News

Palo Altan Grace Mah seeks fourth term on county school board

Trustee hopes to continue work on early education, equity, fiscal transparency

Grace Mah, a Palo Alto resident, parent and longtime community volunteer, is seeking a fourth term on the Santa Clara County Board of Education this November.

Grace Mah is running for re-election on the Santa Clara County Board of Education this fall. Courtesy Grace Mah.

Mah, who has served on the board since 2007, oversees Area 1, which includes the Palo Alto Unified, Los Altos, Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View-Los Altos Union High school districts, a majority of the Sunnyvale School District and corresponding portions of the Fremont Union High School district.

Mah will be running against Melissa Baten Caswell, also a Palo Alto resident and a longtime Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education member.

In an interview, Mah, a former engineer, said she's been planning to run for reelection (there are no term limits) and hopes to continue her work on early education, equity and fiscal transparency.

Mah said she advocated for the Santa Clara County Office of Education to release for the first time a budget that details how much and where the county has invested in youth and children's programs.

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"For the first time, we can see where there's gaps in funding, where there's redundancy," she said.

Mah also serves on the county office's budget study committee and said she's used that position to "make sure we're spending our taxpayer dollars effectively," including scrutinizing whether the county's replacement of laid-off classified employees with higher-paid directors and managers amounts to "position inflation."

Mah said that she recently voted against a raise for the county superintendent of schools "because I wanted to hopefully send the message that we need to be efficient with our money. We need to spend it in essential areas," she said.

With Santa Clara County schools expected to start the new school year fully online amid great uncertainty, she said the county board's role will be "to support local school leadership."

"We don't have authority over reopening of local school districts ... but by listening, by having the regular meetings and reviews of the guidelines is how we can try to contribute to the best plans for all the school districts to execute," Mah said.

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Mah acknowledged that there's a "divide" on the county school board, which she said is driven by disagreement over charter schools among trustees. She characterized this as "healthy debate" rather than "dysfunction," the descriptor her opponent Baten Caswell used in an interview.

In 2007, Mah controversially petitioned to open a Mandarin immersion charter school in Palo Alto, which ultimately resulted in the 2008 launch of Ohlone Elementary School's Mandarin immersion program.

Mah said she hopes the charter school divide on the county board will lessen with the passage of Assembly Bill 1505, which established new criteria for the approval and renewal of charter schools.

"There's going to be more accountability for charter schools, which is good ... and stricter criteria on the authorization of charter schools, which is something that's been lacking," she said. "I think that also will help the dynamics of the board."

Mah is also the co-founder and former chair of the county's Strong Start initiative, a coalition of school districts (including Palo Alto Unified), elected officials, nonprofits, businesses and other organizations working to expand access to high-quality early-learning opportunities for children ages 0 to 8 in Santa Clara County.

She also has been active in the local campaign against teen vaping, speaking at local county Board of Supervisors and city council meetings to advocate for ordinances banning the sales of flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Mah's youngest son is a rising junior at Gunn High School. Her eldest son is a recent college graduate and Gunn alumnus.

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Palo Altan Grace Mah seeks fourth term on county school board

Trustee hopes to continue work on early education, equity, fiscal transparency

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jul 21, 2020, 9:21 am

Grace Mah, a Palo Alto resident, parent and longtime community volunteer, is seeking a fourth term on the Santa Clara County Board of Education this November.

Mah, who has served on the board since 2007, oversees Area 1, which includes the Palo Alto Unified, Los Altos, Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View-Los Altos Union High school districts, a majority of the Sunnyvale School District and corresponding portions of the Fremont Union High School district.

Mah will be running against Melissa Baten Caswell, also a Palo Alto resident and a longtime Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education member.

In an interview, Mah, a former engineer, said she's been planning to run for reelection (there are no term limits) and hopes to continue her work on early education, equity and fiscal transparency.

Mah said she advocated for the Santa Clara County Office of Education to release for the first time a budget that details how much and where the county has invested in youth and children's programs.

"For the first time, we can see where there's gaps in funding, where there's redundancy," she said.

Mah also serves on the county office's budget study committee and said she's used that position to "make sure we're spending our taxpayer dollars effectively," including scrutinizing whether the county's replacement of laid-off classified employees with higher-paid directors and managers amounts to "position inflation."

