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Palo Alto school board candidates seek to differentiate themselves

In second debate, five contenders overlap on many issues

While seeming to find common ground on many of the key issues facing the Palo Alto school district, the five candidates for school board Tuesday night, in their second debate of the election season, strove to distinguish themselves by detailing their previous professional and schools-related experience.

The five candidates -- Terry Godfrey, Catherine Crystal Foster, Ken Dauber, Gina Dalma and Jay Cabrera -- repeatedly agreed with each other on the district's need to push for more evaluation of programs in order to scale them up or cut them, to expand foreign language education into all elementary schools, to look at ways to further combat student stress, to make investments in such areas as professional development, educational technologies and realigning the budget to be more student-centric and cost effective.

But when asked by an audience member to name one quality or skill as well as one action the candidate would take in office that the others wouldn't, candidate Dalma said: "I would talk to other school districts in our region that are doing phenomenal work with kids of color and socio-economically disadvantaged (students) and bring it back home so we can close the achievement gap.

"We need to make sure we are pushing the boundaries. We cannot rest in our laurels as a school district," she said.

This notion has become a recurring theme for Dalma, senior program officer at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, who said that Palo Alto, despite being "the most creative community in the world," is not using all its assets fully.

Later in the evening, candidate Foster agreed that the district's greatest weakness is that "we are so good."

"There's a saying: 'The biggest obstacle to being great is being good.' It creates a little less urgency, a little less impetus to innovate sometimes."

Others stressed past work they've done, with Godfrey touting her work as finance director for Intel Europe, where she did data analytics, finance and human resources for the organization, over her work as PTA Council president and president of Partners in Education (PiE).

"Our job (as board) is to set policy, strategy, tone and manage the resources," she said. "I think those large structural kind of things that take that kind of thinking from an organizational and design and finance perspective is what I bring. The hours of PTA and PiE are helpful ... but that's not really my core skill."

Google software engineer and parent activist Dauber, who also ran for a board seat in 2012, squarely positioned himself as the seasoned community participant who has fought for and achieved concrete changes in Palo Alto schools. The cofounder of group We Can Do Better Palo Alto said he has attended almost every board meeting in the last several years and has a deep understanding of how the board operates.

"The best evidence about what kind of board member I would be, I think, is the many, many hours I have spent in this room working on policy and bringing initiatives to the board backed with data and evidence and testimony from students and parents who it would affect," he said. "I am really committed as a board member to getting things done and getting things done that demonstratively work for kids."

He cited his work on the district's homework policy committee, to which he brought "a wealth of academic evidence and brain science that really led to consensus on that committee around time guidelines and homework limits for the first time in the district."

Foster -- who has worked in child advocacy, served for seven years on the board of the Palo Alto Community Fund, worked as executive director for local nonprofit Peninsula College Fund and consulted on education for major nonprofits like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation -- emphasized her long and wide-ranging educationally focused resume.

"In terms of what I would uniquely bring, it is ... years and years of time spent working not only at policy level but actual programs where the rubber hits the road in terms of how kids achieve and learn in school," she said.

She said in terms of different action she would take as a board member, she wants to particularly focus on Palo Alto's middle schools as "place(s) where we need to do more work on our vision" and "turn the curve on the achievement gap."

Gunn High School graduate Cabrera, the only non-parent in the race, again billed himself as an alternative to the typical school board candidates, as well as one who will push for "bringing the governance structures of our community into the 21st century and utilizing technology for decision making." He has said he'd like to have any proposals the board is considered put online so community members can comment, ask questions and interact with the board in real time.

All five candidates were given an opportunity to ask one other candidate one question, drilling down on evaluation processes, the prospect of opening a 13th elementary school, Common Core implementation, technology and the difference between Gunn and Palo Alto High School's counseling programs.

Dalma asked Dauber if he, despite a slowing of enrollment growth, would still advocate for the creation of a new elementary school if elected. He said he would, citing research that shows the "optimum size" for an elementary school is between 300 and 400 students.

"Only two of our elementary schools are that size," he said. "In 2008, we set aside our size policy, which set a limit of 450 (students) for elementary schools because we couldn't sustain it anymore. Our schools now are too crowded; our playgrounds are not of the optimum size for teachers to pay attention. It's time to open a 13th elementary school."

Dauber returned a question to Dalma, asking what strategies she has to make sure the implementation and assessment of the new Common Core state standards works for the district. Dalma, a member of the National Common Core Funders Steering Committee, said she's been working with 27 districts across the country to roll out the standards.

