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Election 2012 Profile: Darryl Higuchi for Clayton Board of Education

Darryl Higuchi is one of three candidates seeking to fill two seats on the Clayton Board of Education this April.

In anticipation of April 3 municipal elections in St. Louis County, Clayton-Richmond Heights Patch invited local candidates to answer several questions about their background, their respective city and their goals if elected to office. 

Links to Saturday's profile and those published in previous weeks will be added to the page. Questions for the candidates may be posted by commenting on this article. When doing so, readers are urged to follow Patch's terms of use.

(Get free election updates to your email inbox by subscribing to the  Clayton-Richmond Heights Patch newsletter.)

Additional questions about elections coverage may be directed to the editor by emailing nate.birt@patch.com.

The following is a profile of Darryl Higuchi, who is seeking his first term on the . He and incumbents Lily Raymond and Jane Klamer are seeking election to the board. Voters will get to select two of the three candidates to fill two seats.

A and a published last week.

Name: Darryl Higuchi
Age:
56
Years lived in Clayton:
I’ve lived in for over 25 years.
Family:
Debbie and I have three children, Amy (, 2007) who just graduated from the University of Denver majoring in Art and English, Sasha (, 2006), a sophomore studying Spanish and Anthropology at Seattle University, and David, who is currently a 5th grader at .

Education: M.B.A., Washington University Olin School of Business; B.A., Biology, Washington University; Attended public schools in Aiea, Hawaii

Professional background: Lab Manager, Division of Rheumatology, HHMI at Washington University School of Medicine (2007-present); Research Associate, Division of Hematology, Barnes-Jewish Hospital (1994-1997); Research Technician, Division of Hematology, Jewish Hospital (1986-1994); Medical Research Technician, Division of Hematology, Washington University School of Medicine (1977-1980).
Elected office(s) held previously:
none

What do you like about the School District of Clayton?

We moved back to Clayton in 1999 so our oldest daughter Amy could start 6th grade at Wydown Middle School. The most important reason for choosing to live in Clayton was the school system. The Clayton district has four pillars of education: academics, arts, athletics and community. The schools are committed to providing a safe, healthy, and nurturing learning environment for our children.

If you could change one thing about the district, what would it be? Why?

I would like to see us develop more partnerships and long-lasting relationships with businesses in our community, and with colleges and universities. We need to provide our students and teachers opportunities for education beyond the walls of our classrooms. We could be offering more coordinated, proactive, and informal learning experiences outside the classroom for our students. The Clayton community is rich with thinkers and experts in many disciplines who’d like to donate their time and energy. In preparing our students for a global economy, they could benefit from being better connected to the community where they live.

Identify three challenges your school district is facing at this time.

1.  How to address three straight years of deficit spending (includes projected deficit end of June, 2012). Fiscal year 2013 deficit is projected to exceed $3 million, meaning a second straight year red ink greater than $2 million. At this rate, by the end of fiscal year 2016, our fund balance will be at 5%, well below the District’s goal of 18%. At that level, it may be difficult to meet payrolls.  With the transition in leadership over the past three years, there has not been enough attention to spending during these difficult economic times.

2. The world we live in demands 21st century learning where students get the knowledge, skills, and character necessary to thrive in a rapidly changing global economy. Today’s students must be ready to live their lives in a multitasking, technology-driven, diverse global marketplace. We must make a commitment that all our students will be equally ready for this new technological world. We need to prepare them with the skills to follow their dreams, wherever it takes them. We need to prepare them to be life-long learners by encouraging the passion and curiosity that fuels knowledge. They need to continue to learn, unlearn and re-learn so they can adapt — the 10 jobs that were most in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004.

3.  The Turner Lawsuit. This lawsuit was filed by parents seeking to have their children’s tuition for Clayton schools paid by St. Louis City public schools after that district lost its accreditation. The outcome of this case would pose potentially catastrophic consequences for the district’s ability to maintain a high level of education and would impose a huge financial burden. It would undermine our local control and governance.