Mah said that she recently voted against a raise for the county superintendent of schools "because I wanted to hopefully send the message that we need to be efficient with our money. We need to spend it in essential areas," she said.

With Santa Clara County schools expected to start the new school year fully online amid great uncertainty, she said the county board's role will be "to support local school leadership."

"We don't have authority over reopening of local school districts ... but by listening, by having the regular meetings and reviews of the guidelines is how we can try to contribute to the best plans for all the school districts to execute," Mah said.

Mah acknowledged that there's a "divide" on the county school board, which she said is driven by disagreement over charter schools among trustees. She characterized this as "healthy debate" rather than "dysfunction," the descriptor her opponent Baten Caswell used in an interview.

In 2007, Mah controversially petitioned to open a Mandarin immersion charter school in Palo Alto, which ultimately resulted in the 2008 launch of Ohlone Elementary School's Mandarin immersion program.

Mah said she hopes the charter school divide on the county board will lessen with the passage of Assembly Bill 1505, which established new criteria for the approval and renewal of charter schools.

"There's going to be more accountability for charter schools, which is good ... and stricter criteria on the authorization of charter schools, which is something that's been lacking," she said. "I think that also will help the dynamics of the board."

Mah is also the co-founder and former chair of the county's Strong Start initiative, a coalition of school districts (including Palo Alto Unified), elected officials, nonprofits, businesses and other organizations working to expand access to high-quality early-learning opportunities for children ages 0 to 8 in Santa Clara County.

She also has been active in the local campaign against teen vaping, speaking at local county Board of Supervisors and city council meetings to advocate for ordinances banning the sales of flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Mah's youngest son is a rising junior at Gunn High School. Her eldest son is a recent college graduate and Gunn alumnus.

Comments

seriously?
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 21, 2020 at 9:53 am
seriously?, Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 21, 2020 at 9:53 am
8 people like this

Term limits?


No More Mah
Downtown North
on Jul 21, 2020 at 10:59 am
No More Mah, Downtown North
on Jul 21, 2020 at 10:59 am
19 people like this

Mah has been on this County Board for 13 years-and she is just now encouraging them to Show their budget? She is running on transparency but she has never presented this Board’s work to us in Palo Alto nor to the other Districts. With this Coronavirus we need Board members with much more experience in education. When she started her experience was being on the board of the YMCA. We need to vote in Melissa Baten Caswell who has much more experience and really cares about our students.


No More Charters no More Mah
Midtown
on Jul 21, 2020 at 11:18 am
No More Charters no More Mah, Midtown
on Jul 21, 2020 at 11:18 am
19 people like this

Mah says oversight of Charters is good. But she has voted for all the charter schools that have applied. In 2007 when Palo Alto voted against a boutique mandarin immersion program, Mah threatened the Board with a Charter school in Palo Alto if they did not take a second vote and vote it in. She won. They revoted it in. They did not need nor want a charter school. And her kids got into that program which was what she wanted. Let’s vote her out, and Melissa Baten Caswell in!


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2020 at 11:28 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2020 at 11:28 am
7 people like this

Posted by No More Charters no More Mah, a resident of Midtown

>> Let’s vote her out, and Melissa Baten Caswell in!

Is this a "Hobson's Choice"? Caswell tenure? Skelly and McGee, too much AP pressure, bullying of IEP students, lack of useful vocational classes, and coverups.


Tani
Los Altos Hills
on Jul 21, 2020 at 11:46 am
Tani, Los Altos Hills
on Jul 21, 2020 at 11:46 am
12 people like this

A vote for her is a vote FOR charter schools, and for her own agenda. It is time to let her go.


Anonymous
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 21, 2020 at 12:23 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 21, 2020 at 12:23 pm
13 people like this

I support Melissa Baten Caswell. She is a thoughtful, experienced leader/contributor to public education. Meanwhile, Grace Mah is well known to have a narrow interest and constituency.


Consensus
Barron Park
on Jul 21, 2020 at 1:11 pm
Consensus, Barron Park
on Jul 21, 2020 at 1:11 pm
4 people like this

I don't necessarily agree with either of these candidates on all matters, but appreciate both. They bring commitment and insight to the table. Both have been very involved in the schools, and both have points of view that contribute to healthy debates. Wish we could elect both of them.


