Pleasanton Weekly

News - September 17, 2010

3 candidates vie for 2 open seats on Pleasanton school board

With no incumbents seeking re-election, there'll be 2 new faces for sure after Nov. 2 election

by Glenn Wohltmann

Their websites are up, the search for endorsements is on, and campaigning is in full swing for three candidates seeking election to two open seats on the Pleasanton school board in the Nov. 2 election.

The candidates are Jeff Bowser, Joan Laursen and Sandy Piderit.

Two of them will succeed current board members Pat Kernan and Jim Ott, who have chosen not to seek re-election to their posts. The other members of the school board, whose terms expire in 2012, are Chris Grant, Valerie Arkin and Jamie Hintzke.

In interviews with the Pleasanton Weekly, the candidates discussed their reasons for seeking election to the school board.

Jeff Bowser

Pleasanton school board candidate Jeff Bowser, an executive with Qwest Communications, is hoping to bring his educational and business experience to the district.

Bowser, who lost the race in 2008, said deciding to run again was a difficult decision.

"It's my choice to run for the board but it really needs to be a family decision," Bowser said. "We decided as a family (that) my education and business experience is what Pleasanton schools need so for that, we're willing to make difficult decisions at a difficult time and the controversy that creates."

Bowser has a master's degree in educational leadership and spent 13 years working at all levels in schools, beginning as a teacher and making his way through the ranks.

"That, combined with 13 years of business experience, brings the best of both worlds to benefit Pleasanton schools," he said. "I think the key thing is our schools are in dire straits and they need somebody with actual educational leadership experience. It sounds a little corny, but it's also to give back to a community where I've been a resident for 39 years."

Bowser said he's aware of the problems the district is facing.

"The job of the board as well as the administration is to attract the best of the best," he said, but "come spring, we're going to be back in the same budget situation we were in."

Part of Bowser's motivation comes from his recent completion of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Pleasanton program.

"Even though I've lived in this town for 39 years, there was so much I didn't know," he said, adding that the program gave him a better understanding of the city and how it's dealing with the state budget crisis.

One reason deciding to run again was difficult, Bowser said, is that his wife, Patty, who's a third-grade teacher at Hearst Elementary School, will be restricted from promotion and won't be able to change positions should he be elected.

He said he'd recuse himself from any votes that would appear to be a conflict of interest.

"For the most part," Bowser said, "it's not an adversarial position. It's about coming together."

Bowser will be helped in his campaign by his son, Jeffrey, a senior at Foothill High School, the same school he graduated from.

Joan Laursen

Pleasanton school board candidate Joan Laursen, who kicked off her campaign in July, said the experience she already has working with schools makes her "uniquely qualified" for the board.

"I have spent 15 years volunteering and working extremely hard with our staff and parents in our community. That's why I want to run," Laursen said.

She worked in banking for 12 years, which she said gave her experience analyzing data, setting up systems and measuring goals.

"I'm very comfortable with numbers and budgets," Laursen said. "The job of a school board member isn't to get down in the minutia of a budget, but it is to understand that what you're getting out (of the budget) is worth what you're putting into it.'"

Laursen has also served on school site councils; a number of district-wide committees, including budget advisory committees; in band booster groups; and on the Parent Faculty Association & Parent Teacher Association boards.

"Most recently, I was the president of the Pleasanton PTA Council, representing over 5,000 members in Pleasanton," she said, noting that in 2009, the Pleasanton PTA Council was named Outstanding Council for California by the state PTA. "During my tenure on the PTA Council, we hosted flu vaccination clinics, trained and mentored PTA officers at school sites, conducted a school board candidates' forum, and held many parent education workshops."

Laursen said her work as a volunteer has given her an understanding of educational issues and how complicated the system can be.

"Getting changes made, that has to do with having the knowledge and the background so that you have an understanding of the process," she said.

Laursen said the school board needs to be able to set policy and have a vision for what the Pleasanton school district is going to look in the next five to 10 years.

"This community is taking a deep breath and we're ready to look forward and move ahead to decide what we want to change and what we want to keep in the next few years," she said. "I'm really looking forward to it."

Laursen and her husband, Darrel, have two children. Their son is currently attending UC San Diego, majoring in engineering physics, and their daughter is an eighth-grade student at Harvest Park Middle School.

Sandy Piderit

Concern for the future of education in Pleasanton led Sandy Piderit to run for the school board, she told a small crowd at her recent kickoff event.

Piderit, who moved to the area with her family in 2008, said part of the reason for the move was the quality of Pleasanton schools. She said she became concerned after hearing about the state cuts to education and wants to explore new ways of looking at the district and new financial options to bring in money.

"I think that the district could put more emphasis on grant writing, partly as a way of piloting new kinds of teaching experiments," she said, explaining some of those options could include online learning and new types of tutoring.

More than that, Piderit said she wants to get people talking.

"I think the real key is to get all the members of the community talking with one another about what's most important and how we can support our students and teachers, getting the work of learning done," she said. "We need to make sure that teachers are the best quality teachers we can recruit and be sure we challenge them to be sure they develop their skills throughout their career."

Piderit, a visiting associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, drew from her experience at the school. She pointed out that all naval programs are evaluated every three years to make sure they're accomplishing what they were designed to do, and she hopes to bring a similar approach to the district.

"I want to do everything possible to make sure our schools here stay strong," Piderit said.

She has served on the Site Council at Alisal Elementary since August 2009, and has volunteered at the school in several different capacities.

Piderit holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and has taught management and organizational behavior courses for more than a decade.

Piderit and her husband Scott live in Mohr Park. They have a 9-year-old daughter, Julia, who attends Alisal Elementary School.

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