Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 22, 2007

Four so far in Palo Alto school board race

Board president, PTA president, a prior candidate and a teacher are gearing up for the Nov. 6 election

by Susan Hong

The Palo Alto school board election is months away, but four people have already thrown their hats into the ring for the Nov. 6 ballot.

Incumbent board President Camille Townsend, PTA board President Melissa Baten Caswell, 2005 board candidate Claude Ezran and math-teaching specialist Barbara Klausner have told the Weekly they plan to run.

Board members Mandy Lowell and Gail Price will leave two seats open after having served a limit of two terms. Townsend's term expires in November, but she is eligible to serve another term.

Any registered voter living within Palo Alto Unified School District boundaries may apply. Candidate declarations may be filed between July 16 and Aug. 10, according to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Office.

"I've been to about every single school board meeting for the last two years," Baten Caswell said about her commitment to the district. "I'm very familiar with the issues. And I've been on PTA council for two years."

"We have an excellent school district," she added. "I want it to continue that we have an excellent school district."

If elected, Baten Caswell said she would put a high priority on closing the achievement gap.

"I'm a big proponent about kids being enthusiastic and curious and loving learning," she said. She said she wants to emphasize educating "well-rounded happy, smart kids. And that should be all our kids."

Ezran, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the board in 2005, noted that he did receive 5,100 votes. People have been asking him whether he plans to run again, he said.

"I'd like to see a little bit less talk and more action," he said about the current board. "Minor issues have been mishandled. First was the senior-management crisis. Personally, I would have handled it a bit differently," he said.

"When you have heavily disgruntled employees, the first thing you want to do is talk to them directly. The gesture of doing that releases a lot of tension and creates goodwill."

Forming a committee to hire a consulting company to handle the issue was too bureaucratic, he said.

"When you have a crisis you have to grab the bull by the horns and take action."

As for the food-services deficit, he said he wants to see more creativity from the board.

"Maybe we could do more marketing, do more promotion of lunches to attract more students," he said. "Free smoothies -- something like that would attract students."

On the achievement gap, "If you want to lose the gap, you need to raise the standard of living of people who fall into the achievement gap," Ezran said. "It's a societal problem, and not just linked to schools."

He said he supported the board's June 5 vote on Mandarin immersion.

"My position is that it is high time to reunite the entire school community. The issue of Mandarin immersion has been way too divisive, and we all lose when there is so much infighting.

"There are many critical issues facing the district, issues that cannot wait -- such as: enrollment growth, facilities planning, closing the achievement gap, maintaining world-class excellence, foreign languages," he said.

"Prolonging the (Mandarin immersion) debate will only defocus us from working together on what is critical. I would like to see both former sides stop prolonging a destructive war, entirely forget which side they were on, and use their great energy and passion productively to help plan for our future.

"During the campaign I want to carry a message of civil discourse and unity," he added.

Klausner said she will step down from her current position as district math specialist.

"It is important to be able to articulate the positive contributions that all sides make to our school community so that we can successfully build our district's educational future. My insider's view as a teacher and my connection to parents, teachers, and administrators will help to engage these important voices," Klausner said.

She studied at Cornell University and Yale law school. She has served on the boards of the Palo Alto Foundation for Education, Palo Alto Girl's Softball and the Gunn Foundation. She has lived in Palo Alto since 1995.

On Mandarin immersion, she said she would like the Palo Alto school community to begin looking forward.

"Since the current board has reached a decision to move forward with the pilot, the district should do so in good faith with the commitment to monitoring the program's effectiveness, including its impact on enrollment and cost and on how well it is integrated into the school and community. ... I would now like to see the board and the school community turn its policy decision-making efforts towards other, equally important issues such as exploring a FLES (foreign language in elementary schools) program and solving our growth and facility needs while continuing to champion our academic programs."

Staff Writer Susan Hong can be reached at shong@paweekly.com.

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