Local school boards head into 2021 with new leadership

As 2020 draws to a close, local school boards have selected their new leadership for the upcoming year.

Fiona Walter is the new president of the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees; Vaishali (Shali) Sirkay is president of the Los Altos School District board; Jerry Liu now leads the Cupertino Union School District board; and Peter Landsberger heads the Foothill-De Anza Community College District board.


Walter was unanimously selected to lead the MVLA board, taking over for Sanjay Dave. Catherine Vonnegut and Debbie Torok are now vice president and clerk, respectively.

Walter, first elected in 2014, said the biggest project in 2021 will be getting students and staff back on campus. The district is currently in full distance learning, with the exception of certain small groups of students.

Although there isn’t yet a set timeline for when in-person classes will resume, Walter said she personally hopes that by August, at the latest, everyone will be back on campus.

Once in-person instruction resumes, Walter said the district will need to assess how much learning was missed while students were remote and take steps to get everyone back up to speed.

Over the course of 2021, Walter said it’s also her hope that the board is able to get back into more of a normal routine, discussing things other than the pandemic response.

“I’m looking forward to hopefully getting (back) to a little bit of normalcy,” she said.


Sirkay similarly said that after a difficult 2020, she thinks 2021 will be the year that schools start to get back closer to normal operations.

“I’m very hopeful for 2021,” Sirkay said. “I see 2021 as the year that we recover.”

But she acknowledged that a lot of work lies ahead, including grappling with the effects of the pandemic on both academics and mental health.

Sirkay, first elected in 2018, replaces Bryan Johnson as president. The trustees also unanimously voted to make Steve Taglio vice president and Jessica Speiser clerk.

LASD has been bringing students back by grade level for part-time classes on campus, but put that all on hold in recent weeks as staff absences strained resources. The district is currently slated to resume in-person classes Jan. 11.

Before the pandemic hit, the district was already facing a number of impactful decisions, including negotiations over a long-term site for Bullis Charter School, choosing how to use land in Mountain View purchased for a 10th school site and deciding whether to move to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school model. Those decisions were largely put on hold as a result of the pandemic.

Some of those items may be revisited in the coming year, Sirkay said, adding that they may be impacted by what the district’s needs are after the pandemic.


Liu was unanimously selected as the next president of CUSD’s board, replacing Los Altos resident Lori Cunningham. Satheesh Madhathil was appointed vice president, with Sylvia Leong chosen for clerk.

Liu, a Cupertino resident first elected in 2018, said the board will face a number of important decisions over the coming year, both related to the pandemic and on other issues. The district has been grappling with declining enrollment and a budget crunch, leading to board discussions this fall about the potential of closing schools.

The board has indicated that it wants to place a parcel tax before voters next year, with the intent that if it passes, budgetinduced school closures will be taken off the table. According to Liu, the board plans to vote in January to place a tax of $398 per parcel of land on the ballot in May or June.

“It’s a huge thing – we’ve got to get that passed,” Liu said.

The district also will be discussing reopening plans in the new year. CUSD is currently in remote learning, with only small groups of students returning to campus thus far.

In the coming year, Liu said the board will need to decide what to do about a permanent superintendent. Stacy McAfee-Yao is serving as interim superintendent, after former superintendent Craig Baker retired in the spring, and Liu said board members have been “very happy” with McAfeeYao’s performance thus far.


Landsberger was unanimously picked to serve as president of Foothill-De Anza’s board, taking over for Pearl Cheng. Landsberger, first elected in 2016, said the board will prioritize its continued response to the pandemic in the new year, as well as other longer-term projects.

“In the near term, it’s the continuing response to the pandemic,” Landsberger said. “In the intermediate term, it will be the financial fallout from the pandemic, which really hasn’t hit us with full force yet.”

Beyond the pandemic, Landsberger said the board intends to focus on issues of equity and closing gaps in achievement among students. The trustees reformulated their board priorities earlier this year to have a greater focus on equity, and Landsberger said the district intends to create a consistent set of metrics on which to track students’ success.

The board also will oversee the projects funded by the $898 million Measure G bond, which voters passed back in March.

Trustees Patrick Ahrens and Gilbert Wong were both nominated to be vice president, but Ahrens was ultimately unanimously selected for the position.

Cheng nominated Ahrens, while De Anza College student trustee Max Meyberg nominated Wong. Ahrens was then unanimously chosen by the elected trustees, with Meyberg abstaining and Foothill College student trustee Priya Vasu voting in favor. The student trustees’ vote is only advisory, not formally affecting the vote total.

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