The Pleasanton community is in the middle of an unprecedented time amid the COVID-19 crisis and associated shelter-in-place orders, and perhaps no public entity is more impacted in more ways than the Pleasanton Unified School District.
School campuses are closed to students, instruction is being done remotely and the future of the budget -- like all government funding -- is so far up in the air you almost can't see it through the clouds (or more aptly these days, the smoke).
More distinctly than ever, though, is the fact PUSD will have to prioritize key objectives to navigate this difficult period: health and safety for students and staff, fiscal sustainability, open communication and public transparency.
It will take a well-rounded Board of Trustees with unique and fresh perspectives to guide Pleasanton Unified through the pandemic and toward continued success in the years that will follow. Those representative voices are Steve Maher, Kelly Mokashi and Chong Wang.
Incumbent Maher has a long history with public education in Pleasanton. Known best as the former Hart Middle School principal, Maher had more than 40 years of experience as a teacher and administrator overall before being elected to the school board in 2016.
Four years ago we did not endorse Maher because of apprehension over objectivity and possible conflicts of interest with him having three daughters working for the district, and we're happy to have seen him assuage those concerns and proven us wrong during his first term. He is a popular, well-respected and responsive board member whose views and experience are holistic yet always center around what's best for the students. PUSD needs Maher's leadership these next four years.
Challenger Mokashi, a first-time candidate for PUSD and a fairly new transplant to Pleasanton, has impressed with her community involvement in the two-plus years she's lived in town, including serving on PUSD's School Reopening Steering Committee this summer, sitting as an adult member of the city's Youth Commission and recurring commentary at local public meetings.
Her perspective as a parent with kids in school will be important, but perhaps more so will be her input as a longtime educator with extensive experience in e-learning. Remote instruction will certainly be part of PUSD education for this year amid the pandemic, but quite possibly for semesters and years ahead as families prioritize student safety and learning in new ways. As an engaged parent informed on e-education development, Mokashi will prove invaluable to the board for the next term.
Challenger Wang, also a newcomer to PUSD elections, will bring another vital representative voice to the Board of Trustees as an immigrant parent with two children in the schools who has been working in the hi-tech industry for more than 20 years. Locally, he's gained critical experience volunteering on PUSD's Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee and the Superintendent's Budget Advisory Council.
His knowledge of technology, PUSD finances and diverse educational needs will be critical attributes as district leadership work to balance conflicting priorities during the pandemic and in the likely tough times to follow fiscally. Wang's commitment to data-driven decision-making while always keeping the big picture in view will go a long way toward maintaining PUSD's strong record of academic success.
Incumbent Jamie Yee is seeking a fourth straight term on the board, and although she has good experience and institutional knowledge, her underwhelming performance at our forum reminded us that fostering new perspectives is necessary for good governance -- and PUSD should strongly consider term limits capping service at 12 years.
We commend Yee for serving three terms, including helping the district navigate a truly difficult time of administrative instability before Superintendent David Haglund's hiring in June 2017, but we also remember she was part of a board whose decisions led to that precarious period. With stability finally re-secured in the superintendent's office, it's time for some turnover of ideas and leadership on the board in favor of other qualified, eager candidates.
The final candidate, challenger Mary Jo Carreon, offers informed views of student and classroom needs as a parent and recently retired teacher from Alisal Elementary School. She also has experience with committee work in PUSD on topics like textbook adoption, the district calendar and school reopening.
It is important to have an educator's perspective on the board, but we'd prefer to see one without recent membership in the district's main labor group -- though Carreon is not a current member of the Association of Pleasanton Teachers since her retirement last year. And more importantly, we had hoped to see Carreon lay out a more comprehensive platform with specific objectives and actions during her forum appearance and in her public campaigning.
Vote Steve Maher, Kelly Mokashi and Chong Wang for Pleasanton Unified School District Board of Trustees.
Editor's note: The Pleasanton Weekly editorial board reached its decisions based on the candidates' performances at the Weekly's online forum, email interviews on endorsements, and our review of past reporting and research.