News


School board debate recap: Candidates answer 20 questions

From the achievement gap to budget priorities, five candidates talk about pressing issues facing Palo Alto school district

The five candidates vying for two seats on the Palo Alto Board of Education squared off on Sept. 11, 2014, at a debate sponsored by the Palo Alto Weekly and the Oshman Family JCC.

Here's a recap of their answers to the 20 questions posed, with a guide to watching the video of the entire debate, posted on Palo Alto Online.

The debate was divided into three sections, based on questions posed by the Weekly staff; the candidates themselves; and moderator Supervisor Joe Simitian and audience members.

Finally, the candidates each gave a closing statement.

A video of the entire two-hour debate is posted on the Palo Alto Online YouTube channel.

Click on a question, below, to read the candidates' answers; or watch them answer the question on the video at the time marked next to the question.

Palo Alto Weekly's questions:

1. What is your opinion of the current school board's handling of recent controversies? (Time on video: 05:00)

2. What role should the board play in approving curriculum (with reference to de-laning of Paly freshmen English)? (Time on video: 16:19)

3. How would you balance district governance and school-site decision making? (Time on video: 23:18)

4. What is your opinion of Common Core? (Time on video: 30:31)

5. How would you have voted on the school board's June 2014 resolution criticizing the federal Office of Civil Rights? (Time on video: 37:13)

6. How effective has the school district been in easing student stress? (Time on video: 41:10)

7. How can the district close the achievement gap? (Time on video: 47:39)

Candidates' questions to one another:

8. Terry Godfrey: What are one or two things you've done with and for our community's youth? (Time on video: 54:13)

9. Jay Blas Cabrera: What one program or service in the school budget would you cut, and what one new program or service would you add? (Time on video: 1:03:30)

10. Catherine Crystal Foster: How do you define success for our students? (Time on video: 1:11:47)

11. Gina Dalma: What educational innovations outside our district would you bring to Palo Alto? (Time on video: 1:19:11)

12. Ken Dauber: When should a 13th elementary school be opened, and where? (Time on video: 1:28:14)

Joe Simitian's questions:

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

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

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

Audience questions:

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

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

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

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

20. What would you do to control expenses? (Time on video: 1:54:27)

Closing statements (Time on video: 1:57:43)

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by Terman Dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 14, 2014 at 12:21 am

Great debate. The four leading candidates all came across well [portion removed.] I also appreciated her focus on transparency and a collaborative approach – we need more of both in our school district.


1 person likes this
Posted by interesting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2014 at 1:30 am

I agree, great debate (more like a friendly Q&A)

Most interesting candidate for me was Jay Cabrera.

Thank you Jay for your truly new perspectives. Half of the stuff the other candidates talked about were like Town Square re-runs. Heard all that stuff before but you have some great ideas! Getting 40 or so people track 5 million each (including students) is at once funny and brilliant. The concept is what counts, and your wanting open and participatory government.

I hope whatever happens that you will remain engaged with PAUSD. You would get support for all your ideas.


1 person likes this
Posted by interesting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2014 at 1:31 am

meant tracking the budget


1 person likes this
Posted by Member PA
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 14, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Interesting debate, lots to cover by each candidate.

[Portion removed.]

Thank you PA weekly for posting the debate on Youtube so those of us who could not make it to the live event could watch it later.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 14, 2014 at 1:02 pm

How nice of PA Online to have this thread with the video times marked. Thank you!


1 person likes this
Posted by Stop the sock puppets
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 14, 2014 at 1:24 pm

I thought the editor was deleting campaign posts. Please limit to substantive discussion.


1 person likes this
Posted by Close threads they are fake
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 14, 2014 at 2:19 pm

This is an entirely fake discussion. I don't think you should allow commenting on these city council and school board threads. It is very unlikely to be anything other than dueling campaign posts and once One campaign posts plaudits then the others feel obligated which means that the entire thread is just campaign statements. Even assuming town square is ever beneficial (questionable) this is not. It's the opposite. [Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Do the right thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2014 at 10:12 pm

I want someone capable of thinking and acting based on information, parent input, judgment, ethics, and good sense. I don't want someone who, no matter what is at issue, has to wait for permission from the political winds and then wait some more and then do nothing, i.e., unless I see that Terry Godfrey is somehow the polar opposite of a typical PTA person, I can't vote for her no matter how much I like what she says (and I do like what she says, believe me, she's intelligent and makes sense). But in practice, I find PTA people work hard, but only on those things where thousands before them came out of their chicken hidey holes and the political winds were favorable for long enough.

