The StartupCircle mayoral forum took place at Co-Merge in downtown San Diego on October 16. The event was held to get a closer look at how Council member Carl DeMaio and Congressman Bob Filner would help small businesses flourish in the city. Both candidates offered the audience their potential role in fostering start-ups, but also took the time to relate the subjects to education.
The first education-related question arose and asked: "What role will you play as mayor to help build an educated pool of potential employees? Businesses thrive from an educated workforce."
Moderator and host Gabriella Dow noted that leading tech companies, like Qualcomm and Nokia, have issues finding local talent.
Congressman Filner began the discussion. He began with his experience in San Diego city schools. In 1979, Filner was elected to the San Diego Unified school board and became board president in 1982. All members of the San Diego Unified School Board have lent their support, mentioned by Filner. He then went into the question and stated, "The mayor has enough to do without taking over the school system. You can't deal with the circular issues or the personnel issues. You have to let the school system do its job, but you have to support it."
What does Congressman Filner mean by supporting the school system? He expanded:
"We have amazing resources in this city to support our educational system. Whether they're museums, Qualcomm, small businesses, Chargers, or Padres, they can all become mentors, resource teachers, and role models for children afterschool. That's what we should be doing as a city. All of the emphasis has been on STEM (science, technology, education, math), which is very important. However, I would prefer to stress STEAM. I want to put an A (arts) in STEM. What about the arts? What about those who interested in drama, music, and arts. That stimulates their creativity and gets them into the areas of innovation."
Councilman DeMaio weighed in afterward. He mentioned his endorsements from influential San Diegans such as Dr. Irwin Jacobs, and Linden Blue of General Atomics. His claim was that his notable supports were convinced by his, "business and jobs plan and recognize that we actually deal with the issue of competitiveness and educational excellence."
"First we're going to lead by example. We need to move money into the classroom. We do that by implementing the same fiscal reform agenda in our schools that we're doing for the city. Second, we have to do our part by restoring afterschool programs so our children can learn afterschool. Finally we have to expand the Hire-a-Youth program to our workforce partnership where our kids can get apprenticeships and jobs in companies."
A second education-related inquiry was made. Dr. Andrew Johnsen, principal of Valley Elementary in Poway, asked about what the candidates could do to improve K-12 education. The question's focus was on linking K-12 students with higher education to make sure students are motivated and ready for collegiate challenges.
Councilman DeMaio outlines three C's which means, "they're ready for college, prepared for a career, and dedicated to community service." In an attempt to explain how, he stated, "We have to have a greater partnership with our colleges and universities. The mayor can bring all the stakeholders together." DeMaio advocates mentor-ship programs in professional environments to expose students to various trades.
Congressman Filner, "helped fund and state the Parent Institute for Quality Education to help parents understand what the schools are about, how to help their kids achieve, and understand what they are trying to achieve." He advocated guaranteed access to college for high schools students who have completed rigorous academic programs. He also gave his anecdote about participating in the early civil rights movement as a freedom rider. He made the point that students have a capability to be involved in politics through activism and do not have to be limited to their neighborhoods.
It's clear that both candidates believe the mayoral position has a degree of involvement with San Diego city schools. Congressman Filner and Councilman DeMaio have published education plans, and have a few similarities. It may be hard to distinguish between education plans through the debates, but there's a difference in experience when working within San Diego city schools. Congressman Filner's advantage is that he has navigated San Diego's school system from multiple positions and has relationships with education leaders.