School board candidate profile: Terry Godfrey


Age: 50

Education: Bachelor's in mathematics from University of California, Irvine; MBA in finance from University of California, Los Angeles

Current occupation: Financial director, New Americans Campaign; part-time finance and program consultant for the Grove Foundation

Family: Husband Steve, one son, one daughter (both at Palo Alto High)

Favorite book: "The Suffragette" by E. Sylvia Pankhurst

Campaign website:

Though candidate Terry Godfrey has volunteered hours of her time in schools as president of both the Palo Alto Council of PTAs and Palo Alto Partners in Education (PiE), it is her professional background in finance and human resources that she thinks sets her apart from the other candidates.

Godfrey, a parent of two current Palo Alto High School students, worked for 16 years at Xerox and Intel doing data analysis and overseeing a global human resources and analytics group. After leaving Intel, she worked as the Stanford Graduate School of Business' director of finance and strategic planning for three years.

"There's a lot that comes with that that I think will be useful going forward and would have been useful looking backwards," Godfrey said in an interview with the Weekly. "I think part of our issues around getting decisions made and helping the district staff move ahead are because our board decisions aren't clear and aren't coming quickly enough sometimes."

She said from her years at Intel, she is accustomed to working within a transparent environment in which weekly reports provide progress updates as well as identify mistakes that might have been made.

"Even if those things were sort of ugly, the fact that you were coming every week or every other week with, 'This is exactly what's going on,' really took the stigma out of if something didn't go well because it wasn't such a red-flag moment," she said.

"There's a way by which it just becomes common practice to admit your mistakes," she said.

She contrasted this practice with the district's handling of its Office for Civil Rights investigations, which she characterized as a "defensive stance" that led to a "vicious cycle" of failed communication.

Godfrey during the campaign has been fairly critical of the district on various subjects, such as its handling of Office for Civil Rights cases, though in the past few years she did not publicly address the board on these issues. She said that she didn't feel comfortable taking a public position as PiE or PTA president, at the risk of misrepresenting the organization, but advocated via one-on-one meetings with district staff.

"My brand of advocacy is different when I can be mistaken for the head of a big organization than when I just represent me," she said. "Right now, I don't represent anybody but me."

Godfrey, has, however, strongly advocated for the expansion of foreign language instruction. In 2007, she was one of four parents selected to serve on a district language committee that brought to the board in 2008 a detailed plan to begin foreign language instruction in third through fifth grades. An estimated $1.1 million-per-year price tag at the height of the financial downturn made for a quick rejection from the board.

Godfrey said that now that the district is more comfortable financially, "it seems like an obvious fit," but one that would have to be weighed against other potential expenditures such as opening a 13th elementary school. Godfrey said getting foreign languages into elementary schools is more important to her.

With her finance background, Godfrey also said she would support a more flexible budget policy that lays out scenarios for different annual property-tax revenues, as opposed to the current conservative estimate of a 2 percent property-tax increase.

"We have this method called zero-based budgeting where I spent a lot of time working that really focused in on that scenario band so you knew what were the most important things, what were the things that were right at the edge and what would you add next if you got more money," she said. "It feels like the current budgeting process for us doesn't spend a lot of time on this, so we end up putting it in reserves. That doesn't serve us well because you don't want to have money you're not spending."

Godfrey -- who has said publicly she has been down the "504 journey" with her two children, referring to the district's 504 Plan for students with special needs -- said it is more important to fix the root causes of the district's ballooning spending on legal fees, namely, disputes with special-education families over what services the district should provide their children.

"For me, that expectation goes farther back to understanding upfront where we've not been clear or fair or had that kind of a relationship with the people that we're working with," she said. "It seems like the mistrust is so high that if you have a situation with the district, you go in expecting it not to go well."

She said at the Sept. 20 debate hosted by parents of special-education students and students of color that it would help if the board had a direct liaison to the Palo Alto Community Advisory Committee for special education (CAC), one of the debate hosts. The board, for example, currently assigns a member as a liaison to each school, PiE and the PTA. She has also suggested implementing more parent education around the district's new bullying policy and making it more accessible to the public.

On the perennial Palo Alto issue of school-based versus district-wide decision making, Godfrey has repeatedly said that the board should make sure the thousands of decisions made throughout the district every day are made closest to students. In the first debate of the season, she cited the model of her former employer, Intel, which centralizes decisions relating to health, safety and product quality and provides site autonomy on other decisions, as long as outcomes are defined and agreed to.

Godfrey also co-founded youth mental health coalition Project Safety Net and has since worked on related efforts with a particular focus on creating caring neighborhoods and fostering a community that values its youth. She started Caring Neighborhoods, a Project Safety Net initiative to bring residents together so kids feel valued and can talk to their neighbors when in need.

She told the Weekly that Project Safety Net's progress has been impeded by inconsistent leadership, with the most recent director resigning late last month. She said the position is demanding, but offers low pay and no benefits on a year-to-year contract. But she said individual organizations within the coalition, such as HEARD, a health care alliance addressing adolescent depression, are making progress against their individual goals.

"In my mind, there's progress. Social change takes time and our reliance on one person who we don't pay very well and we don't guarantee a job is probably ill-advised," she said.

To view a video of the Weekly's interview with Terry Godfrey, visit our YouTube channel.

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