Gunn holds school board candidate forum

Written by Grace Tramack

On Thursday, October 6, The Oracle and Gunn Student Executive Council (SEC) held a school board forum during Flex Time to allow students to get to know the five candidates running for the three spots on the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Board of Education.

Representatives from The Oracle and SEC took turns asking questions of the five candidates: Melissa Baten Caswell, Jay Cabrera, Todd Collins, Jennifer DiBrienza and Heidi Emberling. Caswell and Emberling are the only two incumbents.

Top three priorities:

Caswell, Collins and Emberling all stressed having the best teachers, and DiBrienza and Emberling both discussed the importance of equity in access of programs and resources for all students. Caswell highlighted listening to student voice, and both Caswell and Cabrera feel that it is necessary to keep students engaged in class. Cabrera would also introduce coding as a language as early as third grade.

Class sizes:

Cabrera and Collins were both in favor of keeping classes small—Cabrera supports class sizes of 20 or less. DiBrienza says that core classes should have caps. Emberling discussed possibly repurposing the district office, or Cubberly, to expand either middle school or high school classes in Palo Alto, and to create a program like Middle College, which is offered to high school students through Foothill College. Caswell supports holding classes in the new wellness center at Gunn, and says the district should be careful with caps, because students should be able to take classes they are really interested in. All five candidates unanimously agreed that there should not be a limit on the amount of Advanced Placement (AP) courses a student can take, as no two students are exactly the same.

Teacher recruitment:

Cabrera wants to raise taxes in order to support school funding and a teacher salary raise, as well as create teacher housing. He says that simply getting rid of the youngest teachers is bad, and that they should instead be looking at the best teachers no matter age or when they arrived in Palo Alto. Collins and Emberling agree with wanting teacher housing, and Collins adds that it would be better for attracting younger teachers. In addition, DiBrienza believes it is necessary to trust our teachers, and leave them room to grow within the district. He also believes in letting go of “bad” teachers as necessary, defining “bad” as giving students a lot of unnecessary stress.

Grading and expectations:

Caswell, Collins and Emberling are all in favor of course alignment, and Emberling adds that teachers should match their classes with the Common Core system. DiBrienza believes we should look at grades and curves as a range, and help students move towards the middle of that range. Cabrera says that we need to look at diversity and differences, but that differences are good; we just need to make sure they are equal.

Addressing minority inequalities:

Collins and Emberling believe in putting resources where students can easily and equally access them, especially financially. Furthermore, DiBrienza and Caswell believe we should start helping these students at an early age, so that we don’t start helping after it’s too late. Cabrera also believes that having more diversity on the Board would be beneficial to the district.

How they would have handled the zero period issue:

All of the candidates agreed that more student opinion is better when making decisions that will directly impact them. Caswell suggested the possibility of a public forum for students to attend, and holding polls that will represent a variety of students. Cabrera is in favor of having one elected student School Board member with full voting rights. Collins believes that the students were mislead in the zero period decision, and that the district needs polls that will represent both schools. In addition, DiBrienza thinks we need to be asking the right questions, such as why certain things are important to students, and Emberling believes it is important for the School Board members to be more present on campus.

Registered voters can vote for these five candidates for the PAUSD Board of Education in the upcoming election, which will be held on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.