Q&A: MVLA trustee Mitchner shares thoughts on leaving board

After 11 years on the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School Board of Trustees, Joe Mitchner decided it was time for a change and opted not to run for re-election.

During his time on the board, Mitchner, a Mountain View resident, used his financial background to help shepherd a $275 million facilities bond, but he said he’s most proud of the work he’s done to advocate for students’ wellness.

“There’s a part of me that would like to stay, but there’s a part that recognizes it’s time to move on,” he said.

Catherine Vonnegut, a longtime community volunteer, will take Mitchner’s place on the board after winning a seat in the Nov. 6 election.

Following are Mitchner’s reflections on his time on the board.

Q: What brought you to the decision to not run for re-election?

A: I never envisioned myself as a 20- or 30-year person. I’ve made my contributions. I started before my kids were even in the district and now they’re gone, and I just think it’s time to leave it to other people to be involved. Life changes, and there may be some other things I’d like to do in the community. I want to do some traveling and things like that.

Q: Did you struggle with that decision?

A: It was a hard decision because I’m still really engaged and passionate about the issues. I’ll miss it, for sure, but at the end of the day, it’s better to step down a little too soon than a little too late.

Q: What made you want to be on the board in the first place?

A: I started being involved in community volunteering pretty young. I started coaching Little League when I was 14, and then I was on the Menlo Park Parks and Recreation Commission for six years right after college.

When my kids started in school, I just gravitated toward volunteering – serving on PTAs and advisory committees in the elementary school district. When an opportunity came up on the high school board, there were people who pointed me in that direction. It fit well with the things that I was doing, and it was nice to do it before my kids got there because I was able to learn a lot about the district. I had a different perspective because I got to see it from before my kids came, while my kids were there and after my kids have been gone.

Q: What stands out to you as something you’re proud of?

A: Well, it’s hard, because no one board member can really do anything. But overall, I’m proud of the number of academic opportunities we’ve added. When I first came to the district, when we talked about adding a class, the response was, “Well, which one of the other classes are we going to take away?” That’s totally changed. In the last five years, we’ve added 50 or 60 classes. The number of opportunities that have been added at all levels – AP classes, mainstream classes, support classes – is pretty cool.

The other area that I’m really proud of is the mental health realm. We’ve added therapists at our schools, the teachers have gone through a suicide recognition program and we have referral boxes on our campuses.

More recently, we did the homework policy, which, again, came about because there was a concern for kids’ health. One of the things that I did push for was to have some homework-free weekends. I just think that over the course of a year, we should be able to have a few weekends where kids don’t have to worry about anything.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?

A: My favorite part is actually outside of the board room. I really enjoy visiting classrooms, and I try to do that as much as I can. It’s just so great to see how bright kids are and how engaged they are in classes and how our teachers are so dynamic in how they deliver the material and how they engage kids.

The other thing is celebrating the accomplishments of our students. I love hearing about all the things that our students are doing in the community: their accomplishments, business competitions, going back to their elementary schools and helping with tutoring.

Q: What advice do you have for Catherine Vonnegut, who’s joining the board?

A: Just to really listen. To spend some time listening to a lot of people throughout the district. The board, any board, needs a globalist, someone who cares about all the issues. Don’t be a single-issue person, because you owe that to our community, to represent every student and be watching over all the parts of the district. Listen a lot. You’re one of five people overseeing everything. Take that to heart.

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