With the recent implementation of A-G graduation requirements, a significant school calendar change, and now the discussion of guidance system changes, it is clear that the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) School Board is more influential and pivotal than ever before, especially concerning student life, which is why this election is important. For this reason, The Oracle hosted an open forum on Oct. 19 for the four school board candidates to determine which candidates the staff would ultimately support.
After eliciting votes and reasoning from staff members, The Oracle endorses incumbent Melissa Baten Caswell for School Board. After a thorough analysis of each candidate and utilizing a point evaluation system, The Oracle finds that Baten Caswell best represents the staff’s interests, and attributes her qualifications to her dedication and support of stress-alleviating policies, experience she has gained through her incumbency and financial background, and the transparent agenda, goals and general alignment with The Oracle staff opinion about what is most important to students.
Baten Caswell’s most appealing quality is her clear dedication to the mitigation of student stress levels. She expressed approval of providing seniors with the option to opt out of certain final exams, which accomplishes workload alleviation and also gives students the opportunity to be independent and make more of their own choices. Baten Caswell illustrates concern for student workload through her support of such a proposition. Aside from prospective policies about senior finals or guidance changes that have yet been proposed to the School Board, Baten Caswell is in favor of amending and improving the guidance systems at both Palo Alto High School (Paly) and Gunn, rather than superimposing the Teacher Advisory model on Gunn. Baten Caswell best reflects this philosophy of improving both school systems, and shows obvious commitment to stress management from the district level.
At the open forum, Baten Caswell discussed fostering a mentality and community where students are driven to pursue their particular academic interests, and find their passions. She pointed out that the creativity model, best exemplified in The Oracle and Gunn Robotics Team (GRT), should be open for expansion because students find something meaningful in these programs and similar co-curricular activities. Baten Caswell also feels that the high school experience should leave a positive lasting impression on all students, and that school itself should be a more engaging environment. These are the characteristics most highlighted by members of The Oracle staff as valuable motivations and aspirations for a PAUSD School Board member.
Apart from these agreeable stances, The Oracle values more of her distinctive qualities, namely her financial background and incumbency experience. In addition, Baten Caswell was the primary candidate to specify a clear set of goals: improve professional development and teacher training, spend allocated money more efficiently and foster a healthier and more driven community. For these reasons, The Oracle, as a staff, endorses Baten Caswell for PAUSD School Board.
While The Oracle staff clearly supports incumbent Baten Caswell, the other three candidates received much less support, according to votes, points and explanations, for a variety of reasons.
Camille Townsend’s two-term incumbency proves to be a valuable asset, but the staff was unclear on her policies when she was asked questions specific to guidance system differences and senior finals. Townsend’s accumulated explanations illustrate the general mentality—she received a number of votes for all three rankings and the staff feels comfortable with her continuing as a School Board member.
While Ken Dauber emphasizes his track record for stress mediation, adoption of a Teacher Advisory system is not what The Oracle staff had in mind when the consultant survey showed a satisfaction discrepancy in guidance service quality compared to students at Paly. Instead, the emphasis lies in revamping both systems accordingly, and providing comparable services not necessarily by exchanging “best” practices, but by defining a metric that both schools will reach. Despite this significant difference in opinion, Dauber’s ranking breakdown was primarily on both ends of the spectrum; he either received a first place ranking or a third place ranking (or none at all).
Heidi Emberling received both the fewest votes and the least number of points. This was predominantly attributed to her inexperience regarding high school matters and indirect answers at the open forum. While Emberling provides a valuable K through 5 voice to the PAUSD School Board, The Oracle staff feels it’s not in its best interest to endorse a candidate without as much experience around high school-oriented issues and circumstances.
With many high school experiences on the line, the members elected to the PAUSD School Board will have a substantial impact on district and student matters for the next few years. For these reasons, it’s essential that incumbent Baten Caswell be re-elected for her second term.