Four candidates are competing for two open seats on the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education: newcomers Ingrid Campos, Nicole Chiu-Wang and Shana Segal and incumbent Shounak Dharap. This board will be tasked with, among other things, overseeing ongoing school construction projects, collaborating with the newly launched ad hoc committees and fulfilling the PAUSD promise.
The Post spoke with all four candidates about their experience and policy positions, focusing on mental health and wellness, equity and communication.
Candidates are ordered by alphabetical order of last name.
Campos works in business administration and has two daughters who both attend Henry M. Gunn High School. She previously served as chair of the Los Altos Parks and Recreation Committee. Campos holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History from UCLA.
Campos said she believes politics should stay out of education. As an example, she brought up the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, which reversed the constitutional right to an abortion.
“When I hear 14 year olds, which I heard recently, talking about how Roe v. Wade being overturned has thrown us into the dark ages, I asked that 14 year old, ‘Are you having sex?’” Campos said. “And she said no. And I said, ‘So how is it that your life is being thrown back into the dark ages? Are you afraid of being pregnant?’ The child doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade should have no concern to a 14 year old.”
Campos said that civic involvement has always been part of her life. She currently volunteers with 4-H, a nonprofit youth development program, and said she hopes to continue actively contributing to the community.
“[Parents I know] encouraged me to run for school board just based on similar concerns we have for our children,” Campos said. “When I moved out of Los Altos Hills … I was seeking out another place where I can impart my wisdom, my resources, my skill set, in my community.”
Mental health and wellness
Campos supports initiatives such as opening wellness centers at schools, but said that she doesn’t understand why student health and wellness is a large focus for the board.
“I know that a lot of the candidates are focusing on student health and wellness and safety, and that concerns me because are there statistics that are indicating that our students are not mentally well and healthy and well cared for?” Campos said. “I believe in traditional family values, and part of those traditional family values [is] talking to my kids. … How is a school board member going to affect the health and wellness of my child?”
While all other candidates are in support of removing class lanes — which separate students into classes taught at different levels of rigor and depth — to decrease the achievement gap, Campos said she thinks PAUSD should keep class lanes.
“I know that parents are having a really big issue with single-path math,” Campos said. “That’s a huge issue and I just heard that it was eliminated in middle school. … There are some children who excel in math, and some who don’t, and now everyone’s going to be jumbled into the same classroom.”
If elected, Campos said she hopes to bridge the divide between teachers and parents by encouraging direct communication.
“[People are] free to text me, call me, communicate with me, email me, which they do, and talk to me and explain to me what their issues are,” Campos said.
Campos said she strongly believes that every parent has the right to direct their child’s education and decide what’s best for their child. In the past, she has requested for her children to be opted out of certain curricula, citing that they did not align with her values.
“The parent has the right to direct the educational goals of their children,” Campos said. “So if their educational goal means I don’t need a third party to teach my child sexual ed, then they have the right to opt out.”
However, Campos said there aren’t any immediate changes she wants to make.
“I don’t have any concept of what needs to be changed until I’ve attended board meetings and I looked at the agenda,” Campos said. “It’s not super easy to search past meeting minutes.”
To learn more, visit Campos’s website here.
Chiu-Wang is a product and strategy operations lead at Google and previously founded and operated a fashion technology startup. She received a J.D. from Loyola Law School and formerly worked as an attorney. Chiu-Wang moved to Palo Alto earlier this year and has two young sons. Her older son attends transitional kindergarten in PAUSD.
“We moved to Palo Alto specifically for the schools here,” Chiu-Wang said. “I believe that with privilege, which we are privileged to have the quality of public education we have here, comes duty, and in this case, the duty to tackle the tough systemic issues that I believe prevent our district from serving all of our students or allowing all of our students to thrive and succeed.”
Chiu-Wang said she hopes to start fixing issues rooted in PAUSD culture by having conversations to find out how to combat the issues.
“I think a lot of work has been done, certainly, for both mental health and equity and issues of racism,” Chiu-Wang said. “But it’s an iceberg, and so I feel like we’ve tackled the stuff that’s above the water, but we need to go … below the surface.”
Mental health and wellness
Chiu-Wang said she thinks the district has taken steps in the right direction by creating wellness centers and integrating mental health professionals on school campuses. However, she said she thinks PAUSD still needs to add more staff and trusted adult figures by hiring more mental health professionals, offering more professional development resources for teachers and increasing staff diversity.
“I think we have to address the cultural issues behind mental health and wellness,” Chiu-Wang said. “Let’s talk about the pressures faced in our school community, and let’s talk about what drives them. … If we’re a pressure cooker, how do we start to release the pressure?”
Chiu-Wang said she believes standardized tests aren’t sufficient to measure progress or success and advocates for more innovative ways to evaluate student achievement.
