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Poway Unified Superintendent Marian Kim-Phelps said transparency is an important aspect of her leadership style. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Poway Unified School District is one of the highest regarded in the state. Its schools are good and its students are high-performing.

But the district’s sterling reputation has some dings. Poway Unified’s leadership has been under a cloud of suspicion since 2011 when Voice of San Diego broke a story about a strange bond that allowed the district to immediately borrow $150 million, but then required it to pay back $1 billion by 2035.

That financial scandal shook the school and resulted in lots of negative attention from the media and the families inside the district. California lawmakers changed laws preventing other districts to do what Poway did, and the San Diego County Grand Jury scrutinized the deal.

But former Poway Unified superintendent John Collins downplayed the whole issue and kept his job. In 2016, he was fired amid another scandal. Prosecutors charged Collins with five felony counts for allegedly misusing public money, vacation, sick and leave time. He denies the accusation.

Poway Unified moved on, naming Marian Kim-Phelps as its new superintendent. She’s the district’s first woman and the first person of color to serve in that role.

In a new episode of the podcast Good Schools for All, hosts Scott Lewis and Laura Kohn talk to Kim-Phelps about her leadership style. She said transparency is extremely important to her and that being open moving forward is the only way to leave the past turmoil behind.

“I believe that I am a transparent leader,” she said. “People forget, we’re public education. Nothing’s private. Nothing’s a secret.”

Kim-Phelps also talks about how she wants to find funding to expand the district’s multi-language programs, she discusses the innovation relationship between the Poway teachers’ union and the school leadership, the district’s inventive Design 39 school, the big change in school board elections and more.

Also on the podcast, Lewis talks about how his 5-year-old daughter, who just barely missed the cutoff dates for transitional kindergarten, is already advocating for universal TK for all 4-year-olds.

Kohn and Lewis also ask Kim-Phelps about the redistricting effort that has the district in a tense series of conversations right now.

What’s Working

Dual-language programs in Chula Vista:  An education think tank recently released a report  showing how, despite legislation that made bilingual education difficult to implement, the Chula Vista Elementary School District has successfully built 21 Spanish-English dual-language immersion programs that now reach over 4,000 students.

Number of the Week

95 percent: A new report shows that 95 percent of Latino youth in California were born in the United States. Latino students continue to face barriers in our country’s education system that make it harder for them to succeed. These are American children, and the educational system needs to get better at educating them.

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Kinsee Morlan

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture...

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