In preparation for Palo Alto Weekly’s coverage of the Palo Alto Unified Board of Education campaigns, we solicited questions from our readers addressing their biggest concerns about the school district. From their many excellent responses, we created a short questionnaire for candidates to fill out. In response, they shared their main concerns and experiences in the field of education. They also provide their opinions on student achievement, COVID-19 learning loss, diversity and inclusion, the superintendent and innovation.
Candidates’ responses to each of these topics will be published as separate articles, one per day, until September 26th. Here’s what they had to say when asked: What would be your top priorities as a school board member?
Tonight, September 20th: Hear from the candidates for the Board of Education live on Zoom in the Palo Alto Weekly Candidates Forum/PaloAltoonline.com from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The forum will be moderated by Zoe Morgan, Education Reporter for Weekly, Campanile Editor of Palo Alto High School 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 address the issues that require immediate attention. I recognize that communication is of paramount importance to a number of parents, teachers and the school community.
As a school board member I would respect the needs or wants of the school community, the people and the administration – it really is a joint venture. I should be a champion of the people who pay the taxes that make PAUSD schools #1 in the nation and one of the wealthiest school districts in California. Thank you – my children are thriving here!
My top priority is the needs of the people who would choose me for the position.
Nicole Chiu Wang
My first priority will be to change the culture of our school district to one of collaboration, partnership, communication and empowerment.
This is the lens through which I will approach:
1 – Improving mental health and well-being for our entire school community
While the District has done much to improve mental health and well-being by integrating on-campus mental health services to opening wellness centers, we need to have tough conversations as a community to address the culture of pressure that is unhealthy and all of our students, staff and teachers from the thriving.
2 – Invest in early childhood education
The provision of universal, quality early childhood education promotes equity, helps close the opportunity gap and ultimately helps children develop the skills they need to be lifelong learners and reach their full potential.
3 – Innovate the way we educate 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 we measure progress because standardized tests do not take the whole student into account.
4 – Inspire our students to take charge of their future
No child should feel that there is only one path to a successful life or career. We must 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 it’s math, art, or social justice—the more likely they are to be successful.
justice in performance. As President, I led the formation and chairing of the Board’s Equity Oversight Committee, which developed a comprehensive plan to help students succeed regardless of their background. This plan includes specific initiatives that target all facets of performance: curriculum and instruction, opportunities and access, professional learning, student support, culture/climate, community partnerships and district operations. My priority is to oversee the implementation of this plan.
Mental health. After years of patchwork mental health support solutions, our providers were faced with COVID staffing issues that made it impossible for us to provide adequate support. This year I voted to commit over $16 million to internal shift mental health to ensure consistent and comprehensive support. The money has already gone into solving the staffing problem by hiring nearly 20 therapists and additional counselors or certified staff for our schools. My goal is to oversee the implementation of the internal program.
community unit. I have taken steps to build unity between our governing bodies. I’ve been working with the mayor to develop an index of common/common issues for funding and support that I plan to continue. I also voted in favor of a deal with Cubberley. I believe the community is best serviced through a land swap or leasehold, with much of the land being allocated to the city to further its plans to service South Palo Alto. This would also serve our students well and we could still keep part of the land for a future school.
Good leadership. My request to allow Zoom participation was progress on transparency and access. I intend to ensure it is codified in the policy so that future directors are bound by the decision. I also intend to improve communication systems between the district and families to ensure greater transparency and understanding.
Families choose Palo Alto for our excellent public schools, municipal services, and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. As an alum, parent, and educator, I understand and care deeply about our schools and community. As a substitute teacher, volunteer, and school counselor, I have witnessed the challenges of the past few years for students, teachers, staff, and families. If elected, my priorities would be:
• Collaborative Community: The disruption from the COVID pandemic has been tough on everyone; Rebuilding trust and collaboration is paramount. I will build strong and respectful partnerships between the board, teachers, administrators, parents and students. I will work with other agencies and access and act on community feedback.
• Differentiated lessons: Every child is an individual. PAUSD curriculum and teaching practices should be designed and conducted to engage, challenge, and support each child so that all children can learn effectively, develop interests, and grow academically and socially. A “one size fits all” model does not work well for students and is not fair.
• Mental health and well-being: We must strategically invest in mental health and well-being at all grade levels and help students build stronger school relationships. Again, partnership is key. District policies regarding homework, bell schedules, and course requirements should be established with the mental health of the students in mind.
• Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI): We must close the performance gap exacerbated by COVID-19. Students need excellent literacy and math support programs in every school, in every grade, starting in TK. Every student – especially from marginalized groups – should feel safe, seen, respected and supported, and teachers should receive quality, ongoing, teacher-led DEI professional development.
• Evidence-based decisions: Whether a decision relates to academics, students, budgets, or staff, decision-making should be transparent and based on evidence and established data—not on politics or expediency.
Check back on Palo Alto Online tomorrow to see candidate opinions on another district issue.