Santa Clara County Voter's Guide On Children's Issues

Palo Alto Unified School District

Shounak Dharap

Every decision of the school board, must, first, ensures a floor for the most underserved students in the community and, second, raises the ceiling for all students. This is the spirit of public education—to provide quality learning to all students, regardless of income, zip code, or learning ability

  1. What do you think are the top three issues affecting our children and families and how do you propose to address them?

    Many students face 1) barriers to access, 2) lack of educational opportunities, and 3) impediments to wellness and safety. I will expand pre-K opportunities to begin closing the opportunity gap at an early age. I will expand innovative programs that focus on real-life application and integrated curricula, as well as offer more robust career and technical education opportunities. Finally, I will expand our social and emotional learning curriculum to foster an environment in which every student can thrive.

  2. How will the priorities you addressed in the first question be reflected in the way that you approach the budget process?

    I will advocate for full funding of mental health and wellness programs, expansion of pre-K opportunities, and the development of a district incubator tasked with consistently implementing innovative programs in all our schools. The barrier to these goals is our current deficit, created in part by large legal bills over the last few years that were the result of failures in compliance. To balance our budget and ensure we have money to fund quality learning for every student, we must invest in a general counsel and prioritize a proactive approach to compliance.

  3. What steps will you take to address the high cost and lack of availability of quality child care and preschool programs in our communities, especially for low-income children and English language learners?

    I will prioritize expansion of pre-K programs in the district. The 10-12 percent of low-income students in our district begin kindergarten approximately 1-2 years behind the rest of the student population. English language learners suffer from a similar gap. Income and language should not be a bar to quality learning. Expanding pre-K programs is critical to closing that gap and ensuring every student can reach their maximum potential, regardless of income, zip code, or background.

  4. What steps will you take to improve inclusion and outcomes for children with special needs or with disabilities?

    We must adopt a mainstreaming approach to special education to make the learning environment work for our students with special needs, not the other way around. We need to provide more institutional support to our teachers and aides so they may be better trained to teach students with special needs. We also must create the position of ombudsmen in the district to provide guidance to parents of special needs students who have trouble navigating any potential issues, including difficulties with IEPs or 504 plans or complaints related to their children’s education.

  5. Much of the student achievement gap has been linked to the "opportunity gap" that low-income children and children of color experience, including lack of access to healthy food, preschool, tutors and enrichment activities. If elected, what steps will you take to address this issue?

    We can use our data regarding absences, suspensions, test scores, and grades to identify groups who are most underserved by our policies. We can then focus on providing targeted support to those families, including family engagement specialists, tutors, and other individualized resources. We can also do more to provide community resources to our 560 students who commute into the district from East Palo Alto, and who may not have the same educational infrastructure in their community as their peers do in Palo Alto.