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Voter Guide: High school district candidates vie for three board seats

 

Of the four active candidates running for the three open seats on the governing board of the Sequoia Union High School District, none gave any hint of the district having any time to rest on any laurels any time soon. (There is a fifth candidate, Noria Zasslow, but she did not provide information or participate in a voter forum.)

The first set of scores on the state's new Common Core English and math tests for 11th graders show large achievement gaps that closely track family income levels. The problem is not new. What is new is information about the severe depth of some of these gaps. What is to be done?


Georgia Jack (Photo by Michelle Le/The Almanac)

Carrie Du Bois (Photo by Michelle Le/The Almanac)

Laura Martinez (Photo by Michelle Le/The Almanac)

Allen Weiner (Photo by Michelle Le/The Almanac)
Over the next five years or so, Sequoia district campuses must prepare for an anticipated enrollment surge of some 25 percent, with the surge expected to concentrate at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton and Carlmont High School in Belmont. In November 2014, voters approved a measure allowing the district to borrow up to $388 million in the bond market to finance the building of classrooms and other facilities.

The district is planning to build two 400-student high schools, one in Menlo Park and one in San Carlos. These will be magnet schools with a focus on a particular curriculum science, technology, engineering and math, maybe, or programs for students not prepared for high school work.

In ballot order, the candidates are challenger Georgia Jack, incumbent Carrie Du Bois, appointed incumbent Laura Martinez, incumbent Allen Weiner, and challenger Noria Zasslow.

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Georgia Jack

Ms. Jack, a Redwood City resident and a manager in the Office of Development at Stanford University, ran for a seat on the Sequoia board in 2013 and came within a percentage point of unseating an incumbent. She is running again because her backers urged her to, she said. "I feel like we need someone who understands (the effects) when policies are implemented, when the rubber meets the road," she said.

A top concern for Ms. Jack is student stress, a "very huge" issue that includes homework, homework deadlines and pressure to enroll in advanced placement classes, she said. It's an opportunity for the district to engage with students and parents, the people most affected by the problem. Focus groups and matrices that chart the causes of stress would be "very eye-opening," she said.

Retaining and hiring teachers and staff as baby boomers retire is another potentially major issue, she said. The local economy is roaring, which depresses interest in teaching careers, and the high cost of living undermines the appeal of education careers. Those costs have also led some families with children at Woodside High, where she is active, to move to the Central Valley, she said.

Ms. Jack endorses "community schools," a component of Redwood City's 2020 initiative that enlists the community at large to care about each student's well-being. "Do I think that community schools are going to solve the problem? No," she said. "But it's definitely a big step."

Too many children are living "in trauma" in terms of housing, food and overly busy parents, she said. Somebody in the state Legislature needs to take this on, and the board needs to "get in there and advocate. We need to continue to push on people about what it takes to educate this particular group of kids," she said.

About Ms. Jack

● Experience: Active volunteer in elementary and high school districts. Two years as president of Redwood City Education Foundation, five years on the Woodside High School Shared Decision Making Committee/Site Council, and in second year on Woodside High's foundation board.

● Education: Bachelor's degree in fine arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

● Profession: Manager in the Office of Development at Stanford University.

● Age: 51

● Family: One Woodside High School graduate and a current senior.

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Carrie Du Bois

Ms. Du Bois, a real estate agent from San Carlos and a school board veteran, is familiar with trauma-informed instruction. It prepares teachers for kids who "really need a lot of support," she said.

"The achievement gap makes me want to fight," she said. Preschool is critical, noting that her children went to an "amazing" preschool and when kindergarten started, "they were ready to go." There's been too much focus on testing. "For me, it's more social and emotional, strengthening that." Student health is a three-legged stool, she said.

At Redwood (Continuation) High School, where attendance is very low, the program should be a full day and include linked learning -- a proven program in career technical education that is academically rigorous, technically demanding, personalized and related to the real world. "That's what I'd like to see," she said.

Of her first-term accomplishments, Ms. Du Bois said she brought about the end of putting student expulsion decisions on the board's consent agenda, meaning they usually took effect without discussion. "I knew instantly that that was wrong," she said. "I'm very, very passionate about restorative practices. Something is going on that causes them to misbehave. ... This is what I want to continue to do, making sure that kids are adequately served."

In the interest of transparency, she said, the board should use Agenda Online, a state school board association service for publishing agendas and all related documents in one place.

