Los Altos candidate faces incumbent in county school board election

Photo By: Town Crier File Photos
Photo Town Crier File PhotosMah, left, and Cortright, right.

Many local residents have paid close attention to the Santa Clara County Board of Education election this year, particularly following its approval of Bullis Charter School’s charter for an additional five years.

After the county districts were redrawn this year, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills households were lumped into the newly defined District Area 1, which covers Los Altos, Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View Los Altos Union High and Palo Alto Unified school districts, plus a majority of the Sunnyvale school district and the corresponding portions of Fremont Union High School District. The Area 1 seat is up for grabs on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Because of the redrawn boundaries, either winning candidate – Grace Mah or David Cortright – would be new to serving Los Altos.

The incumbent

Although Mah is an incumbent, she previously served an area that did not include the Los Altos schools. The Palo Alto resident has served on the board for five years and has two children in the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Mah praised the work the county school board has done to close the achievement gap through the SJ2020 initiative, which aims for closure by 2020.

“Being on the county board, I’ve been able to touch those at risk. You have a better appreciation for the whole county’s needs and the students who really need our support,” she said. “I just really enjoy the cross section of children I’ve been able to meet and get to know, and I’d like to continue the work we’ve started in eliminating the achievement gap and see it to the end.”

Locally, Mah sits on the Bullis Charter School Advisory Council. She was appointed to assist and advise the charter school board in planning its future vision.

Charter schools are an important issue for the county board. The board approved 20 Rocketship schools last year and continues to oversee many county charter schools. That oversight, including Bullis Charter School, has come under public scrutiny recently.

Mah considers charter schools as offering parents choices for their children’s education.

“I am supportive of charter schools for choice,” she said. “Charter schools provide an option for people to be able to be served by a different type of curriculum.”

Mah defended the board’s decision to approve the Rocketship charters as important for children who are underserved. She said the board has worked with Rocketship to locate them in areas of high need where the local schools have Academic Performance Index scores lower than 775.

The challenger

The topic of charter schools inspired Los Altos resident Cortright to become more involved. Cortright, a user experience designer with no children, has attended county meetings throughout the year, often challenging board members on their stance on charter schools.

“I’m frustrated by the county,” he said. “They seem to grant charters a little too easily without understanding how charters affect other schools in the district. I don’t think (the county board) has the proper resources to oversee the charters they do have.”

According to Cortright, the county board has a “very narrow scope about what they believe they can do within the law.” He said the board usually approves a charter if it meets minimum requirements.

“That is what I was trying to understand (at county board meetings) – what is their (board members) interpretation of charter law,” he said. “I tried to share with them my view of charter law.”

The board is starting to come around in their understanding of the effect of charter schools, not just on the students, but also on the communities as a whole, he said.

Cortright said he doesn’t agree that using corporate charter chains, such as Rocketship, empowers the local community and anticipates that the county board will feel the fallout from their Rocketship approvals for the next several years.

While Cortright’s main platform focuses on how the county board handles charter schools, he is researching other functions of the board.

For more information on Mah, visit

For more information on Cortright, visit

You can read a full listing of Town Crier election coverage here.

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