In the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, the 2020 elections set three candidates to vie for two elected board positions. Two of the candidates, Phil Faillace and Sanjay Dave, are incumbents. Challenger Laura Teksler is a Los Altos parent with a record of community service and involvement.
The district faces many challenges. As the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed high school from an on-campus experience to a digital one, how can educators ensure that all students have the support they need to succeed? How should the district reopen? How should it tackle the achievement gap? What should be done to prepare for the major development and population growth planned in Mountain View? What mental health supports do students need during this difficult time? How should the district respond to calls to tackle racial equity problems? And why are you the best person for the job? We asked each candidate to answer these questions in a survey. Here is what we learned from each candidate, presented in ballot order.
Laura Teksler, 48, is a community volunteer who has lived in the district for 12 years. She holds a bachelor's degree in environmental science from University of California at Berkeley and currently serves on the boards of the Mountain View-Los Altos and Los Altos Community foundations and is vice president of the Los Altos High School PTSA. She has two sons; the older one attends Cal Poly and the younger is a senior at Los Altos High School. Her campaign website is lauraformvla.com.
Candidate Laura Teksler said that she has been dedicated to enhancing the quality of local schools over the past 12 years, contributing to efforts through parent-teacher associations at Almond, Egan and Los Altos High schools. On local education foundations, she worked to raise funds to bolster school funding to promote individualized learning, mental and physical health, and hands-on learning. She served on the Los Altos School District's citizen advisory committee on finance so she is familiar with school budgets, she added.
Her top three priorities are to focus on students' mental and social-emotional health; to work to close the achievement gap that distance learning has widened; and to promote open communication.
"The biggest ongoing challenge we need to address for all students is how to balance synchronous time with the fatigue of being online for so many hours a day. For students with specific challenges, for example English language learners and students with IEPs or 504 plans, we have to figure out how to provide more individual support including in-person support," she said.
When it comes to how the district handled the rapid switch to online learning this spring, Teksler said she felt that there were understandable reasons why the learning experience was not good for many families.
She disagreed with the district's decision in the spring to make classes credit/no credit. "The result for too many students was a lack of motivation as they saw the most concrete and well understood measure of their performance taken away," she said.
With the start of the new school year, however, she noted that teachers and administrators have worked diligently to improve the quality of instruction by redesigning how they present content and use online tools, with support from the district foundation to provide tools like microscopes and microphones for home use. "It would help alleviate student stress if teachers were more aligned on such things as where to post assignments and when they are due," she added.
She said that she'd spoken to families worried about the mental, social and physical toll that distance learning is taking, and wants to reopen schools as soon as it is believed safe to do so. When it comes to reopening, she said, the district should continue to provide a 100% virtual option for families, including those of teachers, who are uncomfortable with returning to classrooms. The number of people allowed on campus should increase gradually. For next semester, she said, there should be a schedule that allows for hybrid learning that provides on-campus learning one or two days per week.
To find out whether and to what degree students have fallen behind in core subjects as the result of distance learning, students should be assessed soon to identify knowledge gaps, she said. While the district is already focused on figuring out how to bring the students back who are likely to experience the greatest learning losses, she said, she also supports opening learning centers at public facilities closer to students who need support. In-person volunteer tutoring services could be provided there. The district should also plan to offer additional summer courses through its adult school, and perhaps a winter break educational session too, she said.
To address the achievement gap, Teksler said she favored dedicating resources and support to programs like AVID, which helps minority, low-income and first-generation college students prepare for college; investing in teacher training, including in cultural competency; and expanding summer school offerings to help struggling students catch up.
To address student mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression, she said she'd favor working to address the root causes of those symptoms. "As a community we have created an expectation of academic achievement that is extremely high and while some students achieve it, few do so without negative impact to their well-being," she said. "Perhaps we need to think about the number (of) AP/Honors courses students are taking in a given semester and instead offer a mid-tier level of course that is rigorous without as much homework."
Teksler said she supported five of the seven policy proposals that a group of students, alumni and staff recently asked the district to consider to tackle racial equity issues.
She added that she supports exploring all of the proposals, but felt some needed more discussion and clarity. While she supports the implementation of an ethnic studies course, she added that she wanted to find a quality curriculum to do so, and while she supports removing the presence of police officers, she wants to replace school resource officers with a position that supports student safety.
