Almanac

Cover Story - October 12, 2011

Voter Guide: Two challengers, one incumbent in Woodside school board race

by Renee Batti

Two challengers in the Woodside School District board race for two seats in next month's election are hoping to bring what they say are their complementary strengths to the board, while the third candidate in the race says her depth of knowledge as an incumbent makes her the voters' best choice.

Incumbent Virginia "Ginger" Bamford is running to retain the seat she's held since 2007, saying she is in her "prime" for helping the district after navigating the learning curve of her first term.

Meanwhile, Rudy Driscoll and Kevin Johnson said that, while their mutual support doesn't constitute a "slate," they believe the board is in need of change, and they are at the ready to supply it.

Both Mr. Driscoll and Mr. Johnson said that the fact they've got younger children in the district's only school, Woodside Elementary, means they're invested in what happens in the district well into the future. "We're in it for the long haul," Mr. Johnson said.

Two of Ms. Bamford's children have graduated from Woodside Elementary, and a third is in seventh grade, meaning she won't have a child in the school for the second half of the term, if re-elected.

The Almanac sent written questions and spoke with candidates about a range of issues, including the question of board members' openness and responsiveness. A report on the district's 2010 parent survey indicated a significant number of parents felt that communication between the board and parents was unsatisfactory, and emails are often not responded to; that board meetings, now scheduled in the afternoon, are difficult for working parents to attend; and that the board is not open to parent feedback.

The report suggested that the board make more of an effort to respond to emails, offer a rotating schedule for board meetings that would include evening meetings, and discuss alternative methods for soliciting parent input.

Virginia Bamford

Ms. Bamford said working on improving communication is "always a good and important goal," and that the board takes parent and community input and feedback very seriously.

But she noted that some types of communication are restricted by the Brown Act — the state's open meeting law — and other protocols. "For example, there is a long-standing board policy or understanding that only the president of the board will respond in writing to communications received, and then the president will make sure all board members are aware of the written communications."

She also said she is "very approachable and open to having one-on-one conversations with anyone about any appropriate school-related matter."

Ms. Bamford said she is open to having meetings "at any time of the day with the goal of having the community feel welcome, involved, connected" and listened to.

One major advantage Ms. Bamford brings to the board, she said, is that she's "the only board member on the negotiating team with the Woodside Teachers' Association, and with years of experience in that area."

Ms. Bamford said the top challenges facing the district include maintaining "excellence and diversity and breadth of program," along with high-quality teachers and administrators, in the face of state budget pressures; the creation of a new strategic plan, "with input from all of the various community stakeholders"; and the need to devise a facilities maintenance plan.

Regarding the school's instructional program, Ms. Bamford cited a range of "exemplary" programs, but noted that one area she would like to explore is how the school could offer all those programs, and yet have class periods that are longer than the current 43 minutes "for in-depth class learning and activities." She said possibilities include block-time scheduling, adding minutes to the school day, and more summer school opportunities. "I'm open to hearing what others think of ways to address this issue," she said.

Rudy Driscoll

Mr. Driscoll said he wants groups representing the district's various interests to be brought into closer alignment for the common good. "I'm a problem-solver by nature, and when I looked at what was happening (in the school community), I couldn't figure out why people with common interests were so far misaligned," he said.

Mr. Driscoll said he has the skills to help bring together all the district's "spheres of influence" including the PTA, education foundation, school board, and teachers' group — and in fact began to work in that direction months ago, before he decided to run for a seat on the board.

Key issues that need to be addressed by the board, he said, are improving communication and trust, and developing a sound strategic plan. "The district needs to find better ways to communicate with students, teachers, parents, and the community," he said. "Communication needs to be more transparent and explain why decisions were made."

He said the complaint he hears from other parents that the school board doesn't listen to them may or may not be accurate. But, he noted, because of the failure of board members to respond to emails and other communications, the impression is understandable. The board needs to do a much better job "explaining why they didn't do something" rather than staying silent when asked about decisions, he said.

