School Board interviews 5 to fill Ritto seat

School Board interviews 5 to fill Ritto seat
The five applicants interviewed by the Rancho Santa Fe School Board all have children attending R. Roger Rowe School. File photo

RANCHO SANTA FE — The Rancho Santa Fe School Board publicly interviewed five applicants on Oct. 16 to fill an empty seat left by Marti Ritto, who resigned on Sept. 13. The school district closed applications on Oct. 9 for the existing term that runs through November 2018.

The five applicants interviewed were Kali Kim, Jee Manghani, Richard Shen, Ph.D., Jon Yonemitsu and Elise Dufrensne. Each applicant has children attending R. Roger Rowe.

Board President Todd Frank explained the board would not decide on an appointment that day.

First up was Kim, who has a professional background as a senior tax accountant. When asked why she would make a good board member, she shared that she had a vested interest in the success of the school. She said she believes the school board should have a long-term vision with a clear consensus.

“I think a school board member is an advocate for the kids to ensure kids receive everything they need to receive their highest potential,” she said. 

When assessing the performance of the district, Kim said a significant metric is the feedback from the community, parent surveys and test scores. Another way to determine performance, she said, is to see how successful students are in high school after leaving R. Roger Rowe.

Manghani, who has a background in commercial software development, said he moved to Rancho Santa Fe in 2010 because of the school district.

“It’s important for my kids and all kids that they have access to great education,” he said.

Manghani shared his views on district priorities. In addition to preparing students for high school, teacher and staff retention are also a priority, he said.

“All the teachers we have had have been excellent,” he said. “We need to be retaining talent but also looking for additional talent when the needs arise.”

Another item important to Manghani is ensuring the aesthetics of the school meld with Covenant standards mainly in the event of a gym renovation or a new gym.

Fiscal responsibility was also on his list.

Manghani said that as a board member he would represent the whole community.

Shen, who has an extensive background in biochemistry and research and development, said he considers himself fortunate that his current work allows him to have more freedom. Much of that time has been spent giving back to the robotics program at R. Roger Rowe.

His past experiences in work and creating startups, he said, provide him with knowledge about what is essential to operate an organization. Getting input from a lot of different perspectives is also important, he said.

He also said it is vital that students receive the tools to succeed in life that help them find their own passions at the appropriate level.

As for decision making, Shen said he would be open to suggestions.

“Go out and talk to people and get their input,” he said. “It might spark other ideas.”

Yonemitsu, an attorney, said R. Roger Rowe offered a fit for each student. As for district priorities, Yonemitsu said that the facilities would be one of them, including the gym. 

Implementing technology is also valued because it promotes critical thinking and engages a student in what they are doing, he said.

Because of the student-teacher ratio at R. Roger Rowe, Yonemitsu said students have the opportunity for more customized instruction when needed.

As for accelerated learning, Yonemistsu said it is excellent when used appropriately when a child needs a challenge.

“I’m in favor of it, but there has to be a balance,” he said.

Yonemitsu also said he wanted to find ways to make the transition from middle school to high school better for students.

“What are the best opportunities to not only get in those institutions but to thrive in them?” he asked.

̕ Dufresne, who operates a political consulting firm, said her professional experience makes her uniquely qualified.

She said she has a great deal of experience in just about everything a school board would address.

“In terms of professional experience, I am definitely qualified to hit the ground running,” she said, adding that this would help the continuity of the school board. 

Board teamwork is crucial to Dufresne. However, her top priorities are to make sure the very best is done for the children regarding curriculum and programs that engage, and investment in curricula with an emphasis in science and technology.

What Dufrense wants for her child, she wants for every child at R. Roger Rowe.

Dufrense said she felt that the school district’s fiscal conservancy is exemplary.

“Teacher salaries and union negotiations need to be looked at seriously,” Dufrense said. “While it’s important we retain top level (teachers), it’s important we don’t enter into something that is not sustainable.”

For Dufrense, the health of a school district should be a priority from an economic viewpoint while looking ahead to any future bridges which might have to be crossed. 

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