School board people have to act in an oversight role, and I have never seen anyone immersed in the PTA culture who is capable of doing that, no matter what is at stake. Our district has been incredibly political, and getting someone from that atmosphere will be worse than usual. We've had enough of that already.


2 people like this
Posted by Certainly not right thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2014 at 1:02 am

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Devil you know
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 15, 2014 at 8:29 am

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 15, 2014 at 8:44 am

I am copying my post here as this seems to be the active thread.

Thank you for the links.

As someone who was unable to attend the debate, it is good to have these.

I had many questions and although some of them have been answered, many of the topics were not touched on. For those that were answered, I still feel that the responses were political non-answers. I see very little practical difference between several of the candidates and the agreeable platitudes all sound the same. I was also very dissatisfied with Joe Simitian's questions. I understand that he was trying to get the public to see the human side of the candidates, but really I am looking for real answers to the hot topics to let me know what way the candidates would vote on real issues.

I got the impression that all the candidates are very likeable people, willing to do the best for our children and our district, but that is not enough to give me information on who we should be voting for.

I hope that over the coming weeks we can really get down to brass tacks and find out who is willing to make a stand on some of these issues. I have one definite yes but choosing between the rest is not easy. I do not want a board made up of carbon copies of the type of people we already have. I want to see board members who are not always in agreement, who have different perspectives and are willing to make difficult choices and make some real changes.

A child's education at PAUSD is 13 short years. Those presently in high school will not reap many of the benefits of this election. Some of the issues are going to only affect those students who are yet to be conceived if we are talking about changes in elementary schools. Some of our present younger grades may be affected by high school changes. So many of the changes that should be made are for future students rather than our own or those on the board. Let's make sure we think of the future and get some real changes made to bring 21st century education to Palo Alto.


1 person likes this
Posted by perspective
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 15, 2014 at 9:03 am

[Portion removed.] The PTA does a huge amount of work for all the kids in this district. They are deliberately apolitical because they are above politics and include everyone. [Portion removed.]

If you have a problem with the PTA, talk to anyone in it. They'll welcome all the help they can get. Literally millions of dollars are raised each your for your kids by the work of the PTA.

Terry has dedicated literally thousand's of hours to the help of our kids through her own work, PiE & the PTA. [Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by perspective
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 15, 2014 at 9:31 am

To be honest, I'm quite glad you've left DT-RT's comment there. It really does show the juxtaposition of the camps in this election.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 15, 2014 at 9:53 am

@Perspective
I didn't get to read the deleted portions of your post, but I'd like to offer my perspective. The PTA and PIE are incredibly valuable resources to PAUSD with hundreds of volunteers donating their time and resources. I think that the point of some posters is that being a valuable fundraiser or other volunteer is a very different function than being an elected government official responsible for policies and oversight of the district. Interestingly, one of the PIE leaders, Victoria Thorp, has created what appears to be an informative website, Web Link. One of her key questions of candidates is about the role of the board "Considering the three domains of board responsibility- administrative oversight, policy setting and judicial oversight- what are the experiences and skills you bring to be an effective school board member in these areas?" I encourage readers to read the candidates' responses. Foster and Godfrey do not appear to appreciate or address the two oversight portions of the question.
My observation over recent years is that many of our problems have emanated from the board having too little independent thinking, too much cheer leading and too great of an allegiance to "protecting the brand" of PAUSD rather than strong, independent oversight.
An important question is whether the PIE/PTA pipeline is the best channel for board representatives who have the governing responsibility to independently oversee the superintendent and administration and to make the policy decisions of the district.
These are important and legitimate questions for the electorate and asking them should not be construed as not appreciating the contributions of PIE or PTA.
BTY, I think that we have four strong candidates, all of whom would improve our board.


Like this comment
Posted by perspective
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm

@Parent,
No one is saying that being a valuable fund raiser or volunteer is a pre-requisite for election. On the other hand, being unable to offer any volunteering experience in our schools is also not a pre-requiste to run.

[Portion removed.]

The PTA/PiE isn't a "pipeline", they are organizations aimed at supporting our kids egalitarially. Most (all?) who volunteer for these organizations have no political aspirations whatsoever.