No thank you.
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2020 at 3:10 pm
No thank you., Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2020 at 3:10 pm
9 people like this

What transparency? What has she done other than advocate for charter schools? No, thank you.

Glad to see we have an experienced alternative to Ms. Mah this time.


A--
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2020 at 4:41 pm
A--, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2020 at 4:41 pm
17 people like this

When she first ran, I did not vote for Mah, but I did last time and will again. When she first ran, I did vote for Caswell, and I have regretted it ever since. Caswell is the one who seems there first for her own interests. She is arrogant with people the district most needs to serve.

PAUSD has a way of stringing parents along to wear them out rather than just saying no or yes with conditions and having the debate. It's hugely demeaning and wasteful of people's time and energy. I don't think anyone in that debate was a paragon of diplomacy, but I think PAUSD left them no choice.

As for charters, I'm really concerned that the state made it impossible for distance charters to take more students right when families need them the most. Students can homeschool, but there are funds for vetted educational vendors (classes with teachers, often through accredited organizations), and they are public schools so they can give a-g credit. Palo Alto isn't going to lose any funding with fewer students, or they could start their own distance charter and have some control over the character of their own independent learners, and it wouldn't cost any more money.

Caswell was like a lapdog for the previous disgraced superintendents, siding with them over families who needed her help. No, no, no. I'm sure she's good at something else, she should go do it. She does not have what it takes to be a public servant. I might consider voting for someone new for the county depending on who runs, but right now, it's Mah for sure over Caswell.


Sally
Downtown North
on Jul 21, 2020 at 5:18 pm
Sally, Downtown North
on Jul 21, 2020 at 5:18 pm
14 people like this

Charters are a complete non-sequitur in this conversation. It's an empty talking point meant to score cheap points.

In approving or opposing charter petitions, local public officials have strict laws, rules, and regulations to follow. No one in this role could do much of anything meaningful on that front, past, present, or future.


VoteforMah
Crescent Park
on Jul 21, 2020 at 5:59 pm
VoteforMah, Crescent Park
on Jul 21, 2020 at 5:59 pm
18 people like this

I appreciate Grace Mah’s intelligence and independence, even if I don’t always agree with her votes. I will vote for Mah. Not impressed with Baten Caswell’s work on the Palo Alto School Board.


Kathy
Greater Miranda
on Jul 22, 2020 at 8:20 am
Kathy, Greater Miranda
on Jul 22, 2020 at 8:20 am
9 people like this

These commenters about charters are all teacher union proponents, I'd surmise. Most charter schools are NON UNION, which is why the teacher's UNION opposes them, as they provide competition for traditional, unionized public schools. Just check the state assessment test results, Web Link, to see how well traditional, unionized public schools are doing in California. Only 51% of CA public school students are proficient in English Language Arts, and only 39% in math. Traditional, unionized public schools are condemning vast numbers of CA children to a poor future.

This past spring, at PAUSD, in MS/HS, teachers provided little to no instruction for students, leaving them to teach themselves. Of course there was no accountability, however, thanks to the union, and thanks to Melissa Caswell, a teacher's union supporter and PAUSD school board member for over 13 years, who has been present during two OCR investigations of PAUSD, and while PAUSD shortchanged students on instructional minutes, and while PAUSD disproportionately designated minorities for special education. Not a great record Melissa, except for supporting the teacher's union regardless! Go Grace Mah!


Get your facts straight
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 22, 2020 at 8:24 am
Get your facts straight, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 22, 2020 at 8:24 am
11 people like this

Grace Mah showed incredible drive and leadership in getting Mandarin Immersion to Palo Alto . Melissa has shown no leadership and no ability to solve problems. Take the spring semester fiasco of non-learning in Palo Alto schools and the current school re-opening where the school board refuses to fight for student instruction. The choice is a no-brainer! Why would we want Melissa?


Resident
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2020 at 1:17 pm
Resident , Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2020 at 1:17 pm
4 people like this

Grace mah was responsible for creating a big cultural divide in my community by bringing communist sponsored Chinese language and education classes to Palo Alto. These were crafted by Hanban.
Now many schools across the US regret associating with this communist propaganda program, and have cut their ties to the China PRC/CCP.
If you want mandarin classes go to one of the many Chinese schools in the Bay Area!
Don’t bring my school district into it or bribe them with money.
Her pushy personality got her into the position she is now in, even though her background was only working at our local ymca.
In my mind she is an outsider who is a notorious trouble maker.
She created problems in my community which broke decades of harmony between my friends.



