Julian Garcia, a graduate and former employee of the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, is running for a seat on the school board this fall.
Garcia, 27, is running on a slate with Nicole Sbragia, a district parent and former Ravenswood employee. They are presenting themselves as alternatives to the leadership status quo in Ravenswood, an outgrowth of community opposition to Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff that boiled over in protests and contentious school board meetings this year.
"I decided to run for the school board because I feel like there's a lack of leadership," Garcia told the Weekly.
Garcia was born in Redwood City but has spent most of his life in East Palo Alto. He attended Ravenswood from kindergarten through eighth grade and then Menlo-Atherton and Sequoia high schools. After graduating, he attended Cañada College.
Like Sbragia, Garcia worked as a paraeducator for Ravenswood, supporting special-education students in the classroom, until his position was eliminated last year. He now works as a paraeducator in the Redwood City School District.
If elected, he wants to improve communication between the district, school board and community. The school board feels inaccessible, he said; he'd like to create an office where parents, teachers and students could communicate with board members directly.
Garcia said he was shocked that there was little response from the school board last May when 143 of the district's approximate 184 teachers at the time signed a vote of no confidence in Hernandez-Goff.
He was among the many community members who pressed the school board not to renew the superintendent's contract this spring, citing allegations about financial mismanagement, corruption and retaliation. The board ultimately voted 3-1 to renew Hernandez-Goff's contract.
He believes new leadership is necessary to turn the tide in Ravenswood, which is continuing to lose students to charter schools and other neighboring districts through the Voluntary Transfer Program, or Tinsley program. This, in turn, is negatively impacting the district's bottom line, as Ravenswood relies heavily on state revenue generated by student attendance.
In Garcia's own family, one niece attends school in Belmont, two nephews attend East Palo Alto Charter School and a cousin is considering sending her children to KIPP Excelencia Community Prep, a public charter school in Redwood City.
"As parents they get to make a choice but I feel like if we improve the quality of the education then maybe they would want to stay here," he said.
Three board members' terms are expiring in November: President Ana Pulido and members Charlie Mae Knight and Marcelino Lopez. Lopez told the Weekly he has not decided yet whether he will run for re-election. Pulido and Knight have not returned repeated requests for comment.