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As districts grapple with remote learning and other COVID-19 challenges, contested school board races take shape

Candidates running for boards of Sequoia Union, Menlo Park City, Las Lomitas and Ravenswood school

Menlo-Atherton High School campus is empty as students stay home for distance learning. Meeting the educational challenges caused by COVID-19 is one of the issues facing candidates in the Sequoia High School District board race. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

With key decisions to be made about steering schools through the COVID-19 pandemic, November's local school board elections hold extra significance. Distance learning programs, school reopenings and virus safety procedures will all be in the hands of elected board members.

School board elections on Nov. 3 include Sequoia Union High School and Menlo Park City School districts, as well as contested races in the Las Lomitas Elementary and Ravenswood City school districts.

Woodside and Portola Valley school districts will sit this one out. Both have uncontested elections, with the number of candidates matching the number of open seats, leaving those boards to simply appoint the new members. In the Woodside School District, two non-incumbents have entered the race, and there are two open spots: Neil Sequeira, a businessman, and Dan Simon, a health care provider.

In the Portola Valley School District, three candidates have applied for three open spots: incumbent Jeff Klugman, current board member Kimberley Morris Rosen (who was appointed to the board in March 2019), and non-incumbent Gary Hanning, a parent and community volunteer.

Sequoia Union High School District

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This district, which operates the local comprehensive high schools Menlo-Atherton and Woodside, as well as TIDE Academy, will hold district elections based on where residents live. The current school board is in the midst of determining whether to renew Superintendent Mary Streshly's contract after the district's teachers union and 22 school administrators expressed no confidence in her leadership.

Residents of Woodside, Portola Valley and West Menlo Park vote in Trustee Area C, choosing one of three candidates: incumbent Georgia Solkov Jack, Shamar Edwards or Rich Ginn.

As the incumbent, Jack has served on the Sequoia board since 2015. She is a development professional who works for Stanford University.

Edwards is the former principal of TIDE Academy and describes herself as a "transformational school leader with 20 years of experience in public education." She holds a master's degree in education administration with an emphasis in social justice from University of California at Berkeley. She is a public school principal in Sunnyvale, where she is leading trauma-informed restorative justice programs, according to her candidate website.

Ginn formerly served on the Las Lomitas school board for eight years, including two as board president. On his website he distinguishes himself from the other candidates by saying that he is the only candidate with a child currently enrolled in the district, the only candidate with a financial background (as a CFO who has an MBA), and that he has a technology background relevant to the current challenges with online learning.

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Residents in Menlo Park neighborhoods east of Highway 101 as well as East Palo Alto will vote in Trustee Area E, which includes two candidates vying for one seat: Jacqui Cebrian and Shawneece Stevenson.

A second-generation public school teacher and 13-year resident of Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood, Cebrian's candidate statement says she is passionate about reading. "I believe we need to keep our students and staff safe, while providing the greatest access to in-person learning that conditions allow. Everyone's preference is for school to return to normal. The reason people choose otherwise is because we are in a health emergency. Technology is a hurdle we can and should conquer in providing equal access to an engaging education," she said in her statement.

Stevenson is a social worker, a parent of two children at Menlo-Atherton High School and a 22-year East Palo Alto resident. She has served on the Menlo-Atherton Foundation board and worked closely with Black Student Union clubs at Menlo-Atherton and Sequoia high schools. She also served as on the district's COVID-19 reopening task force.

Menlo Park City School District

In the Menlo Park City School District, which includes Oak Knoll, Laurel and Encinal elementary schools, along with Hillview Middle School, three candidates are running for two open seats: incumbent David Ackerman, Francesca Segre and Robert Maclay.

Ackerman joined the school board in 2016 and is the former principal of Oak Knoll Elementary School. He drew national media attention (from outlets including Newsweek and CBS) in 2007 when he wrote a letter to parents titled "The Future of Homework," in which he expressed doubt about the usefulness of homework for young children while announcing a more limited homework program for the school.

Segre is a former journalist of 20 years, reporting for KQED, the New York Times and Reuters, among others. She also worked for the California Legislature as education policy specialist for then-state Assemblyman Rich Gordon. "I'm running for Menlo Park City School District Board because I believe every child, regardless of circumstance, regardless of COVID-19, should have the education and opportunities to build the life of their dreams," her candidate statement says.

Maclay is a district parent. "Our schools build the foundation of our community. The schools through the board and district leadership must build a collaborative and trusting relationship with the community," he said in his candidate statement.

