FIVE CANDIDATES VIE FOR THREE SEATS ON LEMON GROVE SCHOOL BOARD

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Part 1 in a 2-part series

By Robin N. Kendall

September 20, 2020 (Lemon Grove) -- Voters have many choices this year to fill three open seats on the five-person Lemon Grove School Board. In November of last year, the district was faced with a vacancy when former school board member Katie Dexter resigned. April Leon was appointed to fill the seat until this election, when voters could choose who would serve the remaining two years. Now Leon, the appointed incumbent, is seeking to be elected. Greg Shibley is running against her.

East County Magazine emailed a set of questions to each of the candidates for school board. Below are the responses from April Leon and Greg Shibley, candidates for the short-term seat. In the next story, part 2, we report on the candidates for the full-term seat.

April Leon, appointed incumbent Lemon Grove School Board

Biography: Leon is the youngest of three children, all graduates of the Lemon Grove School District (LGSD). She comes from a military family who first transferred to San Diego in 1977 and then returned in 1984 to stay. She is a graduate of Mount Miguel High School, attended Southwestern College, and graduated from Fashion Design College (FCC) with an associate’s degree in Fashion Design.

She currently owns and operates two Lemon Grove-based businesses with her husband of 24 years. She has worked in the construction industry for over 15 years in management and financial services and she continues to perform financial services for companies other than her own. Leon has served the Lemon Grove community as PTA President for two years; Coach/Manager for four seasons with the Lemon Grove Little League; and is Vice Chair of the Independent Community Oversight Committee for the Lemon Grove School District. 

April Leon’s answers to ECM questions:

1.  What are the most significant current challenges facing education in this community? For example:  If you wish to comment on the current dilemma with the pandemic, do you support in-classroom learning, distance learning, or a combination of both – and for in-person, do you support standards such as masks, social distancing and limiting how many students teachers will be working with to protect teachers and students?

COVID-19 is currently the biggest challenge facing our public education system and how to ensure equity among all students. As a Title I district, we have a lot of multi-generational households with both parents working and likely in essential jobs. This poses a problem to how the students will be able to obtain a proper education from home. In some cases, parents are having to choose between work and educating their children. While other parents are working full time and supporting their students full time. This is stressful for all families. As a parent of two students attending the LGSD, I am nervous about sending our students back to in-person learning due to the risk of catching COVID-19. However, I have seen the struggles between the experiences of my two students and believe that nothing replaces the benefits of in-person education from a teacher. I feel there is more harm in keeping the students home on both their social emotional wellness and academic proficiency long term.

How can the school board address these challenges? The LGSD is addressing these challenges by collaborating with the City of Lemon Grove to have daycare options available while we are in the distance learning format. We have Chromebooks available to all students, Wi-Fi hotspots for families who need it and financial support with internet provider service through Cox. We have provided a lot of training for our staff and teacher as well as flexibility for them to work from home if possible since they too need to provide supervision to their own children. We have also launched rigorous social emotional education plans and every student has a morning check in with their teacher. They discuss how they are feeling and are given tools to help them self-regulate their emotions.

2.  What motivates you to want to serve on the school board? Were there experiences in your education or career that sparked you to do this?

I continue to be motivated to serve on the school board to ensure academic rigor for all students. We need to identify the reasons for the inequities and eliminate the achievement gaps that exist to lift up all children. As well as to engage and support all stakeholders. 

I was sparked to do this after many hours of volunteering on the school site as well as my experience as PTA President for two years. Sharing these experiences with my fellow school board members and community from the lens of a parent of two Lemon Grove Learners. You need to balance the personal experience with the data to be able to make an informed decision.

3.  For incumbents, what accomplishments on the board are you most proud of?

I am proud of my service to our community since my appointment in November of 2019. While we have been in a pandemic for the last six months, I have still been active in advocating for students and teachers through involvement in panels; sharing experiences with my fellow Board Members and cabinet from personal experiences as a parent and volunteer.

4.  Who has endorsed your candidacy?

I have been endorsed by: Lemon Grove City Councilmember Jerry Jones; Lemon Grove School Board Trustees Jay Bass and Larry Loschen; and CSEA Chapter #280, classified employees union of the Lemon Grove School District.

5.  What is your vision for education in this community? You might answer this in regards to both short and long-term outcomes.

My vision for my community in the future is to increase engagement of parents in their school communities and continue to increase test scores and academic rigor for our students. Short term goals are to reach out to families struggling to support their students' education in the current distance learning environment. Take their experiences back to cabinet and board members to help ease the challenges. Long term, I plan to continue to foster these relationships with families and help maintain engagement as we move beyond this pandemic.

6.  Please discuss your views on how you, if elected, could address the issue of racial inequities in the school district. For example, do you think there is a need for more diversity training?

The first step in addressing racial inequities is self-reflection and acceptance of roles we play in the inequities. We then need to have open and honest conversations with peers and develop a plan to address what we find out from the conversations. Providing training and support systems for all stakeholders is key to removing racial inequities in our community.

