and understands different perspectives.
“If you have a superintendent that is the best administrator in the entire world but is not good at engaging the community, I don’t think they’re going to be successful here,” Kahn said. “That’s such an important element of the superintendent job.”
Seltzer asked each candidate a question on “tone, temperament and demeanor” in light of serving on a very unique board in a very unique district. As Seltzer said, it is a small school and small community where everybody in the room knows each other and will probably see each other at a party that night or at little league on the weekend.
“It’s very likely, whoever is on this seat, you’re likely to face hostility,” Seltzer said. “As a group, we’ve been called puppets, rubber-stampers, corrupt, ill-timed, dishonest, and crooked, even by some of the people in this room. So it’s likely, even if you make incredible decisions, you’ll face that.”
Seltzer asked how the candidates would handle sitting in that sometimes hot seat, making decisions and facing critical feedback
“I don’t have a lot of experience with people outright hating me,” Kahn said, laughing. “I find ways to get along with people. I can have opinions that are diametrically opposed to people and I’m comfortable talking about my opinions with them, but I never make it personal.”
Kahn began work immediately as following his swearing-in, he went straight into closed session with the board to discuss internal candidates and on May 22, the board was scheduled to interview external superintendent candidates.