Describe a difficult decision that you have had to make. How does this situation illustrate the approach you would take to problem-solving as an elected leader?

Just choosing to run as a candidate for school board was a difficult decision. I knew that being a board member would have a large impact on my family.  Because of how important I believe education is to our children’s future, I am willing to give my time in service to our community. However,  I know I would be sacrificing time with my family.

This was a decision that involved the entire family. I had to explain to my family that it was important for me to participate to make a positive impact. More importantly, I wanted to contribute in a way that could help make the Clayton school district one of the best in the world. 

Fortunately, I was blessed with the support of my wife and kids. In fact, they are my biggest supporters. What I’ve learned is that communication is the key to addressing any issue. Everyone wants to be informed and be involved in some aspect of the decision-making process. They want to have some input or at least be heard. 

There will always be several points of view but you can reach common ground by stepping back to the issue at hand. In this case, the issue was if I could help in providing our children with the best education for the today’s world. But more important, we could agree it would not come at too high a price for my family.

How would you characterize the district's economic climate?

Like many of the school districts in our region, the economic downturn has presented the School District of Clayton with serious financial difficulties.  It has lost revenue from state and federal funding, from reductions in the level of funding provided by VICC (the St. Louis desegregation program), and from lower property values. 

Although the district has improved facilities with voter-approved bond issue funds (Prop S and Prop W), there are now concerns about the future costs of maintaining and operating the new and expanded buildings. The district also needs to establish a policy that can continually address rapidly changing technology and replacing analog systems with a digital infrastructure.

What is your philosophy with regard to financial responsibility in the district?

The board has the ultimate financial responsibility for the district. Traditionally, the board has taken a conservative and long-term approach to financial planning. As a board member, I see my role as supporting measurable improvements to our curriculum while applying sound business judgment and oversight to assure that our resources are generating and providing the intended value. The Board needs to be vigilant, transparent, and fiscally responsible to the taxpayer.

Identify three issues that are of greatest concern to the Clayton residents you would represent. How would you address each of these concerns?

1.  One issue that is on the top of parents’ mind is that the needs of the “middle” students are not being met. What I hear from parents, students, and former students is that we don’t provide a curriculum with enough rigor.

I believe all students should be offered challenging courses where they are encouraged to ask questions and to take risks. We should be creating a learning environment where it’s OK to make mistakes. We need to let our kids “struggle” which will teach them persistence and help prepare them to be life-long learners. 

Not challenging all our kids enough has led to unnecessary anxiety and stress as manifested by too much focus on getting into the gifted program or being accepted into the high-profile colleges.

2.  A second issue that I hear from parents focuses on math and science. The concern is about gaps in knowledge, or that the exposure is too limited. Our children should be as proficient in math and science as we are in literacy. 

Science and math proficiency is fundamental to success in the global workplace. How often have we heard from parents that “I wasn’t good in math,” lowering expectations for their child. We need to break that pattern. We should get to the point where we hear from parents that “I was very good in math,” and then we will have raised expectations for their children.

3.  We need to properly allocate resources so as not to burden our taxpayers while assuring the continuity of educational excellence. Now that we have provided for top-notch, world-class facilities, including the new wing at Clayton High School and the new Wydown, it is the opportune time to teach for 21st century skills with better integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) into our curriculum. 

We also need to encourage the collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity that will lead to innovation and help sustain our community.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

My 35 years in medical research has given me the insight needed to bring change to our school district to help address the challenges our students face in the 21st century. I’ve been fortunate to be on the cutting-edge of research here at the Washington University School of Medicine, in a lab that is world-renowned for advances in immunology. 

I look forward to contributing to and continuing on the tradition of academic excellence for the children of our community. Please allow me to bring a fresh perspective to the board by voting for me on Tuesday, April 3rd.

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