My problem voting for candidates that can't show any volunteering within the district is that they have to be extra clear on their motivation for running. I want candidates that have shown dedication to help ALL the children in the district regardless of need.


1 person likes this
Posted by Do the right thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Thank you Parent from Palo Alto High School, you clarified my post exactly and hit the nail on the head.

I applaud PiE and PTA, I support them and volunteer myself. But as a result, I know just how maddeningly prone people are to inaction and scared of their own shadows when it comes to any whiff of conflict.

Dauber raised a lot of kids through PAUSD schools, and he's volunteered a great deal in the past few years, quite effectively, in an advocate role. He clearly understands the workings of the district, is open to problems, doesn't take criticism personally, and is ready to work on solving problems. I don't know about the others - it might be nice to have someone from the SV Community Fndn on PAUSD board and understanding the district better, local resident Zuckerberg gave them 500M and I don't think they've spent any of it here, have they?

I think PTA people should continue to serve valuable roles on PTA, it's not a good move from there to school board, we need a completely opposite mindset.


Like this comment
Posted by perspective
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 15, 2014 at 3:02 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2014 at 3:16 pm

@Do the right thing:

[Portion removed.]

The Palo Alto community should never expect to receive any grant money from the SV Community Fund or Zuckerburg unless it is person giving from their private fund. Palo Alto is a wealthy community that should provide for its own students. Those types of funds should be given to communities that struggle to support themselves.


1 person likes this
Posted by Ballots not Bullets
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 15, 2014 at 4:34 pm

The debate did not change my views of the four leading candidates at all. They said what I expected to hear in terms of positions on issues. Overall, Joe Simitian did an excellent job moderating and entertained us with his wit. However, I was annoyed that he allowed Terry Godfrey to go WAY over her time limit to read an email from a student in response to the question she asked the other candidates. And it was nothing more than an emotional boost to her "what I am most proud of" segment. The others did not have this opportunity, even for their own questions. For example, I did not know as much about Gina Dalma, and she was cut off in the middle of making a substantive point. Sorry, but this was a political debate, not a PTA meeting.

Like @interesting, I too was fascinated by Jay Cabrera. I knew nothing about him except what I read in the Weekly, and I found him to be refreshingly different from everyone else. Granted, he is not conventional in his thinking, does not talk like a polished candidate, and probably has the least amount of knowledge about the issues and recent District history. But it seems that in a short period of time, he has learned a lot and is trying to apply that knowledge to the best of his ability. Maybe that's what we need: someone without the political baggage who has enthusiasm, energy, and an open mind like a sponge. Regardless, I am always glad to see younger people get actively involved in our community.


Like this comment
Posted by parent of 2
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 15, 2014 at 7:42 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by stop the sock puppets
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 15, 2014 at 8:14 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by more perspective
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2014 at 8:44 pm

The Weekly hosts a great blog helping educates parents on the steps for children to go to college. Web Link

The entries on community service provide helpful expectations from admissions officers.

"Admissions officers know what zip code you're from, and may even know your family income. They expect students from Silicon Valley zip codes to give back to society.
This is directly from the UC's explanation of how they read applications:
"… experiences that demonstrate unusual promise for leadership, such as significant community service or significant participation in student government; or other significant experiences or achievements that demonstrate the student's promise for contributing to the intellectual vitality of a campus."

Highly selective Williams College is looking for community involvement as well:
"… we seek students who will serve as leaders not only in the classroom, but in the community at large to that end, we also consider candidates' non-academic involvements and achievements at school and in their communities.""

If we expect our children to give back to the community, it's the least we can expect from our school board candidates.


Like this comment
Posted by interesting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2014 at 9:56 pm

more perspective,

"If we expect our children to give back to the community, it's the least we can expect from our school board candidates."

When one "volunteers" and "gives back," in theory the equation stops right there. Many volunteers do their job for nothing. If the choice is to take leadership positions in volunteerism, I'm not sure that counts robustly as the leadership credential for an elected office.

If you want to compare leadership in terms of volunteer hours in PAUSD though, I'd give Dauber the prize for that one. If nothing else for attending all the Board meetings without having a volunteer office or a duty of any kind.


1 person likes this
Posted by PAUSD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2014 at 10:35 pm

How does sitting through meetings equate to volunteer hours? There are plenty of folks that sit through school board and city council meetings and not sure they would be classified as volunteers. They do however voluntarily sit through the meetings.


