Q&A: Board candidate Dharap advocates for district accountability, student wellbeing

Dylan Fu, Managing Editor

The Paly Voice interviewed Shounak Dharap, class of 2008 Gunn High School graduate and Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education candidate,  about his campaign missions of representation and district accountability. 

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

What prompted your decision to run for school board?

After law school, my wife and I moved back to Palo Alto. We both grew up here, so we’re planning to have kids in this district, so I want to make sure that they’re going to have the best opportunities for success. That was one of the driving, sort of selfish, reasons behind running for school board. But other than that, going to board meetings and seeing a real need that is missing in the district, a need to execute on priorities, a real hole when it comes to governance and effective execution of our vision and process — all of which are things that are so necessary to make sure we’re doing the best for our students. And having been a student here, being really invested in this community and in this district, I feel responsibility for myself, for what the district has given me and then for my future kids.

Why should someone vote for you as opposed to the other candidates?

We’ve had many successful school board members who’ve been working professionals, and — in fact — we need more. First off, we need representation on the board, and the majority of parents in this district are working professionals. And when you have a board where nobody’s a working professional, then you start having board meetings in the middle of the day, during the week, when those working parents can’t make it. And now all of a sudden you’re unconsciously biasing against entire segments of the population.

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

I would work toward transparency and communication in the district, improving the happiness and mental health of our students, and helping all students achieve academic success.

During the debate you said that communication and processes in between different parts of the district were highly important. Can you expand upon that?

It’s an issue of both internal communication within the district and external communication with the community. Internally, there is no viable reporting structure, no structure of trust, and that means that a lot of information never gets to the board to help inform their decisions. The second part of that is making sure we are being transparent with respect to the community. Right now, a lot of people in the community feel like things are happening behind closed doors, and that needs to change.  

Another thing you mentioned was that a healthy student population and academic excellence were not mutually exclusive. Can you elaborate on that?

People think that those things are mutually exclusive but they’re not. Programs that focus on project-based learning and depth of knowledge, like BEAM(Business, Entrepreneurship, and Math) , Social Justice Pathway and Advanced Authentic Research are all programs which are keyed towards engaging students and challenging them to the level that specific students need, instead making the curriculum prohibitively difficult. So expanding programs like these, I think, is critical if want to have students that are healthy, happy, and learning. 

What do you believe should be the board’s most important responsibility?

I think that the board’s most important responsibility is oversight. The board should make sure it’s properly representing the community by exercising its powers over the district and ensuring that students are getting what they need to succeed.

If you are elected, how will you balance your responsibilities as a board member with other activities such as work and family?

I have a certain level of flexibility with my job, and I’ll be able to do all the roles a school board member has to fulfill and devote my time and my energy to it. I’ll find the time. I’m not doing this because I have spare time to fill; I’m doing this because I’m passionate about this community, because there’s a real need here for some of my professional experience. I will make time to do whatever it takes to do the job that the community needs me to do.