News

Longtime school board member to seek seat on county Board of Education

Melissa Baten Caswell announces bid for Palo Altan Grace Mah's seat

Palo Alto school board member Melissa Baten Caswell announced her bid for a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education this fall. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

After 13 years as a Palo Alto Unified School District board member, Melissa Baten Caswell is moving on — but she's not leaving local school governance yet. She confirmed Tuesday that she's seeking a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education in November.

Baten Caswell, the school board's longest-serving member, will be running for Area 1, which represents the Palo Alto Unified, Los Altos, Mountain View Whisman and Mountain View-Los Altos Union High school districts and a portion of the Sunnyvale and Fremont Union High School districts.

Grace Mah, also a Palo Alto resident, currently represents Area 1; her term expires in November. Mah was reelected in 2016 and has served on the county board for over a decade. Mah confirmed that she is running for re-election.

Baten Caswell sees an opportunity to effect change on a body that she said currently struggles to work together effectively. If elected, she hopes to help school districts collaborate rather than operate in vacuums — particularly as they navigate the complexities of reopening, distance learning and budget deficits due to the coronavirus.

"I think it's a huge opportunity to do things differently," she said in an interview. "I think we've gotten stuck in a model that is serving some people, but I don't think it's serving all 32 districts."

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Baten Caswell, a former business manager and longtime schools volunteer, just finished a one-year term as the president of the Santa Clara County School Boards Association. She said twice as many people started attending the body's meetings during the shutdown, underscoring for her the need to improve communication and collaboration.

When Baten Caswell was first elected to the Palo Alto school board in 2007, she focused on reinvigorating the district's guiding document, the Strategic Plan (now dubbed the "PAUSD Promise"). She persuaded the management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company to help the district develop a new document and new process with stronger community input. She pointed to this as valuable experience she would bring to the county school board.

"The idea of having one set of priorities and measuring ourselves against it makes it a lot easier to do business," she said. "I'd like to see the county board do the same thing. I'd like to see the board members work together."

Baten Caswell has served on the Palo Alto school board through three superintendents, major educational shifts and numerous issues, from the Mandarin immersion controversy shortly before she was elected to the renaming of Jordan and Terman middle schools and a federal Title IX investigation into sexual misconduct — and now, the pandemic.

She said it's a "tough time" to leave the school board, but she's hopeful the open seats will be filled by candidates with children currently attending Palo Alto Unified schools. (Currently, only DiBrienza has a child in the district.)

Through her involvement with statewide school organizations — including Schools for Sound Finance, the California Association of Suburban School Districts and the California School Boards Association — she said she's noticed a growing willingness to think differently about public education, particularly during a health crisis. This motivated her to run for a seat on the county board.

"If people aren't willing to look at things differently now, they never will be — but I do think they are now," she said. "They want to make sure our educational programs stay strong and we're going to struggle to do that if we don't work together."

Baten Caswell will be ending her third term in November. Despite the fact that in 2018 voters in Palo Alto approved a ballot measure that limits school board members to two, four-year terms in office, it only applies to terms beginning on or before Dec. 1, 2018.

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Longtime school board member to seek seat on county Board of Education

Melissa Baten Caswell announces bid for Palo Altan Grace Mah's seat

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jul 8, 2020, 9:22 am

After 13 years as a Palo Alto Unified School District board member, Melissa Baten Caswell is moving on — but she's not leaving local school governance yet. She confirmed Tuesday that she's seeking a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education in November.

Baten Caswell, the school board's longest-serving member, will be running for Area 1, which represents the Palo Alto Unified, Los Altos, Mountain View Whisman and Mountain View-Los Altos Union High school districts and a portion of the Sunnyvale and Fremont Union High School districts.

Grace Mah, also a Palo Alto resident, currently represents Area 1; her term expires in November. Mah was reelected in 2016 and has served on the county board for over a decade. Mah confirmed that she is running for re-election.

Baten Caswell sees an opportunity to effect change on a body that she said currently struggles to work together effectively. If elected, she hopes to help school districts collaborate rather than operate in vacuums — particularly as they navigate the complexities of reopening, distance learning and budget deficits due to the coronavirus.

"I think it's a huge opportunity to do things differently," she said in an interview. "I think we've gotten stuck in a model that is serving some people, but I don't think it's serving all 32 districts."

Baten Caswell, a former business manager and longtime schools volunteer, just finished a one-year term as the president of the Santa Clara County School Boards Association. She said twice as many people started attending the body's meetings during the shutdown, underscoring for her the need to improve communication and collaboration.