April Leon’s Facebook Page is at https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Political-Organization/April-Leo...

Greg Shibley, candidate for LGSB short-term seat

Biography: Shibley is originally from a small town in the Bay Area, but says that San Diego has been his home since the mid-90s, when he attended UCSD and earned a bachelor’s degree in Linguistics. Later he earned a law degree at California Western School of Law and was an attorney for several years. However he says, “my wife knew that wasn’t my real passion, so she convinced me to put my practice on hold and pursue music. That led to starting my entertainment company, offering music services for weddings and other private events.”

Shibley has lived in Lemon Grove for about eight years and has two children. He is a member of the Lions Club and a volunteer at trash cleanups and food drives in town. He also hosts a podcast, Shine On Lemon Grove, where they, “Celebrate our city, talk with business owners, and cover local events.”

Greg Shibley’s answers to ECM questions:

1.  What are the most significant current challenges facing education in this community? How can the school board address these challenges?

I have been walking the streets for weeks now, knocking on doors, offering my flyers, and talking with Lemon Grove residents. Overwhelmingly, their biggest concern is distance learning. People largely accept that going back to full in-classroom learning is still not appropriate; however, they can't accept that there is no alternative to distance-only learning.

And they're right. Plenty of communities around the country have been finding novel solutions to the problem, trying out ways to do a little of both, which would go a long way not only to supporting our students' education, socialization and mental health, but also to giving so many parents a chance to get back to work, if only part time. But to do this, we need fresh faces on the school board-- people who are not stuck in the old ways but who are willing to lead with creativity and enthusiasm.

2.  What motivates you to want to serve on the school board?  Were there experiences in your education or career that sparked you to do this?

Education is in my blood. My parents are both retired school teachers, my grandfather was the first full time law professor at Pepperdine University, and I, in addition to my many years of undergraduate and law school education, taught English as a second language at schools both here and abroad. And of course, now that my own kids are in school, I have a very personal interest in our education system.

The many problems with our school board are well known. Many of their meetings have been covered on the news in the last couple years-- including scenes of parents and teachers protesting the board's decisions-- and I myself have been interviewed several times. I have been working with other parents and teachers all along the way, and now, rather than simply complain about things, I decided to be part of the solution.

3.  For incumbents, what accomplishments on the board are you most proud of?  For challengers, what do you most hope to change?

First, we need our students’ scores to come back up (we are currently below the state average in both reading and math, and have been for some time). And although grades are important, they should not be at the expense of character-building programs such as the arts and the International Baccalaureate program, all of which have been either scaled back or cut completely under the current board.

Second, our policies and relationships need to be based on respect and trust, from the top down, which has sadly been lacking from the board. I have watched (and spoken up at school board meetings) for years now as they squandered the good reputation they used to have with the community and instead doubled down on failed policies and shut down communication and transparency. We’re better than that in Lemon Grove, and our school board should reflect it.

4.  Who has endorsed your candidacy? 

I am happy to be endorsed by many organizations and individuals, including Lemon Grove Parents United, councilwoman Jennifer Mendoza, and the Lemon Grove/Spring Valley Democratic Society.

5.  What is your vision for education in this community?

I envision a community with thriving schools: where qualified and passionate teachers feel supported by the school board; where students are excited to learn and feel they have all the same tools and opportunities as anyone else; where enrollment rates are not steadily declining, as they have been here; where families move to Lemon Grove BECAUSE of the schools, not in spite of them; and where, after all of this is established as a foundation, the city as a whole improves for everyone.

6.  Please discuss your views on how you, if elected, could address the issue of racial inequities in the school district. For example, do you think there is a need for more diversity training?

This certainly is a difficult time, as we all know, but it is also an exciting one. A long-overdue conversation has begun, and we can't ignore it. Racial disparities in education, economic status and social mobility are very real, but their causes can be nuanced and difficult to untangle. Luckily, Lemon Grove is one of the most racially diverse areas in the county, so we are in a perfect position to tackle the issue.

Diversity training for staff and faculty is an important first step. We also need to examine existing policies and structures to see where things have gone wrong. If we are honest, some of these policies and structures, once reviewed, will reveal systemic inequities and others will not. So, we have to have the courage to change the former and defend the latter. But one thing is for sure: this is not the time for inaction. If we do this right, our kids will be remembered as the generation that made significant and historic changes for the better.

Shibley’s website and Facebook pages are at:

https://www.shibleylgsb2020.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ShibleyLGSB2020

Robin Norris Kendall is from La Mesa and graduated from Helix High School and San Diego State University. She has worked as a writer and editor in a variety of fields including health communications, science education, public relations and marketing. Her experiences are in STEM education, higher education PR, recreation marketing, military life and outdoor education. She volunteers for the San Diego Natural History Museum and San Diego Zoo/Safari Park. She is currently working on two books for children. Her passions include natural history, bird watching, dogs and nature travel. She is the mother of two and grandmother of three.

East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and our coverage of the 2020 local campaigns. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/.

You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.

 

 


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