Upcoming School Board Election 

By Amelie Arango

This November, those living within specified areas will vote to fill the 3 open positions on the Campbell Union High School District Board of Trustees. The trustees approve policies, provide accountability, represent interests, and set the direction for the district through their leadership. They have many direct impacts on the lives of students. Anyone who lives within zone one, two, or three will vote for a trustee to fill the seat that represents their area. 

The seat that represents Westmont, area 2, will be on the ballot. The incumbent, Michael Winter, is running against Elisabeth Halliday and David Lee Sabes. For more information, Halliday’s website is https://ehalliday.info/ The other candidates’ websites were not available at this time.

On September 27, the League of Women Voters held a Candidate Forum for Area 2, with attendance by Winter, Halliday, and Sabes. Student concerns were addressed, including campus safety and institutional racism. When asked about possible additional steps for campus safety, Halliday emphasized the need for mental health professionals, stating, “I would like to see those social worker goals filled.” Highlighting law enforcement on campus both at lunch and after school, Winter stated, “Law enforcement on campus would send a message of “we’re not going to tolerate violence.’” Sabes described the importance of off-campus safety as well as on-campus safety, suggesting that, “When there are large problems at a football game, make the community responsible.” In addition, when asked about what part of the district’s current plan dismantles institutional racism and their thoughts on steps to take, Winter expressed disbelief in having institutional racism at our high schools and emphasized, “If we treat all the kids as individuals instead of groups, that goes a lot further than trying to say there’s institutional bias against certain groups.” Halliday referenced district data, responding, “It is clear looking at the statistics of our AP classes as well as grad stats that we have equity issues… we need to give them the same opportunities.” Lastly, Sabes stated, “We wanna make sure that every group has the same opportunity,” and suggested that teachers have students put a number down instead of a name, so they can remove any bias when grading tests. 

When interviewed about important topics to students, Winter did not provide answers, but Sabes provided answers for two of the questions, and Halliday provided answers to all. Below are the responses to the 7 questions proposed by Westmont students for the candidates: 

What makes you a good candidate for the board/why do you want to be on the board? 

Halliday: As a parent of two current students, I’m deeply invested and interested in what is going on with our schools. I’ve also lived in Campbell for 20 years and have worked and volunteered in this area much longer. I love our community and want to see our students thrive. I am passionate about preserving our public schools and giving our students every opportunity to succeed. That’s how our community thrives, by investing in our future (our youth). 

Sabes: I decided to run to be on the Board of Trustees because I believe that I can bring positive change to the Board, which will greatly help benefit Westmont and other schools in our District. As a parent it was very discouraging for me when I went to enroll my daughter at Westmont High. The school did not offer any support for my daughter who has a stutter and when I was speaking with the District there was inadequate support as well. As I spoke to other parents whose students have different challenges, I found that the school and the District did not prioritize students needs. I have a background in education and working with teens and I believe that my experience in understanding students will bring a fresh perspective to the Board. Also, I have a background in Conflict Resolution and it is my contention that right now the board is dysfunctional. No one in the District is happy with how things have been going. Teachers feel that their voices are not heard, parents are feeling left out of decision making, and students feel like they have no voice. There needs to be a way for the Board to function and change in order to solve these issues and do what is best for the students and the community.

Why are you running and what are your beliefs? 

Halliday: I have considered serving on a school board for many years. I believe that it is important to be involved in civic activities, and to be part of the changes we want to see in the world. Our world begins right here at our doorsteps, in our local communities. Our schools are integral to our communities. They provide so much more than education for the youth. They are channels to feed those who need nourishment, both in mind and in body. They are a pillar of support for many groups in our community. 

Sabes: I am running because I am frustrated that as a lifelong resident in the area, our schools have continued to have the same problems. Solutions to ongoing issues have not been found. They get addressed verbally or during elections, but not on the school campuses. Implementation and follow through has been the biggest challenge. Now, politics have gotten involved in the school systems and the needs of students and families are being either ignored or put into a box where the discussions regarding solutions are based on political beliefs rather than helping schools. My great fear right now is that students are suffering from a mental health crisis following Covid and in the changes as well as pressures in society which are affecting their generation. I am running to ensure that the core challenges on our campuses facing our students are addressed by actions.

What are your goals/priorities and how do you plan to achieve them?

Halliday: We already have excellent schools staffed with highly qualified teachers. The teachers and students must have safe and comfortable campuses. Teachers, staff, and students are the best qualified to tell us what they need so that our schools are safe and nurturing learning environments. Their concerns should not only be heard, but considered with respect and addressed with action. The board is responsible for the budget. I believe that there are creative ways we can use our funds wisely to prioritize the needs of the teachers and the students.

What are you planning to do to improve the education of students/resources?

