Gearing up for this fall's campaign for Palo Alto Board of Education, candidates are polishing their websites, securing endorsements and planning kick-off parties for late August and early September.
With two seats available and no incumbents running, five candidates have returned nomination papers to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters: finance director Terry Godfrey, education consultant Catherine Crystal Foster, software engineer Ken Dauber, foundation officer Gina Dalma and community volunteer Jay Blas Jacob Cabrera.
Dalma, one of the latest to go public with her intention to run, is senior program officer for education at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. She said her broad knowledge of education elsewhere puts her in a strong position to help Palo Alto connect with "pockets of excellence" across the region and the nation.
Dalma served on the Ohlone Elementary School Site Council and started a group for Spanish-speaking parents at Palo Alto High School. She said her two children have had "amazing educational opportunities" in Palo Alto but that the district could do better at learning from innovations here and elsewhere and spreading them around.
"Palo Alto's a great school district, but it's in a silo," she said. "With a new superintendent and two new board members there's a huge opportunity to set a different culture and interaction between the staff, board and community."
Dalma said she's pondered running for school board for the past year, but was put "over the edge" by the district's withdrawal in February of a proposal by English teachers at Palo Alto High School to de-lane freshman English. The withdrawal followed resistance to the de-laning proposal from school board members and a number of parents.
"I was disappointed with the way the school district managed that very creative and courageous proposal from the teachers," Dalma said. "There are some things I think are complete missed opportunities for school districts to innovate, and that was one.
"We can't create the best community for our kids if it doesn't include all the voices and we learn by talking, regardless of where we are in terms of achievement, regardless of where we come from, regardless of our income level," she said. "Building this community where we truly value each piece of the puzzle, and without each piece of the puzzle it doesn't work, is the education system where I want my kids, because that's the world we face."
Cabrera, another recent entrant to the race, is a 1998 graduate of Gunn High School who said he recently "boomeranged" back to live with his family on the Stanford campus and is looking for a job. He held a student government position at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he majored in environmental studies and biology.
Cabrera has run unsuccessfully for public office four times before including for mayor of San Francisco, mayor of Santa Cruz and California Assembly. He said he does not have the resources to mount a significant campaign and does not expect to win, but wants to contribute his ideas to the public debate.
His No. 1 suggestion for Palo Alto schools, Cabrera said, is that computer programming should be required. "There's no excuse not to have every kid in the industrialized, tech economy we're in to learn computer programming, just like English. If I'd had that skill and learned that, regardless of whatever field I'd chosen to study, I feel like I'd be much better off," he said.
The three remaining candidates, Dauber, Foster and Godfrey, have posted complete websites with long lists of endorsements. All three have the support of a number of current and former elected officials. Godfrey, former president of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs and former board chair of the independent fundraising foundation Palo Alto Partners in Education, got endorsements from incumbent school board members Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom.
Foster, Dauber and Godfrey were all out of town this week, but have scheduled campaign kickoff parties for Sept. 5, Aug. 23 and Sept. 7, respectively.
The Palo Alto Weekly will hold a debate for school board candidates Thursday, Sept. 11, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at a location to be determined. Also expected to sponsor debates are the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Council of PTAs and possibly others, candidates said.