Written by Elisa Moraes-Liu
In the past few months, six candidates have declared candidacy for the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Board of Education elections. The PAUSD school board has five members who are elected by the public every four years. Elections occur on even years, and each time either two or three seats open for re-election. Currently, there are two open board seats and six candidates running as of Sept ,4,2018. Voting for the school board elections will take place on Nov. 6.
All the candidates running are newcomers to the school board except for incumbent School Board President Ken Dauber, who is running for re-election. These candidates include Stacey Ashlund, Christopher Boyd, Shounak Dharap, Kathy Jordan, and Alex Scharf.
If re-elected, Dauber will continue his focus on improving student wellness. “The focus on social and emotional wellbeing is something that has been a real strong element in what I have brought to the district,” he said. “I’ve probably had more visibility and impact in that area than other candidates have.” Dauber hopes to further efforts, if re-elected, by working towards a district homework policy that helps reduce student stress and enables them to get enough sleep. During his term, he was a strong supporter of eliminating zero period academic classes at Gunn with the similar goal of reducing student stress.
Stacey Ashlund, parent and active member of the Palo Alto community, has served on the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) council as Vice President of Education and as an advisory council member for Partners in Education. “I bring the parent perspectives,” Ashlund said. “My two children have gone all the way through this district. My eldest graduated from Gunn a year ago and my youngest is a junior still at Gunn.”
Ashlund hopes to see more equality within the district. “The main reason I decided to run has to do with equity and treating all our students and families in our community equally,” Ashlund said. According to her website, Ashlund calls for the district to “use evidence-based teaching practices and measurements, and continue professional development so that we are able to innovate.” Additionally, Ashlund hopes to see more equal and widespread representation of student voice in the district. “We need to focus and elevate student interest and involvement in civics,” Ashlund said. “Not just in student government at the schools but also government of their own school district board.”
Christopher Boyd is the newest addition to the election race. Boyd runs an after-school science, technology, engineering and math program in Palo Alto called InstED that offers classes like computer science and robotics in Palo Alto. “The goal is to learn science through an immersive environment where topics are taught through a process close to research,” he said. Boyd believes this is the best way of teaching. “The crazy amount of work passed out at Gunn is not necessarily the most efficient way to get the most deep knowledge or get into top schools,” he said.
Another graduate of PAUSD, Shounak Dharap is a lawyer and graduated from Gunn High School in 2008. Dharap hopes to bring changes at the district level regarding management and organization, and calls for more effective oversight of the board. “When there are issues at the board level with regards to fiscal management and legal compliance and general governance, then those problems trickle down to issues for students,” he said. “Every issue that we dealt with has been a direct and indirect result of failure at the top level to actually run and effectively manage the board.”
As a lawyer, Dharap also has experience in management. “I’m a working professional and I’m a complex litigator so I deal with these large organizations, and the district is a million-dollar organization,” he said. “We need someone on the board who understands how large organizations work.”
Candidate Kathy Jordan is a parent who is actively involved in the PAUSD, acting as a volunteer in the district and Parent Teacher Association. “My plans are to work on transparency, accountability, compliance with the law and making sure students come first,” Jordan said. She has expressed concerns regarding lack of district transparency regarding Title IX and fiscal management. According to her campaign website, Jordan is looking
towards mending the relationship between the school board and its constituents. “A public school district is responsible to its community and we expect our school board’s actions to reflect this fundamental tenet” Jordan’s website said. “Governing with this principle in mind will help to re-establish trust with the people of Palo Alto.”
Candidate Alex Scharf is a recent Palo Alto High School graduate and is currently studying at Foothill College. Scharf graduated Paly in 2015, and cites barriers he faced in his school experience as the reason behind his candidacy. “I experienced a lot of problems going through the school system that aren’t really talked about,” he said. “The school system works great for some people, but the goal of the school system is to make sure all parties attending the school receive a good education, not just the high-achieving students.” Scharf believes accountability holds the answer for this issue. “Holding the administration accountable will help a lot of problems that people with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or with mental health problems experience,” he said. “A lot of times teachers don’t follow the law based on what they are required to provide students with mental health problems. There is no accountability for the teachers who do that.”
Gunn School Board Representative Arjun Prabhakar hopes to see an elected candidate who will reflect student interest. “I hope to find someone who is willing to listen to students, listen to our opinions and work with us,” he said. “The board has an important role to play in terms of helping with student voice and making sure student opinions are taken seriously.” Prabhakar also hopes student voice will play a role in the candidates ‘decisions on issues facing the district. “In terms of academic issues relating to students, they should be willing to take the student opinion into account,” he said. “Some issues that developed were homework policy, computer science policy and weighted GPA. Regardless of the issue, a candidate who is willing to prioritize student voice and issues that affect the students first and foremost is a candidate who could work best for the community.”