Jesse Ladomirak looks at the current makeup of the school board — with only one board member with children attending district schools — and sees a gap she wants to fill.
Ladomirak has four children and a front-row seat to the ups and downs of education during a pandemic.
"It feels imperative, particularly now in these unprecedented times that we are all living in, that a school board be informed by the lived experiences of the students that it's serving," she said.
If elected, she said she hopes to bridge a divide she sees between the board and families like hers who may feel wary of participating in school politics or not know how, which creates a "distinct feeling of not being represented and not being heard." During the school closures, that feeling has been exacerbated, she said, eroding trust and feeding anxieties in the community.
She had no plans to get involved herself in school politics until this year, when she was part of a group of parents looking for someone who is committed to issues of educational equity to run for school board. That person ended up being her.
Ladomirak has repeatedly pledged to be a deeply accessible board member who proactively reaches out to a more diverse range of constituents, beyond those who speak at board meetings, whom she calls the "vocal minority."
Her website includes Spanish and Mandarin translations of her candidate statement. She wants to form student task forces and make them part of the board's governance structure so the district stops relying on annual surveys as its primary source of student feedback.
"I want to really be seen as a partner and someone who will listen," Ladomirak said. "I can't promise that I'll always agree but I can promise that I'll see your opinion as valid and I'll bring it to the table. I'm running to be that voice that … a lot of people in the spring were starting to feel like wasn't there."
Ladomirak was born and raised in Palo Alto and graduated from the school district. She practiced as an attorney for several years before she and her husband unexpectedly became co-owners of Teevan, a remodeling company in San Francisco, where she works as general manager and chief financial officer.
She likens the decisions she has to make as a small business owner — particularly around resuming operations during the pandemic — to ones she'd have to make on the board if elected.
Ladomirak said her employees were initially "split passionately" on reopening the business, including one group that saw it as choosing between reopening or staying closed and everyone still getting paid. She had to clarify that the choice was actually to reopen and be able to pay people or to stay closed and implement layoffs.
"By defining the problem, any anger that we were forcing people to work dissipated, and everyone united around not wanting to go out of business and the talk turned to how to reopen safely," she said.
She said she's learned in the business world to underpromise and overdeliver to earn clients' confidence.
"We say to our employees, 'If clients are calling you 100 times a day it's because they feel like they have to manage the project,'" she said. "That's a little bit what's going on right now. Parents feel like we have to manage the project because the district hasn't for whatever reason gotten people to trust that this is being taken care of."
Ladomirak supports the district's reopening plan and said she will send her elementary-aged children back to school in person this fall. Even with "multiple adults at home to support them, a quiet space to work, reliable internet, outdoor space to run around at recess, they are struggling both academically and emotionally," she said.
The district should shed its longtime, insular culture of "we know all the answers" and look to other districts or organizations for best practices on reopening, she said.
Ladomirak has made reversing the district's "decades of failure" on closing the achievement gap central to her campaign. If elected, she said she would push for an equity audit that would bring in outside experts to identify where the district is failing minority and low-income students. The district's longtime focus on support programs, such as tutoring and classroom interventions, has not addressed the root causes — which Ladomirak sees as embedded within the district's operational structures rather than in students themselves. (She also thinks anti-racism training should be mandatory for all teachers, aides, administrators and students.)
"It requires us to accept that this is a structural issue and not a matter of being able to pile more and more supports on the families," she said. "We can't fix kids and families. We need to fix education."
She wants to take a similar approach to addressing student mental health. While services like wellness centers and therapy are worthwhile, she said they don't go to the heart of addressing the school climate that's causing stress and anxiety. Ladomirak also rejects the premise that academic excellence and student wellness are separate issues, a false dichotomy that she said fuels unhealthy pressure among students and families. She's not against course laning but wants to make sure that the district's most advanced students in higher lanes are also hearing the message that "failure is OK" and that there are multiple definitions of success.
Ladomirak has long worked with children, which she said nurtured in her a passion for social justice. During college and into her adult years, Ladomirak worked at child development nonprofits in New Haven, Connecticut; a Head Start program in rural Pennsylvania; at the Opportunity Center in Palo Alto, where she tutored homeless and low-income youth; and for the last six years with All Students Matter, a nonprofit that connects volunteers to Ravenswood City School District teachers and students.
Ladomirak has two biological children and two adopted children of color, three at Addison Elementary School and one at Greene Middle School.
• Age: 45
• Occupation: Owner/General Manager/CFO, Teevan Company
• Education: Yale University (B.A. 1997); Berkeley Law (J.D. 2002)
• Family members: Benjamin (husband); Llew, George, Alegria and Jax (children)
• I've lived in Palo Alto for: my entire life, with the exception of years in college through law school (1993-2002).
• My favorite high school class: BC calculus and U.S. history
• My favorite quote: "The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel." — C.S Lewis, "The Screwtape Letters"
• My proudest moment: Raising my right hand and promising to always love and protect my children, then dancing and cheering our way out of the courtroom, our family finally complete.
• Campaign website: jesseonboard.com
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