Woodside Elementary School board: Four vie for three seats


Two incumbents are asking voters to return them to the Woodside Elementary School District board, and two other parents are vying for a third open board seat in the Nov. 5 election.

Current board president Wendy Warren Roth and member Marc Tarpenning are on the ballot along with Claire Pollioni, the mother of four children attending Woodside Elementary School who has been active in the PTA; and Robert Hooper, a former teacher with one child at WES and another who graduated last June.

Differences among the board candidates don't stand out; all parents, all focused on providing a school environment for their kids that will promote high achievement and strong character, they share much common ground, their responses to an Almanac questionnaire indicate.

The one-school district, which this year serves 451 students, moved into the 2013-14 school year with a continued push toward implementing teaching strategies aligned with the state's new Common Core standards, which replace standards in place in California for 15 years. The new standards strategy emphasizes critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communications skills.

The district is also likely within the next few months to finalize plans to put a bond measure before voters in the spring to fund improvements to the campus, including major safety, maintenance and modernization projects. The estimated cost of the construction project is about $16 million, but an effort is already underway to raise a significant portion of the money through private donations.

Here's a summary of candidate responses to a questionnaire; candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

Robert Hooper

Mr. Hooper noted that he is the only candidate with extensive classroom experience, having taught in the Montebello Unified School District in Southern California from 1989 to 2010. That experience, he said, would allow him to "bring an informed perspective to the current board."

One of the district's top challenges, he said, is improving communication. "Specifically, we need to improve teacher communication with parents on classroom performance issues and academic assignments weekly through the school year -- not just on report card day," he said.

"Also, the board needs to increase its fiscal accountability and transparency with its current revenues and spending," he said.

Mr. Hooper said fiscal accountability will be critical if the district hopes to make the case to the community for approval of a bond next year. At a candidate forum earlier this month, he said he's inclined to support a bond measure, although he wants to see the financial details of the facilities plan.

In an earlier interview, Mr. Hooper said he is "not a regular attendee" of board meetings, but he noted that the mid-afternoon meeting schedule isn't convenient for working parents. The remedy? "I firmly believe the board must schedule all meetings at times convenient for working and/or active parents and community members to attend," he said. "I know meeting times will not be perfect for everyone, but we need to change the current practice to accommodate more public involvement."

Mr. Hooper takes a positive view of the Common Core standards and the approach to learning the standards represent. "By focusing on effective implementation of these standards, we can improve the overall student performance," he said.

Claire Pollioni

Ms. Pollioni said her years of experience as a parent volunteer in the district "have prepared me for the issues and challenges typically faced by the board." A member of the PTA since 2005, she now is a vice president. She also participated on the district's Facilities Committee as a liaison from the PTA board, she said.

The plan to upgrade the school campus, with funding from both private donations and a bond issue, is a key priority for the district, and "the challenge is to make sure the (campus) additions/changes reflect the needs of the school thoroughly, and that they represent the desires of the community at large," Ms. Pollioni said.

Another challenge for the district is attracting and enrolling "all eligible students within the district boundaries" and retaining them through middle school, she said. "This can be achieved," she added, "by continuing to refine and update curriculum and by proactively offering enrichment and enhanced curriculum."

The district's recently approved strategic plan "includes increased focus on the middle school, which is a huge step in the right direction," she said.

Regarding criticism by some that the school board's afternoon meetings are inconvenient for working parents, Ms. Pollioni said she would be open to exploring alternatives, such as starting the meetings later in the afternoon.

Ms. Pollioni said district students "are now truly being prepared to be critical thinkers and good citizens" through the district's emphasis on teacher development, the implementation of a program called Social Emotional Learning, and the shift to Common Core standards.

"The district has listened to past criticism of the math programs and is taking very positive steps toward improving and strengthening that curriculum," she said. "It is very important that kids in our district graduate with strong writing and communication skills as well as math, and I would like to see additional emphasis placed on those areas going forward."

Wendy Warren Roth

Ms. Warren Roth, who was an active member of the Woodside School Foundation for nine years before being elected to the board in 2009, said that she wants to see the "highly functioning board" she now leads "stay intact (and) continue on the path of our good work."

