Palomar College Governing Board Vice President Nina Deerfield is one of the District #2 candidates running for a position on the school’s Governing Board this election year.
Deerfield, who has served as a trustee on the Board for the past four years, advocates for equity in education and emphasizes her desire to be a listening ear for all individuals on campus.
“I am a huge supporter of public education being the possibility to let everybody have an equal chance to have a better life, to have a more fulfilling and enriched life,” Deerfield said.
The Telescope: What is your educational and career background?
Deerfield: So I’ve been a trustee for four years at Palomar, I’m currently the vice president of the board.
I have a split major from the University of Minnesota and finished that in England on education and political science. So that’s always been my interest. I also have a PhD from the British Institute of Homeopathic Medicine. I lived in England for about 20 years, so I have a lot of that.
I got a special degree from the Montessori Training College. So I’m also a Montessori teacher, and I think the first big job I had was running the United Nations Montessori School in New York.
The Telescope: Why are you running and why should students vote for you?
Deerfield: In the words of Horace Mann, education is the great equalizer. I am a huge supporter of public education being the possibility to let everybody have an equal chance to have a better life, to have a more fulfilling and enriched life.
And so that is why I don’t want to do any other public office. This is it for me, community college. I really see that as the great equalizer for our community.
The Telescope: What is your ultimate campaign promise and goal?
Deerfield: Speaking truth to power. That’s what I have done for the last four years at Palomar, and that’s what I have done in my life and that’s what I continue to do.
I really found as a board member that it was so important to listen to all the voices on campus and that didn’t seem to be happening, generally speaking with the board. But it does with me, I always want to hear because as a trustee, you can’t know everything.
And if you only have one voice telling you things, that’s not enough to make educated votes on. So I am that, I listen. I’m in the martial arts masters Hall of Fame. I have listening energy, Ting Jin, very important in Chinese martial arts. And listening is missing all over the place right now. We’re not listening to [each] other, so I am a huge supporter of voting after I’ve heard all sides of the story.
The Telescope: What is your history with Palomar and why is the college important to you?
Deerfield: Well, I think I sort of said it. I know that we make progress in excruciatingly slow increments, but we have been doing a really great job this year and turning things around here at Palomar.
So [my history] goes back a little bit to my daughter when she was in high school, she started attending classes at Palomar and that was great for her. She was kind of raring to get out into the world, out of high school.
And so education. I became aware of Palomar at that point. So this goes back to like 1998 when I thought, oh, and so I went to the planetarium and attended shows, plays, music. I love all of that, and that we had this treasure here in our community that I didn’t know about. And I think a lot–some people, still a lot–don’t know how amazing this is.
And I never wanted to run for office. I’m one of those forever volunteers. I’ve been volunteering for social and economic justice issues for over 50 years and volunteering for candidates that I support and I care a lot, but I never ever thought of running myself until one of the professors here asked me if I would consider it. And I hadn’t.
So I took a while to think about it. And of course, I was told it’s no big deal, a couple hours a month, it’s easy. So my friend lied to me, it’s not like that at all.
But then once I got on the board, and I started connecting up with students, and classified staff, and then other teachers. I love the college. I think it’s an amazing place. And I really do think it’s the biggest place for diversity in North County, our college. So I love that.
The Telescope: How much time do you spend talking to students and trying to understand their needs and concerns through conversation with them?
Deerfield: Well, as much as anybody reaches out to me, I will meet with them and talk to them. And I’ve been doing that for years.
So recently, Kateri [Mouawad] reached out to me, she is the [vice] president of ASG, and we had a long talk. And then since then we’ve been emailing, texting information. She’s actually not living in the area right now, but she’s just amazing.
And then I have a very good relationship with Rachel Alazar, who’s the student trustee. And we’ve had a couple, I think two long conversations to get to know each other and see how I can help. And I’m always watching in meetings to make sure that she gets a chance to speak, when I can see she wants to.
As far as endorsements go, I’ve been endorsed by the last two presidents of ASG, Amber Bancroft and Linus Smith. I don’t know if you guys know other people that have been part of the campus, but I became very friendly with them, we’d meet, we’d have lunch, we’d talk.
That’s where I got a lot of really important insight into, you know, that we’re here for students. That’s the whole point. And to be very careful with public funds so that whatever we spend goes to students.
The Telescope: How do you plan to maintain a strong connection with the student body after the election?
Deerfield: Well, I can just say what I’ve done before, which is meet with everybody, anytime. I don’t believe there’s ever been anyone in the community that wanted to meet that I didn’t meet with. It’s harder or less wonderful now, you know, with the pandemic. Obviously, it’s hard but I will continue doing what I’ve been doing.
I went so far as to make a little business card that I passed out at a board meeting that I was told that people had been told they were not allowed to speak to the board. So I printed out business cards that had my personal email and my personal cell phone. And on the flip side, I said anybody can speak to me about anything, with two caveats: one being, don’t tell me what another board member said, and don’t tell another board member what I’ve said. Just being very cautious about the Brown Act. And so I did that and I connected and I’m still connected.
I go to meetings on campus, when there were meetings on campus, and went to quite a few metro meetings over the years.
So seven years ago, I started a local bilingual newspaper here, hardcopy, and I immediately went to Palomar to get help for writing and photography, and anybody that wanted to be part of it. And the person who was the president of MEChA at the time was Abraham Garcia. And he’s still a friend.
He helped me with the distribution of the newspaper, we really got it out there, and because I found that there was no local news in Spanish. And so my main translators are professors from Palomar, and it was an all-volunteer effort and we all came together to work on it. It was good.
