Klausner bows out on seeking second school board term

School board member cites 'mismatch' between her passion for pedagogy and limits of board role

Palo Alto school board member Barbara Klausner has announced she will not seek a second term on the five-member board, leaving what appeared to be a "safe" incumbent seat up for grabs.

Klausner, a Yale-trained lawyer who taught math in the district before her election to the board in 2007, cited a "mismatch between the role of the school board in our community and my professional interests, skill set, and hopes of what I could accomplish as a board member."

She had been unable to pursue her passion for classroom innovation as much as she had hoped because of the school district's policy of site-based decision-making -- deferring to principals and the superintendent on classroom issues.

"For me as an educator ... the area of strongest interest is pedagogy, and in these matters, the board carefully circumscribes its role," Klausner said in a written statement.

"In this district, with its strong culture of site-based decision-making and concomitant deference to the superintendent, key pedagogical and programmatic decisions are developed, refined and evaluated primarily within our schools, and the board, as a reflection of our community's values, has adapted its role to fit that culture."

Hours after Klausner's announcement Thursday morning, school board President Camille Townsend, first elected in 2003, declared her intention to seek a third term.

Klausner and Townsend's declarations leave the race so far a non-competitive field of two incumbents and one newcomer seeking three available seats.

Melissa Baten Caswell, a one-term incumbent, qualified for the ballot July 24. Newcomer Heidi Emberling, a parent educator and active volunteer, has taken out nominating papers and is actively campaigning for a board seat.

In the event of an incumbent not filing by the nomination deadline of Aug. 10, the deadline is extended to Aug. 15. The election is Nov. 6.

In her written statement, Klausner, who served as president of the board in 2009-2010, praised fellow board members, Superintendent Kevin Skelly, teachers and others in the district.

"Many wonderful things have been happening in our classrooms and in our schools," she said.

But the statement implicitly called into question the district's adherence to the site-based decision-making model.

"As a board member, my primary goal was to support our teachers and staff by encouraging an open-minded spirit of innovation and improvement, and to help bring about a way for us to make the most of our best educational practices by sharing them more efficiently and equitably throughout the district," she wrote.

"I have come to understand the role that the board has chosen for itself and I recognize its merits..." Klausner said, adding that she plans to return to her "roots in education and work with fellow educators to improve the lives and prospects of students."


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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2012 at 11:55 am

Sounds like Skelly's stonewalling got to her. Wasn't she the one who called him out for a somewhat duplicitous modus operandi on the Gunn advisory issue?

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Really? Klausner made positive comments about Skelley immediately after the board voted unanimously to extend his contract.

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Posted by ABC
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 26, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Of course Camille Townsend is seeking a third term. How much more dysfunctional can PAUSD get? Good people with ethics and goals like Klausner are driven out by Skelly's narcissism and arrogance while Townsend, who only makes sense occasionally and by accident, who only wants to do this job so that she can be the center of attention, and who has elevated empty praise to an art form, runs for a third term, probably unopposed. This Board desperately needs someone to stand up to the district, the union, and the parents. Run, Ken, Run.

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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm

This is a huge loss. Barbara has consistently been a voice of reason on the board. She is intelligent and courageous, and unafraid to take a stand that would be unpopular from some of the very vocal minority of parents. I didn't even agree with her on every position, but I respected her as a caring, intelligent and extremely competent board member.

I would have even volunteered for her campaign. Barbara, thank you for your service to our community, and best wishes for your future.

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Posted by BadNews
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm

What a shame. I got to know the school board in the last few years, and really thought of Barbara as the strongest school board member. She'll be missed.

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Posted by Kathy Sharp
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm


Thank you for your service to Palo Alto and specifically to the Gunn community. Thank you for voting to align the graduation requirements to the entry level requirements for application to a four year college (A-G). This important vote raised the bar for all our students and was an important part of the strategy to close the achievement gap. Once the district fully implements this policy, all Paly and Gunn graduates will be eligible to continue their education at a California State college or at a UC campus.

Thank you also for your vote to change the calendar with the expectation that ending the first semester before Christmas will allow high school students to take a well needed break.

Thank you also for pushing for Gunn to adopt the Teacher Advisory program. Site based decision making has precluded the possibility of this successful program which has been a cornerstone of the Paly counseling delivery system to be replicated at Gunn. I appreciate your frustration.

I will be joining you in continuing to support our youth in Palo Alto. Hope to see you at a football game. All the best to you and your family.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Good luck to Ms. Klausner - she will be missed.