She has served during a time when the board and district staff crafted a long-term strategic plan, and began the transition to Common Core standards, which has involved professional training for teachers.

Planning for campus modernization has been part of the board's focus as well, and Ms. Warren Roth sees "balancing a building project that has two funding sources with staying focused on teaching and learning" as one of the key challenges facing the district for the next few years. District officials are "hoping to reduce the potential distraction by having in place a skilled and highly professional project manager for the building work," she said.

Regarding criticism of the board's afternoon meetings, Ms. Warren Roth said the board has tried evening meetings "to an empty room. However, I am willing to give it a go again."

Ms. Warren Roth said WES students "are incredibly well prepared to be critical thinkers," rather than merely good test-takers whose scores have put them among the highest-ranked students in the state. "Their participation in Science Fair, History Day, community service and a variety of other academic structures gives them this foundation that they take to high school and college. Our double block of language arts in the middle school provides the time it takes to develop strong writing skills, which incorporates critical thinking and analytical thinking."

Marc Tarpenning

First elected in 2009 and currently serving as the board's vice president, Mr. Tarpenning has "seen the school through difficult budget years" and helped choose the district's current superintendent, he noted.

"In these next two years, Woodside will implement large changes in curriculum based on Common Core State Standards, while also integrating the use of online design thinking, and other 21st century teaching techniques," he said. "I feel I have the experience to be helpful during this exciting time in public education, and I want to continue being part of it."

Mr. Tarpenning said that, although the district is "relatively well placed for Common Core implementation," the transition is one of "the biggest challenges over the next couple of years because it touches nearly everything." The board has supported increased professional development for teachers and experimentation with other strategies aligned with critical thinking and Common Core goals, he said.

"From the board level, making sure that our district has the community support, resources and tools needed to make these changes is a priority."

Mr. Tarpenning supports putting a bond measure on the ballot, saying the school has "a variety of physical site needs, which include replacement roofing, improved safety, drainage, seismic, phones, replacing 'temporary' buildings, and creating new instructional space for project-based hands-on learning and performance."

Regarding the scheduling of board meetings, "I support trying alternative times if that works better for parents and the community, although I am afraid that people are very busy and that no time will work especially well," he said. The district, however, has attempted to improve online access to all board materials, and posts news of board actions and meeting minutes quickly, he added.

In addition to its rigorous academic program, the district has in recent years greatly expanded the Social Emotional Learning program in all grades "to give kids the tools to grow into the good people and good citizens they want to become," Mr. Tarpenning said. The district continues "to monitor and modify the (community) service program to find (projects) that resonate with the students."

"Moving forward, I would like to see additional opportunities to support and encourage students' passions, whether in the arts, academics, design ... or service," he added.

Candidate bios

Robert Hooper, 52, has lived in the district for three years. From 1989 to 2010, he taught primarily English at various grade levels in the Montebello Unified School District in Southern California. His wife, Mary, was also a teacher for more than 20 years. His son is a WES sixth-grader; his daughter graduated from WES last spring. He currently serves on the Woodside Arts and Culture Committee and is active in local Little League and other youth sports.

Claire Pollioni, 43, has lived in the district for nine years. She has volunteered with the Woodside School PTA since 2005, and has been on the board since 2010. She is now a vice president. She and her husband Parnell have four children at WES, the youngest a kindergartner. She worked in human resources and as a risk manager for the Wilbur-Ellis Co. from 1996 to 2001, and served on its board of directors from 1999 to 2009.

Wendy Warren Roth, who declined to state her age, has lived in the district for 19 years. She was elected to the school board in 2009 and now serves as its president. She has three children, one a WES eighth-grader and the other two WES graduates. She has been involved in education as a volunteer for 20 years, including many years with the Woodside School Foundation, and prior to that worked in commercial banking.

Marc Tarpenning, 49, has lived in the district for 12 years. Elected to the board in 2009, he now serves as its vice president. He is married and has three children: a third-grader and a sixth-grader at WES, and a ninth-grader. An entrepreneur, investor and adviser, he is an advisory board member of the Science Learning Institute at Foothill College, and is a former board member of the San Francisco Bach Choir.


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