I vote neither
El Carmelo School
on Jul 22, 2020 at 1:40 pm
I vote neither, El Carmelo School
on Jul 22, 2020 at 1:40 pm
3 people like this

Both Man and Baten Caswell are terrible. Both have narrow self-serving agendas and have done nothing to reduce the achievement/opportunity gap for our Latino and African-American students. Good luck with this bad choice.


Palo Alto Resident
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 22, 2020 at 1:57 pm
Palo Alto Resident, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 22, 2020 at 1:57 pm
4 people like this

@Sally - that's just wrong. County boards have broad discretion in approving charters, which is why the state teacher's union (CTA) takes such a strong interest in their elections. Charters are in fact the MAIN issue at stake with this election, since otherwise the County Board and Office of Education are pretty irrelevant, especially in Palo Alto.

Grace Mah, to her lasting credit, stood up for what she valued and got the PAUSD board to do something. The Mandarin Immersion program is now well-established and well-liked; when younger families hear that it was once highly controversial and broadly opposed, they are shocked! Without Grace Mah, it would not exist.

Grace Mah has also stood up for charter schools throughout the county, where local school boards and teacher unions have tried to stop them. If you think KIPP and Rocketship and Navigator and Voices College-Bound schools are ineffective, you haven't looked at the results very carefully. These are among the best schools in the county for low-income and minority students.

Melissa Baten Caswell is a good person, but her 13 year term on the PAUSD board has been a time of exceptional controversy, disarray, and even scandal. The Weekly emphatically opposed her in her last election. Web Link

So if you support the teacher's union and oppose charters, Melissa Baten Caswell is your candidate. She is the CTA-endorsed candidate for a reason. If you want to see independent thinking and give charters a chance, you should vote for Grace Mah.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2020 at 3:29 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2020 at 3:29 pm
Like this comment

Grace Mah has her issue. I disagree with her about it and more. But, Caswell and her cohorts presided over the enervation of PAUSD.


cmarg
Palo Alto High School
on Jul 22, 2020 at 5:06 pm
cmarg, Palo Alto High School
on Jul 22, 2020 at 5:06 pm
Like this comment

We can see how the start of the school year goes within PAUSD. One major benefit of Charter Schools is no Teachers Union. Look at the success that Charter Schools nationally had with On-line learning; Charter Schools do not have the teachers union pushing back on everything and minimizing teaching and student learning. We will see in August if things are different. Be open minded -- I never was before until we experienced "crisis learning".


Bullis and Summit update?
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 22, 2020 at 6:53 pm
Bullis and Summit update?, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 22, 2020 at 6:53 pm
Like this comment

Bullis in Los Altos is a K-8 charter school. Summit is a charter that has a high school and maybe a middle school in Sunnyvale and Redwood City. How did they run things in the spring? What are they doing for fall?

Personally, I like the idea of choice. Choice creates competition. We have too few private schools for everyone to choose private. Why not create charter choice in Palo Alto. We rent to Stratford and even Pinewood. Wouldn’t charter be better? Some charters even co-locate are in the same space. Let’s be open-minded. Families seem to be joining pods very quickly. Aren’t pods just mini charters?

Grace Mah seems like the candidate who is more open minded to change and advancement. She may not be perfect. But I vote for choice and a real voice. I’m tired of kids coming last behind the CTA.


The Voice of Palo Alto
Crescent Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 11:13 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto , Crescent Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 11:13 pm
4 people like this

Everyone--and research--acknowledges that remote learning is much less efficient than in person learning. NWEA puts it at about 40% loss of learning, not to mention the almost 100% loss of socialization.

Some parents offer dozens of reasons why they can't do what your parents and their parents routinely did before them and take care of their own children and in this specific case, help educate and temporarily take care of their children while the schools are temporarily closed.

Perhaps the reasons are sincerely felt, yet one suspect that some--or even all--are strongly driven by the guaranteed free day care. After all, parents have similar reasons, yet they are parents and have a job to do.

