Editor's note: After this Voter Guide story was prepared, the Almanac learned that candidate Joel Hornstein had announced he was "suspending" his campaign.
By Barbara Wood | Almanac Staff Writer
The three candidates for two seats on the board of the Woodside Elementary School District have a lot in common. Incumbents Silvia Edwards and Kevin Johnson and challenger Joel Hornstein each have three children, each has a law degree, and each is in her or his 40s. But each candidate has unique skills that would benefit the school, they all assert.
Ms. Edwards was appointed to the board in May after board member Rudy Driscoll announced he would resign at the end of the school year. Mr. Driscoll died soon after he left office in June.
Ms. Edwards was one of seven candidates for the position. She was nominated by Mr. Driscoll because, he said at the time, her construction experience would be valuable during the district's current $18 million construction project. Her appointment was unanimous.
After graduating from law school, Ms. Edwards said, she worked in Washoe County, Nevada, building single-family homes and managing construction, from property purchase to hiring architects and contractors, and selling the homes. Since joining the board she has served on its construction and facilities committee.
Ms. Edwards also serves on the district's collective bargaining committee. Several years of trial work as a special assistant U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Virginia prepared her for this assignment, she said.
Ms. Edwards is a member of the town of Woodside's Circulation Committee, which advises the council on safe ways to travel about town, whether by vehicle, bike, horseback or foot. She said that experience helps her serve as a liaison between the school and town.
She said she is accessible as a board member because she walks her three children to school every day and spends a lot of time on the campus.
"I want to be accountable, and I want to be present and I want to be available," she said.
The most important issues facing the district, Ms. Edwards said, include continuing the transition to Common Core, which she said is helping to make sure all students are prepared for college and beyond. Retaining and keeping "our teachers happy" is another important issue, she said. The district has small class sizes, "extremely competitive salaries and benefits," and offers support for continuing education of teachers, she said.
Mr. Johnson is completing his first four-year term on the school board. He said that oversight and fiscal planning are very important to him, but that his legal experience as an attorney with Quinn Emanuel in Redwood Shores has been "more important than I thought it would be" because "every board meeting we've had ... there have been a number of legal issues we've faced."
Mr. Johnson said he thinks that as a Spanish speaker he has "represented the underserved and more silent" families in the district. He serves on the district's English learners' advisory committee. He also speaks French.
Mr. Johnson is the only candidate with experience as a parent of a Woodside Elementary middle-schooler. His daughter attended the middle school for all three years, and he has a son who is currently a middle school eighth-grader. "We lose kids in the sixth grade," he said, noting that the school needs to work to let parents know more about the advantages of staying in Woodside through eighth grade.
Mr. Johnson said that improving science education, particularly in the middle school, is a work in progress. He said he likes the new design lab and "getting kids to use their hands to do things again," but "I think there's more work to be done in improving the science curriculum."
Mr. Johnson said there is also "more work to be done in the whole idea of differentiated learning," in which teachers give each student work at his or her own level. "I think we've been doing a better job on that," he said.
The district also continues "to face legal issues and personnel issues," he said. "We are only as good as our teachers are."
Mr. Hornstein said he would bring to the board a special expertise in finance, "a skill set lacking on the current board." After graduating from law school, he worked at Goldman Sachs and for Citigroup in private equity.
"I really do think that finance is critical to the oversight of the district," he said.
As an involved school volunteer, Mr. Hornstein said, he has been on the school's site council for two years, where he has learned about Gifted and Talented Education, which Woodside rolls into its regular curriculum through differentiated instruction. "My passion is strengthening our work on differentiated instruction," he said.
He is also on the school's technology committee and said he thinks the school could do more to use technology to relieve teachers of rote tasks.
Mr. Hornstein said he has served on the boards of other organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, and "I understand what it means to be an effective board member."
Mr. Hornstein said an issue facing the district is a need for better financial information. "We have significant challenges with how we forecast and budget," he said. The district also needs to "think about how we manage our expense base," he said.
Mr. Hornstein said he also sees as a major issue board members being "available to the community." "I plan to plan my schedule around the board and make it a top priority," he said.
