Carrie DuBois, about to begin her sixth year on the board of the Sequoia Union High School District, assumed the role of board president on Dec. 14 after being passed over for the position by her colleagues during her first term and the first year of a second term, which she secured in 2015 as the top vote-getter.
Her colleagues on the five-member board chose her as president in a unanimous vote, and elected Chris Thomsen as vice president and Georgia Jack as board clerk. The presidency is largely a ceremonial position, but the president sets the agenda and generally has the last word in board deliberations.
Asked about her priorities for 2017, Ms. Dubois said that, aside from a substantial list of board priorities that includes construction of a new high school in Menlo Park and new classrooms throughout the district, she will be trying to conduct meetings more efficiently to avoid late-night sessions, and she will be giving more attention to minority views of board members, which she described as "very important."
"When there's three votes, we tend to move on very quickly," she said. "Board majority and we're done. High-functioning boards don't do that."
Asked for an example of this behavior, she recalled a recent decision on a map dividing the district into five voting areas, one per board member, so as to increase the likelihood of people of color joining the board. (The board enacted the new system under threat of a lawsuit by a civil rights organization. As a result, East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks, for example, are now part of an independent voting area; candidates must live in the voting area to be eligible for a seat on the board.)
In debating two map options before the board, Ms. DuBois and Ms. Jack argued for the map that tended to associate voting areas with elementary school communities. The majority – Alan Sarver, Allen Weiner and Mr. Thomsen – favored the map designed to discourage the impression that a voting area was associated with a particular high school.
"They didn't spend much time with us," Ms. DuBois said. "Once the three board members decided on a map, they moved on pretty fast."
Ms. DuBois mentioned other ideas for changing the board's culture, including having teachers more involved in decision-making, revisiting board actions if they need tweaking, and adding a celebratory note to board reorganizations. "It's a time of reflection on what the whole team has done," she said.
On the board, Ms. DuBois is a regular advocate for underserved students and an occasional critic of the board's governance of itself. She argues for processes that are more inclusive of public opinion and that embrace accepted standards and practices.
Her experiences on a school board that she said did embrace such standards, and her subsequent criticism of the Sequoia board, "I guess caused me problems, but I don't really regret anything," she said. "Change is hard."
She said her ideas tend to get a better reception in the community. She expressed appreciation of the support she receives from Ms. Jack.
Three times a clerk?
Ms. DuBois is a real estate agent with a bachelor's degree in the humanities from California State University at Sacramento. She lives in San Carlos and is married to Grant Peterson DuBois. They have three children.
Her career as a volunteer is broad and deep, including two terms on the San Carlos Elementary School District board, president of San Mateo County School Boards Association, and elected delegate to the California School Boards Association assembly.
She recently accepted the post of chair of the state association's committee organizing its annual conference, an event that typically draws 6,000 people. But she said she took some time before saying yes to that offer, given the work load it entailed.
She said she wasn't sure she'd be elected president of the Sequoia board, another demanding job, because the board, unlike most of its counterparts, does not rotate the job in a predictable manner.
Over the five years that Ms. DuBois has been on the board, Alan Sarver served as president in 2012 and 2016, Chris Thomsen in 2013, and Allen Weiner in 2014 and 2015. Ms. DuBois did have an official role, but as clerk in 2012 and 2013.
She might have been named clerk again in December 2015 had there been support for Mr. Thomsen's idea of a slate that nominated himself for vice president and Mr. Sarver for president.
Mr. Sarver was subsequently elected president and Ms. DuBois vice president, but in protest over the idea of a slate, she abstained from voting.
Asked to explain past reorganizations that passed over Ms. DuBois, Mr. Sarver replied: "A board majority looked to put (someone) in a place of leadership." He then added that while the district's regulations require annual reorganizations, they do not stipulate that the presidency be rotated.
Ms. DuBois, he said, favors a policy of "rigid rotation," a policy uncommon among school boards and subject to "a lot of disagreement."
Asked to comment on the past reorganizations, Mr. Thomsen said, "Alan, Allen and I generally believe that as a matter of principle, the board should elect officers," and that his votes reflect what he thinks the district needs at the time of the election.
As an example, Mr. Thomsen said it was "incredibly helpful" to have a lawyer (Mr. Weiner) as president as the district was redrawing school attendance areas in 2014.
Given that there are four years in a term and five board members, "it's not automatic that everyone will serve (as president)," Mr. Thomsen said, adding that his idea of a slate in December 2015 was meant to allow him to serve as president before his term expired.
He disagreed with the use of the term "passed over" as describing what happened to Ms. DuBois.
Mr. Weiner said that since he was no longer board president, he would not discuss policies or goals. Nor would he consent to talk for the record.
Asked to comment on Mr. Sarver's view of rotating the job of president, Ms. DuBois said she strongly supports rotation, adding that passing someone over is "very hurtful and harmful for the governance team." Polices on rotation may be uncommon, but predictable rotation practices are very common, she said.
The Redwood City School District has a policy that spells out a precise rotation within a hierarchy of five board officers.