Thida Cornes, who is seeking a seat on the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District's board, says that she wants to help create schools where every kid, regardless of background, has a chance to succeed.
"I'm running for the board because I'm committed to ensuring that all our students feel connected, embrace challenges and thrive," Cornes said.
She is one of six candidates running for three open seats on the high school district's board this November. Only one incumbent, Catherine Vonnegut, is running for reelection. Esmeralda Ortiz, Eric Mark, Jacquie Tanner and Carrol Titus-Zambre are also campaigning for spots on the governing board.
Cornes ran unsuccessfully for the Mountain View City Council in 2016. She served on the city's Parks and Recreation Commission for eight years and was vice chair of the city's Environmental Sustainability Task Force, from 2017 to 2018. She also founded Great Streets Mountain View to improve road safety.
When it comes to schools, Cornes said she has served on various Mountain View Whisman School District committees, including the District Facilities Committee. She also said that she served on her children's elementary school PTA and school site council.
In an interview, Cornes said that her experiences as a disabled, mixed-race immigrant and a parent drives her public service. Cornes, whose mother is Burmese, has non-progressive dystonia, a neurological movement disorder.
The experiences of her two children have also shaped her perspective, Cornes said, adding that she wants every MVLA student to have their needs met. Her son was in MVLA special education and after attending public schools through eighth grade, he went to a private high school to get his needs met. Her daughter was a high-achieving student who was denied a transfer to be with her friends. She started at an MVLA school, but transferred to a high school where she had friends.
If elected, Cornes's top three priorities would be improving mental health and wellness support, ensuring students can achieve academically regardless of background and working on fiscal responsibility and transparency.
When it comes to mental health, the issue is a personal one, Cornes said, because she has family members who have had mental health challenges.
The district has tried to address the need, Cornes said, but she added that stigma can stop students from accessing resources. She wants to see the district focus on mental wellness more broadly, not specifically on mental health issues, to expand the number of students who feel comfortable seeking support.
"I really think that the school has worked a lot on mental health, and I think mental wellness needs to be front and center," Conrnes said. "We need to get teens to ask for help, and that's the first step."
She added that it's important for mental health services to be culturally sensitive.
When it comes to academic achievement, Cornes wants to focus on making sure all students get the access and support that they need. Cornes went to high school before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and said that while some of her teachers were wonderful, others assumed she wasn't smart and she felt like she had to prove herself. Low income, African American and Hispanic students have told her about similar experiences, Cornes said.
"That also is something that's personal to me – and something that I would really like to address, to lower those barriers and get students the help that they need," Cornes said.
She wants the school district to assess the needs of underserved students over the summer, so that they can promptly get support.
Cornes also favors increasing enrollment in alternative paths like Alta Vista, the district's alternative high school, Middle College, where students take classes at community college, and the MVLA Adult School, as well as in programs like AVID, which helps prepare students for college.
She is supportive of the ethnic studies program that the district is piloting this fall and plans to roll out for all freshmen in the next school year.
In terms of transparency, Cornes believes the district needs to do a better job of notifying parents about board meetings. She intends to create a monthly newsletter with updates about the district. She also wants the district to more proactively get input from community members on its construction projects.
"I consider understanding the needs of my constituents an important part of being an elected official," Cornes said.