Grace Mah, a Palo Alto resident, parent and longtime community volunteer, is seeking a fourth term on the Santa Clara County Board of Education this November.
Mah, who has served on the board since 2007, oversees Area 1, which includes the Palo Alto Unified, Los Altos, Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View-Los Altos Union High school districts, a majority of the Sunnyvale School District and corresponding portions of the Fremont Union High School district.
Mah will be running against Melissa Baten Caswell, also a Palo Alto resident and a longtime Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education member.
In an interview, Mah, a former engineer, said she's been planning to run for reelection (there are no term limits) and hopes to continue her work on early education, equity and fiscal transparency.
Mah said she advocated for the Santa Clara County Office of Education to release for the first time a budget that details how much and where the county has invested in youth and children's programs.
"For the first time, we can see where there's gaps in funding, where there's redundancy," she said.
Mah also serves on the county office's budget study committee and said she's used that position to "make sure we're spending our taxpayer dollars effectively," including scrutinizing whether the county's replacement of laid-off classified employees with higher-paid directors and managers amounts to "position inflation."
Mah said that she recently voted against a raise for the county superintendent of schools "because I wanted to hopefully send the message that we need to be efficient with our money. We need to spend it in essential areas," she said.
With Santa Clara County schools expected to start the new school year fully online amid great uncertainty, she said the county board's role will be "to support local school leadership."
"We don't have authority over reopening of local school districts ... but by listening, by having the regular meetings and reviews of the guidelines is how we can try to contribute to the best plans for all the school districts to execute," Mah said.
Mah acknowledged that there's a "divide" on the county school board, which she said is driven by disagreement over charter schools among trustees. She characterized this as "healthy debate" rather than "dysfunction," the descriptor her opponent Baten Caswell used in an interview.
In 2007, Mah controversially petitioned to open a Mandarin immersion charter school in Palo Alto, which ultimately resulted in the 2008 launch of Ohlone Elementary School's Mandarin immersion program.
Mah said she hopes the charter school divide on the county board will lessen with the passage of Assembly Bill 1505, which established new criteria for the approval and renewal of charter schools.
"There's going to be more accountability for charter schools, which is good ... and stricter criteria on the authorization of charter schools, which is something that's been lacking," she said. "I think that also will help the dynamics of the board."
Mah is also the co-founder and former chair of the county's Strong Start initiative, a coalition of school districts (including Palo Alto Unified), elected officials, nonprofits, businesses and other organizations working to expand access to high-quality early-learning opportunities for children ages 0 to 8 in Santa Clara County.
She also has been active in the local campaign against teen vaping, speaking at local county Board of Supervisors and city council meetings to advocate for ordinances banning the sales of flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes.
Mah's youngest son is a rising junior at Gunn High School. Her eldest son is a recent college graduate and Gunn alumnus.