News

Shounak Dharap seeks second term on Palo Alto Board of Education

He wants to 'keep moving the ball forward'' on mental health, equity and good governance

Shounak Dharap, a lawyer and 2008 Gunn High School graduate who was elected to the Palo Alto school board in 2018, is looking to keep his seat this fall. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Current Palo Alto school board member and 2008 Gunn High School graduate Shounak Dharap has announced plans to seek a second term on the board.

Dharap, who was first elected in 2018, told the Weekly he believes the board has accomplished a lot over the last four years, but progress has slowed because of the focus that had to be put toward responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"That's why I'm running again," Dharap said. "To keep moving the ball forward."

Two seats on the Palo Alto Unified School District's five-member board are up for a vote this November. Dharap's seat and that of fellow incumbent Ken Dauber, who isn't planning to run. Shana Segal, Ingrid Campos and Nicole Chiu-Wang are all vying for seats. Dharap has endorsed Chiu-Wang's campaign.

If he's elected for a second term, Dharap, who works as an attorney, said he wants to continue focusing on mental health, equity and achievement, and good governance.

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Dharap said he feels the district has made good progress on mental health by allocating more money for programs working to bring the district's programs in-house instead of relying primarily on contracts with outside groups.

"Although there are ebbs and flows because of the circumstances, all in all, we're trending upward," Dharap said. "That's a direction I'd like to see us continuing to go (in). Especially considering the impacts COVID has had, it's an opportunity for us to continue reinventing how we approach mental health supports."

In terms of equity, Dharap said that the goal is to ensure all students can achieve excellence, regardless of their demographics or background. In support of that goal, he pointed to his work as chair of the board's equity oversight committee to create the Systemwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) plan.

As for good governance, Dharap said he is pleased that the district now has the PAUSD Promise, which was originally adopted in 2019 and is meant to be updated annually, outlining the district's goals in various areas.

One area where Dharap believes the district can still make improvements is in how it communicates with the public. Through the pandemic, Dharap said that it has become clear the district should do more to communicate transparently with the community. Hiring a public information officer to manage communications is one option Dharap suggested, adding that the board's oversight role would include making sure the information that's being shared is accurate and transparent.

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One issue that's generated community controversy is what to do with Cubberley Community Center, the rundown site of a former high school in south Palo Alto that currently serves as a public community center. The school district owns 27 acres, and the city of Palo Alto owns the remaining 8 acres.

The school board voted last fall to reserve roughly 20 acres for a possible future high school, leaving the remaining 7 acres unallocated. Dharap said he would favor a ground lease or land swap to give the city more land, adding that he believes more than 7 acres could be transferred while keeping enough space for a future school.

"I'm in favor of being flexible with that space, because to me, it doesn't make much sense to continue sitting on that much property, considering we are facing declining enrollment," Dharap said.

The window for candidates to file the necessary paperwork to formally run for office opened on Monday, July 18, and closes Friday, Aug. 12. That period is extended five days if an incumbent doesn't file paperwork to run.

Zoe Morgan
 
Zoe Morgan covers education, youth and families for the Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Weekly / PaloAltoOnline.com, with a focus on using data to tell compelling stories. A Mountain View native, she has previous experience as an education reporter in both California and Oregon. Read more >>

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Shounak Dharap seeks second term on Palo Alto Board of Education

He wants to 'keep moving the ball forward'' on mental health, equity and good governance

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Jul 22, 2022, 6:47 am

Current Palo Alto school board member and 2008 Gunn High School graduate Shounak Dharap has announced plans to seek a second term on the board.

Dharap, who was first elected in 2018, told the Weekly he believes the board has accomplished a lot over the last four years, but progress has slowed because of the focus that had to be put toward responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"That's why I'm running again," Dharap said. "To keep moving the ball forward."

