Newly retired local school teacher Mary Jo Carreon recently filed to run as the fifth and final contender for Pleasanton Unified School District Board of Trustees in November.
After 26 years in the district, including 20 years teaching second grade at Alisal Elementary School, Carreon retired from the classroom in June but told the Weekly that she isn't done working on behalf of Pleasanton students.
"I was really sad when I had to retire and felt so bad about not being with my community," Carreon said. "I really wanted to continue giving back to the community in a different way. I wanted to continue in my role as an educator and fighter for kids."
Carreon added, "I thought, 'I can't just leave education. I want to keep giving back.' I feel like I can be a bridge to what is in the classroom and moving forward because I have all this experience."
Besides teaching in local schools for several decades, Carreon's experience also includes an insider's familiarity at many levels with the district. Over the years, Carreon has spoken at school board meetings, advocating for smaller class sizes and addressing staff morale and giving input on district issues.
Right now, Carreon said, "Our priority has to be to keep students and staff safe, and what does that mean? Do we add filtration systems to classrooms? Do we add handwashing stations?"
"We're nowhere near being able to go back to the classroom, but we need to be forward thinkers," she added, and suggested looking at how schools in-person instruction has been handled in other countries like New Zealand, where COVID-19 has been effectively wiped out in recent months.
Recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers is also tied directly to how in-person learning is managed when schools eventually reopen. Carreon said attracting qualified new talent is "very difficult in this day and age because teachers are scared" of the pandemic.
"I think teachers need a lot of training (for remote learning). Right now they've been thrown into something like this and are doing a great job but need more support," Carreon said. "They also need a little bit of grace. They're doing the best job you can expect under these trying circumstances. Don't put any unrealistic expectations on them."
At the same time, Carreon said, "families need to feel like their voices and needs are being heard," which is why she wants to conduct a community listening campaign and post a publicly available phone number for people to call her directly with their thoughts or concerns.
There are also infrastructure repairs, renovations and expansions needed at a number of the 15 PUSD sites that Carreon said present "a really difficult issue, especially with the budget, the way it is right now" and the failure of the Measure M bond in March.
"I'm concerned that we need to focus on the needs that have happened with COVID-related issues like PPE and air filtration before we do any more renovations," she said. "We have to take care of our immediate needs right now, but it would be great to get a parcel tax passed (eventually). I know we have (Pleasanton Partnerships in Education), who helps fund, but it's a difficult time to ask people for money since they're struggling to get food on the table."
A Bay Area native, Carreon grew up in Cupertino and graduated from California High School in San Ramon. Carreon knew she wanted to be a teacher after she had an "excellent teacher" in the third grade and later attended UC Davis, where she earned her bachelor's in communication and teaching credentials.
Carreon moved to Pleasanton in 1992, where she joined the ranks at PUSD and raised two children --a son and a daughter-- with her husband, Jim. During her tenure at Alisal, Carreon also racked up a number of honors including a PUSD Excellence in Education Award, a Distinguished Teacher Award from the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, and she earned a spot in a Who's Who of American Teachers.
"I feel like I have a teacher's voice but I also have a parent's voice," she said. "Twenty-seven years is a long time to be rooted; I feel like my roots are pretty deep. I really value relationships, which is another reason why I wanted to run. I just feel like I have a lot to give back to them."
Carreon concluded, "I've dedicated my career to students and I want to continue to serve my community. I want to continue to work hard for the town that I love."
To learn more about Carreon, visit her website at www.maryjoforkids.org.