For anyone who remembers Steven Nelson's term on Mountain View Whisman's school board, the Voice's recommendation for the three seats on the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District board will not come as a surprise. The Voice endorses incumbents Fiona Walter and Debbie Torok, and school volunteer Catherine Vonnegut.
Nelson, who said he made a last-minute decision to throw his hat in the ring, forced an election in what was shaping up to be an uncontested school board race. While the Voice applauds his zeal for democracy, it is impossible to overlook his previous stint as an elected representative. Nelson's tumultuous tenure in Mountain View Whisman, from 2012-16, quickly hit a low point in 2013, when he was formally censured by his fellow board members for unprofessional behavior, offensive outbursts and violating the code of conduct. He was stripped of his position as clerk of the board as punishment.
Nelson is widely blamed for creating a hostile work environment for district staff, leading to the abrupt resignation in 2014 of then-Superintendent Craig Goldman. (Goldman's surprisingly generous $230,000 severance payment included an agreement not to sue the district or the school board.) In 2015, board President Chris Chiang resigned mid-term, saying he was leaving to work on a recall campaign against Nelson.
Incumbents Torok and Walter, on the other hand, have demonstrated effective leadership and, importantly, the professionalism, communication skills and collaborative spirit necessary to be effective public servants. Vonnegut's extensive 40-year background of volunteer service and leadership positions on local PTAs, PTSAs, advisory boards and site councils indicates that she has a strong command of those same crucial skills.
Mountain View-Los Altos has no shortage of challenges ahead, from teacher retention to closing the student achievement gap to preparing for a wave of new students as Mountain View's population climbs. A thoughtful, effective and responsive board of trustees will be crucial to the future success of both the high school district and its students.
Read the Voter Guide story: MVLA candidates vow to keep up the good work