Five running for three seats in school board race | October 5, 2012 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - October 5, 2012

Five running for three seats in school board race

by Nick Veronin

The Mountain View Whisman School District is poised to hold its first contested election since 2004, with five contenders for three open seats on the district's board of trustees this November.

The candidates are Christopher Chiang, Peter Darrah, Bill Lambert, Steve Nelson and Jim Pollart. All three incumbents — Fiona Walter, Ed Baily and Steve Olson — decided not to seek re-election.

Christopher Chiang

Occupation: Social Studies Teacher (Sixth Grade), Sacred Heart School, Atherton

Education: BA in Political Science, UC Irvine; MA in Teaching from Stanford University; MA in Educational Leadership, Columbia University

Neighborhood: Shoreline West


Christopher Chiang is a father, husband to a teacher and teacher himself. He has been teaching for eight years, was named teacher of the year at Monte Vista High School in 2010 and has a passion for progressive educational methods. Although he works as a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Sacred Heart School in Atherton, he said he plans to send his two-year-old daughter to either Castro or Bubb (he lives on the border between the two school's boundary lines).

After running for the state Senate earlier this year on a platform of education reform, Chiang decided he might be more effective in affecting change if he started closer to home.

Chiang said he believes there is a disconnect between teachers who want to push public education into the 21st Century and policy makers -- both in Sacramento and Washington D.C. -- who are stuck in the outdated 20th Century model of passive learning. Learning multiplication tables and studying history is important, he said, but schools need to be engaging students in hands-on learning, using computers and developing real-world skills.

"We are undermining our kids' future if we are teaching them to only do rote memorization," he said. "If all they can do is repeat what is on a standardized test, we aren't preparing them for today's economy." Chiang said he is prepared to push the district to move away from old modes of teaching -- not only to improve the education of students attending MVWSD schools, but in the hope that Mountain View might be a leader in the world of education.

"Policy makers need to see school districts experimenting," he said. "We're in a perfect place to really show that there is good policy that isn't happening in Sacramento."

Chiang is proposing tracking more than just standardized test scores -- polling students, parents and teachers to find out what they like about their schools and what they think could be improved.

He said he would advocate for programs that would give financial incentives to teachers who pursue the administrative track. "I really believe we should be proactively going to our teachers and saying, 'We need you to be a principal and we will pay you to go to school.'"

If there isn't state money to support it, he would pursue the option of asking local companies to help foot the bill -- a cost he thinks firms like Google and LinkedIn would be willing to support, since they will ultimately benefit from better schools with better employees.

In addition to running for the school board, he started the MVW21: Mountain View Whisman School Study Group -- a series of privately run seminars designed to help prospective "board candidates and school supporters develop a vision for Mountain View Schools for the 21st century," according to the website, "This is not an official policy-setting organization, but an open space to exchange new ideas."

Peter Darrah

Peter Darrah, a decade-long Mountain View resident, is the father of two children and husband to Landels Elementary kindergarten teacher, Amy Darrah. He said he enjoys running, cycling, ultimate Frisbee, and, above all, spending time with his family.

The computer engineer lives in the Old Mountain View neighborhood just off Castro Street — where he and his family enjoy spending time. "We love the community and all the restaurants," Darrah.

He holds two bachelor's degrees — one in Latin American studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and one in computer engineering from the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

Before moving to Mountain View as a "high-tech immigrant," he started a small business making custom wooden kayak paddles in Costa Rica.

"The main reason I'm running is for the kids," Darrah said. "My kids are super important to me. Our children's education is critical for all of our futures."

He has been involved with the district for many years — working on a MVWSD task force, serving on the board of the Mountain View Education Foundation and volunteering at Landels.

Besides his service to the district, Darrah said his role as manager at Advanced Microdevices should convince voters of his professionalism and ability to tackle big projects. He said the time he spent in Costa Rica, his degree in Latin American studies and his ability to speak fluent Spanish will be assets in a district with such a large Hispanic population.

"I think I understand better than most (non-Hispanic) people what the issues facing that community are," he said.

The efforts being made at Castro to involve parents, families and the community in the education process is a great first step in boosting academic performance in local Hispanic communities, he said. "It takes a whole community to educate a child."

He said his wife being a teacher in a district school is not a conflict of interest. "I can vote on the teacher contract, because my wife is covered by collective bargaining," he wrote on his campaign website. "Her salary is set along with all the other 250 teachers in the district. It's based solely on years of service and education. No board member, superintendent, or principal can affect her salary apart from the rest of the teachers."

In fact, Darrah said, having his wife teaching in the district is an asset. "It gives me a lot of insight into what happens inside the classroom," he said — noting he gets perspective both from his children and his wife on programs such as EDI and Khan Academy.

