Two candidates are vying for the Trustee Area E seat on the Poway Unified School District Board of Education in the Nov. 3 election.
Jimmy Karam and Cindy Sytsma are both Poway residents. The winner will replace Kimberley Beatty, who decided not to seek reelection. The area covers parts of south Poway and Sabre Springs. A map showing district boundaries is at tinyurl.com/PUSDElection2020.
Karam previously ran for a board seat in 2016. This is Sytsma’s first time running for a political office.
Karam has lived in the district for 12 years. He is a Department of Defense contractor and adjunct economics professor at Palomar College. He also teaches economics at Escondido High School as part of its dual enrollment program. He said his “day job” is a functional area manager leading an engineering staff of 45 people. Karam is a Navy veteran, served as a Navy supply corps officer and was a Naval Academy economics department associate chair. His campaign website is karam4pusd.com.
He has a bachelor’s degree in history from the United States Naval Academy, a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern California and a master’s in performance psychology from National University.
Two of Karam’s children are Poway High School graduates, while his other children are in ninth grade at Poway High and second grade at Garden Road Elementary.
Sytsma said she grew up in the district and, other than college, has spent her whole life here. She lists her occupation as educator. Her campaign website is cindysytsma.com.
She has a bachelor’s degree in criminology from California State University, Fresno; a master’s in education from California State University, San Marcos; and a doctorate in human services criminal justice from Walden University. She also holds multiple subject and special education teaching credentials from California State University, San Marcos.
Sytsma has two children attending school in the district, an eighth-grade daughter at Twin Peaks Middle School and a fourth-grade son at Garden Road Elementary.
Karam said he wants to serve on the PUSD board to make a difference.
“I served in the Navy for over 24 years and I like to believe I made a difference in every duty station I served at,” Karam said. “As an officer, I had an enormous impact on the lives of sailors and their families, and later on so many students serving as their professor, academic counselor and coach.”
Karam said he always strived to provide a supportive culture so he could be responsive to the needs of the people he served, and is running for the school board so he can do the same for the community.
Sytsma said she has been an educator for 22 years and taught all grade levels and special education. She has also spent the last 16 years working at the university level, in teacher credentialing courses and criminal justice courses, she said.
“When my children entered school, I jumped in with both feet to get involved,” Sytsma said. “I have served on the PTA board every year, headed several committees (and) been a co-room parent every year, to name a few. In short, I have dedicated most of my adult life to schools and children’s programs. It would be a great honor to be able to continue to make a positive impact for children on a greater scale.”
She also volunteers with Little League, youth theater, Cub Scouts and has been a Girl Scout leader, she said. Systma has presented at educational conferences around the world and has several publications. Her research interests include graduation rates, supporting teachers and youth leadership.
Karam said he feels the three greatest issues impacting the district are transitioning to normalcy and dealing with COVID-19, increasing opportunities for children’s social and emotional development, and confronting systemic racism and social inequities.
“PUSD needs more calm and deliberate action and communications,” Karam said. “Currently, it feels like the community is getting whiplash from all the knee-jerk reactions from the top. We need improved, proactive community relations.”
Karam said setting up a weekly newsletter with relevant COVID-19 updates and subsequent plans and timelines within the district’s control is a great way forward with bringing normalcy and dealing with COVID-19.
He said he plans to leverage the community to proactively assist in helping district children with mental and life skills, including learning how to take on challenges and overcome adversity.
“The most economical means forward would be to establish strategy partnerships with local universities and implement a counselor internship program,” Karam said.
He said he would help the district tackle systemic racism and social inequalities, in addition to the steps PUSD has already taken, by instituting a “Safe Place” program. This would be a program where faculty and staff could opt in for more formal training and then be certified as a “safe place,” he said.
“When students experience an adverse experience (i.e. racial injustice, harassment, sexual assault, etc.) they now have a number of options to go to for help,” Karam said. “The ‘Safe Place’ program educates staff volunteers on how to speak with students in distress and then guide them through a series of protocols that are respectful of the parties involved in the incident.”
Sytsma said she believes the three greatest issues impacting PUSD are the need for outdoor classroom environments to allow students to learn outside when they return to campus during the pandemic; the district’s infrastructure issues, and racism within the district and students feeling unsafe.
She said with COVID-19 and the nearing of students returning to campus, the need for inviting outdoor classroom environments is important, and will continue to be a need, as students’ academic learning experiences are heightened when they can learn outside. This would include more tables and shade for schools to set up outdoor classroom space.
“I would like to take a closer look at all the schools in the trustee area and beyond to evaluate the outdoor classroom needs, and meet with principals, foundations and PTAs to see how they have worked with the parents and the community to provide for this classroom need,” Sytsma said. “I believe that the return to the normal school experience will be some time yet, but even when that happens, kids thrive when they learn outside.”
Sytsma said many of the district’s schools are out of date and like homes, schools need repairs. By 2023, 60 percent of PUSD schools will be considered in “poor” condition, she said, and the infrastructure at many schools is slowly deteriorating.
“From leaky roofs to electrical, there is a long list of necessary fixes that need to happen to keep our children safe,” Sytsma said. “Not to mention the upgrades that are needed to keep our schools the neighborhood gem.”
She said issues with infrastructure is a tough conversation, but needs to remain at the forefront of the district, and all constituents need to play a role in seeing, at a minimum, the safety concerns are addressed sooner rather than later.
Sytsma said with the Black Lives Matter movement, many students have posted about their experiences on campus of being discriminated or not feeling safe.
“I know the district has made significant changes in recent times to change the culture, with more plans on the horizon,” she said. “The need for a cultural shift needs to be evaluated at all grade levels. The younger we can begin to expose children to the beautiful diversity around them, the more likely they are to grow up and continue to see how lucky they are to live where they are and will treat each other better than the generation before them did.”
Karam said voters should consider him because he brings a skill set unmatched by any other candidate or current board member.
“In addition to my business and academic experience, I’m also a member and certified mental performance consultant with the Association for Applied Sports Psychology,” he said. “We help Olympians with mental skills training. My thought has always been, if it is good enough for an Olympian, then it’s good enough for our children.”
Sytsma said if she is elected, she will not just be a face at the school board or name on a letterhead.
“We are in an unprecedented time, (and do) not know what the school day will look like for our children come the fall,” she said. “I know that my work with students of all abilities and ages puts me in a position to advocate for every child. I know the struggles teachers face. I understand the need for volunteers and financial giving. And even in the face of this great adversity, I refuse to let any of our children get less than the outstanding education that brought my husband and me to this great district 18 years ago.”