The Ravenswood City School District Board of Trustees will hold onto one longtime public servant and gain a new voice after Tuesday's election, with incumbent Sharifa Wilson and challenger Marielena Gaona-Mendoza winning two open seats, according to unofficial results from the San Mateo County Registrar of Voters.
The two candidates were separated by less than a percentage point on Wednesday morning, with each pulling in about 35 percent of the vote. Wilson was slightly ahead with 58 more votes.
Incumbent Marco Chavez, who was seeking a second term on the board, trailed with 28.93 percent.
Wilson and Gaona-Mendoza offered vastly different views on the district during their campaigns. Wilson, a former City Council member, mayor and two-term school board member, said she is confident the embattled district is on its way to long-awaited improvement, especially with a new superintendent at the helm since 2014.
Special-education advocate and teacher Gaona-Mendoza, on the other hand, painted a picture of a district failing to support students, hemorrhaging good teachers and lacking transparency.
Gaona-Mendoza said Wednesday that the "victory means a lot to me not because I got a seat on the board, but because this is the beginning of making changes in this district for all our students.
"Most of our kids are from low-income households, but they, just like the children of millionaires, deserve the best education and to be treated with respect," she said.
Wilson said she was surprised by and concerned that Gaona-Mendoza was elected, calling Chavez’s defeat ”a loss to the district.”
"I don't know if Ms. Mendoza will have the capacity to be able to provide the kind of support that he was able to bring,” Wilson said. "Her whole thing is built around criticism of the district. It concerns me because even in the face of evidence, she still sticks to her same line."
Wilson said she was hopeful that the new board would be able to work together as a team and do a better job at communicating the district’s improvements so that "people are not locked into their perception of the past."
In response, Gaona-Mendoza said that the election results indicate her message of change resonated with voters. She said she's willing to work collaboratively with the board members, despite her strong criticism of them, given they all share a common interest: doing what is "best for the kids and their education."
Wilson and Gaona-Mendoza will join at the dais nonprofit office manager Ana Maria Pulido, parent and Stanford Golf Course technician Marcelino Lopez and retired Ravenswood superintendent Charlie Mae Knight.
The Ravenswood school district serves kindergarten through eighth grade students in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.