BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Between an expected population spike, a new elementary school, and a possible new campus of Bullis Charter School, Mountain View Whisman School District has plenty of growth to manage in the next four years.
In August 2019, the district is set to open Vargas Elementary School at the former site of Slater Elementary School. And two months ago, the hotly controversial Bullis Charter School announced its intention to petition the Mountain View Whisman school district to allow it to open a 320-student elementary school.
The school would have the same educational model as used by the school in the Los Altos School District, but unlike in Los Altos, the new school would not ask Mountain View parents for donations. The new school would also prioritize students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
With no small set of tasks ahead, two newcomers are challenging two incumbents for their seats on the school board.
Greg Coladonato, a 47-year-old data analytics product manager, is currently the board’s vice president, and he is and running for his second term. He said that after four years, he’s most proud of his responsible capital budgeting for the $198 million Measure G bond and implementing a thorough teacher and principal evaluation process.
Coladonato expects the opening of Vargas to take pressure off overcrowded neighborhood schools.
“I have been advocating for the opening of a public school in the northeast region of Mountain View for five years to address population growth in that region of the city,” Coladonato said.
He pledged to continue urging developers of housing projects, especially in the North Bayshore and East Whisman neighborhoods, to finance a significant fraction of the cost of any new school facilities that are needed. Coladonato said he wants the district to start off with Bullis on a positive note. To address the achievement gap, he said he wants to accelerate English education timelines for students learning English between kindergarten and second grade.
Ellen Wheeler, a 66-year-old retired teacher and family law attorney, has served on the school board since 2002. In the last four years, she said she’s most proud of the focus the board has put into closing the student achievement gap, increasing pay for teachers and employees and making fiscally responsible building decisions using the bond money from Measure G.
Students have scored between seven and 28 points higher on standardized tests in the last four years, depending upon the student group and school, Wheeler said. The state’s new Local Control Funding Formula, which provides more money for low-income and English learner students, is working with the school district by allowing it to focus more on students and families who need the most help, Wheeler said.
Wheeler said she wants to continue supporting the district’s preschool programs in order to close the achievement gap. She said she wanted to help students get healthy food and medical, vision and dental care.
Tamara Becher Patterson, a 37-year-old clean-tech product manager and mother of three kids under the age of 6, said she sees the achievement gap as the biggest issue facing the district. “I am interested in any model, whether it is traditional or charter that can help close it,” Patterson said. “Will Bullis Charter School be able to move the needle in a significant way for the children in our district?”
Patterson pledged to hold Bullis’ “feet to the fire” to ensure they attract and retain low-income kids and those who are still learning English.
She also expressed support for the district’s Response to Instruction program, which enables instruction to be tailored to what each student needs, either additional support or extra challenge.
The district is also implementing a STEM plan based on data and best practices, Patterson said.
“I believe the district, both the board and our community, should remain open-minded about solutions that can help address issues in our community,” Patterson said. “We need to think critically, ask good questions and remain transparent.”
Devon Conley, a 38-year-old teacher and mother of a kindergartener, said she’s running because she wants to provide outstanding instruction in the classroom, build collaboration between families and the district and attract, support and retain top-quality employees.
Conley is a former education policy researcher and currently teaches science classes in public schools in the Ravenswood School District, Redwood City and Santa Clara.
Conley said the district should keep an eye on the impact Bullis would have on the school in terms of student enrollment, space and funding.
She also wants to know whether Bullis, which currently serves a wealthy group of families, will be able to recruit low-income students and if so, whether Bullis will be able to serve them well.
Conley said she wants the district to work with parents and nonprofits to help support low-income families with access to food, medical care, housing and work. She said she wants to see developers pay to fund schools as MountainView’s population booms.