“We may have some of our ethnicities within the Asian American community consistently scoring at the top when you look at standardized tests, and some communities are consistently scoring at the bottom,” Chiu-Wang said. “And so that’s an equity issue.”
To help address equity issues, Chiu-Wang supports initiatives like the Systemwide Integrated Framework for Transformation, or the SWIFT plan, which is a framework PAUSD’s Equity Oversight Committee created to support diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in the district.
Improving communication is one of Chiu-Wang’s top priorities.
“We need to be talking to everyone and hearing from everyone, making them feel like they are a part of this process as opposed to being dictated to, and told what will help them,” Chiu-Wang said. “I think the biggest thing we need to do is communicate.”
She said she believes her ethnic background as a Chinese American will help her communicate and connect with the community.
“I’m a biracial Asian American woman and that has shaped my entire life and the experiences that I’ve had, and that is the number one driver behind my ability to be a bridge builder and to build positive culture,” Chiu-Wang said.
To learn more, visit Chiu-Wang’s website here.
Dharap is the only incumbent in the race. He holds a J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law and works as an associate attorney at the Arns Law Firm. He attended PAUSD schools and graduated from Gunn High School.
“I ran four years ago, really to focus on issues of mental health and equity and achievement,” Dharap said. “We’ve made a lot of progress over the last four years, and I foresee us making even better progress in the next four.”
Mental health and wellness
In June, Dharap voted to allocate over $16 million to building comprehensive in-house mental health support systems in PAUSD schools.
“During COVID, there were a lot of staffing issues and students weren’t able to access mental health supports as much as they needed,” Dharap said. “So we’re bringing it in-house. The hope is that that [lack of mental health support] will change.”
Dharap defines equity as a person’s ability to achieve success regardless of their background. He said he believes the school district has the responsibility to create an equitable district by ensuring equal education and giving every student opportunities to succeed.
“Everybody doesn’t have that same opportunity unless the district takes efforts to ensure that our most underserved students are getting the support they need,” Dharap said. “What that means in practice is taking a hard look at the system and figuring out what areas can be changed, tweaked, rebuilt, to provide that same opportunity for everybody.”
Last year, Dharap created and chaired the Board Equity Oversight Committee, which met throughout the year to develop the SWIFT plan.
“I think we’ve made more progress towards the goal of actually addressing equity holistically than we have ever before on the board,” Dharap said. “But what’s left is implementing the plan. … We have this very detailed roadmap. Now we have to follow through, and that’s what the next four years are going to be about.”
Dharap helped make board meetings more transparent and accessible to the community by moving to permanently enable public participation via Zoom in April.
To improve communication throughout the PAUSD community, Dharap said the district should hire a public information officer.
“I think one area that I haven’t made as much progress over the last four years as I would have liked is figuring out exactly the best way for the district to communicate with the community,” Dharap said. “[A public information officer] I think will be a great benefit.”
To learn more, visit Dharap’s website here.
Segal is an educational consultant and holds an M.A. in Education from U.C. Davis and an M.A. in Educational Leadership from San Jose State University. She previously worked as an English teacher and served as chair of the English language development department in the Fremont Union High School District. Segal attended PAUSD schools, graduated from Gunn High School and now has two children who attend elementary school in PAUSD.
“I’m running because I want to help improve public school education for all students,” Segal said. “I have the time, the energy, the passion, the motivation, the background and the experience to do it.”
Mental health and wellness
Segal supports the recent shift to in-house therapists and wants to ensure that they actively meet the needs of PAUSD students.
“I will, as a board member, be making sure that they’re actively meeting the needs of our students, and if we need more support, we get more support,” Segal said. “I just want to be making sure that the new employees, the new in-house therapists, are working well for students.”
Segal is a strong proponent of differentiated education, where teachers tailor classroom instruction to meet individual student needs. For example, she said that differentiation in an English classroom could mean providing a range of different essay prompts. She said that differentiated instruction goes hand in hand with promoting equity.
“For me, the differentiation piece is we’re meeting the needs of all of the learners within the class,” Segal said. “But the equity piece, which is intertwined, is we’re helping the students within that class who are struggling and we’re also providing more for students who are struggling.”
To support differentiated instruction, Segal said she wants to provide more high quality professional development opportunities and resources for teachers.
“Every child is an individual and I want to meet the needs of the children in my class because when students feel supported, engaged and challenged, what I have seen as a teacher is they love learning,” Segal said. “My goal as a board member would be to support all children in PAUSD so that they love learning and become lifelong learners.”
Segal said she believes PAUSD needs to build stronger communication throughout the community by validating teacher input, holding events like principal’s coffees at more accessible times, providing clear information about post-high school options, having more community ad hoc committees and hiring a public information officer.
She also said she wants to make information easily accessible to parents and believes in making evidence-based decisions.
“I want to make sure that we’re constantly assessing that our goal is being achieved from these different policy changes,” Segal said.
To learn more, visit Segal’s website here.