The race for the Mountain View Whisman school board is heating up this week, with two new candidates vying to lead the school district through turbulent times and uncertainty over when, and how, schools can reopen.
Former trustee Chris Chiang, who served on the board from 2012 to 2015, said he wants to return to the school board to improve the district's implementation of remote learning and seize the opportunity to improve education technology rather than feel forced to live with it.
A second candidate, Laura Ramirez Berman, has also announced her bid for the school board, saying her 20 years of experience as a teacher and administrator put her in a qualified spot to help lead the school district. Monta Loma parent Patrick Neschleba and incumbent Laura Blakely have previously announced their intent to run this November, making it a contested race.
Board president Tamara Wilson, whose term ends this year, said she has yet to decide whether to run again and incumbent Jose Gutierrez is running for Mountain View City Council. In all, there are three seats up for election on Nov. 3.
Chiang served his first, albeit partial, term on the board at a dysfunctional time, when quibbling and lengthy arguments -- sometimes even shouting -- became an expectation at school board meetings. At one point, trustees voted to censure former board member Steve Nelson, who often was the source of conflict. It was ultimately that dysfunction that prompted Chiang to resign while board president.
Chiang said he hasn't agreed with all of the decisions the school board has made since his departure, but that the real reason he is running is firmly rooted in making sure the district effectively uses education technology during and after the shutdown. Schools will be shuttered at least through the fall for in-person instruction, and he said teachers need time to foster a "culture around technology" and learn to use it as they see fit, rather than have the district office call all the shots.
"For the most part the district has been focused on assessment software, and it will be content and testing as a digital platform -- that's what worries me," Chiang said. "The way they've used technology in the past has largely been to occupy kids."
Given the difficult circumstances caused by the coronavirus, Chiang said he would also be interested in bringing back the district-supported homeschooling program, the Independent Study Program, to give parents another option for teaching their children while in-person instruction is prohibited or not safe. From his point of view, learning from home will likely be the regional norm into 2021.
"My gut experience tells me we're going to be remote learning through the semester," he said.
Berman, a Mistral parent with two kids in the Dual Immersion language program, came to the Bay Area after growing up in Southern California. A daughter of Mexican immigrants, she pursued a career in education and joined Aspire Public Schools, a charter school network with campuses in California and Tennessee. Between 2008 and 2011, she served as principal of East Palo Alto Charter School, where the vast majority of the students qualified for free and reduced-price meals.
Berman later served as an instructional coach, helping teachers adjust to the launch of the Common Core State Standards. More recently, Berman said she has been a parent leader at Mistral as the School Site Council president, and helped campaign to pass Measure T, Mountain View Whisman's $259 million school facilities bond. The measure passed with a large margin earlier this year.
Berman said she did groundbreaking work folding social-emotional learning into academic instruction while working in East Palo Alto, and that she feels the same could be done in Mountain View Whimsan. She also worries that COVID-19 may have only worsened the achievement gap, and that there needs to be a concerted effort in the coming years to help underserved students.
"We’re going to get through this crisis together, but recovering doesn't mean reverting to the status quo," she said. "I want to make sure teachers and school leaders have the tools they need to engage all students and parents, such as culturally responsive teaching practices that will result in rigorous and engaging instruction for all students."
Neschleba, who announced his candidacy last week, has for years been an active parent and community member in the Monta Loma neighborhood, and was deeply involved in the tricky debate over how to spend the district's Measure G bond measure funds. District leaders for years struggled to find a fair and equitable way to split the budget between schools without picking winners and losers, all while a groundswell of support was pushing for that cash to spent on an entirely new campus.
With his experience on the District Facilities Committee, along with multiple terms as chair of Monta Loma's School Site Council, Neschleba said he feels he has the credentials needed to lead on the school board.