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Long before San Diegans vote on who should sit on San Diego Unified’s school board, two contenders are rubbing elbows.

John Lee Evans, a clinical psychologist, is running against school board member Mitz Lee; a third contender, political consultant Scott Barnett, dropped out of the race shortly before Lee decided against leaving the school board to run for City Council. Richard Barrera, a local labor organizer, is seeking Luis Acle’s spot on the board. (Acle hasn’t indicated whether he will run.) After a recent meeting of Democracy for America, a progressive political group, the two started chatting.

“I was quite impressed talking with him, and looking at our positions,” Evans said of Barrera. The board “really does require bringing on somebody new, who will tie it together a bit more. With my own background as a psychologist, I feel comfortable working toward group consensus, not just pushing my own individual agenda.”

Barrera agreed, saying the two candidates agree that “with a little bit of leadership, issues that divide people” — such as a controversial merger of a closed private school and a downtown public school, or the question of whether to hold back low-achieving 8th graders — “could actually bring people together. … These are opportunities to build some consensus, and it feels like they’re missed opportunities right now.”

School board members are first elected by area, then citywide, which means Evans and Barrera won’t compete with each other for their seats.

The bonhomie is a stark contrast to the current school board, which has struggled without a common vision. But Lee argued that the tide is turning for the school board, which recently set tentative goals through a process mediated by superintendent search firm leader Bill Attea.

“The board is together at this time, and I ensure that there will be stability and consistency,” Lee said. Recently, the board elected a new president, trustee Katherine Nakamura, and vice president, trustee John de Beck. “To make [Nakamura and de Beck] work together is a really exciting thing — it will be a new day, a new beginning, and I’m very excited. They had been on opposite sides during the [previous Superintendent Alan] Bersin years.”

Meanwhile, I haven’t heard of any competitors for school board member Shelia Jackson’s seat. If you’ve heard otherwise, please let me know!

EMILY ALPERT

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