Debate: School board candidates answer additional questions


School board candidates answered a number of questions posed by moderator Joe Simitian or submitted by the audience.

The video of this Sept. 11 debate is posted at the Palo Alto Online YouTube channel. The time that a question is asked is marked next to the question, below.

Joe Simitian asks:

What book have you read that changed your life? (Time on video: 1:34:45)

Gina Dalma: Alain de Botton's "The Art of Travel."

Terry Godfrey: Fannie Flagg's "Standing Under the Rainbow."

Ken Dauber: Bruno Latour's "Science in Action."

Catherine Crystal Foster: Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

Jay Blas Cabrera: "The Universe."

Joe Simitian asks:

What makes you laugh? (Time on video: 1:36:50)

Catherine Crystal Foster: My 13-year-old son.

Ken Dauber: Just about everything.

Gina Dalma: Myself, the ability to laugh about the ridiculousness of our own being.

Jay Blas Cabrera: Hours of Netflix comedy shows.

Terry Godfrey: The golf course – you should see me golf.

Joe Simitian asks:

Who do you admire, and why? (Time on video: 1:37:46)

Terry Godfrey: I admire my mom – you're making me cry – she raised great kids and worked very hard every day.

Gina Dalma: My father. He said if you focus on education you not only impact your own well being but you can impact on the rest of the world.

Catherine Crystal Foster: My dad. He's the highest integrity person I know. I've never heard him raise his voice or say a dishonest word.

Jay Blas Cabrera: Nelson Mandela for his courage and prowess.

Ken Dauber: My wife. She's been a real voice for social justice, standing up for victims of sexual assault at Stanford University.

Audience question 1:

Q: Do you support tenure for teachers? (Time on video: 1:39:30)

Ken Dauber said he does support teacher tenure. Teaching is a very complicated job with many stakeholders and teachers need job protections in order to be able to speak freely and exercise the independence we want them to exercise. The probationary period is probably too short in California. He's heard from a lot of teachers that a year and a half to permanent status doesn't provide enough time for them to be evaluated.

Jay Blas Cabrera said he supports teacher tenure, but three years seems more reasonable than 18 months as a probationary period.

Catherine Crystal Foster said she believes teachers should have very strong due-process rights. However, she does not think you could find a profession where you could say in one and a half years whether someone has mastered their craft. She strong believes that if tenure is in place the probationary period needs to be longer for the sake of teachers as well as students. The real question is, what kind of support can we provide, and we need to ensure that the tenure process is thorough and transparent and allows relevant parties to have input.

Gina Dalma said she does support tenure but would extend the probationary period. She believes very strongly in teacher assessment in terms of student growth, but would make sure it is coupled with a support system to make sure teachers are able to reach their goals.

Terry Godfrey said she supports tenure but the process would benefit from a clear, transparent process. She cited a teacher friend whose district tried to fire him because he wore a pony tail but he was able to keep the job. Ten years later he was named teacher of the year.

Audience question 2:

Q: When will the district need another bond issue? (Time on video: 1:44:02)

Catherine Crystal Foster said we don't need one yet. We have some money currently in abeyance. It's unclear how much housing growth we're going to have. We'll probably be able to answer that question better after the City Council election. But we still have enough under our current bond.

Jay Blas Cabrera said there's still $255 million that has not been spent. Funds could be used up pretty quickly if we build another elementary school. The question is, do we want to invest in more upgrades?

Terry Godfrey said that under an original long-range plan, $700 million was targeted for upgrades. The 2008 bond was for a little more than half of that and we can see the results all over town. It's unclear when we're going to have to go out for more.

Ken Dauber said he doesn't know when we'll need to go out for another bond. It depends in part on what happens with housing in the city, and how intensively our housing stock is used.

Gina Dalma said the district expects to have an enrollment of 16,000 by 2525. We should be planning ahead, considering what we're going to need in five to ten years and plan accordingly. She would take two steps back and really plan ahead.

Audience question 3:

Q: How might the arrival of the new superintendent influence your priorities as a new board member? (Time on video: 1:47:11)

Terry Godfrey said the new superintendent, Max McGee, is enthusiastic, smart, experienced and ready to hit the ground running, and he has. We have this great moment, and he has in his own family experience with special education and he has experience educating socio-economically disadvantaged children.

Gina Dalma said she shares the excitement about the new superintendent. He's set a clear vision for our school district. The board should ensure that all the policies are aligned to achieving that goal. In particular she would focus on building systems to continuously learn, bringing the community along toward the shared goal and making sure we're connecting with our community inside and outside the geographic boundaries.

Ken Dauber said the new superintendent is terrific, bringing focus on results, consistency and placing the focus on teaching and learning. The most important thing the board can do is get behind him and push.

Jay Blas Cabrera said the new superintendent brings a helpful outside perspective.

Catherine Crystal Foster said the new superintendent has a tremendous amount of energy and goodwill that goes along with a new start. She was delighted to hear about his interest in innovation, collaboration and that he believes deeply in transparency, accountability and communication. He's very action-oriented.

