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Three newcomers compete for two seats on Las Lomitas district school board

A finance executive, a legal executive and an anesthesiologist are competing for a seat on the Las Lomitas Elementary School District board in the Nov. 3 election.

Jason Morimoto, Molly Finn and Jody Leng are all newcomers, vying for two seats on the board that governs Las Lomitas Elementary School in Atherton and La Entrada Middle School in Menlo Park.

Like all local school districts, Las Lomitas is currently navigating challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The district school board chose to keep students and staff home to start the fall semester, and all classes have been taught online since mid-March. The district recently applied for the state's waiver program, and if approved by the San Mateo County public health department, some students will be allowed back into the classroom.

Jason Morimoto

Las Lomitas Elementary School District board candidate Jason Morimoto. Courtesy Jason Morimoto.

A financial executive, Morimoto said closing equity gaps in the district is his top priority. He said he also hopes to focus on financial oversight and COVID-19 safety.

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"If you look at the California School Dashboard, you will notice that the success levels look very different across ethnicities and socioeconomic status," he said. "My first school board priority is to continue focusing on closing the equity gaps and providing both the opportunity and the personal support needed for each and every child to excel academically."

He said his financial background will be an asset when it comes to oversight of the school district budget. "Our school board is comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds, but none of the current school board members or candidates has professional experience in finance," he said. "It is no secret that California school budgets will be challenged in the years to come and we need someone that has the experience of overseeing budgets through not only the good but also the challenging times."

On the question of reopening schools amid COVID-19, he emphasized safety.

"I want there to be very explicit safety protocols for teachers, students and parents as we contemplate school reopening," he said. "Reopening schools is a collective effort across our community and it only works if the entire community is aligned on the safety protocols and abides by them. In addition to safety, it is also important to focus on the social and emotional well-being of students, teachers and staff during this time period."

Morimoto said that he brings wide-ranging relevant experience to the table, including education policy experience serving on the governing Board of Regents for the University of California, finance experience (Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, HP Inc. and ServiceNow), and being an active volunteer in the community (PTA, AYSO soccer coach, Little League, and Las Lomitas Foundation Classroom Ambassador).

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He is endorsed by Congressman Michael Honda, state Assemblymember Marc Berman, state Sen. Jerry Hill, state Senate candidate Josh Becker, Menlo Park Councilman Ray Mueller, and San Mateo County Harbor District Board and Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board member Virginia Chang Kiraly, and all four Las Lomitas and La Entrada PTA co-presidents.

Molly Finn

Las Lomitas Elementary School District board candidate Molly Finn. Courtesy Molly Finn.

Finn is a 14-year resident and parent of two children in the district. She said that her priorities are teachers, preparing students for the future and meeting the needs of all students.

"Teachers are the district's greatest asset and our biggest investment," she said. "I will continue to prioritize professional development, hiring great teachers and partnering with them for a safe return to school."

Finn commented on the need to retain teachers in the face of the rising cost of living in the district. "The first priority is to be sure we are paying teachers at-market and providing cost of living adjustments," she said. "This is a statewide issue for teachers and school employees broadly. Some affordable housing for teachers and administration has been created at the county level. I would partner with county officials to continue to make this a priority."

She said her vision is for a "progressive curriculum" that prepares young students for the future. "I will advocate for broad-based age appropriate computer science not additional technology in the classroom, rather building computer science literacy which will be needed for the next generation of jobs."

On the question of COVID-19 and online learning, she said that this fall's online semester has improved from the spring, "which is a testament to the efforts of our teachers and administrators," but she hopes to see younger students return to the classroom soon.

"They have streamlined the technology and have committed to a workable schedule two big wins. Now that kids with learning needs and other impediments to online learning are back at school, I feel much better about the equity in education for the fall," she said. "I am still concerned about kindergartners and their ability to effectively learn and interact online. We need to prioritize, when safe, getting the kindergartners back in school."

Jody Leng

Las Lomitas Elementary School District board candidate Jody Leng. Courtesy Jody Leng.

Dr. Jody Leng is an anesthesiologist who was the only physician on the Las Lomitas Pandemic Recovery Planning Committee, which aided in the district's COVDI-19 response.

"I have volunteered countless hours with a number of school administrators, staff, teachers, and parents to help our district with reopening plans," she said. "If elected, I will be the only health care worker on the board, whose No. 1 issue right now is trying to safely reopen our schools in person amidst a pandemic."