"First, we need to make sure were focusing on the vision: What do we want to achieve with Common Core? We need to make sure that at every level of the school district we're owning that vision ... at teacher level, at site level, at district level," she said.

She added that the implementation of Common Core standards is not a short-term transition, but one that will take five years and requires doubling down on teacher professional development, education technology, student programming and formative assessments.

One audience question returned the candidates to a familiar topic -- how they would approach the district's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigations -- and specifically, how they would support special education students in the wake of the district's numerous bullying complaints.

Dauber set himself apart as the only candidate who declared intent to repeal the board's resolution to fight the OCR on its investigations, which the board unanimously adopted in June.

Dalma said she would "take a couple steps back from the board's resolution against OCR and really establish a partnership with OCR and make sure that we're moving forward and we are working to make sure we are providing a learning environment for all our children."

Foster, who was the only candidate at the first debate last Thursday who said she would have voted for the resolution, albeit reluctantly and only if the allegations in the resolution were true, centered her response about the need to implement and advertise the district's new bullying policy but said it's "very important to work cooperatively with OCR, whose role in great part is to provide technical assistance and support to districts in protecting all kids."

Tuesday's debate took place in a smaller venue -- district headquarters -- than last Thursday's debate at the Oshman Family JCC. Gloria Chun Hoo of the San Mateo County League of Women Voters moderated the debate, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Council of PTAs.

The candidates will next debate on Saturday, Sept. 20, 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.

Related coverage:

One-on-one: School board candidates question one another

School board debate recap: Candidates answer 20 questions

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Like this comment
Posted by Barron Park Dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2014 at 10:37 am

I attended the debate last night and was very impressed by all the candidates. I did not have a strong opinion about any of the candidates going in. [Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by keeping them honest
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 17, 2014 at 10:48 am

looking at how balance the reporting has been...

Word count in report for first debate:
- Foster: 107
- Dauber: 97
- Dalma: 61
- Godfrey: 39
- Cabrera : 26

Word count in report for second debate:
- Foster: 237
- Dauber: 284
- Dalma: 237
- Godfrey: 89
- Cabrera : 63

A pattern is defiantly starting to show in the Weekly's coverage of this election.

Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2014 at 10:50 am

[Post removed due to overt candidate endorsement.]

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Posted by Crescent Park
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2014 at 10:51 am

[Post removed due to overt candidate endorsement.]

Like this comment
Posted by Need a new direction
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:22 am

While these debates are informative, in "genteel" Palo Alto they aren't places where candidates are able to call each other out on each other's positions. The difference in position with the OCR issue is only the tip of the iceberg when analyzing how candidates would behave as board members. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by voter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:27 am

[Post removed due to overt candidate endorsement.]

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Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:43 am

I voted based upon Ivy League degrees last time - a huge mistake. However, I attended the first debate at he JCC and was impressed with Foster and Dauber (both have Yale/Harvard degrees). They both have good communication and analytical skills and would definitely study both sides of issues prior to decisions, and they would be productive.

Terry Godfrey seemed more like a caring mom, not a leader, not someone who I want making large decisions for our entire school district. Working in finance isn't good preparation for working on a school board, but perhaps helped with her position in PiE. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:47 am

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by New to PAUSD
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:49 am

We just moved to PAUSD 6 months ago, and we have 2 kids at Jordan/Paly.

As a pair of "fresh eyes" on PAUSD issues, what strikes me is the level of hyperbole in people's comments. It saddens me to see people using anonymity as a bludgeon to say things they would never dare say to people's faces.

Please remember that you're not writing comments to a screen--you're writing to real people with real feelings. These people are members of your community, and surely it's obvious that, regardless of who wins, we will have to mend fences and collaborate in order to address the challenges PAUSD faces. Solving problems is about maturity and self-restraint.

Every word of hyperbole is just one more careless dent in the school bus that we all have to ride together in the future. Let's reduce the drama and set an example of civil debate. Let's take some pride in our school bus.

1 person likes this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2014 at 12:03 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2014 at 12:05 pm

@New to PAUSD: Palo Altans are very opinionated. I applaud anyone who chooses to run for School Board or City Council in this city. They know they are stepping into the firing range of our residents. Anonymity actually helps the candidates because they can read what the public wants. It would be more difficult for them to know where they stand with no feedback.

