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MVLA District Board of Trustees: Three candidates for two seats

Three candidates are vying for two seats on the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees.

The district has seen continued population growth in recent years, with each of the two main high schools now well over 2,000 students. That growth has prompted discussions about the potential to eventually build a third high school. The district is also in the process of building new classrooms and facilities with the $295 million Measure E bond that voters passed in 2018.

The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered school campuses and pushed learning online. MVLA administrators recently announced that they plan to stay remote at least through the first semester.

The district also is grappling with conversations about how to address racism in local schools. A group of alumni, teachers, students and community members recently brought a petition to the board urging a number of changes, including removing law enforcement from campus and implementing a mandatory ethnic studies class for freshman.

Recently, the district broke ground on a project to install stadium lights, after years of discussion with neighbors living near the high schools.

Sanjay Dave

Sanjay Dave
Dave

Sanjay Dave was first elected to the MVLA Board of Trustees in 2016 and is running for a second term. His son is a sophomore at Mountain View High and his daughter has graduated. He served as a Rotary Club of Mountain View board member for a decade, and is now the organization’s youth chairman.

For more information on Dave’s campaign, visit sanjay4mvla.com.

Why are you running?
My motto is “Putting students first.” It speaks to everything I’ve accomplished in my first term. I want to continue making sure students’ voices are heard, community voices are heard, and we’re really continuing to improve our
district.

What strengths would you bring to the board? Why should voters choose you?
My biggest strength is I’m a strong voice for the community and I know how to get things done.

Stadium lights was an issue that started decades ago but didn’t get off the ground. I started working with the MVLA Neighborhood Cares group and was eventually able to bring everyone together to work through the issues.

Another major issue is creating a third high school, because of the development in Mountain View. This really wasn’t on the city council’s radar four years ago. I worked with council members. The council passed the city school strategy, where now part of the process is to evaluate how new development will impact schools.

And, of course, the bell schedule. It wasn’t an easy negotiation, but in the end, we all think we’ve come out with the best bell schedule.

What do you see as the three most pressing issues the district faces, and how would you address them?
First, distance learning. We know distance learning is not a replacement for in-person learning. We need to monitor students that are falling behind.

The other topic is how to reopen schools safely. The biggest issue is social distancing. We have almost 2,500 students at each campus. It’s a very complex situation, but we have to start putting together a plan.

Another issue that has come up is how to prepare for a post-COVID world. We have to get our facilities prepared in case something like this happens again so we can react more efficiently.

Given the recent discussions about racism in local schools, what steps do you think the district should take?
We’re taking a lot of the right steps. Starting a dialogue is the first thing. SROs (school resource officers) and ethnic studies are important topics that need to be discussed. We want to make sure all students are treated equally.

There are some things we are already working on. We need to make sure that staff, teachers and board members do yearly implicit bias training. We’ve already passed the resolution to be a sanctuary district, but there are things we can do to enhance what we’ve done.

During a discussion about increasing enrollment of minority students in Advanced Placement classes at an April 2018 board meeting, you said that you “personally struggle” with these goals and suggested that increasing diversity in AP classes would lower academic standards. At the time, you apologized for the remarks. What are your views on efforts to increase enrollment in AP classes among underrepresented student groups?
I apologize about that. I was not very articulate in what I thought I was trying to get across. I learned to make sure I’m a little bit more articulate in board meetings, because I know what I say can be taken quite literally, and I want to make sure that it’s taken in the right way.

We want to encourage all students to be able to take honors and AP courses. We need to make sure those students have the proper supports to thrive and succeed in those courses.

With the coronavirus pandemic at the top of many families’ minds, what would you take into consideration in deciding if, when and how to bring students and staff back to campus?
Eventually we need to bring students back. The million-dollar question is when. We can do in-person now, but there’s a bunch of guidelines. Social distancing is one of the most difficult parts. We are looking at staggering students on campus. I’m asking the district to put a timeline together to help make decisions.

I would like to at least start bringing students back next semester. It would be nice to have it as early as January, but maybe after the quarter break in March. There’s a lot of things we have to answer first: bell schedules, facilities upgrades, policies if somebody gets ill. We also need an option for families who aren’t going to risk coming back.

With some amount of learning likely to remain online as the pandemic continues, what steps do you believe need to be taken to combat learning loss and ensure equal access for all students?
We need to make sure every student has the proper hardware, which includes laptop performance and internet access.

A bunch of students were not engaged in the spring. We need to reach out to them to figure out how can we resolve those issues.

Bringing back some small cohorts will help with socialization and motivation. When you look at what motivates a student to come to school, it’s not just coming to class, it’s the socialization: sports, clubs, music classes, drama. Now that’s not there.

When I talk to my son about how it’s going in class, he frankly tells me it’s harder for him to learn. There are definite issues with distance learning, which give us more reason to bring kids back.

Phil FailLace

Phil Failace
Faillace

Phil Faillace, first elected in 1996, is the longest-serving member of the current Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees. He is running for another term.

Before serving on MVLA’s board, Faillace spent 13 years on the Los Altos School District’s board. He is currently the chairman of the Community Health Advisory Council’s board.

For more information on Faillace’s campaign, visit mvlafaillace.com.

Why are you running?
I’m running because of what got me into this in the first place: my own background. I’m the first person in my family to graduate college.

My high school had a special program, that out of a class of 600, 60 were admitted to. I’ve done things that were not open to my classmates who were denied access to that program. One reason I have been so enthusiastic about public schools is to open access to all students and also to give them additional support to make the jump.

Frankly, I was thinking about retirement before the pandemic hit, but I decided that my 24 years of experience here leaves me as the uniquely best qualified candidate.