Two seats on the Palo Alto Unified School District's five-member board are up for a vote this November. Dharap's seat and that of fellow incumbent Ken Dauber, who isn't planning to run. Shana Segal, Ingrid Campos and Nicole Chiu-Wang are all vying for seats. Dharap has endorsed Chiu-Wang's campaign.

If he's elected for a second term, Dharap, who works as an attorney, said he wants to continue focusing on mental health, equity and achievement, and good governance.

Dharap said he feels the district has made good progress on mental health by allocating more money for programs working to bring the district's programs in-house instead of relying primarily on contracts with outside groups.

"Although there are ebbs and flows because of the circumstances, all in all, we're trending upward," Dharap said. "That's a direction I'd like to see us continuing to go (in). Especially considering the impacts COVID has had, it's an opportunity for us to continue reinventing how we approach mental health supports."

In terms of equity, Dharap said that the goal is to ensure all students can achieve excellence, regardless of their demographics or background. In support of that goal, he pointed to his work as chair of the board's equity oversight committee to create the Systemwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) plan.

As for good governance, Dharap said he is pleased that the district now has the PAUSD Promise, which was originally adopted in 2019 and is meant to be updated annually, outlining the district's goals in various areas.

One area where Dharap believes the district can still make improvements is in how it communicates with the public. Through the pandemic, Dharap said that it has become clear the district should do more to communicate transparently with the community. Hiring a public information officer to manage communications is one option Dharap suggested, adding that the board's oversight role would include making sure the information that's being shared is accurate and transparent.

One issue that's generated community controversy is what to do with Cubberley Community Center, the rundown site of a former high school in south Palo Alto that currently serves as a public community center. The school district owns 27 acres, and the city of Palo Alto owns the remaining 8 acres.

The school board voted last fall to reserve roughly 20 acres for a possible future high school, leaving the remaining 7 acres unallocated. Dharap said he would favor a ground lease or land swap to give the city more land, adding that he believes more than 7 acres could be transferred while keeping enough space for a future school.

"I'm in favor of being flexible with that space, because to me, it doesn't make much sense to continue sitting on that much property, considering we are facing declining enrollment," Dharap said.

The window for candidates to file the necessary paperwork to formally run for office opened on Monday, July 18, and closes Friday, Aug. 12. That period is extended five days if an incumbent doesn't file paperwork to run.

Comments

Palo Alto Res
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2022 at 11:05 am
Palo Alto Res, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2022 at 11:05 am

So status quo remains. Seats that become empty are replaced by folks who are endorsed by the current seated members. Pushing forward the same agenda.

How is that working for everyone?
Are parents loving the changes and hires Superintendent Don Austin is making to PAUSD? The Board (including Shounak Dharap) hired Superintendent Austin and continue to approve his incredibly salary raises, often bypassing open and transparent processes on renewal of the Superintendent's contract.

Are we happy with how the Board handled the ELA Curriculum and voting in the 2.9 million budget when teachers asked the Board to wait one more year?

Are we happy with the track record of the current Board? Status quo folks.


Down the yellow brick road
Registered user
Midtown
on Jul 22, 2022 at 11:38 am
Down the yellow brick road, Midtown
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2022 at 11:38 am
Forever Name
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2022 at 12:03 pm
Forever Name, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2022 at 12:03 pm

Every PAUSD Board member, including Shounak, who unanimously voted to keep 6-12 grade schools closed for in person learning for an entire year 2020-2021 should be voted OUT. Closing schools is recognized as a catasrophic policy error that was unnecessary & devastating to students. The data was avail in Aug 2020 that schools should be open in person, and PAUSD ignored it. The data is now further incontrovertable.

While other districts in CA & U.S. opened schools in person in fall 2020, your PAEA Teachers Union & PAUSD School Board kept middle/high schools closed for a YEAR -- a moral, ethical, and public health disaster.

