Palo Alto resident Grace Mah was appointed to the Santa Clara County Board of Education Wednesday night by a 5-1 vote. She will begin her two-year term on May 2 to represent Palo Alto Unified, Sunnyvale, Mountain View-Whisman and portions of Fremont Union and Mountain View-Los Altos Union high school districts.
"It's still sinking in," Mah said Thursday. "There are challenges in attracting, retaining and hiring teachers, which is tied into funding."
"A major challenge right now is English language learners and the difficulties they have, and tied with that is closing the achievement gap in general."
She will fill the position Williamson "Bill" Evers vacated in February this year when President George Bush nominated Evers to be U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.
"I am interested in the county board's ability to influence legislation," Mah said. Between now and May she said she's going on vacation. "I'm going to see what I can do to help. I don't have a specific plan."
Palo Alto resident Barbara Spreng and Mountain View resident Rose Filicetti also applied for the position.
"Each of the candidates really could have fulfilled the requirements of the seat," Gary Rummelhoff, the president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, said. "I found Grace very articulate. I felt that she was knowledgeable of issues that Palo Alto faces. I was impressed that she had reached out to superintendents for districts she would be representing."
"She thought more broadly than the one issue that has brought so much attention to her," said Rummelhoff, referring to Mah's involvement in Mandarin-immersion in Palo Alto.
"My personal opinion is that we need somebody who is a little bit of a change agent. I think that's okay," he said. "We have some things that are new and different that we have to face. We need someone with a little bit of courage."
Mah said that if a Mandarin-immersion charter were to get appealed to the county board of education she would recuse herself.
The Santa Clara County Board of Education has as its top priority looking at the performance of "alternative programs" such as "court schools, juvenile hall, and the ranches (an extended stay for students in detention)," Rummelhoff said.
Also an important agenda item is charter schools, he said.
"We need to look closely at our role and responsibility to hold those charters accountable for the work that they're doing."