So here is a suggestion. The pandemic emergency is a perfect opportunity to break the labor agreement with the teachers' union and improve it, granting more guaranteed job safety and security to teachers, and increasing the salaries of teachers being vastly underpaid to take care of, socialize, and educate your children on a daily basis by 40%, the same fraction of learning loss between remote instruction and in person instruction by increasing parcel taxes.

This will allow us to see how many of those proffered reasons by parents of appreciating teachers for in person instruction are sincere.

Life is made of trade-offs and compromises. No reason why parents should be excused from having to make them.

Finally, just as a reminder, Palo Alto school district just recently voted to put a new parcel tax on the ballot this November.

I would vote for Caswell to try to get what I suggested done. Mah has been in this position long enough! It’s time for change! “No More Mah” indeed!


The Voice of Palo Alto
Crescent Park
on Jul 23, 2020 at 3:22 am
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
on Jul 23, 2020 at 3:22 am
8 people like this

@Anon-you said “Hobson’s Choice” but I’m pretty sure you meant “Morton’s Fork”
unless you just aren’t going to vote.
A Hobson’s Choice is a choice of taking what’s available or nothing at all. There are two candidates available so it is only a Hobson’s choice if you are saying you are choosing not to vote for either candidate.

A Morton’s Fork is a choice between two equally undesirable alternatives. It is a dilemma.

Stay safe everyone!


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2020 at 2:41 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2020 at 2:41 pm
1 person likes this

Posted by The Voice of Palo Alto, a resident of Crescent Park

>> @Anon-you said “Hobson’s Choice” but I’m pretty sure you meant “Morton’s Fork”, unless you just aren’t going to vote.

Thank you for pointing out my imprecision! What I was thinking was that it is a kind of false dilemma- there really are three options, none of which is desirable. Vote (and we have a real dilemma), or, don't vote. Perhaps a Hobson's Choice and a Morton's Fork? I'm trying to avoid tying myself in knots over this.

>> Stay safe everyone!

Agreed!


13 years of nothing
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 25, 2020 at 4:33 pm
13 years of nothing, Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 25, 2020 at 4:33 pm
2 people like this

Mah was appointed to fill a vacancy on the county board and has been nearly invisible in the Area 1 district ever since. Except for her steadfast charter school advocacy. Remember that she threatened PAUSD with a hostile charter petition to get the board to get a chinese language program. She has been more supportive of charter interests since 2007 than she has supported districts under her trustee district. No real surprise. She needs to go. Ignore her newfound interest in charter accountability, when has she ever made that a priority in our area of our county for our kids? Never.


Legacy of mess
Barron Park
on Jul 25, 2020 at 9:34 pm
Legacy of mess, Barron Park
on Jul 25, 2020 at 9:34 pm
2 people like this

The SCCBOE since Grace Mah was appointed in 2007 has not been well run. How did she get re-elected so many times, a cloak of invisibility? Incumbency has value if nobody knows what you’re supposed to be working on or how you spend your time. Web Link


Legacy of mess
Barron Park
on Jul 25, 2020 at 9:37 pm
Legacy of mess, Barron Park
on Jul 25, 2020 at 9:37 pm
2 people like this

The SCCBOE since Grace Mah was appointed in 2007 has not been well run. How did she get re-elected so many times, with a cloak of invisibility? Incumbency has so much value if nobody knows what you’re supposed to be working on or how you spend your time. www. stoprocketship.com/editorial-the-santa-clara-county-board-of-education-is-in-disarray-needs-new-leadership/


Thanks google!
Community Center
on Jul 25, 2020 at 9:59 pm
Thanks google!, Community Center
on Jul 25, 2020 at 9:59 pm
1 person likes this

I only needed to search “disalvo mah” to get the history about the connection between Joe DiSalvo and Grace Mah


Bullis and Summit update!
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2020 at 10:07 pm
Bullis and Summit update!, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2020 at 10:07 pm
6 people like this

All you need to know about Grace Mah and Bullis in Los Altos is that, like Grace proposed for Palo Alto, Bullis imposed a hostile charter on an already state-leading district to get what a tiny group of parents wanted. Mah has been a supporter of such strong arm tactics for a long, long time. Cadwell is actually an experienced local school board trustee better able to support districts in area 1


Bullis and Summit update!
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2020 at 11:29 pm
Bullis and Summit update!, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2020 at 11:29 pm
4 people like this

Cadwell = Caswell of course

d*mn spellcheck!


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