Wash Post: "These Schools Did Less to Contain Covid, Their Students Flourished"
Web Link

NYT: "Not Good for Learning" (written by Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist)
New research is showing the high costs of long school closures
"Extended school closures appear to have done much more harm than good, and many school administrators probably could have recognized as much by the fall of 2020."
Web Link

Economist: "Covid Learning Loss Has Been a Global Disaster"
Web Link

Dr. Vinay Prasad, UCSF Physician, Professor, World Renowned Biostatistician:
Web Link
Minutes 9:10 - 11:00. "Opening schools and community spread have NOTHING to do with each other.” (Data from Germany, Sweden in the fall 2020) "Closing schools didn’t slow spread, opening schools didn’t exacerbate, zero impact."


Palo Alto Res
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2022 at 12:14 pm
Palo Alto Res, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2022 at 12:14 pm

@Forever Name: Well said!
Shounak Dharap and company all thought it was a great idea for the high school football team to meet in person and practice outside, meanwhile for P.E. class, kids were looking into a computer screen on Zoom

How is that healthy? He wants to push forward with what he did? Show me one good change Shounak led the PAUSD parent and children community with?

I would say if being middle of the pack, and mediocre is what Shounak wants, then that seems to be where we are headed. Watch out folks and watch our real estate prices drop as Palo Alto gets known for it's worsening public education.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2022 at 12:19 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2022 at 12:19 pm

The way the BoE acted under the Pandemic is and should be the biggest issue as the latest term is scrutinized. The we are not going to close and then suddenly they close shows complete unpreparedness. There was nothing set in place for any emergency situation.

Our emergency situation was a pandemic. But an emergency could have been a major fire at one of the schools, or a cyber attack, or an act of violence, etc. etc. etc. Having fire drills, earthquake drills, and color coded drills is one thing, but the absolute incompetence of how to deal with the aftermath of any of those emergencies was obviously apparent. A major fire or similar disaster may have happened over a weekend, or during spring break, or any time when the students were not on campuses. But they would have necessitated a plan which did not exist.

I would like the BoE to have emergency plans established. I would like to know what these plans would be. The idea that an emergency situation would have officials not being able to act for days or perhaps weeks is no longer acceptable. We could have the big earthquake at any time. Students may or may not be on campus, but how will the schools cope the following day is now a very important issue.


Palo Alto Res
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2022 at 12:44 pm
Palo Alto Res, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2022 at 12:44 pm

@Bystander, true that folks with kids in PAUSD should measure whether to vote Shounak Dharap in based on how (poorly) they handled the pandemic.

However, for the folks who do not have any children in the school system, given how real estate prices are tied in with the public school system ratings, it's time for Palo Alto homeowners to realize PAUSD's academic reputation is dropping and so are it's gradings.

I would think twice before voting in another 4 years of someone who likes poor academic scoring, standards and reputation. If anyone is the harbinger of mediocrity, it's Shounak and the current Board.


CAreadingcoalition
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2022 at 7:27 am
CAreadingcoalition , Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jul 23, 2022 at 7:27 am

alo Alto residents!!! Are you trying to make PAUSD mediocre? Because if that’s the goal- you’re winning!
This board is so arrogant. They think because they are good lawyers, investors, and business people, they know what makes for good education. They don’t! The one who does know education backs down almost every time Todd or Ken challenges her.
PAUSD was one of the best districts in the county because they could afford to fund the things that most public schools in Californian can’t, art, music, science, field trips, small class size, theater productions, etc......… The educational roots here are deep. They encourage creativity, critical thinking, and exploration. This is the birthplace of technology and ingenuity. Teachers here once were encouraged and inspired to create life-changing experiences for their students. And just because it didn’t happen in every classroom, every second in exactly the same way, this board wants to blow it up. They want data with no “outliers,” and if there are outliers, they will find a way to erase them.
This board has done everything in its power to strip down what made PAUSD great in the first place. They want to be like all the other districts in California. Why?
They keep buying curricula hoping we will all turn into identical bots. Teaching the same thing at the same time in the exact same way. Is that really what the residents of PA want?
We can and should address equity and mental health, but this is not the way. Mental health is at an all-time crisis, and not just at secondary. Ask yourself why? Why are elementary kids now suffering too? Could it be from all the great data we are collecting on them? Please don’t fool yourself into believing that we are doing great because the train guards left their post!
The data a teacher collects should be to help guide teaching, not weaponized against them. Be alert- this position turns out to be as crucial as Secretary of State!