What strengths would you bring to the board? Why should voters choose you?
I have been the strongest proponent of a board that’s very strongly in favor of academic rigor for all students. We have made great strides over the years in achieving that. We still need to make our regular courses more academically rigorous, and provide the support necessary for students who don’t quite have the background to handle that to be in those courses. I am also very aware of the learning loss that the distance or hybrid learning is inevitably going to cause.

What do you see as the three most pressing issues the district faces, and how would you address them?
The first one has to be learning loss. Not all kids are able to respond to this mode of delivery. From every study I’ve read, the kids most likely to be among those not responding to the situation well are disadvantaged students. Whatever gap we had before is in serious danger of getting even wider.

We have also seen a problem nationwide of invidious discrimination based on color and ethnicity, and other factors, too. We have to go through our curriculum and practices to see what we are doing that could be contributing to this. Internally that is happening now, but it’s a long process.

No. 3 is that we have to be on the lookout for a severe economic downturn. That is especially troublesome, because you don’t want a downturn when you’re in a crisis.

Given the recent discussions about racism in local schools, what steps do you think the district should take?
The steps they are taking right now. The staff, teachers and administration are looking at all the items brought to the district’s attention, plus other items. It can’t be something forced upon everybody by fiat from the board. That hardly ever works.

People have heard me talk about long runways for a long time. We really need a lot of involvement. We need an environment in which people feel safe, and they can discuss these things. That’s the way to build long-lasting understanding and community.

With the coronavirus pandemic at the top of many families’ minds, what would you take into consideration in deciding if, when and how to bring students and staff back to campus?
I always want the best scientific evidence. I have been very impressed by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. I take their guidelines seriously, and would follow them as generously as possible. If something says 4 to 6 feet, I want it to be 6.

People need to have an understanding of what “safe” means. “Safe” does not mean free of all danger. It means an acceptable level of risk. That varies according to each individual’s tolerance for risk. We have to give people the choice. That’s why we have to have a distance learning program.

With some amount of learning likely to remain online as the pandemic continues, what steps do you believe need to be taken to combat learning loss and ensure equal access for all students?
We have to beef up our tutorial programs severely. This is a great opportunity to involve the community. We will need extra support. That might have to be outside philanthropic support, and also dipping into our reserves.

We cannot neglect wellness. As luck would have it, we commissioned extra hours and people from CHAC (Community Health Awareness Council). We also commissioned a social worker this year. It turned out to be prescient because we need them now more than ever.

Laura Teksler

Laura Teksler
Teksler

Laura Teksler is challenging the two incumbents for a seat on the MVLA board. Teksler is the parent of a senior at Los Altos High School and serves as vice president of the school’s PTSA. She is also co-chairwoman of Los Altos Community Foundation and vice chairwoman of the Los Altos Environmental Commission.

For more information on Teksler’s campaign, visit lauraformvla.com.

Why are you running?
I believe that our schools and their quality is really fundamental to the health and success of our community. I want to ensure we get even better in serving all students throughout the district. We really need to be thinking about their social-emotional health, as well as the content and quality of education that we’re delivering.

What strengths would you bring to the board? Why should voters choose you?
As is evident by my background, I’m very involved in the community. I have the boots-on-the-ground viewpoint of what families and students are experiencing right now – not only with COVID, but in general what students are experiencing educationally.

What do you see as the three most pressing issues the district faces, and how would you address them?
Distance learning right now is one of the most pressing issues. You ask any family, that is the thing they think about day in, day out. I want to see kids back in class. I don’t believe that we can truly replace what school means to students with distance learning. Our teachers and administrators are doing a really solid, good job on delivering content, but I believe there is no way to replace the in-person experience.

Second, mental health. We knew stress and anxiety were already increasing. We know that distancing learning, sheltering and isolating is really impacting our teenagers. The district has done a good job of adding additional support services. As we go on, I want to dig deeper and think about what’s causing this.

My third one is the achievement gap, which is being exacerbated right now. There’s a lot of research that shows when you train teachers and provide professional development around the social competency, that helps bridge the achievement gap.

Given the recent discussions about racism in local schools, what steps do you think the district should take?
Specifically talking about the petition that was presented, having an ethnic studies course is certainly something I’m very supportive of. I would want to see the administration vetting curriculum to find the right coursework. I wouldn’t want to rush the process and end up with curriculum that wasn’t up to our standards.

As far as the school resource officers, we need to be having discussions with the police and cities to figure out a better approach. If we’re trying to provide a resource to support students, and it’s not supporting all those students, then we need to change something.

When we do need to bring police on campus, if we don’t have a specific officer that’s been working with students, how do we ensure any police officer who comes has the proper training?

With the coronavirus pandemic at the top of many families’ minds, what would you take into consideration in deciding if, when and how to bring students and staff back to campus?
First and foremost for me is what is best for students. That is not a monolith, but I believe we can’t be delivering school in a comprehensive way in distance learning.

Of course, we need to consider the health of teachers and families. We need to continue to offer a 100% virtual option. This should be allowed for any family, so people who are not ready to come back are not making a decision for those who are ready.

No one expects to bring over 2,000 students to a campus, but if we can figure out activities students can be brought back for, then we can work our way up to learning in a hybrid scenario.

With some amount of learning likely to remain online as the pandemic continues, what steps do you believe need to be taken to combat learning loss and ensure equal access for all students?
Right now, we don’t have adequate testing to know what the learning loss has been, but I think we can all assume it’s there. For sure, it is impacting some students more than others. The No. 1 thing we need to ensure is, does every student have not only the technology, but a safe and quiet place to learn?

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