Uploaded: Thursday, October 4, 2012, 3:32 PM
Five running for three seats in school board race
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|The Mountain View Whisman School District is poised to hold its first contested election since 2004, with five contenders for three open seats on the district's board of trustees this November.
The candidates are Christopher Chiang, Peter Darrah, Bill Lambert, Steve Nelson and Jim Pollart. All three incumbents -- Fiona Walter, Ed Baily and Steve Olson -- decided not to seek re-election.
CORRECTION: The print version of this story did not include Christopher Chiang's profile and stated that only four -- not five -- candidates are running. The Voice regrets the error.
Occupation: Social Studies Teacher (Sixth Grade), Sacred Heart School, Atherton
Education: BA in Political Science, UC Irvine; MA in Teaching from Stanford University | MA in Educational Leadership, Columbia University
Neighborhood: Shoreline West
Christopher Chiang is a a teacher who is married to a teacher. He's lived in Mountain View for six years and taught for eight years, was named teacher of the year at Monte Vista High School in 2010 and has a passion for progressive educational methods.
A "workaholic," Chiang said he spends the majority of his non-working hours with his wife and 2-year-old daughter or reading.
Although he works as a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Sacred Heart School in Atherton, Chiang said he plans to send his daughter to either Castro or Bubb (he lives on the border between the two school's boundary lines).
After losing his bid for the state Senate in June, Chiang decided he might be more effective in affecting change if he started closer to home, by running for the Mountain View Whisman board. If elected, he said he would challenge the board to consider reforming the way the district is run.
"Right now, it is my opinion that the school district, and the state in general, still focuses too much on standardized testing," he said, noting that there are candidates running for the board with strong community relationships and strong business relationships. "I felt there needed to be somebody who has a mind for education reform."
Chiang said he believes there is a disconnect between teachers who want to push public education into the 21st Century and policy makers -- both in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. -- who are stuck in the outdated 20th Century model of passive learning. Learning multiplication tables and studying history is important, he said, but schools need to be engaging students in hands-on learning, using computers and developing real-world skills.
"We are undermining our kids' future if we are teaching them to only do rote memorization," he said. "If all they can do is repeat what is on a standardized test, we aren't preparing them for today's economy."
Chiang said he is prepared to push the district to move away from old modes of teaching -- not only to improve the education of students attending district schools, but in the hope that Mountain View might be a leader in the world of education.
"Policy makers need to see school districts experimenting," he said. "We're in a perfect place to really show that there is good policy that isn't happening in Sacramento."
To help low-income and English-learning students, Chiang suggested more after-school programs that work with students as well as family and other community members. Castro Elementary, he noted, has already been doing this with some success, but he said it ought to be more wide-spread and rigorous.
Chiang proposes tracking more than just standardized test scores -- polling students, parents and teachers about what they like about their schools and what could be improved, as well as measuring critical thinking and problem-solving in students.
"I want to start the conversation about new metrics," Chiang said.
The district already conducts surveys of parent opinion. By expanding upon this collection of data and compiling the results in a way that is easy to understand, the community would be able to learn more about a school than simply whether it has a high or low API (academic performance index score), he said. "If all we give to home-buyers and all we give to parents is the API, then they don't have all the information we are collecting."
He said he would advocate for programs that would give financial incentives to teachers who pursue the administrative track. "I really believe we should be proactively going to our teachers and saying, 'We need you to be a principal and we will pay you to go to school.'"
If there isn't state money to support it, he would pursue asking local companies to help foot the bill -- a cost he thinks firms like Google and LinkedIn would be willing to help cover, since they will ultimately benefit from better schools with better employees.
In addition to running for the school board, he started the MVW21: Mountain View Whisman School Study Group -- a series of privately run seminars designed to help prospective "board candidates and school supporters develop a vision for Mountain View Schools for the 21st century," according to the website, mvw21.org. "This is not an official policy-setting organization, but an open space to exchange new ideas."
Occupation: Computer Engineering Manager, AMD
Education: B.A. Latin American Studies; Hampshire College; B.S. Engineering, University of the Pacific
Neighborhood: Old Mountain View
Peter Darrah, a decade-long Mountain View resident, is the father of two children and husband to Landels Elementary kindergarten teacher, Amy Darrah. He said he enjoys running, cycling, ultimate Frisbee, and, above all, spending time with his family.