Like this comment
Posted by voter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2014 at 12:15 pm

[Post removed due to overt candidate endorsement.]

2 people like this
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by A neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2014 at 1:07 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Dave
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 17, 2014 at 1:25 pm

[Post removed due to overt candidate endorsement.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 17, 2014 at 1:29 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Amy Carpenter
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Sep 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm

[Post removed due to overt candidate endorsement.]

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Posted by PAUSD parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2014 at 2:41 pm

The debate was interesting and illuminated the strengths of these four community leaders running for school board. [Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Excellent debate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Thank you to the League of Women Voters and Palo Alto PTA. The questions were illuminating and I think we are getting better differentiation amongst the candidates.

It struck me that many candidates responses were not very specific. For example, in response to the question about to remove from the pausd budget Catherine Crystal Foster said she would take out programs that weren't working and fund new ones (or something to that effect). It would be much more helpful if she would highlight just one single program by name the she feels isn't working. I thought it was much more helpful that Ken Dauber listed removing the newly appointed pausd PR person and reducing the legal costs by repairing the relationship with OCR. Please candidates...provide specifics about your positions!

Along these lines I was impressed that Terry Godfrey clearly outlined her history and support for foreign language in the elementary schools. This was also very helpful.

Like this comment
Posted by Karen Gibson
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2014 at 9:29 pm

Karen Gibson is a registered user.

I watched the first debate and was impressed. I appreciate Ken’s past efforts to implement PSN suggestions, counseling changes, homework policies, A-G, etc. [Portion removed.] Not only would he have voted no on the OCR resolution, he is the only candidate I heard say that will try to reverse it if elected. Ken has attended almost every school board meeting in recent years; I’m curious what the other candidate’s records are on that statistic. This says a lot to me about his dedication to our schools.

[Portion removed.]

Terry seems intelligent and well-intentioned. She is very active in her volunteer efforts but said as PiE president she felt it was inappropriate to take a strong advocacy role. I’m not sure I understand why since PiE fundraises to enhance educational excellence and it is a leadership role. Certainly as PTAC President and as a parent she should have felt comfortable advocating and I would like to hear more about that.

I believe Gina will fight to ensure that every student succeeds both academically and emotionally. She seems to have the necessary knowledge and drive. Her work on common core is also impressive.

Regardless of who wins the election, I am hopeful that our district will be stronger with our new board and new superintendent.

2 people like this
Posted by JLS mom of 2
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 18, 2014 at 8:14 am

JLS mom of 2 is a registered user.

I watched the debate. Overall I was impressed with Terry Godfrey and Ken Dauber. I have what I think is a legitimate question about Godfrey which I hope the editor will not delete. In her answers Godfrey seems to be a caring, sympathetic person with a lot of time in the trenches volunteering and trying to help students. She was a leader of PSN and focused on the "developmental assets."
[Portion removed.]

Over the past 2 years we have experienced the OCR findings about severe bullying of a disabled middle school student, Godfrey has been silent. Her answer to the question on OCR and bullying at the League debate was a good answer -- one thing that is needed is a district-wide bullying procedure so that when there is a problem families know what they can do to find help. That is what OCR said, and what OCR required. That is also what many members of the community, including CAC, PASS, SEAN, [portion removed] said. Members of these groups spent hours toiling over the districts many drafts of its policies trying to ensure that we ended up with something that would provide exactly what Terry describes. I never heard from Terry during this process, even though she was PIE board chair and co-chair of PSN and on the PSN steering committee. In those roles she was one of the most influential leaders in the community on student well-being and she never uttered a word about it.

[Portion removed.]

My concern is that it is easy to now say that we needed a good policy, now that the drafting and working for it is over. Everyone can be for the right thing with the benefit of hindsight. But leadership means being able to be for something in the moment, even when it won't necessarily make you the most popular person. [Portion removed.]

So I think it is very fair to ask Godfrey, if this was your view, why didn't you say it a year ago when it mattered?

[Portion removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by Those 183 Votes
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 18, 2014 at 9:44 am

Those 183 Votes is a registered user.

Weekly, how are you choosing which posts to remove as endorsements?

Having read the previous statements that were removed, Karen's is no less blatant and she has has publicly endorsed Ken Dauber - Web Link

You do have to wonder at how the Weekly manages to choose which posts are removed due to: "[Post removed due to overt candidate endorsement.]" while leaving other endorsements from campaign supported intact.

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