Palo Alto Mom
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jul 23, 2022 at 10:41 am
Palo Alto Mom, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jul 23, 2022 at 10:41 am

Shounak has my full respect and appreciation, and I am thrilled that he is running again.

To blame him or any of the other school board members for the negative consequences the pandemic has had on our students is uncalled for. Our county shut down our schools, not the school board, and the subsequent anxiety and anger from parents on both sides (wanting schools to remain shut vs wanting schools re-opened and how) must have been a nightmare to navigate and a very heavy burden to bear on their shoulders.

We are now, mostly, on the other side of this nightmare and have got to stop judging everything & everyone through that narrow lens. What I see is that in spite of the massive distractions of Covid, Shounak helped expand transitional kindergarten and increase reading performance of struggling readers across our district. This is an amazing accomplishment. Also, Shounak has been an integral part of developing a strategic plan for equity and to improve Mental Health resources and outcomes. Under the current board's leadership, our district now has significantly more $ dedicated to MH, increased and improved in-house mental health support, and increased community MH partnerships.

Shounak is a Gunn-Alum and a dad to a future PAUSD student. He has a lot of skin in the game and he has been showing up on every issue and to every meeting well-prepared, thoughtful, and student-focused. The fact that he is an attorney and can look at issues through a legal lens is an added bonus.

It is beyond me why anyone would put themselves through another 4 years of this thankless, time-consuming job with no pay (that frankly at times comes with emotional abuse from parents in our community), but I am thrilled that Shounak is resilient and selfless enough to throw his hat in the ring again.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2022 at 1:46 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 23, 2022 at 1:46 pm

PA Mom. I think the criticism about the pandemic is that PAUSD did not have a plan in place. Yes, they were not planning to shut until the county shut them down, but during this time there were no discussions or plans as to what to do. Many parents said that for the first few weeks (months even) of the shutdown, their students did nothing. Some complained about teachers without internet/computer/zoom capabilities.

What really bothers me about this, and I am speaking as a former PAUSD parent, is that apart from the campus drills, the District has no contingency plans for any type of emergency. When the drills are planned, they are always done in class time, with no thought as to what might happen if the emergency occurs during recess, or lunch, or even 30 minutes before school starts. We have had many false alarms and even police activitity on Paly, and basically the students say it is chaotic. Can you imagine what it would be like if a major incident occurred after school and what might happen if the campus was out of bounds for days or even weeks afterwards?

Yes, we can judge to some extent the lack of planning as poor preparedness and the way in which PAUSD was shut down. But that is now water under the bridge and instead we should be asking what has been done in advance of the next emergency. Of course some of the practices from the pandemic can be copied again. But what has been done to make sure that there will be an easier transition next time school(s) are forced to close.

Palo Verde is moving campus this summer due to construction. They have the summer to prepare. Next time a campus needs to move, there may not be the luxury of a natural break before the kids have to be back learning. Can this teach our PAUSD BofE to put emergency preparedness higher up the list of priorities? Can they learn from all the many mistakes of the pandemic? Will the next emergency prove to leave them just as unprepared.

Importantly, why were they unprepared?


PA Community Advocate
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2022 at 7:18 am
PA Community Advocate, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 24, 2022 at 7:18 am

Forever Name - thank you for posting what really happened. There’s so much more disfunction to detail as well.

It was painful as a parent to see our kids mistreated by the school district and state in 2020 and 2021 with unscientific policies. Here’s hoping that 2022-2023 and beyond will be better.

Everyone on the current board should be out - please resign immediately. History will not be kind to you. You destroyed childhoods because you followed political science not real science.

