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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

Smart Voter
Santa Clara County, CA November 6, 2007 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
Board Member; Palo Alto Unified School District


The questions were prepared by the the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto and asked of all candidates for this office.     See below for questions on Problems, Communication, Achievement

Click on a name for candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.


1. What problems do you see facing the school district and how do you propose to address them?

Answer from Camille Townsend:

The most important goal facing the Board is to provide a quality education for all students in the District. We do this by providing multiple avenues for student success, recruiting and retaining great teachers, and providing a curriculum that challenges and supports students of all abilities.

Other near and medium term challenges include maintaining budget discipline while handling student growth, providing excellent facilities, and dealing with uncertain financing and policy changes at the State level. In the longer term, we face the task of replacing a large number of excellent teachers nearing retirement.

Answer from Wynn Hausser:

Decision-making: The board must have a clear and transparent decision-making process to be credible. When looking at new programs or evaluating existing ones, we should first make sure the program fits within our strategic goals and priorities, then address district-wide policy concerns, and only then evaluate how the individual program meets identified needs.

Enrollment Growth Planning: We need to ensure demographic projections accurately reflect reality, consider a variety of alternatives beyond facilities to addressing growth, and be proactive in moving forward with solutions.

Facilities: Our physical plant doesn't support the level of infrastructure required to ensure top-flight programs. Facility decisions should be based on our vision and philosophy of what we want our schools to be. Then we need a forward-thinking, district-wide, comprehensive facilities plan that reflects these priorities. Finally, we need mechanisms to ensure funds are efficiently and effectively spent.

Answer from Claude Ezran:

The most pressing issues are enrollment growth and facilities planning. Over the past six years enrollment has grown consistently by 2% a year. Many of our schools are at full capacity. I will work collaboratively with the Board, the new Superintendent and the community to develop a long-term vision for school sites, and a roadmap on how to get there over the next 10-15 years. We also need to restore a sense of trust in the School Board leadership. I will use my business experience managing people, project teams and budgets to promote teamwork on the Board and help it function with great effectiveness.

Answer from Melissa Baten Caswell:

PAUSD is a distinguished district, but we must plan carefully to maintain excellence. Our enrollment is growing, and we are outgrowing some facilities. Some stakeholders are sharply divided. We must work smoothly together.

To tackle these challenges, our Board's first project must be the District's strategic vision. We need clear guiding principles that will set and keep our direction. I will use my business skills to help the Board work with our superintendent, staff, and community leaders to hone this practical, long-term vision and then enact it in a clear, rigorous, and measurable strategic plan. Finally, we must track progress regularly with timelines and metrics.

Answer from Barbara Klausner:

Key issues are facilities planning, enrollment growth, and our strategic plan. The important element in addressing these issues will be the processes we follow. We must re-establish effective decision-making, informed by good lines of communication. My experience in the district will help frame issues effectively and identify the relevant experts and stakeholders to bring into the process. By acting with the best information considered in a timely manner, the board can develop fiscally responsible, comprehensive, long-term solutions and win back the community's trust.


2. What steps need to be taken to foster better communication among the school board, superintendent's office, and local school management?

Answer from Wynn Hausser:

As a communication professional, I know the importance of having multiple mechanisms for open communication between board, superintendent, district staff, and local school management. I support holding annual retreats for goal and priority-setting, and quarterly closed session meetings between board and superintendent. I believe in the concept of 360 feedback to gain a variety of inputs on the superintendent's performance, including from local school management. I also believe holding study sessions on key issues can help us gain in-depth and shared understanding of issues.

Answer from Melissa Baten Caswell:

Last year, our Board found problems in PAUSD'S working climate. It's crucial to move to the next stage: specific, tangible systems and agreements so that all stakeholders--administrators, staff, families, and especially kids--feel welcomed and respected.

As a related issue, I strongly support a culture of collaboration, both within schools and across the district. PAUSD includes some of the most talented educators in the Bay Area. We need to help them thrive here. In addition to encouraging cooperation and the sharing of best practices, I will push for clear pathways for professional advancement at all levels of the organization.

