Check out Palo Alto Online's Board of Education Voter Guide for comparisons of all four candidates' views on mental health, communication, academic access and diversity.
With two children starting school in Palo Alto Unified, Nicole Chiu-Wang decided to run for the school board to bring her perspective as a woman with young kids to the governing body, as well as to push for reforms to address systemic inequities in the education system.
Chiu-Wang's campaign priorities have focused on ensuring that all students, including those from historically underrepresented backgrounds, have opportunities to succeed. Her main goals center around early childhood education, improving mental health resources and measuring student progress more holistically.
"I do not believe we can have equity in our greater community if we do not have equity in our public schools," Chiu-Wang said in an endorsement interview.
A lawyer and startup founder, Chiu-Wang has worked since 2019 as a product and business strategy lead at Google. Previously, she founded Boon + Gable, a venture capital-backed fashion technology startup. She also has bachelors' degrees in women's studies and Asian American studies from the University of California, Irvine.
In choosing where to send their sons for school, Chiu-Wang said that she and her husband spent hundreds of hours researching schools all over the country and even internationally. Ultimately, they decided on Palo Alto Unified and moved down from San Francisco in April.
Her elder son is attending transitional kindergarten at Palo Verde Elementary School, while her younger son is participating in Greendell's PreSchool Family program.
Although she's relatively new to town, rather than seeing that lack of familiarity as a deficiency, Chiu-Wang said in an endorsement interview that this gives her a fresh perspective on the school system. Although she said that the current board members' long tenure in town is valuable, she added that she will bring a unique outlook.
"I think that there needs to be room for someone that's different, that represents families that maybe don't have deep roots here but nonetheless have shared values and want to contribute to our schools," Chiu-Wang said.
Her campaign has been endorsed by three current school board members: Jennifer DiBrienza, Jesse Ladomirak and Shounak Dharap, who is running for reelection this November.
Chiu-Wang said in an endorsement interview with the Palo Alto Weekly that although she has been endorsed by a majority of the current board, she doesn't agree with all of the past decisions they've made and wouldn't necessarily vote in the same way.
"I have my own opinions and arrive at them in a different way and with a different perspective," Chiu-Wang said.
She has spoken about her experiences as an Asian American woman and the importance of having that diversity represented on the school board, particularly in a district where nearly 40% of students identify as Asian, according to state data.
"Representation matters for all members of our diverse community to be seen and heard and for our children to see people that look like them in our leadership," Chiu-Wang wrote on her website.
A focus of her campaign has been to advocate for the district to take proactive steps to spot and address systemic inequity. Chiu-Wang is in favor of existing district projects, like the Every Student Reads Initiative, which aims to increase third-grade reading scores among student groups that have historically underperformed, including Latino students and those who come from low-income families.
She also has voiced support for the district's SWIFT plan, which is the district's framework for addressing educational inequity, but says it doesn't go far enough.
"There are students, teachers and staff members in our district that do not feel safe or included on our campuses and this is not OK," Chiu-Wang said in a candidate questionnaire.
She also wants formal training for students, teachers and other staff on systemic inequity, as well as to implement an ethnic studies course ahead of the state's deadline of the 2025-2026 school year. Chiu-Wang also supports offering free after school and summer programs to support students who may be struggling.
Chiu-Wang wants to see a universal preschool program, which she said will help close the opportunity gaps that currently exist. The district is in the process of expanding its transitional kindergarten program in line with expanding state requirements.
When it comes to measuring student progress, Chiu-Wang has spoken in support of considering the "entire student" and looking beyond only considering standardized tests. She has been supportive of differentiated education, in which teachers tailor their lessons to the academic level of different students, noting that it is already considered a best practice.
In terms of math curriculum, Chiu-Wang wants to wait to get the results of the current middle school math program that the district developed in the 2019-2020 school year. The current system, which was aimed at "de-laning" math, has most students enrolled in Algebra I during eighth grade, with an option to take a test to accelerate one grade ahead.
Chiu-Wang said that she wants to see the outcome of this shift before making any decisions about whether to make further changes, such as the suggestion in California's Math Framework draft that Algebra I be delayed until ninth grade.
As for the district's homework policy, which puts caps on the amount of nightly homework that students should receive, Chiu-Wang said that the intent was good but that she has heard concerns about its implementation and that she would want to see whether its aims are being realized.
Although supportive of the steps that the district has taken to bolster the mental health services available to students, Chiu-Wang said that more needs to be done, particularly to address deeper issues around a culture in Palo Alto schools that puts pressure on students.
"While some students may have issues at home or personal mental health issues, I think that we need to address the cultural issues and really have those tough conversations," Chiu-Wang said.
Chiu-Wang also has advocated for better communication on the district's part. In her response to a Palo Alto Weekly candidate questionnaire, Chiu-Wang said that Superintendent Don Austin has implemented impactful initiatives but hasn't adequately addressed community concerns.
"Unfortunately, he is not a communications specialist and his communication has been lacking," Chiu-Wang wrote. "Without better communication, members of our school community lack the information needed to feel comfortable with change — even if it's done with the best intent."
She pointed to the reopening of schools as one example in which more community participation was needed. Chiu-Wang supports the district's decision to hire a public information officer, noting that any superintendent will have strengths and weaknesses and the right support personnel should be hired.
In terms of the current school board's own record on transparency, when asked about the board's closed-door decision to terminate its head attorney in August, Chiu-Wang said that more could have been done to explain the decision but that these types of employment issues have to be handled privately.