Going forward we need a 1 term limit.


Gunn Graduate
Registered user
Palo Alto Orchards
on Jul 24, 2022 at 10:14 am
Gunn Graduate, Palo Alto Orchards
Registered user
on Jul 24, 2022 at 10:14 am

I was 16 back when Shounak was first elected and really appreciated his student-centered approach. While most school board members did not seem as receptive to listening to students (who are not of voting age), I found Shounak to be extremely open to hearing from us. Shounak (now) has a young daughter about to enter PAUSD, so he has a vested interest in improving the school district.
Agreed -- the school board's handling of the pandemic could have been improved, but we say that all the time. Of all the school board members, Shounak seemed to be the most open to student input, which I find to be incredibly important since students are the ones who are (arguably) most affected by the school board's decisions. Though I have moved on from PAUSD, as a 20 year old now, I am excited to cast my ballot for Shounak. I feel a sense of obligation to do so to represent the students who are not yet of voting age.


Palo Alto Res
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jul 24, 2022 at 5:27 pm
Palo Alto Res, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jul 24, 2022 at 5:27 pm

@Palo Alto mom: You said "Shounak helped expand transitional kindergarten" If you think Shounak is responsible you're sorely mistaken. Please keep up to date. In 2021 "Championed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and several lawmakers, the $2.7 billion universal transitional kindergarten program will be gradually phased in over the next five years, until it includes all the state’s 4-year-olds by the 2025-26 school year." Let's give accolades to whom they are due. It was California's Gov. Newsom who has changed the law so 4 year olds will all do kindergarten. Gov. Newsom (and other law makers - not Shounak) championed this during the pandemic and by 2021 this has been made into law). Web Link


Palo Alto Res
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jul 24, 2022 at 5:43 pm
Palo Alto Res, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jul 24, 2022 at 5:43 pm

[Post removed; successive comments by same poster are not permitted.]


Forever Name
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2022 at 1:17 pm
Forever Name, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jul 27, 2022 at 1:17 pm

@ Palo Alto Mom: "To blame him or any of the other school board members for the negative consequences the pandemic has had on our students is uncalled for. Our county shut down our schools, not the school board".

False statement (saying SCCounty shut down the schools in Aug 2020, not the PAUSD School Board). That is wrong.

Fact: SCCounty did NOT shut down our PAUSD secondary schools grades 6-12 in Aug 2020 - March 2021. In fact, SCC encouraged K-12 schools to open in person by fall 2020! Instead, PAUSD Board (including Shounak) UNANIMOUSLY VOTED to keep grades 6-12 closed in Aug 2020! Contrary to families' requests. A disaster for middle and high schoolers.

Fact: Some CA schools were open *in person* as of Aug 2020, including K-12 private schools in SCC, and all K-12 Marin County! CA schools that opened in person Aug 2020 used widely available data both from the U.S. and worldwide (per post above). PAUSD Board ignored the Aug 2020 data and kept 6-12 closed.

Fact: PAUSD Board absolutely COULD have opened grades 6-12 for in person learning in Aug 2020! Instead, PAUSD Board voted unanimously in Aug 2020 to keep grades 6-12 closed and delay opening until after elementary had opened, due to pressure from the PAEA Teachers Union. Because of PAUSD Board’s unconscionable vote to delay high schools opening to October 2020, then to Nov, in Dec 6-12 was not allowed to open. PAUSD missed an eight month window for opening the middle/high schools in person!

Blame for the pandemic falls on no one. However, thousands of parents and students are certainly speaking *truth* and correctly placing blame when they point out that PAUSD Board ignored data that other CA schools paid attention to and kept 6-12 closed when it was NOT REQUIRED BY SCC: a travesty that students suffered for! Parents who had a middle/high schooler during this period know the true impact this had on our kids, and will NEVER EVER forget the actions of the Board during this time. Vote Shounak out.


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