Palo Alto school board candidates share their experiences in education

In preparation for the Palo Alto Weekly’s coverage of the campaigns for Palo Alto Unified Board of Education, we solicited questions from our readers that speak to their topmost concerns about the school district.

From their many excellent responses, we’ve crafted a short questionnaire, which we hope will help elucidate the differences among the four candidates. They discussed their primary concerns and experience in education. They also offer their opinions on student achievement, COVID-19 learning loss, diversity and inclusion, the superintendent and innovations.

The candidates’ answers on all these topics will be published as separate articles, one per day, through Sept. 26. Here’s what they had to say to the following question: What has been your experience in education in Palo Alto? What qualifies you to be on the Board of Education?

Nicole Chiu-Wang

After hundreds of hours spent researching the education we want for our children, we chose to plant our young family’s roots in Palo Alto. And, now, our children are PAUSD students — my oldest is in TK at Palo Verde and my youngest is in Greendell’s PreSchool Family program.

Education is the key to equity in our community — if we do not have equity in the education and opportunities provided to our children in our public schools, all other equity initiatives (in government, in the workplace, etc.) will fail. I have formally studied systemic inequity as a gender and ethinic studies double major and I’ve seen the opportunity gap in public schools firsthand. I volunteered in a less privileged, predominantly Latinx school district and my students were not reading at grade level in 10th grade. I also volunteered with an Asian American community organization to tutor and mentor Asian American middle school students, mostly Vietnamese American, and I saw a similar opportunity gap for those students. My education and these formative experiences showed me how difficult and how necessary it is to close the opportunity gap.

My diverse professional experiences have prepared me to serve on our school board. As an attorney, I have experience navigating complicated legal issues, assessing and addressing liability and risk, negotiating contracts and managing mediations. As a successful tech startup founder, I have experience dealing with multi-dimensional employment issues, growing a team while intentionally building a positive culture within an organization, and managing partner relationships. I took my startup scrappiness and grit to a large tech company where I lead dozens of employees, contractors and vendors and have managed a multi-million dollar budget, scaled complex operations, and found common ground between diverse stakeholders with different interests. These are valuable skills for a school board member.

Shounak Dharap

My past four years on the board, including as president during school reopenings, have given me a great deal of experience in overseeing the district. During that time, I’ve immersed myself in as many working committees as I could to develop a stronger understanding of how the district works — including the property, board bond oversight, board policy review, board equity oversight, and fiscal advisory committees. I worked to increase the efficiency of our board policy review committee to end the backlog of policy updates. I shepherded the transition of the property committee into a standing Brown Act committee that has engaged with the community and worked substantively on construction proposals. I led the charge in creating the bond oversight committee and equity oversight committee — which I chaired — both of which have made significant contributions in the areas of construction and equity. These experiences have provided me with a great deal of insight into the impact committee work can have on the thoroughness of the proposals presented to the board, including through engagement with stakeholders for months before an item reaches a board agenda.

My experience growing up in Palo Alto schools has also provided me a perspective on how specific issues (such as mental health and academic inequity) can affect students in the long run. It also provides me with an intangible context — a mixture of connection, gratitude, and an obligation to make the district better — that drives my service.

Shana Segal

I was a student (Ohlone, JLS, and Gunn). I am currently a parent to two PAUSD students and a substitute teacher in PAUSD classrooms.

I have a school…

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