The Telescope: What do you believe students’ biggest problem is, and how would you help fix it?
Deerfield: Well, I’m really concerned about the homeless issue and we get these numbers at 14% of community college students in California. Our housing insecure, I would say, would be a better term for that. So I am concerned about that, I’m concerned about food insecurity.
Also, I was a big proponent obviously for the food pantry that we were able to open up with community support. And then getting computers to the students after we had to shut down the college, getting computers and WiFi to the students that needed it to continue their education, that’s that equity issue. It’s like, well, here the classes are open to everyone, but can you access them?
So I’m always a big supporter of the [Palomar College] foundation and I’ve talked to people and introduced them so that maybe they can help also with Palomar. And I’ve always done that, and I will continue to do that.
I really think one of the problems now is we need bigger spaces. And we just voted on the Prop M money. It wasn’t exactly what I would have voted for, because I’m very concerned about the lack of privacy in the counseling department. And of course, if I wasn’t listening, I wouldn’t know that was going on.
So the majority of the board did not vote to include the counseling building and that into an improvement. So I’m looking to see if there’s any extra funds or any other way we can do it. Because I think when students want to go for counseling, whether it’s financial aid or whatever they’re dealing with, they should have privacy.
The Telescope: What do you believe the role of The Telescope is on campus, and how is it important to the school and the community?
Deerfield: I think it’s very important. I always cheered when I saw writers in the board meetings because most teachers don’t know who the hell I am, most students don’t [either], how would they?
I think that The Telescope did an amazing job over the last four years of covering what was really going on. And it didn’t seem like there was ever an agenda. They were just reporting what they saw. And I just, I really think they have done an amazing job.
And I think it’s really hard where every year or two, the whole staff has changed. That the lack of continuity is really challenging, but I think that paper is important because that may be the only paper when we’re back on campus that students grab that they actually read.
So I think it’s terribly important. And I think, so far so good, you all have done an amazing job because we had a challenging time and here we are in the middle of a pandemic.
The Telescope: How will you help improve Board relations with faculty?
Deerfield: I have a really good relationship with faculty and staff. Two of the longtime board members decided not to run again because of what had been going on.
So the faculty asked me to run again of the three, and I’m very honored by that because they’re right at the front line, right there doing the work, and same with the classified staff.
And there’s only two board members over the last few years that went to them, and that was me and Norma Miyamoto. So I will encourage them to do that. And we’ve been discussing a lot about the onboarding process for new trustees. Because I did not get the information I needed when I was on board at all.
And so I’m working with Dr. [Jack] Kahn to improve that process so new trustees have a bigger understanding of what’s expected of them and how to achieve it. And so again, listening energy is the big, big part for me. And so I will encourage them. So I think together, I would certainly advise them to meet with everybody that wants to meet with them and listen and go to these meetings. And the only caveat at the meetings is that board members can’t really talk to each other because, again, the Brown Act. So we’re very aware, Norma and I would say hi and that was it. We go to separate corners and then talk. Well, listen to all the teachers really so I would certainly encourage that, it’s necessary. How do you know how to vote unless you hear what’s going on?
The Telescope: How do you plan to help resolve the school’s current financial situation?
Deerfield: Well, first of all, it’s already taken care of. We have done an amazing job by working together.
So most of the money that is spent in our budget goes for salaries and benefits, that’s the same for every community college, every school. It’s always like that. So by working together with the Faculty Senate, with the teachers, with classified staff, with everybody. They’re still in negotiations, but we managed to turn it around without firing anybody, without having any furlough days. It’s amazing.
We did borrow internally, a certain amount which we have a plan to repay but we’re okay as far as the old debt that’s been fixed, really due to the really great leadership of Dr. Kahn.
However, we have the COVID[-19] problem now. So we’re down in our enrollment, the monies from Sacramento will be less, and we still don’t really know what that’s going to be looking like over the next two years. And this is true across the board, right, every single city council, every school district, every community college. This is the same for everybody.
I have to say my votes were very cautious as far as spending a public money on anything that wasn’t directly related to the students. So I was the one vote that voted against. I don’t really want too much to talk about the past, but I was the one fiscally conservative voter when it came to spending money on administrative things rather than on students. And I was a four-to-one vote for two years and then I became the part of the two-to three-vote and now I’m in the majority, finally, so yay.
The Telescope: Is there anything you would like to add?
Deerfield: So I’ve been endorsed by the Faculty Federation by the Classified Staff Union; by the last two presidents of ASG, the last two student trustees. By MEChA; by the Labor Council; by the mayor of Escondido; by the city council member Consuelo Martinez; by Randy Walton, council member in San Marcos. I’ve been endorsed by about 79 people as of last count.
But the past few presidents of NAACP North County and San Diego, Bill Freeman San Diego and Ron Howard North County, they both endorsed me. Norma Alcala, vice chairman of Chicano Latino caucus.
In 2014, after two transgender suicides in North County, I started an LGBTQ+ teen group called Our Space Escondido. After working with Max Disposti, Our Space groups opened up in many cities. In 2017, I organized the Women’s March with Professor Lienhart, Michael Mufson and others. We got 10,000 people that year. Last year, I organized a Veterans Day parade with Commander Mike Frank in Escondido.
And re-Palomar, I have been writing the board policy on antiracism with Trustee [Mark] Evilsizer and I’ve been attending USC Race and Equity workshops for community colleges with a group from Palomar. Also, we have healing circles and I wonder if it could be extended to include more students.
Visit Nina Deerfield’s site for more information.
- Nina Deerfield Governing Board candidate 2020: Photo courtesy of Nina Deerfield | Used With Permission