Hear audio aired on KNSJ Radio
View video of interview with Jay Steiger (Note: Max Coston, whose name appears on screen, is Steiger's campaign manager)
September 27, 2023 (San Diego's East County)-- Jay Steiger is running for the Grossmont Union High School Board in Trustee Area 2, Steiger is a middle school teacher who graduated from Monte Vista High School in the Grossmont District and he’s a parent of two children who graduated from Grossmont High School. In an exclusive interview, he shares his goals to assure a 21st century education for students and assure that all students, staff and teachers are treated with respect and inclusivity.
Steiger says he’s running because extremists have targeted school boards in the 2024 election, and he wants to prioritize students’ wellbeing and education over extremist policies he believes could harm our community.
He’s served as an officer on local and county PTA organizations and as president of Murdock Elementary PTA. He was the La Mesa Spring Valley School District and Grossmont Union High School District’s Advisory Council Chair and Chaired the Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee. He currently teaches at Meadowbrook Middle School. He’s also been an active community volunteer in many organizations.
This is an open seat, since Trustee Elva Salinas is not seeking reelection. Trustee Area 2 includes areas north of 94, from Jamacha east to Valhalla High School, west through the communities of Rancho San Diego, the Fuerte neighborhood, Mt. Helix, Casa de Oro, and La Mesa.
ECM asked Steiger how has the district changed, for better or worse, in recent years? He offered both praise and criticism.
“There are a lot of positives in the Grossmont District,” he said. “I was honored to serve on the bond committee and as chair of the bond committee.….You can see the results.” Bond measures resulted in new facilities at every school in the district, with modern facilities, a theater at Grossmont High, and more, he notes, adding, “The district has a strong reputation of being able to run good budgets.” He said the district also has high rankings for oversight of spending. The GUHSD also has “great teachers and staff,” as well as “great academic programs” including AP courses to help many kids attend community colleges or four-year universities, as well as highly regarded career tech programs such as auto shop, health programs, and engineering.”
But despite those positives he says, “There are some poor leadership decisions, and this is not the first time.” He recalls a “dysfunctional board” in the recent past that endorsed an anti-gay marriage initiative when even many conservative-led districts stayed neutral. Now he sees a return of an anti-LGTBQ mindset reflected in actions such as dropping the district’s long-time mental health services provider, a move critics say targets vulnerable LGBTQ students at a time when such students have high rates of depression and suicide.
Steiger, who holds a degree in psychology, calls that decision “perplexing,” adding, “The reasons have never been fully explained and they’re very questionable…The board majority owes the community a proper explanation of this.I think it’s a mistake and I think they should reverse it…. As an educator myself as a teacher, it’s very personal to me,” he says, adding that kids today are under huge stresses, including a higher risk of suicide among LGTTQ students and higher depression rates among students spending a lot of time on social media, where bullying can occur. “I’ve dealt with it in my own classroom,” says Steiber, who believes that providing programs shown to work is “essential.”
He stands on the side of inclusivity, and faults the board for dropping mental health services through its decades-long provider for reasons appear to be tied to objections from a board member from the neighboring Cajon Valley School District over LGBTQ students….All those kids’ lives are important,” he says. “We should not get on the wrong side of inclusivity…These young people are the future of our country and we want thinkers; we don’t want robots.”
He’s also concerned about a trend nationally and statewide of far-right conservatives seeking to ban books and censure teaching of history on issues such as race.
As “true educators, we expose kids to information. We don’t tell them you should vote this way; we foster discussions,” Steiger explains. I’m teaching about Rome right now and they’re learning the positives and the negatives…building roads and aqueducts, but also harm to disadvantaged groups…America has done the same, and also made terrible and tragic mistakes.” It’s important to learn from mistakes of the past, as well as from successes, he believes.
He notes that questions have been raised in the GUHSD over why some highly regarded books approved at other California schools have remained on a wait list for a long time, including books on inclusion in the LGBTQ community as well books related to black, indigenous and people of color. He says he’s read banned books and used some in his teaching. Banned book lists, carried to extremes, have even included such childhood classics as Charlotte’s Web and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Asked about academic priorities and how to help students catch up from pandemic disruptions, Steiger says, “COVID learning loss is real…I taught during COVID, I understand Zoom was tough and coming out of it was weird.” To address that, he says, “There are proven strategies to help students recover from learning loss.” Those include small group work, tutoring, and …focusing on poor skills, efforts that he says should be used and are “very cost effective. In the long term that is money well spent, because you’re investing in kids moving forward in life and being part of a productive society.” Another program is having credentialed teachers in classrooms to create more options for intervention and focused work.”
“I used to teach AVID. Any student can go to college. It’s a matter of will and support,” he says. For those students who aren’t ready or willing to go to college after high schools, he also supports other pathways for them to have careers. “We must never let kids stay behind. We need to get in there and lift them up,” he says.
Steiger also wants to foster stronger ties between the Grossmont district and its K-8 feeder districts. “This is embraced in other districts around the community and the state,” he notes. “My father was a community college professor and before that, he taught high school and middle school, my mother was a teacher who became a counselor, and she worked in career tech….so I had a very supportive background. I do understand there are concerns of if you replace high school courses with community college courses, that imperils staffing at the high school level….I’m 100% supportive of teachers.” An example of courses high school students could take at a community college include career tech programs not offered in high school. “identify gaps and set courses up,”he says. Another example is is foreign languages. California is a multilingual place, one of the most diverse places in the world, says Steiger, but many languages are not taught in high schools. Students who want to learn French or Arabic, for example, could do so at a community college while still in high school.
Steiger’s experience on the bond oversight committee has led him to realize that the district needs ongoing funds not only for new buildings, but to maintain existing facilities and not have them fall into disrepair. So as a board member if elected, he would support putting a new school bond measure on the ballot for voters. “Let’s continue to support great facilities, to support our kids, our staff, and our communities,” he says.
Asked what else he wants voters to know about his candidacy, Steiger says, “We need to do right by all our kids. The phrase that I stand by is `All means all, all kids and all teachers and nd all staff as well…I’m 100% on board with full inclusion all of the time,”he says, and notes that California law requires this. “We want to get to a drama free district so we can focus on lifting up academics.” He supports a “ 21st century education” for all students, so that they can “go into young adulthood and become strong members of society….”We want education to be the strongest it possibly can be” and for staff to feel respected and included, he concludes.
Besides his teaching and volunteering on the bond oversight committee and parent-teacher associations (PTAs), Steiger has also served as a youth soccer coach, on the La Mesa Arts Association board, on the Grossmont Mount Helix Improvement Association board, and currently chairs the Valle de Oro Community Planning Group. Of the latter, he says, “We come from a cross section of the community politically; we set that aside and work together for the good of the community.”
Steiger has been fundraising since June and is endorsed by Toni Atkins, the president pro tem of the State Senate, as well as by Assemblyman Chris Ward, La Mesa Spring Valley School District trustees Briana Coston and Caitlin Tiffany, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College Board president Debbie Justeson and others.
“I’d love to hear people’s ideas,” Steiger says. “What do you want to see in a 21st century education?” You can learn more about his candidacy at www.JaySteiger.com
ct, Trustee Area 2. As a lifelong resident and passionate education advocate, I am dedicated to serving our community and ensuring a bright future for our students.
With experience as both a teacher and a parent, I understand the importance of providing a quality education that prepares students for success. I will work tirelessly to maintain the district's reputation while adapting to the evolving needs of our students and society.
Together, we can foster strong partnerships, prioritize innovative curriculum, and create a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students.”