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

Santa Clara County Office of Education, Area 1

Melissa Baten Caswell

All our kids deserve strong public education. Our local public schools and County Board of Education are facing unprecedented challenges, and we need smart, new leadership to ensure kids get the education they need to succeed. As Trustee, I will work collaboratively to implement innovative solutions to our greatest challenges.

  1. Taking into consideration the profound impact of COVID-19 and the expanded movement for racial justice and equity, what do you think are the top three issues affecting our children and families and how do you propose to address them?

    The COVID-19 pandemic has left our school districts, children and families in a very vulnerable position, facing 1) crushing budget deficits, 2) public health risks due to a lack of universal testing or vaccines, and 3) a further exacerbated digital divide. These are challenging times that demand smart, new leadership. We can’t continue business as usual when it comes to our schools -- we need change.

    As Trustee, I will use my experience as a tech entrepreneur and school board member to:
    • Coordinate resources among and on behalf of our local schools districts to save costs without impacting student outcomes;
    • Help schools learn and share best practices, so they do not need to keep reinventing the wheel;
    • Invest in programs that improve outcomes for the most vulnerable students in the county and finally close the resource divide that is hurting so many of our students;
    • Provide support to our schools and families on managing this public health crisis and resulting learning strategies;
    • Ensure maximum funding is invested in educating our students through our public schools.

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

    I will focus on how schools can work together to share resources and best practices that increase efficiency and reduce costs, so we can focus local resources in the classroom. I will also prioritize funding for programs that help to close the digital divide and provide our most vulnerable students with the tools to succeed.

    I am a tech executive, passionate public school advocate, a 12+ year local PAUSD Trustee and was the President of the Santa Clara County School Boards Association. I have worked collaboratively with teachers, parents and electeds to advocate for additional funding for local schools and gain support for critical programs including excellent academics, STEM, counseling, and the arts. This year, I brought Trustees together countywide to support each other. I bring passion and experience to the SCCBOE.

  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?

    The pandemic has exacerbated the lack of affordable childcare in Santa Clara County. This has placed an excessive burden on working parents, and in some cases even forced parents to give up their jobs. We must prioritize increased access to these programs as the burden is highest for low income families.

    As Trustee, I will:
    - Fight for more funding for childcare and early learning programs
    - Support our existing childcare providers through sharing best practices
    - Work with preschools and daycares to help them stay open safely
    - Make it easier and more affordable to operate childcare, so we can increase the number of providers and make it easier to find affordable, convenient care
    - Support including preschool in our public education system and expanding ESL programs

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

    As Trustee, I will work for a County Board of Education that serves as a trusted advisor, providing support to our schools and districts. This will further enable our schools to better support their own special education needs in a more successful and leveraged manner.

    The COE should provide:
    - Meaningful and impactful professional development to help teachers and administrators plan and implement educational systems that support inclusion
    - Instruction on teaching in an inclusion focused classroom for both special education and regular education teachers and staff
    - A repository of best practice expertise and solutions for common issues
    - Trusted student focused advisory for unusual cases
    - I will actively reach out and regularly ask for constituent input on what the special education challenges are and where County Office support would help.

  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?

    Often districts and schools need help understanding that students who lack basic supports (food, shelter, etc) and have learning resource deficits (computers, internet, tutors etc) cannot successfully access an educational program no matter how individualized and engaging until these are addressed. In addition, these students are often lacking role models that look like them.

    I will push the COE to provide:
    - Meaningful and impactful professional development to help teachers and administrators understand the opportunity gaps
    - A repository of best practice expertise and solutions for filling gaps in basic needs, wrap around services, curricular support and enrichment
    - Countywide recruitment programs for attracting and retaining excellent Black and Brown teachers and administrators.