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October 29, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, October 29, 2004

Ota, Evers vie for seat on county school board Ota, Evers vie for seat on county school board (October 29, 2004)

Candidates tout teacher training, fiscal accountability

By Julie O'Shea

Two candidates, one with experience governing a San Jose school district, the other with knowledge of running the Iraqi school system, are vying for the local seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

On Tuesday, voters must decide between Jeff Ota, a 32-year-old mechanical engineering professor at Santa Clara University and Bill Evers, a 56-year-old educational researcher at Stanford University and a board member of the East Palo Alto Charter School. The four-year-term position is being vacated by Margaret Abe-Koga, who is running for a seat on the Mountain View City Council.

The seven-member County Board of Education oversees 347 schools in 32 districts. The trustees' biggest job is the hiring and firing of the county superintendent. They may also hear cases involving expelled students and inter-district transfer requests. Recently, they have taken on the issue of charter schools and how they form.

Both Ota and Evers said they are interested in streamlining the county's education system to make sure each school is a success and all students have the proper foundation to pursue undergraduate degrees if they choose that path. They feel the county is on the right track with the No Child Left Behind Act but still has a long way to go before meeting the 2014 federal education deadlines.

In addition, both candidates said they support charter schools and teacher training. But they differ on other issues, such as the recently tabled countywide parcel tax proposal. Ota thinks, with proper tailoring, voters would approve a county education tax; Evers, on the other hand, believes the county already has all the resources they need to make each school a success.

While both are Stanford alumni with interest in improving the county school districts, Ota and Evers have slightly different approaches and visions for the next four years.

Ota, who was born and raised in San Jose and now lives on the Stanford campus, was a trustee with San Jose's East Side Union High School District from 1998 to 2002. He said running for the county board of education is the next logical step for him.

If elected, Ota said he'd want to implement a countywide assessment system that shows how well students are doing on a national level. He'd also want to ensure fiscal and managerial accountability.

"We really need to make clear who does what. There's a lot of duplication. There are areas that could use a review," said Ota, who likes the idea of conducting an education summit "to make sure every dollar is spent in the best way possible."

Added Ota: "I've been an elected official of a 25,000-student district. I know how to bring people together and get things done.

Evers, a California native and current Palo Alto resident, has been a board member of the East Palo Alto Charter School since 1997 and seen its standardized test scores skyrocket over the past few years. He has acted as an adviser to the U.S. Department of Education and spent five months helping Iraq rebuild its school system, which has 390,000 teachers and 6 million students.

If elected to be a county trustee his main goal, Evers said, is to find a way to help the county's 52 underachieving schools, including Castro Elementary, succeed. This means extensive teacher training and partnering principals at successful, schools with the heads of those campuses that are struggling to make the grade.

"I think a countywide effort is really needed to help these schools," Evers said. "We need to make sure teachers are evaluating students.

"I find I can get what's going on with the American school system if I'm involved at a local level," he added.

E-mail Julie O'Shea at [email protected]

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