Las Lomitas Elementary School District

Las Lomitas Elementary School District includes Las Lomitas Elementary and La Entrada schools. Three candidates — no incumbents among them — are competing for two seats on the school board: Jason Morimoto, Molly Finn and Dr. Jody Leng.

Morimoto has been on the Las Lomitas PTA and is a financial executive and parent. He holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from UC Berkeley.

As a legal executive, Finn emphasized her legal background. "I noticed that the two school board members that are stepping down both have legal backgrounds, and the three remaining do not ... If elected, I am happy to use my legal experience and skills in issue spotting to ensure we stay compliant while delivering an excellent education for our students," she said in her candidate statement.

A practicing physician anesthesiologist, Leng worked on the Las Lomitas Elementary School District Pandemic Recovery Committee to help plan the reopening of the schools for both virtual and in-person learning. "Having worked with patients since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I understand what it takes to maintain safety on a daily basis, while striving to help people feel comfortable in this new normal," she said in her statement.

Ravenswood City School District

Serving eastern Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, the Ravenswood City School District has seven candidates vying for two seats: incumbent Marielena Gaona Mendoza, Zeb Feldman, Julian Alberto Garcia, Mele K. Latu, Joel Rivera, Bronwyn Alexander and Jenny Varghese Bloom.

Gaona Mendoza was first elected to the board in 2016. She works as a special education teacher in the Redwood City School District.

Feldman said he wants to bring his expertise as a labor contract negotiator to the Ravenswood City School District. He lived in East Palo Alto for 11 years, and he attended public schools in Menlo Park and graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School.

Garcia is making is second bid for Ravenswood school board. He said his top priority would be closing the digital divide in Ravenswood, which has been exacerbated by the shutdown.

Latu is a community collaborations manager for Emerson Collective, the social change organization founded by Laurene Powell Jobs.

Rivera is a construction labor manager and parent, whose wife is a teacher in the district.

Alexander is a teacher of 28 years who left her longtime job at Belle Haven Elementary School in Menlo Park last year so she could run for a school board seat in this election. "If you elect me, I will advocate for your schools, your students, and your educators," she said in her candidate statement.

A district parent and college admissions counselor at Insight Education, Bloom said, "I bring to the table my experience across an expanse of fields within education which can inform and help discern best practices moving forward."

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As districts grapple with remote learning and other COVID-19 challenges, contested school board races take shape

Candidates running for boards of Sequoia Union, Menlo Park City, Las Lomitas and Ravenswood school

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Sun, Sep 6, 2020, 8:15 am
Updated: Tue, Sep 8, 2020, 12:17 pm

With key decisions to be made about steering schools through the COVID-19 pandemic, November's local school board elections hold extra significance. Distance learning programs, school reopenings and virus safety procedures will all be in the hands of elected board members.

School board elections on Nov. 3 include Sequoia Union High School and Menlo Park City School districts, as well as contested races in the Las Lomitas Elementary and Ravenswood City school districts.

Woodside and Portola Valley school districts will sit this one out. Both have uncontested elections, with the number of candidates matching the number of open seats, leaving those boards to simply appoint the new members. In the Woodside School District, two non-incumbents have entered the race, and there are two open spots: Neil Sequeira, a businessman, and Dan Simon, a health care provider.

In the Portola Valley School District, three candidates have applied for three open spots: incumbent Jeff Klugman, current board member Kimberley Morris Rosen (who was appointed to the board in March 2019), and non-incumbent Gary Hanning, a parent and community volunteer.

Sequoia Union High School District

This district, which operates the local comprehensive high schools Menlo-Atherton and Woodside, as well as TIDE Academy, will hold district elections based on where residents live. The current school board is in the midst of determining whether to renew Superintendent Mary Streshly's contract after the district's teachers union and 22 school administrators expressed no confidence in her leadership.

Residents of Woodside, Portola Valley and West Menlo Park vote in Trustee Area C, choosing one of three candidates: incumbent Georgia Solkov Jack, Shamar Edwards or Rich Ginn.

As the incumbent, Jack has served on the Sequoia board since 2015. She is a development professional who works for Stanford University.

Edwards is the former principal of TIDE Academy and describes herself as a "transformational school leader with 20 years of experience in public education." She holds a master's degree in education administration with an emphasis in social justice from University of California at Berkeley. She is a public school principal in Sunnyvale, where she is leading trauma-informed restorative justice programs, according to her candidate website.

