A world-class, water-tight, faultless house may still come crumbling down in a storm if it rests on an unstable foundation. According to Palo Alto Board of Education candidate Jesse Ladomirak, this set of circumstances is analogous to Palo Alto Unified School District’s mental health and wellness situation.
Ladomirak, a renovation business owner, former public agency attorney and former corporate attorney, said wellness programs such as Social Emotional Learning curriculum in Advisory are vital “walls” to support a healthy student body, but the underlying issue in the “foundation” — the culture of the district — will perpetuate concerning mental health trends.
“We put all those wellness centers there and we want to push students to access them,” Ladomirak said. “But at the same time, kids are crying and having nervous breakdowns because the culture is telling them if they don’t get an A, life is over — what’s that disconnect?”
Ladomirak cited the 2018 CA Healthy Kids Survey, which recorded that over 10% of PAUSD secondary school students surveyed had made a suicide plan in the previous 12 months.
“To me, by any metric that’s a crisis,” Ladomirak said. “There is something about the culture and climate of PAUSD that is not serving our children well when it comes to social emotional wellness.”
Both a PAUSD graduate and mother of four students attending elementary and middle school in the district, Ladomirak brings a double-edged perspective to the board race.
Furthermore, her experience serving as a public agency attorney, she said, provides her a “unique breadth of perspective” in addition to organization management from her construction business.
“I’ve been up close and personal advising the staff members of those agencies on similar issues to what are facing PAUSD every day,” Ladomirak said.
Educational equity is another area of focus, she said, having witnessed the district wrestle with the opportunity gap between students of different ethnic groups for years. Although she does not bear expertise in the field, Ladomirak plans to “push the district to lean into … experts [at Stanford and nearby] who know how to do this, who can help us.”
“We think we know the answers,” Ladomirak said. “As a graduate of these schools, I have the historical perspective to say we’ve tried for decades now to fix educational equity. I think it’s time to admit we don’t know how to do it, or perhaps we do know how to do it, but we don’t have the political will to do it.”
PAUSD, according to Ladomirak, should continue to funnel funds into educational equity both now and post-pandemic. As the owner and chief financial officer of a small business for over two decades, Ladomirak said she has gleaned that ensuring that all expenditures contribute towards the business’ priorities — the PAUSD promise, for the district — can guide effective decisions under a tight budget.
“There’s that old saying, you put your money where your mouth is,” Ladomirak said. “Budgets can help guide you to make sure that everything you’re doing is sort of pointing towards your true north of what you say you prioritize.”
Finally, Ladomirak said developing connections and acting as an approachable board member for the community is paramount.
“My hope is that if I’m around enough, and I make myself visible enough, that people will come to see me as somebody that is accessible to them, that cares about their perspectives,” Ladomirak said. “Even if I’m just sitting there and observing … until that trust is built.”
Ladomirak is one of six candidates currently in the running for the PAUSD Board of Education, including Karna Nisewaner, Katie Causey, Matt Nagle, and incumbents Todd Collins and Jennifer DiBrienza. There are three available seats.