Candidate Heidi Emberling says serving on the school board would be a natural extension of her profession as an early-childhood specialist and parent educator and her passion for education.
As a close watcher of the board for the past two years -- she's attended nearly every meeting -- Emberling has plenty to say about how the district could have better managed touchy issues such as the academic-calendar change and the need to make board meetings more efficient.
But she disagrees with the other non-incumbent candidate, Ken Dauber, about the need to significantly change the district's prevailing culture of site-based decision-making.
"Programs aren't going to be successful unless there's buy-in from all stakeholders," Emberling said, referring to Dauber's position that Gunn High School should adopt a Palo Alto High School-style teacher advisory system.
"You're not going to be able to impose a new comprehensive guidance system on top of what teachers want or don't want at a school."
In the case of guidance counseling at Gunn, the board appropriately has set expectations and left it to a Gunn task force to develop a structure that will offer Gunn students a level of service comparable to that at Paly, she said.
"The big issue is making sure we have equity with regards to the two systems," she said.
Emberling was an Emmy-nominated producer, writer and editor for 12 years before shifting careers to become a parent educator. She earned an Emmy nomination for editing a segment of a 12-part series on the history of San Francisco for KRON-TV and also produced and directed "Spirit of the Dawn" about the Native American education system and "Tangled Roots," about her personal struggle to reconcile her dual heritage as both German (her father) and Jewish (her mother).
She now works part-time at Parents Place, an organization of Jewish Family & Children's Services, conducting child behavioral observations and running preschool staff-development workshops.
She began volunteering at Juana Briones Elementary School when the older of her two children began school there and quickly found herself PTA President and chair of the school's site council.
When other parents began asking her questions around the time of the controversy surrounding adoption of the K-5 Everyday Mathematics curriculum, she began attending school board meetings to get answers.
She watched the board struggle through the vexing issues of the academic calendar -- finally voting in May 2011 to move the school-year start to mid-August so as to end the first semester before the December holidays -- and student mental health following a string of student deaths by suicide in 2009 and 2010.
Emberling thinks the district could have done better on the calendar issue -- explaining more clearly early in the process why changes were being considered and creating a website aimed at clarifying the issues.
Somehow it was laid out in a way that people felt like they weren't being heard," she said.
"Like with the guidance system, there's probably an outside-the-box solution for the calendar as well. I'd like to explore potentially a quarter system, which means you'd start after Labor Day and still end (first semester) before the holidays."
Emberling has participated in Project Safety Net, the community collaborative to promote teen wellness that was created following the suicides, and places "student connectedness" at school high on her priority list.
She also advocates reform of board processes to make meetings more efficient.
"I think it's anti-democratic for board meetings to go until 1 a.m. or later -- you're limiting public access at that point," she said.
"We need to look at how they plan agendas and know what every agenda item is supposed to do and set some goals around that."
In general, Emberling views herself as a consensus builder. Referring to her work on Project Safety Net and as a board member of the independent fund-raising foundation Partners in Education, she said, "I really enjoy that collaborative work -- bringing people together for the sole issue of making sure our kids feel supported."