Key endorsers include Los Altos Mayor Jan Pepper, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, seven former mayors from Mountain View, Los Altos or Los Altos Hills, and three Los Altos School District trustees. As of Sept. 19, Teksler has raised $2,917 in campaign funds, about $1,435 of which came from personal funds. Other top contributors are Omar Ghosheh of Los Altos ($500), Richard Lutton of Atherton ($250) and Jennifer Walker of Los Altos ($200).
Sanjay Dave, 53, is a board incumbent who is completing his first term. He works as director of engineering at TSMC, a semiconductor manufacturing company, and holds a bachelor's of sciences degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder and a master's degree in biochemical engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He has also served on the boards of the Mountain View Los Altos High School Foundation and the Los Altos Community Fund. He is also a member of the Mountain View Rotary Club, has volunteered as a youth soccer and baseball coach and volunteers and serves on the board of Hope's Corner. His son attends Mountain View High School and his daughter graduated from there and now attends Boston University. His family lives in Mountain View's Martens-Carmelita neighborhood. His campaign website is sanjay4mvla.com.
In his first term, engineer and board incumbent Sanjay Dave said he has been active in working through a number of the key problems facing the district: working with neighbors, school boosters and staff to add stadium lights to athletic fields; having discussions about how to satisfy community members, teachers and students to implement a late-start bell schedule; and talking to city leaders about the need for a third high school in response to the growth planned in Mountain View.
He added that he's the only board member who is the parent of a current student, which, he argued, adds value to the board because he sees more closely what students experience and is in contact with parents who talk to him when questions and issues come up.
If reelected, his top three immediate priorities are to monitor student learning and engagement, reopen safely and create policies to promote and celebrate diversity and eliminate racism. Looking ahead, he added, he wants the district to create a longer-term distance learning program, strengthen and expand its wellness program and improve social climate and student social-emotional health.
The distance learning rolled out in the fall has been more effective than the emergency remote learning that took place in the spring, he said. However, the district should still measure student engagement and learning, make sure all kids have the equipment they need and intervene where students are not engaged or learning. It should also adopt a single learning management system to create consistency for students and create a districtwide attendance policy, he added.
During the spring term, he said, there were about 400 students in the district – roughly 10% – who received a "no credit" grade. Some were able to catch up over the summer by taking summer school or science classes through the district's adult school, but, he said, the concern that some students are falling behind on core subjects is a serious one, he said. He said he'd favor the district selecting a single person – perhaps a counselor – that students can connect with to coordinate with tutors or other programs that help struggling students.
Dave said he has been closely involved in working with the Mountain View City Council and city staff to help figure out how the district should grow with all of the proposed growth in the North Bayshore area. Conservative estimates project about 800 new high school students could be added from the new development in North Bayshore, he noted. "We clearly need a third high school, and it should be a comprehensive high school, with similar offerings as our two current comprehensive high schools," he said.
To tackle the achievement gap, he said, he would like the district to bring in a consultant – as it once did – to evaluate the achievement gap and identify how to narrow it.
The district has also taken steps recently to help student mental health, including introducing a late-start bell schedule, hiring a wellness coordinator, contracting a social worker and increasing the number of therapists students can work with. He said he's also done some research into limiting the number of AP courses a student can take and incorporating daily mindfulness meditations.
When it comes to responding to a recent petition put forward by students, staff and alumni to promote racial equity within the district, Dave said he agreed with four of the petition's seven proposals. He said he favored requiring incoming freshman to take a yearlong ethnic studies class, mandate anti-bias training for staff, declare the district's status as a sanctuary district and remove school resource officers from campus. "As a person of East Indian descent who grew up in Colorado, I understand and have experienced firsthand the destructiveness of discrimination and intolerance."
He said he was open to the idea of the district modifying its relationship with school resource officers (SROs), since "there is research that shows there are better methods of creating safe schools without the negative effects of having SROs on campus." He added that he felt the SROs are well-intentioned and wants to work with local police departments to find alternative ways to work with them, perhaps by having them teach students about policing careers and issues pertaining to drugs and alcohol and public safety. He added that he wants to research the group's other proposals further.
Key endorsers are: Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, state Sen. Jerry Hill, state Assemblyman Marc Berman, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and five members of the Mountain View City Council: Margaret Abe-Koga, Lisa Matichak, Alison Hicks, Ellen Kamei and Lucas Ramirez.
In early August, he filed a form indicating he did not plan to receive or spend $2,000 or more in campaign funds.
