Q&A: Board candidate Stacey Ashlund, champion for teachers and students

Ria Pai and Micaela Wong

School board candidate Stacey Ashlund speaks at the candidate debate in September. Besides being an active member in the community, Ashlund has a history of working in mental health. “I have …  worked with this district to advocate for inclusion so that the student is part of the fabric of the community and are [is] able to get the best education that they can that’s appropriate to their needs,” Ashlund said. Photo: Margaret Li

Stacey Ashlund, an advocate for student success and teacher flexibility, is running for a seat on the Palo Alto School board for the 2019 term. The Paly Voice sat down with her to talk about her campaign and vision.

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in a five-part series about school board candidates. Check back tomorrow for the next installment. The quotes below are excerpts.

What goals do you hope to accomplish should you be elected to the school board?

To champion high expectations for all students in our district, to continue to work with them on equity, to continue to make progress for high achieving students, for students of all levels, including those with challenges and those that fall into the achievement gap. My second goal is to champion support for teacher flexibility in particular so that while the curriculum is provided to them, they have the flexibility, they’re told what to teach, but that they can teach it when they want, in the format that fits best with their strengths. …  Lastly, to get a better handle on the financial issues in our district.

What prompted your decision to run for a seat on the school board?

When I started talking to folks and hearing about kinds of divisions that, if anything, have gotten worse over the past 10 years rather than gotten better, divisions between parents and teachers … racial and socioeconomic divisions, that … I found really disheartening at the June board meeting. That really solidified why I need to run, because we need to come together as a community rather than be fighting against each other and working for the common good of all students as opposed to further divisions.

Why should a voter vote for you opposed to the other candidates?

The bottom line is that I have both the knowledge and the experience of getting things done in this district more than any of the other candidates, having raised my kids entirely through this district. … I’ve seen firsthand the challenges that face the parents and families at the elementary level and also particularly the mental health challenges that arise in middle and high school. … I work with the system, and I’m a strong advocate for parents and teachers and for a community working together for common goals rather than blaming and arguing and fighting.

What do you believe is board’s most important responsibility?

The most important responsibility is really policy and oversight. It’s complying with the policies that we have in place as well as setting new policies where needed. It is oversight of our financial spending, of how we’re devoting our resources, how we’re working with our staff to accomplish the mission of the district, and really doing that in a positive way.

One of your campaign priorities seems to be mutual accountability. Can you explain that a little bit?

That refers to the board. They can hire and fire the superintendent who in turn can hire and fire the rest of the administration that reports to him or her. … I will spend as many hours as needed to work closely with our staff, our superintendent, so that we are being fiscally responsible moving forward. I, as a board member, would be accountable as well for that. I think we’ve done a good job in that direction because we’ve had a lot of turnover in administration in the past year, but we need to continue going on in that direction. … I’m here for the long haul.

On your Facebook page, you posted about wanting students to help run your campaign. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

We’re also involving students from both high schools that either have an interest in politics or have an interest in how … decisions are made at their schools. So I think it’s a great opportunity to give hands-on experience in civics and how our government is run and what students can do and what voters can do.

Are there any last things that you would like to tell voters or any messages you want to send to our readers?

I’m very hopeful that our district can weather the storm we’re in right now and continue to survive and thrive. And yet some changes always going to be needed. … We need more women elected to positions. … A large percentage of the … teachers are female, a large percentage of the parents who do the majority of the child-raising is done by women, and yet, a large percentage of our elected leaders are male. Part of why I am running is to close that gap and bring gender parity to our leadership.