A common route to appointment or election to local school boards is that of the parent who is an active volunteer for the school district, often serving in leadership positions on school site councils and education foundation boards. Such experience can be valuable to those whose role on the school board is to help govern the district, a job that requires an understanding of how things work on many levels.
But if all board member emerge from a similar field of experience, the end result can be a governing board of like-minded thinkers in danger of discussing key issues facing the district in an echo chamber.
In many election years, voters who would like to see a governing board that brings to the dais a wider perspective have been frustrated because viable candidates haven't come forward; sometimes, such as in 2014 in the Menlo Park City School District, elections have been canceled because the number of candidates equals the number of open seats. This year is different.
In the race to fill the Menlo Park City School District board seats of Jeff Child and Maria Hilton, who have chosen not to run for re-election, we endorse David Ackerman and Caroline Lucas. They have come to their quest for governing board seats through untraditional routes and we believe they can offer valuable new perspectives as part of the district's decision-making team.
Mr. Ackerman can hardly be called an outsider: He served in the district as Oak Knoll School principal for 15 years. Now retired and living in Menlo Park, he wants to stay involved in the district and offer, as a board member, a perspective gained from a 45-year career in education as both a teacher and an administrator.
From his position as a principal, he was able to observe firsthand the strengths and weaknesses in the district's leadership, and says he found that leadership lacking in inspiration.
As a board member helping to chart the district's way forward, he says, he would emphasize the importance of tapping into teachers' ideas and the valuable knowledge they have gained from on-the-ground experience. He rightly states that the board is at a disadvantage in having no member with a background in education.
Ms. Lucas, a longtime educator and currently a Spanish teacher at La Entrada School in the Las Lomitas School District, also would come to the board with an educator's perspective, but with a broader community perspective as well.
She's been a school volunteer in the Menlo Park district and the Ravenswood elementary school district, which administers Belle Haven and Willow Oaks schools in Menlo Park and schools in East Palo Alto. Her children attended district schools and now attend Menlo-Atherton High School. She has also been a community volunteer a Girl Scout leader and a translator for Spanish speakers in medical clinics.
One of her goals as a board member, she says, would be to improve the district's communication with the broader community and increase the public's participation in district affairs. Her ideas for doing so include more town hall-style meetings, conducting more interactive surveys, and posting videos of school board meetings, which are poorly attended.
She wants to change a process in board decision-making that she sees as backwards: The board arrives at consensus on issues, she says, then solicits feedback from the public. If elected, "I'm going to ask the public what they want, then bring that back" to the board as an important component in deciding the way forward.
Note: Due to a technical error, Barbara Wood's byline initially appeared at the top of this editorial. Barbara did not write the editorial. Editorials are written by the Almanac editorial board of Renee Batti and Richard Hine and not by reporters.