School board elections are getting a lot of attention this year. Another last-minute candidate joined the race for a spot on the school board for the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District -- making a grand total of seven candidates seeking the three seats up for election.
And that's unusual for the high school district, which has only had one contested election in the last 16 years. The normally quiet school district last had a election in 2008, when incumbents Susan Sweeley and Phil Faillace defeated candidate Colin Rudolph.
Current board member Judy Hannemann decided not to run for re-election this year, extending the filing period past the Aug. 8 deadline. That was enough time for one more candidate to join the race. Sanjay Dave, a computer engineering manager and father of a student in the district, filed for candidacy on Aug. 13.
Other candidates include incumbents Joe Mitchner and Debbie Torok, as well as Doug Moore, a former CEO, Kevin Kramer, an executive at Yahoo, Dana Bunnett, director of a non-profit child advocacy group, and Fiona Walter, engineer and former board member for the Mountain View Whisman School District. All non-incumbent candidates have children enrolled in district schools.
Stories about Mitchner, Kramer, Bunnett and Walter can be found in the Aug. 8 and Aug. 15 issues of the Voice.
Debbie Torok is coming up on the end of her first term on the school board, and said the school district has done a fantastic job closing the achievement gap and preparing students for college. Torok said she wants to stay with the board to see through district-wide implementation of Common Core, technology upgrades and new funding.
Torok said prior to being on the board, she was a constant parent volunteer for the district. She said becoming a board member didn't change that.
"I'm still a volunteer now, but on a different level," Torok said.
When it comes to the transition from high school to college, Torok said she's well aware of what students need to be college-ready. She has three children who have graduated high school, and said she went through the college preparation process three times -- giving her a pretty intimate understanding of what's expected for district students.
"I think we're doing a very good job preparing kids (for college), but the bar continues to move," Torok said.
Though all of her children graduated from the district, Torok said she's still in tune with the schools and the needs of the students. She even co-chaired the Mountain View High School Grad Night event this year, despite not having a kid in the district.
On recent issues, Torok said she wanted to keep the Young Parents Program -- a program that offered day care and other services to young parents in district schools. The program was cut when state funding for it ran out, and Torok said she wanted to explore ways they can continue to support the students that relied on the services. Going forward, she said she will continue to ask the district for updates on how the district is accommodating the needs of young parents.
When the school district considered allowing an exemption from physical education for ninth grade students who take sports and other extra-curricular activities, Torok said she saw both sides of the argument but would likely vote to allow the exemption -- in part because her kids took advantage of it when the exemption was still an option for district students.
"The P.E. program is important and comprehensive," Torok said. "But I had three kids that opted out of P.E. and I can see the benefits."
Torok said she's excited for the future of the school district, and wants to be there on the board when Local Control and Accountability Plan funding, designed to improve academic performance for high-needs students, comes to fruition in the coming years.
She said she also wants to see through the Common Core State Standards, and said the first-year freshmen students in the district will be the first class to be "fully engaged" in Common Core, and are slated to be the first class to take Common Core testing in 2017. She said she's confident district students will score in the top percentile.
Sanjay Dave is a long-time Bay Area resident who has worked in technology since 1988. Dave said advancements in curriculum, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), are an important part of preparing students for the future, and an important part in shrinking the achievement gap.
The most recent addition to the race, Dave said he decided to run when current board member Judy Hannemann announced she would not run for re-election shortly before the end of the filing period. Dave said Hannemann encouraged him to run for the board, and has since endorsed him.
Dave said the current board has done a "phenomenal" job so far, and needs to continue to focus on curriculum advancement. He said it's important that the district roll out Common Core curriculum as smoothly as possible over the next few years, and said the district made the right choice hiring Common Core "coaches" for professional development.
One of Dave's goals as a board member would be to offer and expand more STEM courses at the two high schools, specifically in areas like computer programming, bioengineering and environmental science.
He said the school does currently have an AP computer science course, but that he would like to see something that goes beyond year-long class options and builds on a strong foundation over a longer period. For example, a two-year computer science program that goes from coding in Java to Python as students progress.
"Right now that's where a lot of the jobs and needs are," Dave said. "They'll be able to do a lot more when they get to college."
Dave said that computer science and other STEM courses aren't geared towards just the students who want to go to college. He said college is becoming more and more costly and not every high school graduate is going to go to a four-year university, so having those programming skills will give them an edge.
As for the recent district issue regarding physical education exemptions for ninth grade students, Dave said it's a topic that should definitely be discussed -- but it's not the most important issue.
"We have a budget, teachers to hire, and courses to add to make sure our kids stay competitive," Dave said.
A former CEO and parent of a Mountain View High School freshman, Doug Moore spearheaded the effort by district parents this year to bring back the ninth grade P.E. exemption. Now he's looking to influence district-wide policies on a higher level -- through the school board.
Moore has an extensive background in finance and management, and served on a company board of directors for 9 years. He said his education and experience as a board member helped him understand what power, responsibilities and accountability school district board members have, and the relationship the board should have with the superintendent and district staff.
As a board member, Moore said he wants to be in close touch with constituents. When Moore and a number of other parents wanted to bring back the physical education exemption for ninth grade students, he said it was very hard to get the school board to look into it.
"You need a posse of people to get it on the radar," Moore said.
Moore said he has no plans to run for more than one term, and would step down when he no longer had kids in the district. He said the school district needs people on the board with kids that go to the high schools so they have an "interest" in what goes on at the schools, and are more in touch with what's going on at the campuses. Joe Mitchner is the only current board member with students in the district.