Audience question 4:

Q: What is your vision for partnership with the City of Palo Alto regarding Cubberley? (Time on video: 1:51:01)

Gina Dalma said it should be a very tight partnership. We've got a huge asset in Cubberley and need to make sure there's a common vision. There could be magic in co-locating. Having a high school with community services that serve the whole community is a great idea.

Ken Dauber said it's critical that we partner with the city to make use of Cubberley. Both entities are going to have to give a little in the short, medium and long-term. On the district side, we need to do joint planning and make commitments to enable the city and district to go to citizens and ask for the support they need.

Catherine Crystal Foster said the district needs to have a very positive, collaborative and action-oriented relationship on Cubberley. We've let this incredible jewel sit and deteriorate for too long. We need a professional community needs assessment, as recommended by the Cubberley Advisory Committee. We could energize student learning by maybe having things like a design lab, and child care.

Terry Godfrey said we've collaborated with the city successfully on Project Safety Net and she's not sure why Cubberley went "off the rails," but we do have shared goals around that asset. She hopes that changing leadership and remember past collaborations with the city will help get things back on track.

Jay Blas Cabrera said the districdt has 26 acres at Cubberley and the district owns some more. We could fit an elementary school, a middle school and some type of high school that would be more of a college-prep there, because Foothill is already involved there.

Audience question 5:

Q: Given all the wonderful ideas, what would you do to control expenses? (Time on video: 1:54:27)

Gina Dalma said she would make sure that we have a clear vision for success for all kids, and make sure we align activities to ensure the vision and make sure we align the budget to that.

Catherine Crystal Foster said she would show extreme discipline in doing only that which is contemplated under the strategic plan and, when we evaluate programs, let go of things that we may like but that are not effective.

Terry Godfrey said the district already has a conservative budget process. As we make decisions, if we want to add things we have to decide what gets shrunk. If we do an evaluation and a program hasn't met the need, we have to make tough decisions. The community won't fund bond measures and the parcel tax if they don't think we're managing carefully.

Jay Blas Cabrera said the district needs transparency and accountability.

Ken Dauber said the district needs to tie expenditures to positive learning outcomes for kids. Things like legal fees and hiring a public relations officer cannot be tied to positive learning outcomes for kids.

CANDIDATES' CLOSING STATEMENTS: (Time on video: 1:57:43)

Terry Godfrey said she's spent a lot of time volunteering in the school district on top of having a full-time job. Now she works part-time. She's used her experience as a senior manager to run organizations to benefit youth directly and has used her skills with kids to build developmental assets. She has spent many years showing a commitment to students, and the experiences she has in that regard differentiate her as a candidate. Her professional career has been in management and finance. She was at Intel for more than 10 years and later became the director of finance and strategic planning at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This experience gives her a different skill set than we have on the board right now. She said her ability to work across groups and to collaborate is well-proven.

Jay Blas Cabrera said since he's not a parent he would be an alternative candidate. It might not be the best thing for everyone to have the same perspective and he could offer new ideas as a younger person and a Gunn alumnus. He grew up on the Stanford campus, attended Nixon, JLS and Gunn and studied environmental biology at UC Santa Cruz, where he was active in student government.

Ken Dauber said we have great schools in Palo Alto. He said he's devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to making sure schools work even better for kids by working on specific things like a homework policy, better guidance counseling and high-school graduation requirements. That record is one people should like and should vote for. He's committed to implementing the homework policy, opening a 13th elementary school, teaching foreign language to all elementary students, putting the district on the right course on civil rights, solving work pile-ups, working on creating consistency among teachers and working with the city to resolve Cubberley, and those are specific commitments he is making.

Gina Dalma said she believes in the potential of each and every one of our kids to change the world. We have all the foundational elements in our district to make that happen, including the most creative community in the world. She wants to make sure that all those assets are truly securing Palo Alto in the forefront of educational innovation. First, she would make sure we're creating a learning institution that embraces innovation, makes sure we're looking at what works and scaling it consistently, make sure we're collaborating with the entire community on success for all, and make sure we're connecting with innovators from outside out boundaries. She was born and raised in Mexico and brings a diverse perspective. She's trained as an economist and for the last 10 years has focused on education. She manages the Silicon Valley Community Foundation's investments in education, which allows her to look continuously at what's happening and bring it back to our community.

Catherine Crystal Foster said she decided to run because she's deeply passionate about educational excellence and maximizing the potential of every single student. For 20 years she's worked for kids – this is her life's work. When we talk about the achievement gap, she thinks of specific students she worked with through the Peninsula College Fund who became the first in their families to graduate from college, despite the struggles. When we talk about preparing kids for careers that don't yet exist, she recalls conversations she's had through her work with the Gates Foundation. On budget struggles, she has had experience through her work with the Children's Defense Fund. Evaluation is something she has done for many years and for many organizations. How can we measure what's hard to measure and ensure that educational programs serve our kids? It's this kind of knowledge, experience and dedication I would bring to the board.

• Return to School board candidates answer 20 questions

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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 14, 2014 at 10:54 am

I attended the debate, but this and other related threads are wonderful for recall and for the public. Thanks, Weekly!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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