Like this comment
Posted by interesting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2014 at 11:20 pm

PAUSD

"How does sitting through meetings equate to volunteer hours? There are plenty of folks that sit through school board and city council meetings and not sure they would be classified as volunteers. They do however voluntarily sit through the meetings."

You could say the same for people on PTA or PIE, they sit through meetings. There are hundreds of volunteers actually doing the work of PTA and PIE and the meetings help keep track of admin and the money that hundreds donate. Maybe their specific jobs should be highlighted, accountants, marketing experts, public relations. Again, I don't necessarily think that is a robust definition of leadership.

I wouldn't say that Dauber just "sits" through the PAUSD Board meetings by the way. But if your point is that PIE and PTA leaders should have a secured track to the board because they have volunteered, I disagree.

We may as well forget elections in PAUSD and let PIE and PTA "appoint" the Board members. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by eyes wide shut
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Sep 15, 2014 at 11:20 pm

@ DTRT - when what you actually see, hear and sense competes with an old stereotype, I hope that makes you actively curious and "capable of thinking and acting based on (new) information...judgment...and good sense".

Our community (yours and mine) is fortunate to have terrific people - not only running for school board - but working, volunteering every day in our school PTAs and Council - taking tough positions, supporting/advocating for youth, families and schools every day. And in my experience, that's what's "typical".

Your comments are unfair to so many people.












Like this comment
Posted by interesting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2014 at 11:38 pm

eyes wide shut,

I would agree that DTRT's comments are unfair because his/her comment personalized the problem some of us see with PTA/PIE/Board track/tenure by naming one of the candidates.

It's not really unfair though to bring up why these leadership positions should be criteria for becoming a Board member.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 16, 2014 at 8:39 am

PiE, the PAUSD Board of Education and the District Administration work closely together, as they need too. I'm going to venture a guess that Ms. Godfrey's views will be reflective of the former administrations goals, since she has worked closely with them.


Like this comment
Posted by eyes wide shut
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Sep 16, 2014 at 9:54 am

Every candidate deserves the opportunity to speak for themselves, be heard and earn the respect (or not), the vote (or not) of Palo Altans.

It doesn't help the process, the community or any candidate to assume or "venture guesses" on their positions based on unfair and extreme stereotypes of their volunteer organizations. (Any candidate).

Our soon-to-be-elected school board can do a lot to elevate and improve decision-making and function at the District office as well as in our schools. But they can only do so much without a community that is also willing to elevate itself out of the past, virtual "camps" and stereotyping.






Like this comment
Posted by Ballots not Bullets
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2014 at 11:56 am

(Not directed to anyone in particular)
Each person brings something different to the table, and all should be scrutinized for a host of things, including positions on issues (what they may do); leadership, personal qualities, character (how they will behave); and knowledge & experience in K-12 education (what they bring to the table). Our representative system of government should be inclusive, not exclusive, of a diverse community with diverse ideas. Occupation/volunteerism is only one factor, whether you worked as an education and child advocacy consultant, education funding non-profit director, PiE and PTA council officer, or Google employee and Cub Scout master. Giving into stereotypes categorizes you as an uninformed voter. Try to look at the facts, and put the interests of our kids first.

U.S. Congress: 81.2% male; a lot of lawyers (38% in the House, 57% in the Senate); and average of 10.1 years in the House, 12.3 years in the Senate. Tell me, based on their performance, can you say with a straight face that having a law degree and experience in public policy necessarily makes you a good candidate for legislator? I think not. My dog can do a better job - seriously. Give him a treat and ask him about health care reform and the budget deficit.


Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 16, 2014 at 10:28 pm

I just found out there was another school board candidate forum today, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. I didn't see any mention on PAOnline or today's PA Daily. I guess it wasn't considered newsworthy??


Like this comment
Posted by perspective
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2014 at 7:49 am

Subsequent debates were announced in the article on the Weekly's debate: Web Link

"The candidates will face off again on Tuesday, Sept. 16, in a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Council of PTAs. The event will begin at 7 p.m. in the boardroom of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.

On Saturday, Sept. 20, the candidates will appear at a forum organized by parents of special education students and students of color. The event will be from 10 a.m. to noon in the cafetorium of Jordan Middle School, 750 N. California Ave."


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

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