Halliday: First of all, I plan to preserve what we already have and build upon what is working best. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I will defend our students’ rights to learn accurate history and to have access to intriguing books. I will promote awareness for our neurodiverse students, and see that they have access to materials and resources that they need to build on their strengths. I will be an advocate for marginalized and LGBTQ students, so that they have safe and welcoming schools and equitable access to the best educational opportunities we can provide. 

Thoughts on the opportunity gap between students of different races?

Halliday: I’m glad that our district puts an emphasis on improving the opportunity gap between students of different cultures and races. I would also like to see the same focus applied to neurodiverse students. All students are exceptional and have strengths. I hate to see the dreams of anyone squashed, either through lack of opportunity or lack of support. All students should have their dreams supported and guidance to help them make their dreams come to fruition. It is clear that we have room for improvement. We need to provide the support necessary so that more students of color and with neurodiversity have access to, and the confidence to succeed in the advanced classes and programs offered in our district.

How would you work to improve students’ mental health? 

Halliday: We must consider mental healthcare to be integral, right along with physical health. I love the Wellness Center at Westmont and the other schools. These are a great start! Students need better access to counselors and social workers who can help them learn strategies for coping with stress and the unique challenges that come with being a teenager. I will support efforts to hire the right staff and facilities to see to the mental health of our students. 

How would you work to increase staff diversity? 

Halliday: I strongly believe that representation is important. Our staffing should be representative of the community that we serve. I love that our area has such broad diversity in our population and believe that we have many highly qualified candidates from all ethnicities. We need to be cognizant in our hiring practices so that we ensure it is reflective of the community we serve.

Area 1, the Area in which Prospect resides, is also on the ballot. The incumbent for Area 1 is Robert Varich, who is running again against James Kim. For more information, go to https://robert4cuhsd.com/ and https://jameskim4cuhsd.com/  

Below are their responses to the 7 questions proposed by Westmont students for the candidates: 

What makes you a good candidate for the board/why do you want to be on the board?

Varich: I appreciate the opportunity to continue to work with the community for the students of CUHSD. I have 19 years of experience at both the elementary and HS level and I have earned a Masters in Governance, from the Ca School Boards Association. I continue to work to ask the right questions and make sure the community is heard on student and school issues.

By creating ways for increased input from students. During my 4 years at CUHSD we created the Student Board positions, assisted the input of students in the homework policy, that was written by students and involved teachers. Creation of the Superintendent Student Advisory Committee, where we have learned from students from all sites getting together. We take the input this provides and allows the district to focus resources as needed.

Kim: As a parent of a current CUHSD student and a recent CUHSD graduate, I am deeply invested in making sure that our schools are the best they can be, and providing our kids with a strong foundation for the future. I am an active CUHSD volunteer, and was honored to be named as the 2021-22 Volunteer of the Year at Del Mar High School. I also serve on the board of the CUHSD Education Foundation.

High quality education is a passion of mine. I come from a family of educators.  My father was a middle-school math teacher, my wife has taught English as a Second Language at West Valley College, and my mother-in-law and father-in-law are both retired California public school teachers. I also co-founded and run a non-profit foundation that gives college scholarships to graduates of my East Bay public high school. 

I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, and am a Computer Architect. In addition to having the strong organizational and math skills required to ensure that district operations run smoothly, I am an excellent listener and problem solver.

Why are you running and what are your beliefs?

Varich: I believe our students are capable of great things. To educate students you have to provide great facilities, great teachers and focused programs. You have to ask the right questions and view the programs first hand. I have been involved to focus on several things. Student achievement and graduation rates. College readiness, Career success

Kim: I am running because I love education, care deeply about all our students, and have a calling to serve my community. It’s time for new leadership and new voices on the Campbell Union High School District Board.  

Our current board has led us into a precarious position. Approximately 20% of our teachers left the district at the end of the 2021-22 school year citing poor management by the district. There has also been a great deal of turnover on the board, with two members resigning and a third not seeking re-election this year. It is essential that the new, incoming CUHSD board members work hard to rebuild a positive, collaborative relationship with our dedicated teachers  

From a financial perspective, CUHSD is facing a potential fiscal pitfall due to the failure to successfully renew the district’s parcel tax. I would work to address this issue with great urgency. 

The CUHSD board has historically lacked ethnic diversity, and has demonstrated a lack of cultural competency. The board has been plagued with trustees making racist comments, and last year one trustee refused to support a resolution condemning Asian hate. Recently,when discussing the role of police officers on CUHSD campuses, none of the current four board members considered the perspective of black and brown students who may have a complicated relationship with the police.  Representation matters, and as an Asian-American who grew up in an immigrant household, I would bring a different perspective to the board.I am committed to considering the viewpoints of all cultures represented in CUHSD, as well as supporting our LGBTQI+ students. Our diversity is a source of strength and must be cherished.  