Ginn formerly served on the Las Lomitas school board for eight years, including two as board president. On his website he distinguishes himself from the other candidates by saying that he is the only candidate with a child currently enrolled in the district, the only candidate with a financial background (as a CFO who has an MBA), and that he has a technology background relevant to the current challenges with online learning.

Residents in Menlo Park neighborhoods east of Highway 101 as well as East Palo Alto will vote in Trustee Area E, which includes two candidates vying for one seat: Jacqui Cebrian and Shawneece Stevenson.

A second-generation public school teacher and 13-year resident of Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood, Cebrian's candidate statement says she is passionate about reading. "I believe we need to keep our students and staff safe, while providing the greatest access to in-person learning that conditions allow. Everyone's preference is for school to return to normal. The reason people choose otherwise is because we are in a health emergency. Technology is a hurdle we can and should conquer in providing equal access to an engaging education," she said in her statement.

Stevenson is a social worker, a parent of two children at Menlo-Atherton High School and a 22-year East Palo Alto resident. She has served on the Menlo-Atherton Foundation board and worked closely with Black Student Union clubs at Menlo-Atherton and Sequoia high schools. She also served as on the district's COVID-19 reopening task force.

Menlo Park City School District

In the Menlo Park City School District, which includes Oak Knoll, Laurel and Encinal elementary schools, along with Hillview Middle School, three candidates are running for two open seats: incumbent David Ackerman, Francesca Segre and Robert Maclay.

Ackerman joined the school board in 2016 and is the former principal of Oak Knoll Elementary School. He drew national media attention (from outlets including Newsweek and CBS) in 2007 when he wrote a letter to parents titled "The Future of Homework," in which he expressed doubt about the usefulness of homework for young children while announcing a more limited homework program for the school.

Segre is a former journalist of 20 years, reporting for KQED, the New York Times and Reuters, among others. She also worked for the California Legislature as education policy specialist for then-state Assemblyman Rich Gordon. "I'm running for Menlo Park City School District Board because I believe every child, regardless of circumstance, regardless of COVID-19, should have the education and opportunities to build the life of their dreams," her candidate statement says.

Maclay is a district parent. "Our schools build the foundation of our community. The schools through the board and district leadership must build a collaborative and trusting relationship with the community," he said in his candidate statement.

Las Lomitas Elementary School District

Las Lomitas Elementary School District includes Las Lomitas Elementary and La Entrada schools. Three candidates — no incumbents among them — are competing for two seats on the school board: Jason Morimoto, Molly Finn and Dr. Jody Leng.

Morimoto has been on the Las Lomitas PTA and is a financial executive and parent. He holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from UC Berkeley.

As a legal executive, Finn emphasized her legal background. "I noticed that the two school board members that are stepping down both have legal backgrounds, and the three remaining do not ... If elected, I am happy to use my legal experience and skills in issue spotting to ensure we stay compliant while delivering an excellent education for our students," she said in her candidate statement.

A practicing physician anesthesiologist, Leng worked on the Las Lomitas Elementary School District Pandemic Recovery Committee to help plan the reopening of the schools for both virtual and in-person learning. "Having worked with patients since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I understand what it takes to maintain safety on a daily basis, while striving to help people feel comfortable in this new normal," she said in her statement.

Ravenswood City School District

Serving eastern Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, the Ravenswood City School District has seven candidates vying for two seats: incumbent Marielena Gaona Mendoza, Zeb Feldman, Julian Alberto Garcia, Mele K. Latu, Joel Rivera, Bronwyn Alexander and Jenny Varghese Bloom.

Gaona Mendoza was first elected to the board in 2016. She works as a special education teacher in the Redwood City School District.

Feldman said he wants to bring his expertise as a labor contract negotiator to the Ravenswood City School District. He lived in East Palo Alto for 11 years, and he attended public schools in Menlo Park and graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School.

Garcia is making is second bid for Ravenswood school board. He said his top priority would be closing the digital divide in Ravenswood, which has been exacerbated by the shutdown.

Latu is a community collaborations manager for Emerson Collective, the social change organization founded by Laurene Powell Jobs.

Rivera is a construction labor manager and parent, whose wife is a teacher in the district.

Alexander is a teacher of 28 years who left her longtime job at Belle Haven Elementary School in Menlo Park last year so she could run for a school board seat in this election. "If you elect me, I will advocate for your schools, your students, and your educators," she said in her candidate statement.

A district parent and college admissions counselor at Insight Education, Bloom said, "I bring to the table my experience across an expanse of fields within education which can inform and help discern best practices moving forward."

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