"I am a big believer in communication and absolutely will always respond to emails and phone calls I receive," he said.

He's also a strong proponent of setting goals and developing the means to evaluate progress in meeting them. "If elected, I will do my best to see that our school's programs continue to improve, that a process is put in place for clearer evaluation of our progress, and that the decisions by the governing board are transparent to all," he said.

Mr. Driscoll sees the development of a new strategic plan (the current plan expires this year) as a critical task, and said it should be done "with input from all."

"This plan should give everyone a clear view of the future of (the school) and give the administration clear direction to develop programs that will make the strategic plan become reality."

Kevin Johnson

Mr. Johnson also stressed the importance of developing a sound strategic plan, and said he wants to be part of the governing board that adopts it. The effort must include identifying where the money will come from to meet the new plan's goal — money needed not only for ever-improving instructional programs but for facilities maintenance, which, he said, has been deferred too long.

Improvements he would work toward if elected, he said, include making the board more "approachable, accessible and receptive to feedback."

"I promise to respond to any written communication or phone call from a parent or member of the community within 24 hours, and if the message says it is urgent, I will respond sooner," he said.

Mr. Johnson has a strong interest in a character development program known as Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and wants to see a greater emphasis on it in classrooms and on the playground. The program, which Mr. Johnson said is "one of the greatest gifts we can give kids," was introduced in the school this year, but hasn't been fully implemented. SEL can be integrated into various subject areas to emphasize personal and social responsibility, resolving conflicts peacefully, and managing emotions.

Another area Mr. Johnson said he wants to see improved is campus security, which would include emergency preparedness for natural disasters. He and Mr. Driscoll have been involved in the ongoing effort to improve security on campus.

Mr. Johnson noted that the school has made strides in improving math and science curriculums, but "there is always more to do." He wants teachers to be given more training to improve math and science instruction, and for more advanced math to be offered, he said.

"In my view, we can always do better with differentiated learning in math and science, coordination across classes in the same grade level, and tapping into the great parental resources in our district," he said.

Candidate forum Oct. 19

A candidate forum for three people running for two open seats on the Woodside School District board is set for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, at the elementary school in Woodside.

The forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of South San Mateo County and the Woodside School District PTA, will be held in Wildcats Room 39 at the school, 3195 Woodside Road.

The candidates are incumbent Virginia "Ginger" Bamford, and challengers Kevin Johnson and Rudy Driscoll.

CANDIDATE BIOS

Virginia "Ginger" Bamford

Education: UC Davis, bachelor's degree, agricultural economics and business management; Cornell Law School.

Civic service: Member, Woodside School District board since 2007; many school volunteer roles, including president of the school site council, member of the PTA executive board, PTA treasurer, library and school office volunteer; T-Ball and soccer coach. Experience/occupation: Practiced law for five-plus years on Wall Street.

Years in the district: 21

Age: 55

Family: Sons Holden, WES grad now at Stanford; Charles, WES grad now at Summit Prep High School; James, WES 7th-grader.

Rudy Driscoll

Education: Menlo College, bachelor's degrees, biology and humanities with history emphasis.

Civic service: Member, Woodside Portola Valley Fire Foundation board; adviser for several nonprofit boards; former coach, AYSO, Little League.

Experience/occupation: Runs Driscoll Office Group, a family office. Member, boards of several privately held companies.

Years in the district: 19

Age: 43

Family: Two children at Woodside School; one at Menlo School; one not of school age.

Kevin Johnson

Education: Cornell University, School of Electrical Engineering; Hofstra University School of Law

Civic service: Member, the Nueva School Advancement, Development and Expansion committees; soccer and Little League coach.

Experience/occupation: Lawyer, partner at Quinn Emanuel

Years in the district: 5

Age: 45

Family: Wife, Melinda; children Lindsey, 12, Liam, 9, and Colin, 5.

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