When Baten Caswell was first elected to the Palo Alto school board in 2007, she focused on reinvigorating the district's guiding document, the Strategic Plan (now dubbed the "PAUSD Promise"). She persuaded the management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company to help the district develop a new document and new process with stronger community input. She pointed to this as valuable experience she would bring to the county school board.

"The idea of having one set of priorities and measuring ourselves against it makes it a lot easier to do business," she said. "I'd like to see the county board do the same thing. I'd like to see the board members work together."

Baten Caswell has served on the Palo Alto school board through three superintendents, major educational shifts and numerous issues, from the Mandarin immersion controversy shortly before she was elected to the renaming of Jordan and Terman middle schools and a federal Title IX investigation into sexual misconduct — and now, the pandemic.

She said it's a "tough time" to leave the school board, but she's hopeful the open seats will be filled by candidates with children currently attending Palo Alto Unified schools. (Currently, only DiBrienza has a child in the district.)

Through her involvement with statewide school organizations — including Schools for Sound Finance, the California Association of Suburban School Districts and the California School Boards Association — she said she's noticed a growing willingness to think differently about public education, particularly during a health crisis. This motivated her to run for a seat on the county board.

"If people aren't willing to look at things differently now, they never will be — but I do think they are now," she said. "They want to make sure our educational programs stay strong and we're going to struggle to do that if we don't work together."

Baten Caswell will be ending her third term in November. Despite the fact that in 2018 voters in Palo Alto approved a ballot measure that limits school board members to two, four-year terms in office, it only applies to terms beginning on or before Dec. 1, 2018.

Comments

No on Caswell
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2020 at 11:13 am
No on Caswell, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2020 at 11:13 am
38 people like this

I am concerned that this article misses the biggest controversy that characterized Baten Caswell's tenure, which was the persistent violation of students' rights and the need for the OCR to investigate, and Baten Caswell's propensity for denial and covering up rather than investigating and supporting families and students.

I hope that people in the county who don't know her record and are considering voting for her because of her long time on the board will recognize that [portion removed] she only got on the board this last time because there was basically an extra seat without a serious challenger for it.

Look at how many votes she got the last time compared to other board members. Even though she was an incumbent with years of "service", in this small district, she got ~7,500 fewer votes than new challenger DiBrienza. (Usually there is ~15% incumbent advantage. Caswell was THAT disliked in her home district.) By comparison, she only got just over 7,000 more votes than a new challenger who had no history of public service and withdrew from the race early on. She didn't even make a great showing against someone who wasn't even running!

I hope that people inclined to endorse her will consider her history, like the voters did in her last election, and not just rubber stamp another tenure which is more about her than about the needs of our county's children.

I say this as someone who voted for her the first time. If she is genuinely interested in public service, let her roll up and do so as a private citizen.

Her showing in the last election was a demonstration of just how unpopular she has become because of her poor performance as a board member, and how she sided over and over again with CYA against district families.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2020 at 5:39 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2020 at 5:39 pm
6 people like this

Posted by No on Caswell, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> I am concerned that this article misses the biggest controversy

I'm not particularly a supporter of Caswell, but, I would like first to compare her to the others running for the County seat before I decide. I might support the others even less.


Surprised
Fairmeadow
on Jul 8, 2020 at 5:40 pm
Surprised, Fairmeadow
on Jul 8, 2020 at 5:40 pm
16 people like this

I’m disappointed that Melissa has chosen to run against a highly qualified, competent Asian American woman who is also a Palo Alto parent. Ethnic/racial diversity among our elected officials is important, now more than ever, and I cannot think of a single example of how PAUSD is better off because of Melissa’s “leadership” over the years.


Resident
Downtown North
on Jul 8, 2020 at 7:56 pm
Resident, Downtown North
on Jul 8, 2020 at 7:56 pm
11 people like this

To be fair, Melissa Baten Caswell was the only member on the Board of Trustees that asked the toughest questions out of the lot. But then again, the whole lot of PAUSD Board of Trustees barely asked any really relevant questions, and Don Austin rarely gave any deep insightful answers, instead he always hedged his bets and gave circular logic.

I'm disappointed in PAUSD Board of Trustees, and parents are moving to private schools, home schooling and neighborhood school districts because of how poorly PAUSD mismanaged the pandemic closure and crisis.

