Godwin Higa, left, and Shana Hazan, right, are facing off in November to represent San Diego Unified School District's sub-district B board seat. / Photos by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran for Voice of San Diego
Godwin Higa, left, and Shana Hazan, right, are facing off in November to represent San Diego Unified School District's sub-district B board seat. / Photos by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran for Voice of San Diego

In 2020, San Diego voters approved Measure C, which changed board elections from city-wide races to ones in which the residents of each sub-district elected board members. The change was seen as a way to level the playing field and give candidates with less resources a chance to be more competitive. November’s election will be the first to use those new rules. Voters will put two new members on the five-person San Diego Unified Board of Education. 

The sub-district B board seat is one of two up for grabs. It’s the northeastern-most seat in the district and stretches from Mission Valley to Scripps Ranch and is the second whitest of the five sub-districts. 

Unlike the election in sub-district C, which is a tale of opposites, the two candidates in sub-district B, nonprofit executive Shana Hazan and longtime educator and principal Godwin Higa, agree about what some of SDUSD’s goals should be. They both embrace the need to develop more community schools, implement more restorative justice and trauma-informed practices in schools, and feel the closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic was necessary – though certainly not ideal – given the information known at the time.  

Shana Hazan and Godwin Higa are both committed to the work. But they’re taking very different roads to get elected to do it. Hazan points to her long list of priorities, which includes increased transparency in the district and more open lines of communication, and the hard work she said she’s done to secure endorsements and funding as evidence that she’s serious about getting the job. And it is clear she has a certain campaign prowess, likely learned from her years working in the consulting and nonprofit world, which culminated in her appointment as the chief financial officer of Jewish Family Services.  

Hazan’s talking points and campaign materials are polished and she’s received more endorsements than virtually any of the four candidates in either sub-district race, including that of the teachers union, whose support has played a significant role in school board races. She’s also received a mountain of campaign donations, more than both candidates in sub-district C combined and nearly $100,000 more than the $5,000 Higa has raised.  

Higa on the other hand has mounted a bare-bones, entirely grassroots campaign that consists of standing on busy street corners in the sub-district waving a homemade sign and an ambitious door-knocking campaign. He views pursuing endorsements and donations as requiring him to play a political game he’s uninterested in playing and doesn’t care if it makes him sound naive. If his campaign is unsuccessful, he takes comfort in knowing that at least his message about the need for trauma-informed schools and restorative justice is getting out there. 

His wholehearted commitment to those strategies comes from his decades of experience as an educator and principal at San Diego Unified schools, where he implemented such practices at a struggling City Heights school. His own experiences with childhood trauma, and exposure to research on the way that trauma can affect the development of children, have only strengthened that commitment. 

To register for the Nov. 8 election, visit the website for San Diego’s Registrar of Voters

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter. He can be reached by email at jakob@vosd.org and followed on Twitter @jakobmcwhinney. Subscribe...

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