In preparation for the Palo Alto Weekly's coverage of the campaigns for Palo Alto Unified Board of Education, we solicited questions from our readers that speak to their topmost concerns about the school district. From their many excellent responses, we crafted a short questionnaire for the candidates to complete. In response, they discussed their primary concerns and experience in education. They also offer their opinions on student achievement, COVID-19 learning loss, diversity and inclusion, the superintendent and innovations.
The candidates' answers on all these topics will be published as separate articles, one per day, through Sept. 26. Here's what they had to say to the following question: What would be your top priorities as a school board member?
Tonight, Sept. 20: Hear from the candidates for Board of Education live on Zoom at the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoonline.com Candidates' Forum, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Moderating the forum will be Weekly education reporter Zoe Morgan, Palo Alto High School Campanile Editor-in-Chief Jerry Xia, Paly Voice News Editor Anna Feng and Gunn High School Oracle News Editor Chris Lee. To register, go to PaloAltoOnline.com/pausd.
My top priorities as a school board member would be to dive into the issues that need immediate attention. I recognize that communication is of utmost importance to a number of parents, teachers and the school community.
As a school board member, I would have deference to the needs or wants of the school community, the people and the administration — it's really a joint venture. I would need to be a champion for the people who pay the taxes that make the schools in PAUSD #1 in the nation and one of the most affluent school districts in California. Thank you — my children are flourishing here!
My top priorities are the needs of the people who would vote me into the position.
My first priority will be to shift the culture of our school district to a culture of collaboration, partnership, communication and empowerment.
This is the lens through which I will tackle the following:
1 - Improve mental health and wellness for our entire school community
While the district has done much to improve mental health and wellness through integrating mental health services on campus to opening wellness centers, we need to have tough conversations as a community to address the culture of pressure that is unhealthy and prevents all our students, staff and teachers from thriving.
2 - Invest in early childhood education
Providing universal, quality early childhood education promotes equity, helps close the opportunity gap, and ultimately helps kids develop the skills they need to become lifelong learners and reach their full potential.
3 - Innovate the way we education and measure progress
We need to expand our highly successful learning initiatives to more school sites and continue to try new ways of learning.
We need to innovate the way that we measure progress because standardized testing fails to take into account the whole student.
4 - Inspire our students to own their futures
No child should feel like there is only one path to a successful life or career. We need to give them the tools, resources and opportunities to explore, find and pursue their passions.
When a student is passionate about what they're learning — whether that's math, arts, or social justice — they're that much more likely to be successful.
Equity in achievement. As President, I led the creation of, and chaired, the Board Equity Oversight Committee, which developed a comprehensive plan to support students to succeed regardless of background. This plan includes specific initiatives aimed at every facet of achievement: curriculum and instruction, opportunity and access, professional learning, student supports, culture/climate, community partnerships, and district operations. My priority is to oversee the implementation of this plan.
Mental health. After years of patchwork solutions to support mental health, our providers were faced with COVID staffing issues that left us unable to provide sufficient supports. This year I voted to allocated over $16 million to move mental health in-house to ensure consistent and comprehensive support. Already, the money has gone towards fixing the staffing issue by hiring nearly 20 therapists and additional counselors or certified workers for our schools. My goal is to oversee implementation of the in-house program.
Community unity. I've taken steps to build unity between our governing bodies. I worked with the mayor to develop an index of joint/shared issues for funding and support, which I intend to continue. I've also advocated for a deal on Cubberley. I believe the community can best be served through a land swap or ground lease whereby much of the land is allocated to the city in furtherance of its plans to serve south Palo Alto. In so doing, our students would also be served, and we would still be able to retain some of the land for a future school.
Good governance. My motion to enable Zoom participation was progress in transparency and access. I intend to ensure it is codified in policy so future boards are bound by the decision. I also intend to better the systems of communication between the district and families to ensure increased transparency and understanding.
Families choose Palo Alto for our excellent public schools, city services and walkable neighborhoods. As an alum, parent and educator, I understand and care deeply about our schools and community. As a substitute teacher, classroom volunteer and school consultant, I have witnessed the challenges recent years have presented for students, teachers, staff and families. If elected, my priorities would be:
• Collaborative community: The COVID pandemic disruption was hard on everyone; rebuilding trust and collaboration is paramount. I will forge strong and respectful partnerships between the board, teachers, administrators, parents and students. I will be collaborative with other agencies, and be accessible and responsive to community feedback.
• Differentiated instruction: Every child is an individual. PAUSD's curriculum and instructional practices should be designed and delivered to engage, challenge and support every child so all children can effectively learn, develop interests and experience growth academically and socially. A "one size fits all" model does not work well for students and is not equitable.
• Mental health and wellness: We must invest strategically in mental health and wellness, at all grades, and help students build stronger school connections. Again, partnership is key here. District policies regarding homework, bell schedules, and course requirements should be made through the lens of student mental health.
• Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI): We must close the achievement gap which was exacerbated by COVID-19. Students need excellent reading, writing, and math support programs at every school, in every grade, starting in TK. Every student — particularly from marginalized groups — should feel safe, seen, respected and supported and teachers should have high quality, on-going, teacher-led DEI professional development.
• Evidence-based decisions: Whether a decision is related to academics, students, budgets or staffing, decision-making should be transparent and based on evidence and established data — not on politics or expediency.
Check back on Palo Alto Online tomorrow for candidates' takes on another school district issue.