The computer engineer lives in the Old Mountain View neighborhood just off Castro Street -- where he and his family enjoy spending time. "We love the community and all the restaurants," Darrah.
He holds two bachelor's degrees -- one in Latin American studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and one in computer engineering from the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
Before moving to Mountain View as a "high-tech immigrant," he started a small business making custom wooden kayak paddles in Costa Rica.
"The main reason I'm running is for the kids," Darrah said. "My kids are super important to me. Our children's education is critical for all of our futures."
He has been involved with the district for many years -- working on a MVWSD task force, serving on the board of the Mountain View Education Foundation and volunteering at Landels.
Besides his service to the district, Darrah said his role as manager at Advanced Microdevices should convince voters of his professionalism and ability to tackle big projects. He said the time he spent in Costa Rica, his degree in Latin American studies and his ability to speak fluent Spanish will be assets in a district with such a large Hispanic population.
"I think I understand better than most (non-Hispanic) people what the issues facing that community are," he said.
The efforts being made at Castro to involve parents, families and the community in the education process is a great first step in boosting academic performance in local Hispanic communities, he said. "It takes a whole community to educate a child."
He said his wife being a teacher in a district school is not a conflict of interest. "I can vote on the teacher contract, because my wife is covered by collective bargaining," he wrote on his campaign website. "Her salary is set along with all the other 250 teachers in the district. It's based solely on years of service and education. No board member, superintendent, or principal can affect her salary apart from the rest of the teachers."
In fact, Darrah said, having his wife teaching in the district is an asset. "It gives me a lot of insight into what happens inside the classroom," he said -- noting he gets perspective both from his children and his wife on programs such as EDI and Khan Academy.
Darrah said he feels it is an "exciting time" for the district right now, explaining why he is choosing to run. "We just passed Measure G and I think it's important that we use those funds wisely."
Even with the approval of the $198 million Measure G, Darrah understands that the district has been hit hard by cuts from above and could be hit again. In order to protect the district from decisions made in Sacramento and Washington, he said the district should do more to take advantage of local resources.
Businesses such as Google have demonstrated their willingness to donate and lend a helping hand in other ways -- through volunteers and donating hardware for example. Darrah said he would like to see the district continue to elicit help from the community.
Occupation: Patent Attorney
Education: B.A. Biochemistry, UC Berkeley; Ph.D Chemical Physics, Caltech; J.D. University of New Hampshire
Neighborhood: Monta Loma
Bill Lambert has lived in Mountain View, near Monta Loma Elementary School for 10 years. He said he enjoys gardening, his cats, and shooting hoops.
A former research scientist at Bell Labs, Lambert is now a patent attorney, specializing in helping Silicon Valley start-ups. Even though he loves his current job, Lambert said he remains a "scientist at heart." As such, he is an advocate for increasing kids' exposure to science, technology, engineering and math (often referred to as STEM). The younger and more frequently children are given the opportunity to engage in scientific activities, the better, he said.
Lambert has become increasingly engaged with local politics and education issues since his 23-year-old daughter graduated from college and moved to New York City. "A part of me has always wanted to be a teacher," he said, noting that he has volunteered with schools.
For close to two years now, Lambert has attended nearly every district board meeting as a representative for the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. In that time, Lambert has learned a great deal about the issues and said that it was only "natural" that he run for a seat on the board.
"I feel I can really bring a lot to the school district," Lambert said. In his view, the Monta Loma neighborhood -- and most communities north of Shoreline Boulevard -- are underrepresented in city politics. And that includes the school district boards. "I really feel that I do have an obligation to run."
As a scientist living in an area of the city with a large Latino population, Lambert said he would like to see a push to get more Hispanic students interested and thriving in STEM subjects, with the aim of ultimately seeing a greater percentage finding work in high tech jobs.
He acknowledged that cultural and language barriers will need to be overcome in order to achieve this goal. More after-school programs could help, he said. So would reaching out to families and engaging parents and the community in neighborhoods like Monta Loma.
"I think it's a really exciting time" in the district, Lambert said, noting the passage of Measure G and the introduction of new and varied educational techniques and technologies such as EDI and Khan Academy. "I would really like to be a part of that process."
