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Former Palo Alto school board member Melissa Baten Caswell dies

Original post made on Feb 7, 2023

Melissa Baten Caswell, a former Palo Alto Unified School District board member and longtime community volunteer, died on Monday, Feb. 6, from pancreatic cancer. She was 58.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, February 7, 2023, 1:41 PM

Comments (14)

Posted by
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2023 at 2:40 pm is a registered user.

I am so saddened to read this! I remember Melissa as hardworking and caring. I worked on defeating the Everyday Math program and as School Board member, she really cared to learn about it rather than just vote without knowledge. She wasn’t a follower, she did what she thought was right. At Duveneck when I saw her, she would answer my education questions patiently. I haven’t seen her in years and didn’t know she was ill. I send my love to Cass and the family. She’s gone way too soon.

Posted by Chris Dewees
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 7, 2023 at 5:44 pm

Chris Dewees is a registered user.

I met Melissa as a Freshman in college. Her dorm was adjacent to mine and I have many memories of her happy, bubbly personality during a chaotic, fun and challenging college transition year. Somehow, decades later we ended up in the same community where, although we were never friends, I was happy to cheer her accomplishments as we moved through middle age. Very, very sorry to learn she has passed.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2023 at 9:59 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

Sincere sympathy to Melissa’s family. I had brief pleasant contact with her and followed her hard work on the school board with approval and thanks. So sorry she has passed.

Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 8, 2023 at 10:36 am

Elizabeth is a registered user.

I am sad to hear this, she added so much the school board during her time

Posted by Silver Linings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2023 at 10:48 am

Silver Linings is a registered user.

She was much too young. Why all this pancreatic cancer? I never knew anyone who had it when I was young but have known and known of so many over the last 20 years.

Condolences to her family for their loss.

Posted by sueppr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2023 at 1:41 pm

sueppr is a registered user.

Our community has lost a dedicated and caring leader and I will miss my dear friend.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 8, 2023 at 3:08 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Such a huge loss for our community, and so saddening, she was way too young! As a board member she truly listened to the full community and was there to -- generally -- do what is right and serve all students. Believed and worked for transparency and results, believed in data-driven decisions, and also on the precious personal side -- coached and bridged so that voices are heard.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2023 at 5:40 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Melissa's passing is an enormous loss to her family and our community. I will miss Melissa. Her partnership in volunteering and intrepid courage in the face of difficult challenges changed our community for the better. I am very grateful to have enjoyed her friendship, creativity, energy and deeply caring presence in my life. May her family find comfort and peace in joyful memories.

Posted by Meadows Mom
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 9, 2023 at 12:07 am

Meadows Mom is a registered user.

It is with great sadness that we remember the life of a respected member of the school board who dedicated her time and energy to advocating for educational programs that benefitted students and the community as a whole.
We still remembered her of helping us fighting for Every Day Math battle and WGPA. She has really achieved her goal of "creating a passion and love of learning in students".
Her efforts will never be forgotten, and her legacy will live on in the countless students whose lives she touched.
Thank you so much! Melissa!

Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 9, 2023 at 9:40 am

Gunn Parent is a registered user.

I will always remember Melissa for her devotion to the high quality education, her passion for bringing everyone together in the community. She has reached out to so many students and families. She has the courage to stand up to what she believes in. Her passing is huge loss to her family and to our community. Her legacy will be carried and continue to benefits our kids in PAUSD. RIP!

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 10, 2023 at 10:34 am

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

One memory in appreciation of Melissa's amazing service (more later):

In December 2019, our Ed board approved** a planned experiment on our middle schoolers that involved the de-laning of middle school math (without proper support and acceleration points). The plan did not follow the most basic tenet of a scientific process. Moreover, the use of highly informative assessment tool, the NWEA MAP, on which we had years of data, was abruptly stopped just as the experiment began. Melissa was the only board member that voiced the concern "But how would we know if this works?"

Well -- Melissa was unfortunely in a board minority. 3 year and ~3000 impacted PAUSD students later: The data we do have (through PRAs) shows the ongoing misguided experiment does not work, and blatantly so. And nothing public from PAUSD about it (dodging legal requirement).

** Technically, the board did not "approve". Math pathways are by law a board policy. But our board majority, uniquly so, prefers to be "presented" with plans, a PAUSD-unique approach of dodging responsibility.

Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 10, 2023 at 11:00 am

Palo Alto native is a registered user.

On behalf of Girl Scouts of Palo Alto, Service Unit 601, we extend our condolences to Melissa’s family.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 10, 2023 at 3:24 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

I first met Melissa about 5 years ago. The context was that I (and other parents) were concerned by district math placement and pathways. The options seemed misguided, the conduct unprofessional, there was hiding of data instead or reporting with integrity, there was repeated malpractice in administering placement tests, the design of the tests was unprofessional, there was ongoing intimidation of students and parents. Problems were not acknowledged. Teachers were privately telling us things that they could not say publicly. It did not make sense. We could not understand where this is coming from. It all seemed to be controlled from the very top at district level.

PAUSD seemed unique this way, we collected data from neighboring districts and across the state and were set up meeting hoping to educate board members.

We met with several board members, then with Melissa. We presented data and experiences, she seemed to indicate it does not matter and then gave me precious advice: "You should never mention "Cupertino" "-- she said. Why I asked? "think for yourself" she said."You are advocating for something, mentioning Cupertino is not productive to that." I then asked Melissa "So what districts should we look at? " she named three districts she knew PAUSD looked up to (in the east coast and the midwest).

I only grasped it later. The far-away districts on pedestal were affluent and homogenous -- 95% white. Cupertino is heavily Asian and foreign born. In our advocacy, we replaced "Cupertino" with "Los Altos", and that allowed us to convey the issues without triggering biases. This was precious advice. I still think of Cupertino as the district "Who Must Not Be Named".

Mellisa was there for the community even in what turned out to be her last few months, coaching an incoming ed board member that is also about serving all students. Her Legacy remains.

Posted by JD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2023 at 5:19 pm

JD is a registered user.

This is devastating. Melissa was a fierce advocate for youth, education, and service. She held strong opinions and was not afraid to stand her ground. She was a smart and thoughtful advocate for the students in PAUSD. Her voice, her presence will be missed. Though Death will visit us all, Melissa's passing reminds us of death's gripping pain.

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