What are your goals/priorities and how do you plan to achieve them?

Varich: Emphasis on student learning.

Continued focus on partnerships with colleges

Increased support for SV CTE and our own Career pathways

Kim: My top priority is to rebuild a strong relationship between the board and our teachers. Strong relationships come from open communication, respect, and the alignment of goals. I have been talking to many teachers and listening to their perspectives on key issues. I am proud to have the endorsement of Campbell High School Teachers Association as well as the endorsements of many individual teachers.  I want CUHSD to be a district where teachers tell their friends to come work. 

Student mental health is a top priority, and I will expand on that in question #6.

Student safety is another major priority.  Students need to feel safe in order to learn effectively.  Our student representatives can help identify the issues that make students feel unsafe at each site, whether it is bullying or any other issue.  I have also received the Gun Sense Candidate distinction from Moms Demand Action, which is a signal that I am aligned with their position on common sense gun reforms and taking proactive actions to prevent gun violence from happening.

What are you planning to do to improve the education of students/resources?

Varich: By placing a priority on giving staff the professional Development that they want and need.

Sometimes in education we have trainers in our own community of teachers that our teachers trust and want to learn from. By hiring our own teachers for this training they are better equipped to know the community needs, we are better prepared to support them and we make those dollars available for our teachers vs a training company.I have heard from teachers recently that they want more enhanced opportunities for grade level, subject level and school site collaboration. More recently we heard of a program at Leigh HS that focuses more time for students with counselors to meet. The program makes sure that everyone has a plan and helps them prepare to complete their goals at CUHSD to be prepared for that plan when they graduate. Students around the district liked the idea and are hoping that they can have it at their sites.

Kim: My top priority for improving the education of our students is to retain our dedicated CUHSD  teachers, and to hire excellent new teachers.  

I will also work to ensure that CUHSD funds are spent wisely so as to maximize student learning opportunities.

Improving the educational environment at CUHSD schools includes everything from ensuring that our HVAC systems keep classrooms comfortable during heat waves, to ensuring that our English departments have sufficient funding to purchase new books for their classrooms. 

For example, a Westmont English teacher recently mentioned that his department lacks funds to diversify their selection of books to include more authors who are women and people of color.

I believe the district should fund extracurricular programs including performing arts, sports, and clubs.  We should enable teachers to attend professional conferences to seek inspiration and fresh ideas for their classrooms.  We should continue our partnership with West Valley college for dual-enrollment and middle college, and SVCTE for career development.  

In order to provide as many opportunities as possible for our students and teachers, we should be looking for additional revenue sources. In addition to pursuing a parcel tax renewal, it may be possible to find grant money for special programs. In general, I believe the school district should have a fiscal policy of spending today’s dollars on today’s kids, while maintaining a healthy reserve for potential future spending needs.  

Thoughts on the opportunity gap between students of different races?

Varich: CUHSD has partnered with Ed Trust West to evaluate our instruction, our teaching and programs. This report was delivered to the district at the end of last year. There is a panel of administrators and teachers meeting to focus on the highest needs for our district. 

Kim: Students come to school each day with different burdens and obstacles, and different outlooks on the future. It is important to recognize that students from different races and socioeconomic backgrounds face systemic barriers. As a district, our decision making must take into consideration that, on average, certain minority groups face higher rates of housing and food insecurity. We must think about how we can best support all of our students, such as those who may struggle to complete homework because they have to  to work to help support their families after school, and those who need help navigating the college application process as they strive to become the first in their families to pursue a university education. .We must work hard to close the opportunity gap so that all of our students, no matter their backgrounds, receive the support they need to be successful in high school, and to achieve their college and career goals. 

How would you work to improve students’ mental health?

Varich: During my 4 years we have increased funding for mental health support. We have increased student wellness centers. We have funded teacher training on health support.

When elected I would continue these initiatives and continue to seek out best practices in the school systems.

Kim: Addressing student mental health is one of my top priorities. Being a teen has always been hard. Teens have always had social anxiety, stress over grades, body image issues, and relationship heartaches to overcome. Being a teen today is even harder with existential threats from issues such as climate change, school safety fears, and developmental losses due to the pandemic and distance learning. Teens today face a range of mental health issues from low level depression and anxiety to mental health crises.

I believe we must  normalize discussions of mental health and social/emotional wellness. 

It is important  to include students in brainstorming about what mental health issues are prevalent in the CUHSD as well as  possible solutions.

I strongly support wellness centers across all our campuses to provide counselors,social workers, and a safe space for students to gather.

How would you work to increase staff diversity?

