Shounak Dharap is running for the Palo Alto Unified School District board.
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.
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