As for the new magnet schools, Ms. Du Bois said the board should examine the Roses in Concrete K-8 school an urban community school in Oakland dedicated to the long-term well-being of students who have the odds of success in life stacked against them.

At M-A, a school with a reputation for segregation at lunchtime and two tracks, Ms. Du Bois recommended a summer community theater, starting with "Bring It On," a musical about cheer-leading, hip hop and gymnastics around a story of a white kid enrolling in a school of black kids.

"Do we want to transform a school?" she asked. "or do we want to leave it like it is?"

About Ms. Du Bois

● Experience: One term on Sequoia Union High School District board, two terms on San Carlos Elementary School District board, president of San Mateo County School Boards Association, elected delegate to California School Boards Association assembly.

● Education: Bachelor's degree in the humanities from California State University at Sacramento.

● Profession: Real estate agent.

● Age: 57.

● Family: Married with three children.

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Laura Martinez

A native and former mayor of East Palo Alto, Ms. Martinez is the after-school director for Aspire Public Schools. She was the first in her family to graduate from college.

She is running, in part, to continue as a member of the committee designing the new magnet school in Menlo Park. "I'd love to see a school," she said, "that resembles the d.school at Stanford" (the Institute of Design, which focuses on creative problem solving). Workplaces have whiteboards and flexible work spaces, she said. "Let's see it in the classroom."

Her top concern is the prudent spending of the $265 million in capital improvement funds voters approved in June 2014. Next up, preparing teachers to implement the Common Core curriculum, followed by student health and wellness, particularly around homework and other stresses. "I want to continue to have an open dialogue with parents," Ms. Martinez said.

Closing the achievement gap requires collaboration, she said. "As a high school district, we need to work with the elementary school districts. We have to. There's no other way."

The transition of East Palo Alto students to M-A as their home school "is something that I'm going to be watching very closely," she said. Attendance has gone up, and parents may be more involved now that they're closer to the school. It was a good decision and should have been done a long time ago, she said.

The students who really need the support tend to be really hard to reach, she said, but the Sequoia district has to make that effort. "Things are changing. I hope that the culture of the school will welcome all students," she said.

About Ms. Martinez

● Experience: Twice mayor of East Palo Alto, delegate to City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County, named to Silicon Valley Business Journal "40 Under 40" for 2015, guest lecturer on "Women & Management" at Notre Dame de Namur University.

● Education: Bachelor's degree in sociology from Whittier College.

● Profession: After-school director for Aspire Public Schools.

● Age: 31.

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Allen Weiner

Mr. Weiner is a senior lecturer at Stanford University law school and a resident of Menlo Park. He said he'd like a second term on the Sequoia board to "preserve continuity" in policies, practices and culture.

All East Palo Alto students now have M-A as their home school, a change he helped bring about. The district adopted a policy of aligning communities with schools, he said. "I'm very proud of that change," he said. "That's a way to begin aligning the cultures. ... It's the kids from those (elementary school) districts some of them who tend to come to us with the lowest level of achievement. What can we do, given that we're not a unified school district, to begin coordination (with those districts )?"

Closing achievement gaps is a matter of "working day by day on enhancing, sharpening, advancing our education priorities," he said. Identifying the kids most at risk and gathering accurate data will be critical, he said.

In the Sequoia district, 38 percent of the Hispanic students met or exceeded the English language standard on the Common Core tests, compared to 80 percent of white students and 90 percent of Asian students. "Thirty-eight percent is not a bad place to begin," Mr. Weiner said. Over the past four years, the board hasn't closed the gap, he said. "(But) we've moved the needle a little on a couple indicators," he said. There are 300 Hispanic students who are ready for college. "I'm very proud of that," he said.

As for the new magnet school, "I want to hit a home run on the design," he said. "I want to make sure we've got a great idea. ... I'm really excited about the possibility to do something incredibly innovative. ... We are trying to develop a center of excellence. ... Students would really go deep and kind of develop an expertise in the STEM and design area."

About Mr. Weiner

● Experience: One term on Sequoia Union High School District board, director of the Program on International and Comparative Law at Stanford Law School, author/co-author of numerous books, articles, op-eds and amicus briefs. Former U.S. State Department attorney.

● Education: Bachelor's degree magna cum laude in social studies from Harvard College; law degree (with honors) from Stanford University Law School

● Profession: Law school senior lecturer.

● Age: 52.

● Family: Married with three children.

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