In addition to his work with the League of Women Voters, Lambert is an active supporter of the Day Worker's Center and a graduate of the Leadership Mountain View program. Lambert said his involvement in the community is something voters should consider. "A (strong leader), in my opinion, doesn't have to be expert in any single thing, but has to have the right connections in the community to be able to leverage the expertise of those around you," he said. "I have those connections. I have put in the time."
The Mountain View Whisman district has made "tremendous progress" of late, Lambert said, indicating his support for the current district administration.
"I think everybody recognizes that we can do so much more. ... It's what we all want in the community -- basically to make Mountain View a world-class public education system," he said.
Occupation: Teacher/Retired Engineer
Education: Secondary Teaching Credential: Science & Math, San Jose State; M.S. Scientific Instrumentation, UC Santa Barbara; B.A. Astronomy, UC Berkeley
Neighborhood: Cuesta Park
Steven Nelson, a father of three, has lived in Mountain View for 25 years. As a longtime science and math teacher with an interest in community politics and educational issues, Nelson said he is running for the board of trustees in order to help the district move from a "good" educational organization to a "great" one.
As a young man, Nelson served for two years in the Peace Corps, where he taught middle school-level science in the West African country of Liberia. Upon returning to the U.S., he worked in high tech for about 17 years before earning his credential and taking up teaching.
Now retired, Nelson spent the last seven years of his career working as a substitute teacher -- a job that took him to every campus in the district. He has also taught in other schools outside the district.
"I've seen a lot of different teaching styles, and a lot of different districts," Nelson said. "It has given me a pretty broad perspective on what a high quality teacher looks like and the kinds of skills (high quality teachers) need to have."
Nelson frequently attends board meetings and addresses the board with concerns and suggestions. He has been planning to run for several months, as he said he is "significantly" less satisfied with the school district than he was two years ago.
Nelson is concerned that the district is not as transparent as it should be. "Generally, I think they have been using the minimal possible public input that they can get away with."
A lack of public input is particularly problematic, Nelson said, since the board of trustees has been so accepting of the recommendations handed down from district administrators. "For me that means the government process is broken, because (the board of trustees) is just a rubber stamp."
Nelson said he would like to see the school district operating more like the Mountain View City Council, which he regards highly. Nelson said the first step is to increase community outreach.
"I think the school district hasn't been getting input from the whole community," he said, echoing a concern he has raised repeatedly in interviews and at school board meetings.
Nelson headed up a campaign in opposition to Measure G, the $198 million school bond, which won easily in June. Though Nelson said he would like to see local schools get more money for new facilities, he was concerned that the district did not gather sufficient community input and continually called for district officials to be more specific about how they planned to spend the money.
Nelson said he thinks the Student Facilities Improvement Plan needs to be tightened up. The plan lists close to $500 million in projects that officials want to see completed, even though they will only have about $198 million to spend. If elected, Nelson said he would work to find out exactly how the community would like to see the bond money spent.
Age: 50 years old
Occupation: Vice President, Irvine Company
Education: B.S. Civil Engineering, Purdue University; MBA Wharton School of Business
Neighborhood: Whisman Station
Jim Pollart and his wife have been Mountain View residents for about 15 years, and live in the Whisman Station neighborhood with their two daughters, one at Bubb Elementary and one at Mountain View High School.
Vice president of acquisition and development for the Irvine Company, in his spare time Pollart has been involved with local school issues since his first daughter enrolled in kindergarten -- working first with the Bubb PTA, then the school site council and on district-level issues. Pollart considered running for the school board in the last election, but ultimately decided against entering the race.
"Now, it's the right time," Pollart said. "We're going to have three new board members -- a majority of the board members are going to be new, which means there will be a chance to take a step back and change things."
It's not that Pollart envisions a massive overhaul of the district. "We have a good school district," he said. "Our schools are high-performing schools, but I'd like to see them continue to improve and maybe even accelerate the rate of improvement."
If elected, Pollart said he would step-up community outreach.
"We have an incredible amount of resources here in our community that weren't here 10 years ago," he said. "One of the things I would like to see us do better as a district is engage the community. By that, I mean the residents, the businesses and every aspect of the community. ... If we can get more community involvement, we can harness those resources to benefit our kids in all kinds of ways."
Those resources, he said, aren't just monetary. Mountain View is a technological hotbed, and Pollart would like to see the district tap into that.
