Matthew Nagle is a longtime educator with deep ties to Palo Alto Unified, including as a current parent and the spouse of a teacher, who believes his experience is badly needed on the current school board.
He's also a harsh critic of the district and in particular argues the schools are still largely failing minority and low-income students, who are at the center of his campaign. He said these students are "ignored by the current board."
"They see them as a data score. They see them in a deficit, damaged model," Nagle said. "They don't know their story. They don't go to their homes. They go to their neighbors' homes with the Tesla in the garage, but they don't go to the folks that are working at Safeway."
If elected, Nagle said he would focus on more personal, direct engagement with minority and low-income students and their families, including using surveys and creating a confidential form on which to report racial bias and discrimination. He also wants the district to focus on diversifying its own ranks, from teachers all the way to the superintendent.
"We can't really say as a district we're for diversity if we're not hiring that way at the top levels, the highest paid levels," he said.
Nagle opposes Palo Alto Unified's current reopening plan, which he's described as "half baked." The plan has personal ramifications for him as the spouse of an Escondido Elementary School teacher and parent of a Gunn High School freshman.
"In its current form that plan has not convinced the employees or the public that this is a good plan and we're ready to pull the trigger right now," he said. "I want to get my son back as fast as possible, but I want it to be as safe as possible for my wife … and right now it's not safe enough. It will never be fully safe but it has to be safe enough."
Nagle said during the teachers union forum that he agrees with their position that schools should remain in full distance learning until at least January.
Nagle has sharply criticized district communication during the pandemic, but he doesn't support the hiring of a full-time communications officer, arguing that money would be better spent elsewhere. During the Palo Alto Weekly school board debate, Nagle said that he expects administrators to communicate well with the public.
On his campaign website, Nagle said he believes that the functioning of the board has improved since he last worked in the district but that there's still work to be done on inclusivity.
"The board's role is as simple as voting 'yes' or 'no,' and directing and evaluating the superintendent to lead the district. I don't meddle, I don't micromanage, and I evaluate only one employee, the superintendent. However, a board member must also lead, and that means engaging with all the stakeholders, not just the most powerful," he wrote.
Nagle started his career as a teacher in the 1990s, following in the footsteps of his mother, a lifelong kindergarten teacher. (He has said he's been spurred to address the achievement gap and racial inequities in part by his memories of how the school system was unresponsive to his single, Mexican American mother and other members of his family.)
Nagle worked as an elementary school principal in Saratoga and San Jose before arriving at Juana Briones Elementary School, where he was principal from 2009 to 2012. He said he was proud of bringing a "resurgence and a rejuvenation in energy" to the school. His tenure was controversial, however. Teachers who worked there at the time described him as a poor leader lacking communication and management skills. His sudden departure was spurred in part by conflict with teachers and his controversial decision not to renew a school librarian's contract.
Wendy Lockhart, a California Teachers Association field staff member who worked at the time with Juana Briones staff who had reported concerns about Nagle, said CTA was preparing to file an Unfair Labor Practice against Nagle when he announced his departure. The document cites "issues of bullying and harassment of employees" and "unprofessional conduct" that staff members reported to district administrators at the time.
The California Teachers Association conducted an evaluation, provided to the Weekly, with a small group of Juana Briones teachers in 2011 who gave him poor ratings on management, school culture and communication. In anonymous comments, respondents described a "hostile, untrustworthy work environment" and "top-down" management style under Nagle.
Nagle told the Weekly he had a great relationship with the majority of Juana Briones teachers but that there was a division among teachers who themselves didn't get along that he was unable to mend. He acknowledged that he still carries the "baggage" that comes with leadership.
"As a principal I'm accustomed to being criticized. When a window breaks somewhere it's my fault," he said.
Nagle said he was reassigned from Juana Briones to a district position in 2012 but chose not to take it, citing turmoil in the district office and a desire to continue working as a principal. He left Palo Alto for Marin County, where he served as principal at West Marin Elementary in the Shoreline Unified School District for six years.
Nagle's departure from West Marin Elementary was also controversial. He sued the district, alleging he was demoted in retaliation for running against the county's superintendent of schools. He had been reassigned to a teaching position after losing his bid to unseat Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke. During the campaign, he was critical of her and her response to closing the achievement gap, according to news articles.
Nagle told the Weekly he "upset the status quo of Marin County" and alleged the school board had colluded with Burke against him. The district settled with him earlier this year for $700,000, according to a Point Reyes Light article.
In 2015, Nagle also ran for a seat on the Tamalpais Union High School District Board of Trustees and lost narrowly in a recount.
In Palo Alto, Nagle is running a somewhat non-traditional campaign. He did not file an official candidate statement, is not accepting campaign donations (he's instead asking people to donate to nonprofits) and his high school-aged son is serving as his campaign manager.
Nagle is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership for Social Justice program at California State University, East Bay.
• Age: 55
• Occupation: Doctoral student, CSU East Bay Education Leadership for Social Justice
• Education: B.A. UCSC, M.A. UCR
• Family members: wife Claudia Penaloza, daughter Anaís Nagle (20), son Matteo Nagle (14)
• I've lived in Palo Alto for: 10 years
• My favorite high school class: Speech and Debate
• My favorite quote: "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." — Mark Twain
• My proudest moment: Leading my family and 50 students, staff, and parents from our tiny rural Marin County school in marching in the 2018 Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco
• Campaign website: principalmatt.com
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