Meet the Palo Alto school board candidates | News | Palo Alto Online |


Meet the Palo Alto school board candidates

Five vie for two seats on Board of Education

The arrival of two new school board members this fall comes at a time that, in many ways, is a turning point for the Palo Alto Unified School District.

A new superintendent with a long career in education and fresh eyes and ears, has replaced seven-year Superintendent Kevin Skelly, who resigned in June.

Common Core State Standards are rolling out this year; their impact in Palo Alto remains to be seen.

A building boom stretching across the district's 17 campuses continues, with projects like Palo Alto High School's media arts center and new classrooms at Duveneck Elementary School recently completed. Other major construction projects -- historic revamps of Paly's library and athletic center; a $19.4 million "central" building at Gunn that will house a wellness center, college-and-career center and additional classrooms -- remain in the pipeline. Not to mention a potential new 13th elementary school and possibly a fourth middle school, two proposals sure to come before the next iteration of the board.

The new school board terms coincide with the expiration date on the district's lease of Cubberley Community Center, the sprawling 4000 Middlefield Road site that since 1989 has brought about $136 million in city payments to the school district and currently generates $7.1 million each year. The City of Palo Alto and district have been at odds over the renewal lease, particularly over a covenant not to develop five school sites that were vacant at the time the lease was created. The City Council has said it wants to eliminate the covenant, but the school district has dug in its heels, arguing that voters who in 1987 approved a utility user's tax to help fund education -- in lieu of selling the five school sites for redevelopment -- intended it to continue.

The two new board members also will be jumping into the middle of the board's efforts to challenge the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights on its investigative practices, as expressed in a resolution adopted this June. The board began this summer to lobby local and federal elected officials to support the resolution and plans to continue to do so.

Meanwhile, a brand new bullying policy, required by the federal agency and approved by the board this spring, is being implemented this year.

The five candidates in November's school board election -- Jay Cabrera, Gina Dalma, Ken Dauber, Catherine Crystal Foster and Terry Godfrey -- are competing for two open seats on the board, to be vacated by outgoing President Barb Mitchell and member Dana Tom. The two new members will be elected to four-year terms, joining Camille Townsend, Heidi Emberling and Melissa Baten Caswell.

The five candidates, in the early weeks of the campaign season, have expressed similar positions on issues. They all view evaluation as critical to moving the district forward; they want to focus on students' social-emotional well-being and reduce student stress; they agree on the need for a 13th elementary school; they want to rebuild the community trust lost in recent years due to the district's handling of civil-rights cases.

They differ in their professions and the experience they would bring to the dais. One has a finance background and years of school volunteering under her belt; another is a Google software engineer with a penchant for data-driven advocacy. One was born in Mexico and trained in economics; another was born and raised in Palo Alto, attending Palo Alto schools from elementary to high school. One has had a career in education and social justice, from working as an attorney for battered immigrant women to heading a local nonprofit that helps low-income students complete college.

Click on the names of the candidates below for profiles of all of them, along with their positions on the key issues facing the school district.

Terry Godfrey

Catherine Crystal Foster

Ken Dauber

Gina Dalma

Jay Cabrera


Mail-in ballots will be released Monday, Oct. 6. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 4. For more information, visit the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters' website or call 1-408-299-VOTE (8683).


The board candidates will next appear publicly in two forums hosted by the Palo Alto Council of PTAs. The first is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 5, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Gunn High School's Little Theater, 780 Arastradero Road, and will focus on secondary education. The second will focus on elementary education and is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 15, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Fairmeadow Elementary School, 500 East Meadow Drive.


Complete Weekly coverage of the school board race is being aggregated at the Weekly's Storify.

Related content:

Editorial: Terry Godfrey, Ken Dauber for Palo Alto school board

10 questions: where the Palo Alto school board candidates stand

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by way to go
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2014 at 8:45 am

This is so perfect! Nearly as good as the endorsements last time.

1 person likes this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2014 at 11:48 am

Thanks for the analysis. One thing stood out for me: Jay Cabrera "is a strong advocate for using technology to enable greater community participation in district decision-making."

While I don't think Cabrera can win and I'm not voting for him, frankly, I do want to urge him to be involved past the board election in this very important issue. School boards exist for local control, but there seems to be even less accountability to all parents in this district than of City Hall to the citizenry (there at least, as we have seen, a referendum can turn the ship). I hope Mr. Cabrera will continue to be involved, as Mr. Dauber has been, especially on this issue he is quoted above as supporting, it's a way of bringing our district into the 21st Century.

I completely concur about everything said about Dauber. So far, Dalma has been the one who has impressed me the most - in an environment where we need people who are unencumbered by existing ties and politics, as this editorial espouses, she seems to be the one most unafraid of acting based on rational decisionmaking. (No, I do not know her personally.)

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2014 at 2:20 pm

I think what is important for me is that we have a board with varied make up. We have had very similar types of people on the board, all good people, all worked through PTA, but none of them have really stood apart from any of the others. For balance this time I think it is extremely important to get a varied group of people. I like the idea of a teacher, someone who sees things from teaching would be a different perspective. I think we are beyond the cookie cutter, carbon copy year after year board.

Too many of the candidates sound very similar to what we already have. I am hoping that we can get some new perspectives and new methods of action here. Intelligent and change is what I want for our new board members.

2 people like this
Posted by Briones Parent
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Oct 4, 2014 at 12:40 am

[Post removed.]

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Umami Burger calls it quits in downtown Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 15 comments | 9,097 views

Couples and Premarital : "Who we are . . . depends in part . . . on who we love."
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,444 views

Flying: How much is enough? It's personal.
By Sherry Listgarten | 8 comments | 2,008 views

Wait, wait – we’re working on it
By Diana Diamond | 9 comments | 1,086 views

My Pet Peeves
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 6 comments | 1,018 views


Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details