Leng said she supports reopening schools with appropriate safety protocols in place. The district applied for a waiver, but now that the county is in the "red" category, the waiver result and approval for schools to open in person will probably happen around the same time. "Many changes will take effect once school opens: mask wearing for staff and students, distancing, and improved indoor ventilation," she said. "I would still like to see a safe option for lunchtime. I would also encourage the use of outdoor space as much as possible."

Leng praised teachers for virtual instruction this fall, but expressed hope for better access to the curriculum and more communication. "There are a number of students who are not responding to virtual learning for many reasons: learning or physical disabilities, lack of reliable access to technology, parents who are essential workers or working from home, or the challenge of interfacing with a screen for many hours, just like all of us," she said. "If I could change anything, it would be to help improve communication and transparency of all the work that is being done between the administration, teachers, and families."

CANDIDATE BIOS:

Jason Morimoto, 41, is a finance executive who's worked at Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, HP Inc and ServiceNow. He cites his experiences as a member of the Board of Regents of the University of California, president of Cal Alumni Association, a trustee of UC Berkeley Foundation and the library board of UC Berkeley. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration at UC Berkeley. His community service includes being the Las Lomitas PTA treasurer, AYSO soccer coach, Alpine Little League coach, Las Lomitas Foundation Classroom Ambassador and Las Lomitas PTA financial secretary. He's lived in the district for five years. His campaign website is jasonmorimoto.com.

Molly Finn, 44, is a Fortune 500 legal executive and nonprofit board member with a bachelor's degree in studio art from Franklin & Marshall College, and a law degree and MBA from Santa Clara University. Her community service includes being a board member of global nonprofit focused on food security and an AYSO coach. She's lived in the district for 14 years. Her campaign website is mollyfinn.com.

Jody Leng, 42, is a physician anesthesiologist and assistant professor of anesthesiology affiliated with Stanford Health Care whose experience includes serving as director of regional anesthesiology and acute pain medicine at the Palo Alto VA Hospital and as associate program director of regional anesthesiology and acute pain medicine fellowship at Stanford Health Care. She holds a bachelor's degree from Tulane University in biomedical engineering, a master's from Stanford University in mechanical engineering, and an MD from University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Her community service includes serving as Las Lomitas PTA committee chair (Fun Fridays) from 2016-20 and La Entrada fourth grade Book Club. Her campaign website is drjodyleng.com.

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Three newcomers compete for two seats on Las Lomitas district school board

by Tyler Callister / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 2, 2020, 11:55 am

A finance executive, a legal executive and an anesthesiologist are competing for a seat on the Las Lomitas Elementary School District board in the Nov. 3 election.

Jason Morimoto, Molly Finn and Jody Leng are all newcomers, vying for two seats on the board that governs Las Lomitas Elementary School in Atherton and La Entrada Middle School in Menlo Park.

Like all local school districts, Las Lomitas is currently navigating challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The district school board chose to keep students and staff home to start the fall semester, and all classes have been taught online since mid-March. The district recently applied for the state's waiver program, and if approved by the San Mateo County public health department, some students will be allowed back into the classroom.

Jason Morimoto

A financial executive, Morimoto said closing equity gaps in the district is his top priority. He said he also hopes to focus on financial oversight and COVID-19 safety.

"If you look at the California School Dashboard, you will notice that the success levels look very different across ethnicities and socioeconomic status," he said. "My first school board priority is to continue focusing on closing the equity gaps and providing both the opportunity and the personal support needed for each and every child to excel academically."

He said his financial background will be an asset when it comes to oversight of the school district budget. "Our school board is comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds, but none of the current school board members or candidates has professional experience in finance," he said. "It is no secret that California school budgets will be challenged in the years to come and we need someone that has the experience of overseeing budgets through not only the good but also the challenging times."

On the question of reopening schools amid COVID-19, he emphasized safety.

"I want there to be very explicit safety protocols for teachers, students and parents as we contemplate school reopening," he said. "Reopening schools is a collective effort across our community and it only works if the entire community is aligned on the safety protocols and abides by them. In addition to safety, it is also important to focus on the social and emotional well-being of students, teachers and staff during this time period."

Morimoto said that he brings wide-ranging relevant experience to the table, including education policy experience serving on the governing Board of Regents for the University of California, finance experience (Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, HP Inc. and ServiceNow), and being an active volunteer in the community (PTA, AYSO soccer coach, Little League, and Las Lomitas Foundation Classroom Ambassador).