I would have hoped for a parent advocate on the school board, someone who can represent the community and start to bring down the site-based barriers to progress. The district uses this site-based nonsense to stonewall parents (any problem is ignored by the sites, and escalation to the district is just ignored and kicked back as a site-based issue)

Too bad she is going...

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Posted by Last of the baby boomers
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 27, 2012 at 9:46 am

Thank you Barbara for your service to the community. You are everything that I would wish for on the school board and in any community activity. Your insights, votes and efforts are greatly appreciated and you will be sorely missed. You are all the good things already said above. Also, thank you for your statement explaining the dynamics of the PAUSD process. That was insightful and helpful. Thank you in advance for whatever you do next.

A Grateful PAUSD Parent

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Posted by My-Way-Or-The-Highway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2012 at 9:47 am

Reading Klausner’s letter leaves one wondering exactly what is she trying to say? She seems to be saying she is frustrated because there were “changes” she wanted to impose on the District/schools, based on her unique point-of-view. But she didn’t make any effort to explain what changes she would impose--given the power to do so.

Most candidates for school board rarely seem to be open/honest with the community/voters about their motivations for running for this office. It may be that most candidates are not even really sure why they are running. The election process for school board in Palo Alto doesn’t really give the general electorate much access to the candidates, nor are the candidates obligated to be very open to the public, so maybe it’s not fair expecting people like Klausner to be more open during the short election period.

At least Klausner is being honest now, in admitting that she has an agenda and not being able to marshal sufficient board support to allow her to advance that agenda into practice.
Given that the Ed Code is the overriding legal authority with which school districts must comply—one can only wonder if Klausner really understood that when she decided to run? Certainly being a teacher she must have had some idea about just what school boards can/can not do.

Klausner is not required to reveal her agenda, but it might be interesting if she were to let the community know what she thinks would make the schools better than they really are, before she exits the stage. (And lest we forget, people in the real world come to learn that: “Better is the enemy of good”.)

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Posted by Reflection
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm


Barb Klausner got a pretty expansive reform agenda passed during her first 4 years on the board.

Klausner changed how elementary math is taught in every elementary classroom. (She was the last and deciding vote cast for Everyday Math.)

She also was the last and deciding vote that brought in a dramatically new school calendar which affects all sorts of things from family summer plans to high schools' operations due to the shift in school start and end dates and the timing of finals: all high school teachers are spending this summer re-doing curriculum to adjust to the new schedule, both high schools’ performing arts departments are moving and cancelling performances because of the conflicts the new schedule creates, the district office (after a year + of work) is still pondering how to mitigate the new stressors that the new calendar creates for seniors and athletes, etc.

Her work touched all students and most of the district's teachers and staff, so she wasn’t too constrained by fellow board members’ deference to site-based decision-making.

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Posted by My-Way-Or-The-Highway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

> Barb Klausner got a pretty expansive reform agenda passed
> during her first 4 years on the board.

Thanks for the update. While people who don't have kids in school probably are too sensitive to the impacts of the calendar change, if memory serves there were a lot of unhappy parents opposing this "reform".

As to Everyday Math, that was also pretty unpopular--with very few reasons for its adoption. Certainly all the hoooo-rah from the We-Can-Do-Better crowd pretty much eviscerated any claims that EDM would increase the productivity of people on the bottom of the spectrum.

> she wasn’t too constrained by fellow board members’
> deference to site-based decision-making.

So it would seem. Which leaves us with the question, did Klausner think about all of the opposition to her agenda from parents/community that would be voting come November, and would make an issue about not wanting more unpopular change introduced into the schools? Would be a lot better to blame other unpopular school board trustees than face thousands of angry parents--providing that they actually remembered that it was Klausner behind these changes?

Well .. only she knows for certain.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Interesting to hear this news. While I found Klausner's opinions interesting to listen to, I sometimes found it puzzling when her votes seemed to contradict her opinion. That said, anyone who serves on this school board deserves a big "thank you."

I also applaud Townsend for running again. I have appreciated her being open to consider all angles and arguments of any particular issue and her efforts to articulate her reasoning. While the board meetings can be eternally long when each member repeats identical points (and esp. the gushing thanks for people doing what they were hired to do), I guess some of it might be necessary for things to be on the record.

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Posted by thanks for your good work
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Ms. Klausner,

I want to thank you for your excellent work. You have been a real voice of reason. I have watched you learn and gain confidence in the last couple of years to become, in my opinion, one of the strongest and most thoughtful Board contributors.

Please reconsider. I would vote for you again! In fact, I'd campaign for you!

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