Stacey Ashlund, a Palo Alto parent who has devoted much of her time to advocating for the rights of special-education families, plans to run for a seat on the Board of Education in November.
In an interview Monday, Ashlund said she decided to run because of "heartbreaking" divisions she's seen deepen in the school community, particularly in the wake of a contentious debate over renaming a middle school for a Japanese-American alumnus. If elected, she hopes to bring a unifying, positive voice to the school board.
"What I've been hearing, reading and seeing lately — every individual group is feeling the need to speak up and say, 'don't forget about me and don't disrespect me'...as opposed to the unified thing, which is, what brings us together?" Ashlund said. "I find when we start from where we agree as opposed to starting from where we differ we get more accomplished together."
Ashlund pointed to her early special-education advocacy as evidence of her ability to bring people together. Ashlund left her career as a usability engineer to support her son, who was born with disabilities, when he turned 1 year old. She thrust herself into learning about the rights of children with disabilities and their parents — a complicated world to navigate, she said, even from a place of privilege.
She felt compelled to help others with fewer resources and started volunteering with the Community Advisory Committee, a parent advocacy group for special-education students in the Palo Alto school district, and then the Palo Alto Council of PTAs and education foundation Partners in Education.
When she took on the role of special-education representative for the Palo Alto Council of PTAs a decade ago, the group had no designated special-education parent representatives at the school sites. Ashlund brought together the Community Advisory Committee and PTA group to do their work together "instead of in isolation," she said.
Since 2007, Ashlund has worked with the Special Education Local Plan Area Community Advisory Committee, which represents four Santa Clara County school districts in Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View. She currently serves as the group's co-chair.
She has advised other parents on special-education advocacy, presented at and organized education conferences and created and facilitated support group for parents and professionals, according to her resume.
Ashlund has volunteered in numerous other capacities, including on school site councils; with the Usher 1F Collaborative, a nonprofit that fundraises for research on Usher syndrome type 1, a rare genetic disorder that causes both deafness and blindness; with nonprofit Peninsula College Fund, which supports low-income first-generation college students; and as a Girl Scout troop leader, where she said she has worked to expose young girls to STEM and feminism. Ashlund holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and computer science and a master's in computer science.
She also served on the board for the Magical Bridge Playground, a nonprofit that builds inclusive playgrounds; on the city's Parks and Recreation Commission from 2011 to 2015; and as a Democratic delegate representing Assembly District 24 during the same time period.
In 2011, Ashlund graduated from Emerge California, a political candidate training program that aims to increase the number of Democratic women in office.
Ashlund said the biggest challenge facing the school district is a still-narrow definition of academic achievement. She referred back to the importance of the Developmental Assets, 41 community values developed in the wake of a teen suicide cluster.
The Developmental Assets state that "your social emotional health and wellbeing is just as important and essential to your academic achievement," Ashlund said. "They rely on each other."
Another campaign priority of Ashlund's is "mutual accountability" on the school board. Members should share responsibility with the district administration for mistakes rather than be quick to punish staff, she said. High turnover at the district in recent years, from the superintendent's office on down, has created a sense that "there is no redemption," she said.
"If there's a spider in the house we burn down the entire house," she said.
"We have to work together; we have to collaborate; we have to have an ounce of forgiveness," she added.
Ashlund, who grew up on the south side of Chicago, has lived in Palo Alto since 1992. She is the parent to a 19-year-old son who attended district schools and a daughter entering her junior year at Gunn High School. Ashlund currently works as a user experience consultant.