Phil Faillace, 76, is a retired former computer scientist, mathematician, executive and expert witness. He holds a bachelor's of arts degree in math from Princeton University, a master's degree in math from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in mathematical logic from Oxford University. He has lived in the district for 52 years and currently chairs the board of the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC), which provides youth mental health services. He also served as a trustee on the Los Altos School District board, on a mayor-appointed committee on affordable housing and the Los Altos High School Curriculum Advisory Council and co-founded the Los Altos Educational Foundation. His campaign website is mvlafaillace.com.
After 24 years on the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District board, Phil Faillace isn't ready to leave behind the district he's dedicated so much energy to guiding. Faillace, 76, has 37 years of experience serving on school boards. "Now more than ever, experience counts," he declares on his campaign website in bold letters.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning are significant, he noted, pointing to a McKinsey & Company report on the topic saying that the school shutdowns could have long-term effects on children's long-term economic well-being and on the U.S. economy more broadly by causing disproportionate learning losses and by widening existing gaps across income levels and between white students and those who are Black or Hispanic. In a scenario that assumes schools reopen in January 2021, the report found that while white students would lose on average about six months of learning, learning losses would rise to nine months for Hispanic students, 10 for Black students and a full year for low-income students.
"I don't want us to stay in distance learning a moment more than safety requires, but while we're in it, it has to be excellent," Faillace said on his campaign website.
When in-person learning resumes, Faillace wants it to be even better than pre-pandemic school. Teachers are instructing in new ways, gaining insight into how students learn and building technological prowess that can benefit in-person learning, he explained.
Another priority, he said, is to weed out from the district's institutions "all lingering vestiges of racism and other forms of invidious discrimination and bias ... wherever they lurk in the functioning of our minds."
While he only formally supported one of the seven proposals to tackle racial equity problems in the district, which the district has already done, he said – declaring itself a sanctuary district – he said the others are good ideas that are being considered by the district's Equity Alliance. He wants to wait to see what the group's deliberations come up with first before deciding what to support, he said. When it comes to school resource officers, he noted, while some students or alumni report feeling discriminated against, others, such as one described this year in the Mountain View Voice, are seen as mentors and friends to students. "Wouldn’t a good (School Resource Officer) program be an effective means of building trust and friendship among police and communities of color, especially when the SROs are also people of color?" he said.
As a board member, his website states, he has worked collaboratively on positive changes within the district, such as making improvements to Alta Vista High School, expanding the district's AVID program, opening Freestyle Academy, lowering freshman English and math class sizes to 20 students maximum, reducing busy work in homework assignments, passing three bond measures to improve district facilities and guiding the district through recessions in 2000 and 2008.
Though his children are no longer at district schools, he said that the time they have had since high school gives him perspective to see "what in their educations has served them well in life – not just to succeed in going from high school to college, but to cope well with setbacks, and to find joy."
He grew up in a working class neighborhood in south Philadelphia, and his public school education provided a pathway to study at prestigious academic institutions. "I serve on the school board to do for all our students — rich, poor or in-between; white, Black or shades of brown; English-speaking or not — what my high school did for me," he wrote.
To support students' mental health and emotional wellness, he said, the district should have teachers trained to identify symptoms of emotional distress and increase the hours of mental health counseling offered to students, in addition to the ongoing work by the district's wellness director, social worker and full-time therapists, he said.
As to what to do about the planned development in Mountain View, Faillace said that he has been part of a process working with the city and the Mountain View Whisman School District to serve the future students who will live there.
"The City Council has been exceptionally cooperative, but everyone’s hands are tied by state laws that let developers off the hook for providing an adequate educational infrastructure for their developments in high-cost areas such as ours," he said, noting that the city had recently adopted a plan to provide a portion of the funds needed, but leaves some unfunded. "The process will continue to find ways of getting those funds," he added.
Key endorsements include state Sen. Hill, state Assemblyman Marc Berman, Mountain View Mayor Abe-Koga and council members John McAlister, Chris Clark, Hicks, Kamei, Matichak and Ramirez, and three members each of the Mountain View Whisman and Los Altos school district boards.
Faillace has received $5,032 in campaign contributions this year, including $3,500 from a personal loan and $240 in nonmonetary contributions, in the form of campaign flyers from Nancy Bremeau of Los Altos. Key contributions are from Kira Sasaki of Los Altos ($300) and Carole Cameron of Mountain View ($100).