Answer from Barbara Klausner:

The new "Protocols" recently adopted by the board and superintendent delineate their roles and relationship to each other. The spirit of these rules, and the earlier recommendations for improving relationships with principals, must be implemented in a manner that supports a transparent, two-way flow of information and a collaborative approach to decision-making. The relationships and trust that I have established while working in numerous roles across the district will facilitate our progress towards better communication.

Answer from Claude Ezran:

If I had been on the Board when the management crisis happened, I would have talked to the local school management immediately in order to defuse the situation. I will encourage the Board to operate more at the leadership and policy level and focus less on operational details. It is also important to have common goals that are clearly understood and shared by everybody. I will work with my colleagues on the Board to improve the strategic planning process with fewer, clearer and more measurable objectives. Finally, I will encourage transparency in the decision making process.

Answer from Camille Townsend:

Under my Board presidency, we have been pro-active in recruiting an excellent new Superintendent and working with him to establish an effective policy of cooperation and teamwork among all members of the District community. This includes an emphasis on open sharing of information, a commitment to respect for all parties, and regular discussions to guarantee effective District management.


3. What approaches would you support to help all students achieve their educational goals, whether they are college bound or not?

Answer from Melissa Baten Caswell:

Now more than ever, we must work together so that all PAUSD students graduate with the academic and social skills they will need to succeed in a changing world. I will push for strong, well-sequenced, standards-based curriculum taught in creative and effective ways. I will also advocate that students receive the academic and emotional support they need to help them make good choices and handle stress. Finally, we must expand our strategies for ending our district's achievement gap. Every child in PAUSD deserves a first-rate educational environment which includes both challenge and support.

Answer from Barbara Klausner:

We teach to the student, college bound or not. Our current strategic plan calls for "appropriate challenge [so that] every student makes at least a year's growth each year." As an educator, I have directed efforts in our schools to assess each student, to teach to their needs through differentiated instruction and other approaches, and to assess their growth. This system is effective for all students regardless of their educational goals.

The approaches I would recommend and support are:

  • Develop additional assessment tools (beyond standardized tests) to measure what matters and to better diagnose and inform teaching
  • Organize, maintain and utilize a K-12 portfolio of qualitative and quantitative assessment data for each student
  • Enhance teaching strategies to meet all needs and learning styles; consolidate best practices in the core curriculum
  • Offer additional high school program choices

Answer from Claude Ezran:

It is critical to our future in California that we have a well-educated workforce and population. Therefore, we need to support all our children, not just the ones who are college bound. Gunn and Paly are heavily focused on college admission, but we might soon need to plan for the opening of a third (smaller) high school; this will present an excellent opportunity to offer alternative programs such as education in the arts, or a preparation to vocational education. We also need to reinforce our efforts to close the achievement gap by offering optional tutoring classes and developing a mentoring program.

Answer from Wynn Hausser:

The role that social and emotional health has on a child's ability to learn is well-documented. Achieving our academic goals requires healthy students in healthy schools. However, our current system tries to address this issue in a piecemeal way, and there is no organized district-wide health education. We need to take a comprehensive approach to this issue, including school-based programs, system and policy development and school personnel education and training.

Answer from Camille Townsend:

Education research shows that the single most important predictor of educational results is the presence of an excellent teacher. Great teachers do more than provide the basics and fundamentals, they engage students, stimulate imagination, and raise performance. We are committed to competitive salaries, enabling teacher collaboration, and providing strong technology support.

Children also need to connect with others and thrive through extracurricular programs, such as the arts, athletics, clubs, or other opportunities our District provides.

Education is our community's commitment to the future. We prepare our students today for the world decades from now. I am committed to giving our students multiple skills and opportunities to succeed, to be inspired, and to thrive. Serving on the School Board is an honor, and I would appreciate your support.


Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates in this race must limit their answers to 300 words total so that a paper Voters Guide may be published by LWV Palo Alto. After 8 p.m. on Sept. 12 word limits will no longer apply. Candidates' responses are not edited or corrected by the League.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily. Candidates who did not respond are not listed on this page.


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Created: December 19, 2007 17:39 PST
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