It's a transformative time for the Mountain View Whisman School District, and voters may be asking themselves whether it's best to stay the course with the two incumbents, or react to recent missteps by supporting two challengers with fresh perspectives.
With two seats up for election, the I== Voice== recommends that voters split the difference, keeping the most experienced incumbent, Ellen Wheeler, and voting in the most promising newcomer, Devon Conley.
The district has been grappling with significant ongoing issues like teacher retention, a revolving door of top administrators -- due in part to the board's decision last school year to remove four principals with little public explanation -- and one of the largest achievement gaps in the country.
The new Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary is taking shape, and another new school to accommodate thousands of new residents anticipated in North Bayshore and East Whisman is on the horizon. New school attendance boundaries are rolling out soon and if Bullis Charter School gets its way, there's likely to be a new charter school opening in a year that's housed on district property.
Wheeler has served on the school board longer than any trustee and has lived in the district nearly three decades. Her institutional knowledge is an important asset and she has worked well with fellow trustees over the years. An advocate for early childhood education, she supports high-quality preschool as key to addressing the district's achievement gap. Wheeler was the only candidate to speak to the importance of a well-rounded education that includes subjects like art, sports and drama.
While she and fellow incumbent Greg Coladonato stood by the board's decision to remove four principals from their jobs last spring, she has acknowledged the district should have done more to communicate with parents. If Wheeler is re-elected, we expect as the senior member of the school board she will closely examine proposals that come before the board and use her deep knowledge of Mountain View Whisman to the benefit of the district and community.
Of the two challengers, Conley has the best education credentials and the most fully realized positions on the issues. A district resident for 12 years, Conley has experience serving on a public body as the vice chair of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission. She has a unique perspective as both the parent of a child in the district and as a teacher who works in public education policy, with a big focus on closing the achievement gap.
Conley has scrutinized recent district decisions, telling the Voice that she is concerned that the district doesn't have a concrete, coordinated approach to English language development, particularly for young children. Conley's top priorities if elected teacher retention, strengthening the relationship between schools and families, and outstanding classroom instruction for all children -- demonstrate that she understands the biggest issues facing the district.
Compared with Wheeler and Conley, incumbent Coladonato and challenger Tamara Patterson came up a little short.
Patterson's energy and enthusiasm are appealing, but when asked specific questions about her priorities and issues facing the district, she mostly gave nonspecific answers. By taking some more time to learn the ins and outs of the district, she could run a much stronger campaign in a future election.
Coladonato, who was elected in 2014, gained a reputation as fiscal hawk who asks probing questions. His perspective has been both helpful and, at times, divisive during his term on the board. He's a reasonable choice for voters looking to stay the course and re-elect both incumbents.