Darrah said he feels it is an "exciting time" for the district right now, explaining why he is choosing to run. "We just passed Measure G and I think it's important that we use those funds wisely."

Even with the approval of the $198 million Measure G, Darrah understands that the district has been hit hard by cuts from above and could be hit again. In order to protect the district from decisions made in Sacramento and Washington, he said the district should do more to take advantage of local resources.

Businesses such as Google have demonstrated their willingness to donate and lend a helping hand in other ways — through volunteers and donating hardware for example. Darrah said he would like to see the district continue to elicit help from the community.

Peter Darrah

Age: 44

Occupation: Computer Engineering Manager, AMD

Education: B.A. Latin American Studies; Hampshire College; B.S. Engineering, University of the Pacific

Neighborhood: Old Mountain View


Bill Lambert

Bill Lambert has lived in Mountain View, near Monta Loma Elementary School for 10 years. He said he enjoys gardening, his cats, and shooting hoops.

A former research scientist at Bell Labs, Lambert is now a patent attorney, specializing in helping Silicon Valley start-ups. Even though he loves his current job, Lambert said he remains a "scientist at heart." As such, he is an advocate for increasing kids' exposure to science, technology, engineering and math (often referred to as STEM). The younger and more frequently children are given the opportunity to engage in scientific activities, the better, he said.

Lambert has become increasingly engaged with local politics and education issues since his 23-year-old daughter graduated from college and moved to New York City. "A part of me has always wanted to be a teacher," he said, noting that he has volunteered with schools.

For close to two years now, Lambert has attended nearly every district board meeting as a representative for the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. In that time, Lambert has learned a great deal about the issues and said that it was only "natural" that he run for a seat on the board.

"I feel I can really bring a lot to the school district," Lambert said. In his view, the Monta Loma neighborhood — and most communities north of Shoreline Boulevard — are underrepresented in city politics. And that includes the school district boards. "I really feel that I do have an obligation to run."

As a scientist living in an area of the city with a large Latino population, Lambert said he would like to see a push to get more Hispanic students interested and thriving in STEM subjects, with the aim of ultimately seeing a greater percentage finding work in high tech jobs.

He acknowledged that cultural and language barriers will need to be overcome in order to achieve this goal. More after-school programs could help, he said. So would reaching out to families and engaging parents and the community in neighborhoods like Monta Loma.

"I think it's a really exciting time" in the district, Lambert said, noting the passage of Measure G and the introduction of new and varied educational techniques and technologies such as EDI and Khan Academy. "I would really like to be a part of that process."

In addition to his work with the League of Women Voters, Lambert is an active supporter of the Day Worker's Center and a graduate of the Leadership Mountain View program. Lambert said his involvement in the community is something voters should consider. "A (strong leader), in my opinion, doesn't have to be expert in any single thing, but has to have the right connections in the community to be able to leverage the expertise of those around you," he said. "I have those connections. I have put in the time."

The Mountain View Whisman district has made "tremendous progress" of late, Lambert said, indicating his support for the current district administration.

"I think everybody recognizes that we can do so much more. ... It's what we all want in the community — basically to make Mountain View a world-class public education system," he said.

Bill Lambert

Age: 61

Occupation: Patent Attorney

Education: B.A. Biochemistry, UC Berkeley; Ph.D Chemical Physics, Caltech; J.D. University of New Hampshire

Neighborhood: Monta Loma

Steven Nelson

Steven Nelson, a father of three, has lived in Mountain View for 25 years. As a longtime science and math teacher with an interest in community politics and educational issues, Nelson said he is running for the board of trustees in order to help the district move from a "good" educational organization to a "great" one.

As a young man, Nelson served for two years in the Peace Corps, where he taught middle school-level science in the West African country of Liberia. Upon returning to the U.S., he worked in high tech for about 17 years before earning his credential and taking up teaching.

Now retired, Nelson spent the last seven years of his career working as a substitute teacher — a job that took him to every campus in the district. He has also taught in other schools outside the district.

"I've seen a lot of different teaching styles, and a lot of different districts," Nelson said. "It has given me a pretty broad perspective on what a high quality teacher looks like and the kinds of skills (high quality teachers) need to have."

Nelson frequently attends board meetings and addresses the board with concerns and suggestions. He has been planning to run for several months, as he said he is "significantly" less satisfied with the school district than he was two years ago.

Nelson is concerned that the district is not as transparent as it should be. "Generally, I think they have been using the minimal possible public input that they can get away with."

A lack of public input is particularly problematic, Nelson said, since the board of trustees has been so accepting of the recommendations handed down from district administrators. "For me that means the government process is broken, because (the board of is j Nelson said he would like to see the school district operating more like the Mountain View City Council, which he regards highly. Nelson said the first step is to increase community outreach.

