The Campanile has decided to endorse school board candidates Jennifer DiBrienza and incumbents Heidi Emberling and Melissa Baten-Caswell for the three open seats on the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Board of Education.
Our staff and editors researched all five candidates: DiBrienza, Emberling, Baten-Caswell, Todd Collins and Jay Cabrera before inviting them to an in-class, student-moderated debate. All five candidates attended the debate in the Media Arts Center (MAC) on Oct. 14, and discussed topics from teacher sexual misconduct to PAUSD’s $4.2 million budget deficit.
While most students of Palo Alto High School, including us, can’t vote in this election, the decisions these candidates make will directly affect our and future students’ education. With this in mind, we feel it necessary to give our endorsements to ensure the best board members are chosen.
DiBrienza earns our support due to her extensive experience as both an educator and a researcher of best practices in student education. DiBrienza said PAUSD has reacted with a “knee-jerk approach” in certain situations, and that a more analytical approach is needed for what are often complex and sensitive problems.
DiBrienza advocated increased communication and training for teachers through professional learning communities and development. In the wake of recent sexual misconduct cases at Paly, additional training for teachers, particularly in situations that demand student-to-teacher interactions, is necessary. DiBrienza’s experience and research would be helpful in planning and implementing this training. Her analytical mindset coupled with her impressive experience will make DiBrienza a successful school board member.
Emberling also has our support. Emberling has demonstrated a focused interest in the well-being of students, both inside and outside of the classroom. She supported student feedback to evaluate the effectiveness of courses, particularly those that utilize a flipped or blended model. This would allow students to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular course and possibly have a greater effect on how that course is taught in the future.
Emberling has also expressed interest in allocating funds to retain teachers, specifically providing support and mentoring to create an atmosphere of constant learning for both students and teachers. The quality of teachers is at the forefront of many students’ concerns, and we support a program that invests in maintaining and bolstering a top-notch education. Emberling also has two children within the district, giving her an inside perspective into the problems of PAUSD. Emberling brings an attention to student wellness that is valuable for the board.
Finally, incumbent Baten Caswell receives our support for the third open board seat. Baten Caswell places an emphasis on efficiency within the district, specifically on the administration of the various schools. Attendance policies, student feedback, teacher evaluation and more could all be made more efficient, according to Baten Caswell. The district has a $4.2 million budget deficit, and efficiency is necessary to reduce the deficit and also maintain the many enriching, educational opportunities PAUSD offers.
Additionally, her past experience on the board is valuable, as she has a thorough institutional knowledge of board decisions related to important student issues. She has been a strong advocate for alternative education, such as flipped classrooms and blended learning, and makes it a priority to maintain a progressive, healthy academic environment.
Baten Caswell was also the most willing to talk about weighted grade point averages. She recognizes the discontinuity between how Gunn and Paly report grades and also the disadvantages Paly students have with regards to merit-based scholarships. Baten Caswell indicated weighted GPAs may be a way to resolve this problem; she embodies action and efficiency, and we think that she will once again make an excellent board member.
Candidates Collins and Cabrera are strong contenders, and their willingness to serve the community should be applauded. Collins in particular offers a pragmatic approach to the budget deficit not seen in the other three candidates we have endorsed.
Critics of DiBrienza, Emberling and Baten Caswell seem to be concerned with their lack of attention to the budget deficit. However, these three candidates have instead put education at the forefront of their platforms, and bring skills and mindsets that we, as students, value.
The best way to manage the budget deficit is not to become obsessed with analyzing and calculating its numbers, it is to put our resources to efficient use. With a stronger focus on teacher quality, alternative forms of education and student wellness, the three candidates that we endorse will promote the educational needs of the District while minimizing its inefficiencies, thus naturally leading to a healthier budget balance.
These are the people we trust to make crucial decisions about our education and to take appropriate action to preserve and expand PAUSD’s already-flourishing educational system while keeping the best interests of the students in mind.