He is endorsed by Congressman Michael Honda, state Assemblymember Marc Berman, state Sen. Jerry Hill, state Senate candidate Josh Becker, Menlo Park Councilman Ray Mueller, and San Mateo County Harbor District Board and Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board member Virginia Chang Kiraly, and all four Las Lomitas and La Entrada PTA co-presidents.

Molly Finn

Finn is a 14-year resident and parent of two children in the district. She said that her priorities are teachers, preparing students for the future and meeting the needs of all students.

"Teachers are the district's greatest asset and our biggest investment," she said. "I will continue to prioritize professional development, hiring great teachers and partnering with them for a safe return to school."

Finn commented on the need to retain teachers in the face of the rising cost of living in the district. "The first priority is to be sure we are paying teachers at-market and providing cost of living adjustments," she said. "This is a statewide issue for teachers and school employees broadly. Some affordable housing for teachers and administration has been created at the county level. I would partner with county officials to continue to make this a priority."

She said her vision is for a "progressive curriculum" that prepares young students for the future. "I will advocate for broad-based age appropriate computer science not additional technology in the classroom, rather building computer science literacy which will be needed for the next generation of jobs."

On the question of COVID-19 and online learning, she said that this fall's online semester has improved from the spring, "which is a testament to the efforts of our teachers and administrators," but she hopes to see younger students return to the classroom soon.

"They have streamlined the technology and have committed to a workable schedule two big wins. Now that kids with learning needs and other impediments to online learning are back at school, I feel much better about the equity in education for the fall," she said. "I am still concerned about kindergartners and their ability to effectively learn and interact online. We need to prioritize, when safe, getting the kindergartners back in school."

Jody Leng

Dr. Jody Leng is an anesthesiologist who was the only physician on the Las Lomitas Pandemic Recovery Planning Committee, which aided in the district's COVDI-19 response.

"I have volunteered countless hours with a number of school administrators, staff, teachers, and parents to help our district with reopening plans," she said. "If elected, I will be the only health care worker on the board, whose No. 1 issue right now is trying to safely reopen our schools in person amidst a pandemic."

Leng said she supports reopening schools with appropriate safety protocols in place. The district applied for a waiver, but now that the county is in the "red" category, the waiver result and approval for schools to open in person will probably happen around the same time. "Many changes will take effect once school opens: mask wearing for staff and students, distancing, and improved indoor ventilation," she said. "I would still like to see a safe option for lunchtime. I would also encourage the use of outdoor space as much as possible."

Leng praised teachers for virtual instruction this fall, but expressed hope for better access to the curriculum and more communication. "There are a number of students who are not responding to virtual learning for many reasons: learning or physical disabilities, lack of reliable access to technology, parents who are essential workers or working from home, or the challenge of interfacing with a screen for many hours, just like all of us," she said. "If I could change anything, it would be to help improve communication and transparency of all the work that is being done between the administration, teachers, and families."

CANDIDATE BIOS:

Jason Morimoto, 41, is a finance executive who's worked at Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, HP Inc and ServiceNow. He cites his experiences as a member of the Board of Regents of the University of California, president of Cal Alumni Association, a trustee of UC Berkeley Foundation and the library board of UC Berkeley. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration at UC Berkeley. His community service includes being the Las Lomitas PTA treasurer, AYSO soccer coach, Alpine Little League coach, Las Lomitas Foundation Classroom Ambassador and Las Lomitas PTA financial secretary. He's lived in the district for five years. His campaign website is jasonmorimoto.com.

Molly Finn, 44, is a Fortune 500 legal executive and nonprofit board member with a bachelor's degree in studio art from Franklin & Marshall College, and a law degree and MBA from Santa Clara University. Her community service includes being a board member of global nonprofit focused on food security and an AYSO coach. She's lived in the district for 14 years. Her campaign website is mollyfinn.com.

Jody Leng, 42, is a physician anesthesiologist and assistant professor of anesthesiology affiliated with Stanford Health Care whose experience includes serving as director of regional anesthesiology and acute pain medicine at the Palo Alto VA Hospital and as associate program director of regional anesthesiology and acute pain medicine fellowship at Stanford Health Care. She holds a bachelor's degree from Tulane University in biomedical engineering, a master's from Stanford University in mechanical engineering, and an MD from University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Her community service includes serving as Las Lomitas PTA committee chair (Fun Fridays) from 2016-20 and La Entrada fourth grade Book Club. Her campaign website is drjodyleng.com.

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