So trying to compare Melissa Baten Caswell against the rest of the PAUSD Board of Trustees is really setting the bar low. The fact that Melissa Baten Caswell was on the voting group that hired our superintendent speaks volumes of her competency (or lack thereof).

You're happy with how PAUSD managed Spring Pandemic closure and online learning, then vote for Melissa Baten Caswell. If you are disappointed as I am, it would be smarter to take a closer look at the other candidates running and seriously consider voting for them.

Who hired our superintendent? Is he doing a good job or poor job? If he is doing a great job, then vote Melissa Baten Caswell, but if you think he is doing a poor job, I think past history of past work speaks volumes of future work in this case.


Kathy
Greater Miranda
on Jul 9, 2020 at 11:33 am
Kathy, Greater Miranda
on Jul 9, 2020 at 11:33 am
10 people like this

Is Grace Mah running? I hope so. We need candidates who would support charter schools, given the SCC BOE's role in that. In contrast, Melissa Caswell has been very supportive of the teacher's union and unionized public schools ---and you can take a look at how PAUSD has not committed to provide either in person, or live, synchronous instruction for our students. What has Melissa Caswell been doing about that? She hasn't had results.


Lynn Brown
Palo Alto High School
on Jul 9, 2020 at 1:59 pm
Lynn Brown, Palo Alto High School
on Jul 9, 2020 at 1:59 pm
2 people like this

This is terrific news! Baten Caswell was an effective Board member at PAUSD. Her sharp view around strategic planning was valuable, and will add value to more students at the County level. She ACTUALLY consulted students about their experience and incorporated their feedback. She has certainly demonstrated an admirable and productive ability to work with difficult people - some of those PAUSD board people are beyond.

"No on Caswell" doesn't know what she's talking about. (We all know who you are - you're not fooling anyone. Cripe.)


Upset Resident
Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Jul 11, 2020 at 12:05 am
Upset Resident, Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Jul 11, 2020 at 12:05 am
11 people like this

This candidate is part of the problem with education these days. She's a crony of others that sit on school boards for their own personal advantage. Look at this story about their staying at a 4 star hotel in San Francisco when they live 35 miles away. Web Link

It appears she had a business consulting with students trying to get into elite private colleges, i..e. a service for those seeking entry to the most competitive versus public state schools.

This candidates slogan is "working together for change" which is a laugh. The change that is needed is to provide more funding for the poorer school districts in the county, while her experience is all with one of those best off. The students in the poor districts aren't the one applying to so many colleges that they can't keep track of them all.


Anon
College Terrace
on Jul 12, 2020 at 7:14 am
Anon, College Terrace
on Jul 12, 2020 at 7:14 am
14 people like this

Melissa is a gas lighter cannot be relied on to support students and has actually voted for legal action against families and supported the district and covering up their Systematic violations And fraud against special ed students. And the fact that nothing affective has been done to support each of our students during her tenure is proof that she does not care about the students that cannot support her consulting business. We are one family that is permanently damaged.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2020 at 9:56 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2020 at 9:56 am
4 people like this

Posted by Upset Resident, a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)

>> Look at this story about their staying at a 4 star hotel in San Francisco when they live 35 miles away. Web Link

Thanks for the link. Others should read that story.

Personally, I've attended scores of professional events and gatherings in San Francisco over the decades. Once or twice I drove, the rest of the time I rode Caltrain. Caltrain works very, very well for events like this. This particular event, however, seems like 90% boondoggle, so, I wouldn't have bothered to attend myself. I'm disappointed to read that Don Austin, Jennifer DiBrienza, and Melissa Baten Caswell all stayed at the hotel.

>> It appears she had a business consulting with students trying to get into elite private colleges, i..e. a service for those seeking entry to the most competitive versus public state schools.

Do you have a link or links for that?


Parent
Midtown
on Jul 12, 2020 at 3:20 pm
Parent, Midtown
on Jul 12, 2020 at 3:20 pm
Like this comment

CollegeMojo, her start-up, seems to be defunct. But the web site seems to live under another name - EverStrive Web Link


Anonymous
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2020 at 5:00 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2020 at 5:00 pm
Like this comment

I respect Melissa Baten-Caswell. She will represent all students, as opposed to Grace Mah, who has a narrow interest shevserves.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2020 at 5:33 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2020 at 5:33 pm
Like this comment

Posted by Parent, a resident of Midtown

>> CollegeMojo, her start-up,

Thanks!

What I would appreciate seeing is a comparison, pluses and minuses, of all candidates. In the past, the county offices were primarily a qualifications/ auditing/ paperwork type of back office operation. But, with COVID-19 being handled county-by-county, the county office is more important policy-wise.


