Jeff Child returns to Menlo Park school board
Each candidate had many strengths on offer, but in the end, the Menlo Park City School District board opted for experience in choosing former member Jeff Child to fill a vacant board seat on June 21.
Mr. Child, who chose not to run for re-election when his four-year term ended last year, will fill the remainder of Mark Box's term, which ends in December 2012. Mr. Box resigned, effective June 30, to move to Spain.
Mr. Child, whose appointment will be effective on July 1, was appointed after all four candidates for the seat were individually interviewed by the board during a public session.
The short duration of the appointment, a new superintendent who begins his job on July 1, and the need for someone with deep financial expertise and vision were key factors for the four board members who chose Mr. Child. (Mr. Box didn't participate in the appointment process.)
"Jeff is the best person to hit the ground running," said board member Terry Thygesen.
Board member Joan Lambert, who began serving on the board in December, noted that there's a "steep learning curve" to be navigated when a new member is seated on the board. "I know first-hand how steep that curve is," she said. "I feel that I'm not fully there yet."
Because of all the pressing issues facing the district, she said, Mr. Child would be the best choice because of his prior experience, among other strong qualifications.
Board president Maria Hilton and member Laura Rich echoed their colleagues' sentiments. They also were unanimous in their views that the other three applicants have much to offer, and in expressing hope that they would remain involved in the district.
Ana Uribe Ruiz, who ran for a seat last November, was among the applicants for the position. A Menlo Park resident for only two years, her involvement in the district has been limited.
Pam Larkin, a nine-year member of the district's Strategic Planning Committee who has chaired and co-chaired the Encinal Site Council for the last two years, also applied for the seat, as did Ivan Montoya, who served on the Oak Knoll Site Council from 2003 to 2009, chairing the group during his final two years.
After his appointment, Mr. Child told the Almanac he was in the process of contacting the other three applicants to ask to meet with them. He wasn't present during their interviews before the board, and "the other board members talked about all the good ideas" the other candidates put forward, Mr. Child said. He said he was eager to hear those ideas for himself, and added that he wants to encourage the other applicants to stay engaged with the district.
Asked why he applied for the board seat after deciding not to run for re-election last November, Mr. Child said that he has more free time now than he had when he decided not to run, in part because he has left the board of another organization.
"I'm eager to get back in," he said. "I'm also interested in helping our new superintendent."
Mr. Child was known as "the finance guy" during his previous tenure, he and other board members said, but his interests go beyond the budget. He said he has a strong interest in continuing work begun in earnest about four years ago to close the "achievement gap" in the district.
Test scores have shown that non-white students are underperforming, he said, and he, his board colleagues, and Superintendent Ken Ranella intensified the effort to reverse that trend in 2007.
"I really want to see us close (the gap)," he said during his interview before the board. "If we can't do it in Menlo Park, where can it be done?"