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Almanac editorial: Thomsen, Ferrando for high school board

Original post made by News Guy, another community, on Oct 21, 2009

This editorial was published in the Oct. 21, 2009, issue of The Almanac.

With the seats of retiring members Sally Stewart and Gordon Lewin certain to be filled by newcomers, voters have a rare chance to bring a fresh approach to the strategic direction of the Sequoia Union High School District.

The openings come as the district is facing major challenges in funding, due to flat or declining property values, and state finances in the tank.

In addition, the new board must address an above-average dropout rate at a time when earning a high school diploma is critical if students hope to find even the most menial job and become contributing members of society.

Then there is the yearlong struggle with Everest, a new sister charter school to the highly successful Summit Preparatory Charter High School, and seen as a threat by district Superintendent Pat Gemma and some board members.

In our view, this is the district's major issue at this time. The district's attempt to frustrate Everest's grass-roots support has wasted resources, including probably several hundred thousand dollars in a court fight with Everest that should not have been necessary. The district must face up to charter schools and develop a strategy that collaborates with them and can address petitions for more charter schools that will come, given the long waiting lists for entry into Summit Prep and Everest.

Eight candidates are running for two openings on the Sequoia board. The winners and their colleagues will oversee a $100 million-a-year budget in a district that serves more than 8,000 students.

After interviews with the six active candidates, Chris Thomsen of Menlo Park and Bob Ferrando of Atherton clearly stand out as the most qualified to resolve the debilitating charter school stand-off. Both have children in Summit Prep. Mr. Thomsen also has a son at Menlo-Atherton High School and Mr. Ferrando has a daughter at Encinal Elementary School. Both candidates have solid administrative and financial credentials, skills that are badly needed on the Sequoia board today.

Mr. Thomsen, a former biotech entrepreneur and now the executive director of Stanford University's Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, has a wealth of educational experience. He knows how organizations work and how to bring about change when necessary.

Besides making it a board priority to address the district's 27 percent dropout rate (compared with 21 percent statewide), Mr. Thomsen would work to develop a budget that could track expenditures by program and by school, something that has not been done to date.

To heal the charter rift, Mr. Thomsen said he would work toward having comprehensive schools such as Menlo-Atherton and Woodside meet the needs of students who would otherwise consider charter schools. With a child in both camps, Mr. Thomsen views himself as a candidate who can bridge the gap between the two institutions.

Mr. Ferrando is the chief financial officer for a Bay Area roofing company. He said he would bring a private sector view to the job, in part by supporting a move to program-based budgeting and by recognizing charter schools as investments that appear to be giving good value for the dollars spent.

The district, he said, also needs to provide more opportunities in technical education because the "reality is not everybody is college bound." People in technical careers also need to be articulate, tech-savvy critical thinkers, he said.

When comparing charter schools with the district's comprehensive schools, Mr. Fernando said diversity is the key, and charters offer a vital and popular alternative. The student owns the money for his or her schooling, not the district, he noted, and the district should embrace Summit and Everest.

The Almanac urges voters to elect Chris Thomsen and Bob Ferrando to bring a wide-ranging and valuable set of skills to the Sequoia board.

Comments (9)

Posted by SUHSD supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:07 am

Chris Thomsen is a first rate guy. The school district will be very lucky to have him on the board if he gets elected.

Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:19 pm

It is irresponsible for a paper such as this to endorse anyone in any election.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:46 pm

I'd respectfully disagree. As a local paper that has covered these issues more than any other media source, giving an opinion along with a rationale is reasonable. This strikes me as pretty standard for a newspaper of any kind. Individuals are entitled to agree or disagree with the choice and hopefully arrive at any decision on their own.

Posted by voter
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:54 pm

What's wrong, Joanna, they didn't like your candidates?

I sent in my absentee ballot last week so felt totally validated when the Almanac endorsed all the candidates who'd received my vote.

Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 2:29 pm


I'm so happy you get satisfaction if others agree with you.

concerned parent,

In general I agree with you. The Almanac should be impartial in its coverage yet it does not write any pieces that are critical of candidates that they support.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 2:58 pm

The Almanac routinely endorses candidates and there are other races and more endorsements to come. I suspect that if The Almanac's endorsement is consistent with a voter's opinion, that voter will embrace the endorsement. If not, they will likely condemn it and criticize The Almanac. What's new about that?

The Almanac gave their reasons and they appear to be well thought out. It is up to each voter to agree or disagree.

Personally, I agree with The Almanac's endorsement for precisely the reasons they stated. We need real oversight - especially fiscal oversight. The board should be a check on management, not a rubber stamp.

For those reasons, I have voted for Thomsen and Ferrando.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 21, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Actually, in reviewing the website from the League of Women voters, I noted that the remaining SUHSD members gave endorsements. Rather than critiquing the Almanac for expressing an opinion, I find it rather offensive that a sitting member of a board of trustees would endorse candidates in an election that will select their peers. Frankly, to me an endorsement from sitting trustees looks like insider politics and should be met with swift rejection on principle alone. Going with the board's endorsed candidates can hardly be seen as anthing but a vote for status quo and no accountability.

Posted by a taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 21, 2009 at 6:55 pm

How surprising! I am sure that the endorsement was written by David Boyce, writer for the Almanac, who has been has been a supporter of Summit and Everest in every article he has written. I do not support either of these candidates. Many supporters say that they are unbiased like the two supported by the current SUHSD board or the one that is supported by the teacher's union but they fail to mention that these two are supported by the charter schools and that their children go to charter schools (one has a wife who was a Board member of one of the charter schools). How unbiased is that? We know where they stand and whose interests they will protect.

Posted by Gail Slocum
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Ever since I have been reading the Almanac (since 1987), our paper has done interviews of the candidates on the ballot for local office, and made endorsements in such races (as well as on local ballot measures and state initiatives).

So often even fairly informed people don't really know much about the candidates for local office and can't make it to a candidate forum to size them up on their own, leaving only the ballot statements and campaign literature for guides. Having another data-point -- the Almanac's considered opinion after following the race and interviewing the field of candidates one-on-one -- is a welcome tool. I don't always agree, but often I do and it can be helpful. Ultimately everyone needs to think for themselves, of course...

There was one difference this time: usually the Almanac's endorsement write-up at least states who the other candidates are and says just a little bit about them then provides a brief sense of why the paper did *not* choose to endorse them this time. It's curious they didn't even mention any of the other candidates here. I am somewate curious to know why. Hopefully someone from the paper who reviews Town Square can comment on that here (?)

That said, I have looked at the field and concur with the Almanac's picks for this important race as well as their reasons, and I had already planned to vote accordingly.

Gail Slocum
Former Mayor, Menlo Park

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