After three rounds of voting to winnow down nearly a dozen of applicants, the Mountain View Whisman School District voted Tuesday night to appoint district parent José Gutiérrez to an open seat on the school board.
The board voted 3-1, with Greg Coladonato voting for another candidate, to select Gutiérrez. Board members at the Aug. 18 meeting celebrated the decision, saying the inclusion of Gutiérrez, a parent of two at the new Mistral Elementary, adds some much-needed cultural and geographic diversity to the board. It also marks the first time in several years that the board has a representative from the Castro School community in its ranks.
Castro School recently split into two schools that share a campus, with the Dual Immersion program dubbed Gabriela Mistral School.
In an emotional speech following the vote, Board President Ellen Wheeler emphasized that the board needs a voice for the underrepresented minority students in the district. She said that roughly 35 percent of students in the district are Latino, with a similar percentage of students from low-income families, yet the board hasn't had that same representation.
"There's a lot of people who think it's about time we had someone from Castro on the board," Wheeler said.
Gutiérrez said he was "ecstatic" to join the school board, and that he has to get moving to prepare for the school board meeting on Thursday of this week.
"I've got a lot of homework to do," Gutiérrez said.
Dozens of audience members showed up at the meeting, held in the Mountain View City Council Chambers on Tuesday night, to see which of 11 applicants would fill the seat of former board president Chris Chiang, who resigned in June with nearly a year and half left of his term.
Attendees included city council members from Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View, four members of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District board and its Superintendent, Jeff Harding.
Throughout the interview process, applicants brought up a number of issues related to Common Core, the dysfunctional school board, the achievement gap and spending plans for the Measure G bond money. Many of the candidates claimed to have the experience and the perspective needed to round out the board.
Gutiérrez told the board that one of his top priorities in working with the superintendent would be to narrow the achievement gap and improve the test scores of underrepresented minority students in the district.
In the first round of votes, board members homed in on Gutiérrez, district parent Sanjay Dave, former City Council member Tom Means, community activist Lisa Garcia and former district parent Steve Sherman.
The second round of votes led to an unexpected four-way tie, derailing the planned voting process for the evening meeting. The final vote saw board members Wheeler, Bill Lambert and Steve Nelson voting for Gutiérrez, and Coladonato voting for Tom Means.
Nelson pointed to Gutiérrez's experience as a student trustee at the West Valley-Mission Community College District as helpful experience that gave him a good idea of the public legislative format, and that the addition of Gutiérrez means the board finally has representation from the area between El Camino Real and Central Expressway. Nelson was one of the swing votes that led to the selection of Gutiérrez.
Wheeler said the vote was very difficult for her, and that she was torn between Garcia and Gutiérrez. One of the things she took into account in her decision, Wheeler said, was whether the appointee could fare well in a future election. She said Garcia has what it takes to run a successful campaign.
Gutiérrez works for a law firm that specializes in patent litigation. He said his wife has been active as both a substitute teacher and community volunteer. He said he was encouraged by members of the community to apply for the open position on the board.
The board member selection process kicked off after Chiang announced he would step down from the school board following the June 11 board meeting. At the time, Chiang said he could not continue to work on a board with fellow trustee Nelson. He said Nelson's hostility and "bullying" towards district staff and fellow board members was left unchecked by the board, and caused the district to lose valuable staff members.
Many of the candidates, in their pitch to the school board, said they would be able to bring the school board together on difficult issues, and that it was a top priority to work well with others and get around personal, political agendas.
Following the 3-1 vote on candidates, the board unanimously approved the appointment of Gutiérrez, who will be sworn in at the Aug. 20 board meeting.