As the head of Share Shoreline, he led the effort to get the city to share revenue from the Shoreline tax district with the two local school districts. Pollart said he is uniquely placed to continue advocating for the district in future negotiations. He pledged to work with the city to extend the current agreement -- which secured close to $14 million for local schools, and which is scheduled to lapse this year.
"My goal will be to be a part of a negotiation with the city to extend that agreement and hopefully make it a permanent agreement," he said.
Working as a civil engineer and leading a wide range of development and construction projects over his career, Pollart said he will be an asset to the board when it comes to Measure G projects. "My background and technical experience will allow me to have a meaningful role in making sure that the nuts and bolts of that program are well executed -- selecting the contractors, selecting the managers, etc."
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Posted by Maj. Oversight, a resident of the Blossom Valley neighborhood, on Oct 5, 2012 at 11:16 am
"The print version of this story did not include Christopher Chiang's profile and stated that only four -- not five -- candidates are running."
That's pretty bad.
Posted by Cuesta Park Mom, a resident of the Cuesta Park neighborhood, on Oct 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm
I think the whole corrected article with the 5 candidates should be printed next week.
Posted by @ Chiang, a resident of the Cuesta Park neighborhood, on Oct 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm
Do you know that MVWSD already has a poll for parents to answer what they like and what needs to be changed at their schools?
And, do you know that Google and Microsoft and other companies have contributed greatly already to our school district and our educational foundation to help schools and students?
Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of the Cuesta Park neighborhood, on Oct 5, 2012 at 8:32 pm
Survey - now, let us try to dig through the loads of 'scanned in images' and find where those darn reports are! There must be a pony somewhere in here! (if you get the idea)
EDITOR, somehow there were two FORUM threads created fro this one article. (Mea culpa)
Posted by Christopher Chiang, a resident of the Shoreline West neighborhood, on Oct 5, 2012 at 10:56 pm
Thank you @chiang for highlighting important issues. In reply, yes we do collect data, but are we making full use of our data?
Our schools are primarily judged based on their annual API score, which is simply a calculation of the standardized tests. Test scores are an important data set, as are annual surveys.
Yet, the API is part of how we grade our schools, and surveys are not. Nor is any data on our children’s ability to problem solve, innovate, work in teams, control their emotions, or learn free of bullying or other aggressive culture part of our schools' "grade." All of which contribute to a child’s lifelong success. We need to align our metrics with our values.
In New York City where I used to teach, school survey data is very public event.
Example: Web Link
The data is part of how each school is “graded.”
Example: Web Link
Your second question, I'm a Google Certified Teacher and Microsoft Innovative Educator, yes, I'm aware companies like them do already donate to our schools. My belief is that we can get deeper partnerships if rather than asking for just money, we presented them with a plan for bold entrepreneurial initiatives that leverage all their assets, and resonate with the shared belief in investing in human capital.
In Singapore, they recruit the best to be principals, and send their new principals on clinical studies of organizations around the world, visiting leading schools or leading private businesses. We can get more than checks and guest speakers, but a sharing of best practices.
To learn more about Singapore's school leadership development, an excerpt of a concise Dan Rather report:
As a teacher, I cherish these questions and comments as learning experiences. I thank you for them and I welcome more of them (be it publicly or privately).
Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of the Cuesta Park neighborhood, on Oct 6, 2012 at 11:59 am
Chris has been kind enough to share the "Dan Rather: videos with some of us candidates as he has attempted to engage us in "outside our box" thinking. There is also a very interesting video on Finland (as he also mentions in his campaign literature). Unfortunately - this current Board does not think to include 'citizen workshops' in it's engagement of our community. There were only 4 public ("Open & Public") workshops for the $423 million Facilities Plan (please read the Voice endorsement of "Measure G" carefully). If the MVWSD only rises to public/Board/administrator workshops on issues above $100,000,000, Chris's vision is dead in the water! [one way "informercials" are not engagement Mr. Goldman]
SN is also a candidate for MVWSD Board (but hey, I got in the paper)
Posted by 2012 Voter, a resident of the Jackson Park neighborhood, on Nov 1, 2012 at 12:51 pm
I'm not voting for anyone who works for the Irvine Company. They're only concern is development. I should know...I grew up in Irvine where they've developed every square inch of land. It's very sad what happened down there.