An attendance problem?
At a League of Women Voters' forum on Oct. 1, Mr. Hornstein accused Mr. Johnson of missing "just about one in three board meetings over the entire term" and "just over 50 percent this year." Mr. Johnson was actually absent from nine meetings over four years and two meetings out of 10 in 2015, but Mr. Hornstein said he counted "missing a meeting" not just as being absent, but also as participating over the phone or leaving a meeting before it ended.
Mr. Johnson said he does not believe that missing meetings equates to not being an effective board member. "A lot of the things that I help with as a board member occur outside of the board meetings," he said. "I'm incredibly dedicated to this position," he said. "I really feel like I make an impact," especially, he said, as "a voice for people that I feel are underserved."
Expecting a board member to attend every board meeting, with almost all meetings being held during the work day, "would mean anybody with a job couldn't serve as a board member," he said. "We all have commitments."
Fellow board member Marc Tarpenning said he agrees Mr. Johnson's "absences have not diminished his work or his effectiveness on the board." Much of the work of a board member, Mr. Tarpenning said, takes place "outside of the public school board meeting itself in the form of committee assignments, other public events in and around school, and meeting directly with parents and other members of the community over their individual concerns."
At the same candidates' forum, Mr. Hornstein also accused Mr. Johnson of sending "his elder two children to private school for sixth grade," which turned out to be incorrect.
Mr. Johnson said that his oldest child attended Woodside Elementary from the third grade, when the family moved to Woodside, through eighth grade. His middle child had stayed at Nueva School when the family moved from San Mateo, but this year he chose to attend Woodside for eighth grade, where he thought he would be better prepared for high school, Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Hornstein has since publicly apologized for the false statements about Mr. Johnson's children, telling the Almanac, "I made an error in judgment." In an email to school parents, he said: "I apologized to Kevin by telephone and regret my remarks and tone on that topic."
● Experience: One-term incumbent. Attorney with Quinn Emanuel in Redwood Shores.
● Age: 49
● Education: Degrees from Cornell University School of Electrical Engineering and Hofstra University School of Law.
● Other: Has lived in Woodside 10 years. Has three children, a fourth-grader and eighth grader at Woodside Elementary, and a graduate of Woodside Elementary who is a junior at Sacred Heart Prep.
● Endorsements: Woodside resident Wendy Roth, Woodside School parents Marc Tarpenning and Claire Pollioni; Woodside Fire Chief Dan Ghiorso, San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks, Woodside School parents Emmalyn Shaw, Nicole Sheehan, Matt Bonner, Kelly Sallin, Meghan Clark and Gina Baldwin; former PTA presidents Cindy Goldberg and Kerri Stenson; Woodside business owners Tim Stannard, Bill Butler and Erika Demma; Woodside Elementary teachers Tracy Reilly, Ellen Bertine and Carrie Zaracotas.
● Experience: Entrepreneur and investor with background in finance. Serves on the district's Site Council and technology committee.
● Age: 45.
● Education: Degrees from Harvard College and Yale Law School.
● Other: Has lived in Woodside four years; has three children: a first-, third- and fifth-grader at Woodside Elementary.
● Endorsements: This candidate sent the Almanac a list of eight endorsers; but later told us he is "suspending" his campaign and asked not to have the endorsements listed.
● Experience: Appointed incumbent. Experience in construction management. Serves on town of Woodside's Circulation Committee.
● Age: 43
● Education: Degrees from Stanford University and the University of Virginia School of Law.
● Other: Has lived in Woodside 10 years; has three children in Woodside Elementary: twin kindergartners and a second-grader.
● Endorsements: Woodside resident Wendy Roth, Woodside School parents Marc Tarpenning and Claire Pollioni; Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee members Sandie Pugh and George Offen; Woodside Town Council members Peter Mason and David Burow, and council candidate Daniel Yost; Woodside business owners LeeAnn Gilbert and Judy Sieber; San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks; Woodside Fire Chief Dan Ghiorso; and former Woodside Elementary School District board member Betsy Hobson, Woodside Village Church pastor, Ama Zenya.