With the coming election of two members to the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education, voters have the chance to shape the future of a district that finds itself at a pivotal juncture.
After several years of controversies and crises, including financial errors, the mishandling of sexual misconduct, management turmoil and a student suicide cluster, the school district appears to be on the brink of a new era. The district has a new superintendent who is reimagining the personnel, operations and vision of the district office. A near-clean sweep of top administrators has resulted in a new human-resources director, chief business official and chief academic officers, among other positions.
While some progress has been made on key issues in the last four years — legal compliance, the achievement gap, special education, student mental health — many in the school community want to see more from their elected officials on these and other issues.
The board also faces the difficult task of healing a community that is divided in many ways, with fissures both philosophical and racial uncovered by contentious debates over weighted grade-point averages, the renaming of a middle school after a Japanese-American alumnus and sex-education curriculum.
Whoever is elected to fill the two open seats on the five-member school board will shape and inform this next stage in the district's history. There are six candidates: special-education advocate Stacey Ashlund, after-school-program director Christopher Boyd, incumbent Ken Dauber, attorney Shounak Dharap, parent Kathy Jordan and recent graduate Alex Scharf.
The two elected members will join Melissa Baten Caswell, Todd Collins and Jennifer DiBrienza at the dais. Current trustee Terry Godfrey is not running for re-election.
Also on the November ballot — though not covered in this series of candidate profiles — is Measure Z, a bond measure that if approved, would fund the next 20 years of capital improvements at the schools. Voters will also have the opportunity to support or oppose term limits for trustees. If approved, Measure Y will limit board members to two, four-year terms in office. Read the Weekly's editorial endorsements on Measures Y and Z, which were published on Sept. 28, here.
Read profiles and watch videos of each candidate:
Watch Weekly journalists will discuss this year's Palo Alto school board race on "Behind the Headlines".
Find more coverage on Palo Alto races and measures, including upcoming election events and videos of voter-education events here.