"I think the school district hasn't been getting input from the whole community," he said, echoing a concern he has raised repeatedly in interviews and at school board meetings.

Nelson headed up a campaign in opposition to Measure G, the $198 million school bond, which won easily in June. Though Nelson said he would like to see local schools get more money for new facilities, he was concerned that the district did not gather sufficient community input and continually called for district officials to be more specific about how they planned to spend the money.

Nelson said he thinks the Student Facilities Improvement Plan needs to be tightened up. The plan lists close to $500 million in projects that officials want to see completed, even though they will only have about $198 million to spend. If elected, Nelson said he would work to find out exactly how the community would like to see the bond money spent.

Steven Nelson

Age: 61

Occupation: Teacher/Retired Engineer

Education: Secondary Teaching Credential: Science & Math, San Jose State; M.S. Scientific Instrumentation, UC Santa Barbara; B.A. Astronomy, UC Berkeley

Neighborhood: Cuesta Park


Jim Pollart

Jim Pollart and his wife have been Mountain View residents for about 15 years, and live in the Whisman Station neighborhood with their two daughters, one at Bubb Elementary and one at Mountain View High School.

The vice president of land acquisition and forward planning at O'Brien Homes in Foster City, in his spare time Pollart has been involved with local school issues since his first daughter enrolled in kindergarten — working first with the Bubb PTA, then the school site council and on district-level issues. Pollart considered running for the school board in the last election, but ultimately decided against entering the race.

"Now, it's the right time," Pollart said. "We're going to have three new board members — a majority of the board members are going to be new, which means there will be a chance to take a step back and change things."

It's not that Pollart envisions a massive overhaul of the district. "We have a good school district," he said. "Our schools are high-performing schools, but I'd like to see them continue to improve and maybe even accelerate the rate of improvement."

If elected, Pollart said he would step-up community outreach.

"We have an incredible amount of resources here in our community that weren't here 10 years ago," he said. "One of the things I would like to see us do better as a district is engage the community. By that, I mean the residents, the businesses and every aspect of the community. ... If we can get more community involvement, we can harness those resources to benefit our kids in all kinds of ways."

Those resources, he said, aren't just monetary. Mountain View is a technological hotbed, and Pollart would like to see the district tap into that.

As the head of Share Shoreline, he led the effort to get the city to share revenue from the Shoreline tax district with the two local school districts. Pollart said he is uniquely placed to continue advocating for the district in future negotiations. He vowed to fight to extend the current agreement — which secured close to $14 million for local schools, and which is scheduled to lapse this year.

"My goal will be to be a part of a negotiation with the city to extend that agreement and hopefully make it a permanent agreement," he said.

Working as a civil engineer and leading a wide range of development and construction projects over his career, Pollart said he will be an asset to the board when it comes to Measure G projects. "My background and technical experience will allow me to have a meaningful role in making sure that the nuts and bolts of that program are well executed — selecting the contractors, selecting the managers, etc."

Jim Pollart

Age: 50 years old

Occupation: Vice President, Irvine Company

Education: B.S. Civil Engineering, Purdue University; MBA Wharton School of Business

Neighborhood: Whisman Station



Like this comment
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 5, 2012 at 8:21 pm

I'm glad the Voice 'added Chris' back into the race (oops, check your print edition). Several of us candidates have been talking with him about the international benchmarks he has been studying. And the new principal at Crittenden seems to have come from the same administrative program at Columbia U.

Candidate Forum, Crittenden Middle School, spot-on, 6:30 PM Oct 10, Wed.
(at least some of us will be there early to talk & share leaflets)

Like this comment
Posted by Kathy Swartz
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm

I just wrote the following to the editor of the Voice:

I am very disappointed in the way the Voice handled its recent major mistake regarding the race for the Mountain View Whisman School Board.

In the Friday, October 7, 2012 edition, there was a front page article entitled "Four running for three seats in school board race." The article's first two paragraphs restated that there were four candidates. This was not true - there are five candidates.

In the Friday, October 14, 2012 edition, the error is indeed acknowledged. However, it is frankly a lame acknowledgement. On page 7, not the front page, the note states that "the profile [of Chris Chiang] was mistakenly omitted from the print edition of last week's Voter Guide story." It wasn't just mistakenly omitted, it misstated the number of candidates.

Having made such a serious mistake, I think the Voice owed it to Mr. Chiang and to its readers to acknowledge it more sincerely and to publish the correction on the front page, where the mistake occurred.

I am really disappointed. I have been a strong supporter of the Voice, subscribing to pay for the service it provides. This really makes me think twice about relying on the Voice for information.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.


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