No on Caswell
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2020 at 10:46 pm
No on Caswell, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2020 at 10:46 pm
17 people like this

@Anoymous
"She will represent all students"

Based on her history, except those who want their civil rights to be respected and who need an advocate on the board when the administration fails the students.

Baten Caswell is the kind of person who seems to have sought office for reasons that were primarily about her, and she's very prone to weighing status in her judgments rather than facts and doing what's right. Thus she was a terrible person through the long season of civil rights violations and problems we endured in the district, as evidenced by just how unpopular she was the last time she squeaked into office. Again, she didn't even make a great showing as an incumbent against someone who had never held office and withdrew from the race early on/didn't campaign.

Over and over again during the problems with 2 problematic superintendents (who, by the way, she played a large part in bringing here), she sided with the problematic administrators and lawyers (who seemed to be personally representing the administrators rather than the district they should have been serving, thanks in part to no oversight from Caswell), and could not be counted on to help ANY of the students who needed help. Education board positions are for public agencies that serve everyone, and should not be used as stepping stones by people who have shown their lack of backbone in putting the public and children first.

I would choose someone with zero experience, if they were reasonably intelligent and clearly motivated to service, over Caswell for this or any other seat, but especially one that involves oversight and serving children. No to Caswell.


Term limits
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 17, 2020 at 1:37 am
Term limits, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 17, 2020 at 1:37 am
9 people like this

Melissa cannot run again, there is no mention of this, she is precluded by term limits. Many recommended that she Cut her trip short in support of the term limits to give others an opportunity but she refused to. Melissa is a fake in every way. Her word is worth zero. She is biased and only helps those That are already well-positioned. She only gives attention to high profile Society families.
She Covers up special ed and civil rights fraud. I think she was even in support of challenging the federal government instead of addressing the violations. Consistently helps to cover up IEP fraud and law breaking. She and the rest of the board circle the wagons and will publicly say they will reach out to families who have made public grievances,but they only do that to get information and then they attack the families forcing legal fees on families who are already struggling. I know I came to her And the board for help and I ended up with lawyers accusing my child of not having autism and The teachers were humoring, me because I was so insisten, and spending in the mid six figures denying services.

I agree with a recent poster that I recommend someone with no experience because PAUSD is corrupt and lawless. 99% of their efforts goes into CYA documentation.

They just talk a good story but they can’t implement themselves out of a paper bag (they have no interest and only offer rhetoric). Even my autistic child shamed the counselor (that is retiring thank God), her idea of accommodations was to drop down to one or two classes instead of focusing on learning strategies, case manager and the redundant never seen before staff, included for the intimidation factor, and left them speechless in an IEP meeting by summarizing their actions over the last few years and telling them that their assurances that they are writing down his needs and what teachers are supposed to do in his latest IEP is a farce, that their assurances are absolutely meaningless because every year everyone writes down a lot of stuff and nothing ever changes, except for the names of the same failed one size fits all programs (school establishes a technicality that the student hasn't tried that program and therefore is forced to waste another year in a program that has already failed him and is actually harmful), even so, he told them, ”You actually have to implement My accommodations for them to have any effect.”These teachers are who Melissa defends and send the lawyers against the student.


Mark Weiss
Registered user
Downtown North
on Aug 7, 2020 at 6:06 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
Registered user
on Aug 7, 2020 at 6:06 pm
Like this comment

I have known Melissa Baten since 1982, our freshman year at Dartmouth. She was a football cheerleader. Rah! Rah!
When I lived briefly on Chimalus in Barron Park, I put a sign in my yard for MBC, at the behest of Julie Williams, the sister of the folk singer Dar Williams, I knew professionally.
It looks like her years in business, raising a family and as a dedicated Trustee for Palo Alto youth has prepared her well for serving County wide (or districting).
So going from Mah to "Rah" to me is an enhancement.
(Also, bonus points if she listens to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the jazz visionary: we need STEAM not just STEM).
Mark Weiss
Bryant Street
we live on a flag lot so I'm not sure the front-house people will let me put a sign up, but I will ask. My neighbor Jesse Fletcher Ladomirak -- whose hubby played football for Yale a few years later -- is running for PAUSD board. By the way, another Dartmouth classmate of Ms. Baten's is Mary Morgan, the daughter of PAUSD stalwart Becky Morgan, who was once a Cornell cheerleader.


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