Varich: We continue to hire the best teachers available. We seek teachers out at job fairs and by partnering with the local colleges to be the schools where college students can get their student teaching as they are coming out of college. This also gives us a first look at the students in teaching programs at SJ State, Stanford and Santa Clara Universities. While we don’t control the pool of candidates we do control how prepared our students are to go to college and be a teacher. We have a great pool of students that can aspire to be teachers and come back and teach here. 

Kim: The first step in increasing staff diversity would be to identify staff diversity as a goal for the district. That would guide hiring procedures, and help with targeted recruiting.

A lack of staff diversity is an issue throughout California, and part of the solution has to be engaging with statewide education groups to help with the recruitment of a pipeline of diverse new teachers. Part of this effort would be to look at structural barriers for people of color to pursue the education and training required to become a teacher, such as college debt and the high cost of living in this area. CUHSD should actively partner with programs that are trying to train new teachers from minority groups.

Lastly, the incumbent for Area 3, Stacey Brown, will not be running, leaving the seat open for two candidates: Jason Baker and Adam Rocha. Jason Baker’s website is https://jasonbaker.vote/  Adam Rocha could not be contacted, but The Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women listed him as a supported candidate, describing him as, “A business owner who stands firmly against the teaching of CRT in the schools.” 

Below are Baker’s responses to the same questions: 

What makes you a good candidate for the board/why do you want to be on the board?

I have deep experience with policy, government and budgets. I was Mayor of Campbell twice and on the Campbell City Council for eight years. I also served as Chair of the Santa Clara County Library District Board and about a dozen other boards and commissions county-wide or broader that dealt with public safety , health and a wide array of other issues. I learned a lot about how to build consensus, listen to stakeholders (in this case that includes students, parents, staff and teachers), and, importantly, how to handle budgets.  I am also a parent with a son who is a freshman in the district, and a daughter who will be there in two years. You learn a lot about how a school works by being a parent and talking to other parents and students.  Finally, I would be a good candidate for the board because I don’t think I have all the answers. I am committed and eager to listen to teachers, students, parents, staff and anyone else who wants to talk to me in order to make the best choices I can for the district today and well into the future. 

Why are you running and what are your beliefs?

I’m running because I believe schools are really important, amazing places where students can learn to think critically and independently and, if we do it right, become informed, kind, productive, and happy community members. We have to work as hard as we can to get this right because the community we will be tomorrow depends on it.  I believe we need to hire great teachers who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, we need to support those teachers with resources, professional opportunities, and pay, and then we need to get out of their way and let them do their amazing work. 

What are your goals/priorities and how do you plan to achieve them?

One of my areas of focus will be working to bridge learning gaps caused by Covid and remote learning. It’s a serious problem without a single obvious solution, but i think focusing on providing as much tutoring and extra help opportunities, especially to those who were disproportionately affected, is one way to focus resources now to make sure the gap doesn’t cement itself and that we don’t watch students fall further and further behind. 

What are you planning to do to improve the education of students/resources?

I’m not an education professional – teachers and some staff are – so I’m starting by listening to teachers, students and staff to see what needs the district can meet with its current resources. I’m also hopeful that my work as a Mayor, a regional leader, a District Director for the State Assembly and more can help me bring new state, regional and local resources to students and the district and to students. I will work hard to make sure our elected leaders and staff from the state level on down know what resources CUHSD has and what a difference more resources can make for our community and future. 

Thoughts on the opportunity gap between students of different races?

It’s clear that Covid and remote schooling has disproportionately affected students of color. Targeting additional tutoring and opportunities is a starting point. In addition, peer clubs for students are a good way for students to support students. I’d like to find ways to boost those clubs, and all sorts of clubs, that may have lost momentum with so much time away from in-person learning. Helping re-establish a bond between students and their schools that goes beyond just the classroom is important.  Reaching out to kids early, working hard to have teachers and senior administration that look more like the student body are also steps that can help. 

How would you work to improve students’ mental health?

This is a good and important question. Mental health resources need to be available where students are. Mental health needs to be treated without stigma just as physical pain or issues would often be. I also think having robust electives and after school opportunities like art, band/music, theatre, dancing and sports can all help students feel better in mind and body. 

How would you work to increase staff diversity?

Increasing staff and teacher diversity is essential. You don’t increase staff diversity by accident -you have to be intentional, and you have to start before you start hiring for a position. For example, San Jose State has had success in their teaching credential program, which has shown an increase of over 40% in size since 2018; the vast majority of that increase has come from first-generation Latinx and Asian American program participants. That’s the kind of program the District needs to pay attention to and support and dialogue with, looking for opportunities to work together. Board members and district staff need to be proactive about letting today’s students know what a difference they can make by becoming a teacher, and let it be well known outside just the district community that all sort of diversity in teachers and staff is celebrated and valued because we know it makes our school and community better.