Q&A with School Board candidate Jason Kelley

Kelley is one of five candidates vying for three seats on the School Board. This is his first time running for public office.

What is your age and how long have you lived in Piedmont?

[I’m ] 50 years old. I moved here in 1984 with my parents and siblings, went away to college and law school and for work, and then came back again in 2009 with my husband and our kids.

What do you do for work, either in or out of your home?

I am currently a stay-at-home father to my two daughters. Prior to that, I practiced labor and employment law.

If you have children, do they attend, or have they attended, Piedmont schools? If so, which ones?

I have a 6th grader at PMS and a 9th grader at Millennium. In addition, I am the educational guardian for two of my nephews who live in Piedmont: a 10th grader at PHS and a TK student at Havens.

Have you worked or volunteered in Piedmont schools (or elsewhere) previously? If so, in what capacity(ies)?

My main volunteer commitment for the past four years has been producing Beach Revue, heading up 50 parent volunteers to put on the annual live musical that sees 200-plus students and a live band perform in four shows, earning Piedmont schools about $20,000 each year.

I’ve also been on the boards of the Piedmont Middle School and Beach Elementary parents’ clubs. I’ve been a board member of PRAISE, the special education parents’ organization, and I was a member of the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee.

Outside of Piedmont, I’ve volunteered for charities focused on helping LGBTQ youth by raising money and awarding scholarships as well as finding services and shelter for young people who have been thrown out of their homes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What inspires you to run for office?

I’m running to:

  • Protect the whole community—students, teachers, families, and all Piedmont residents—by opening schools safely when the time is right. Families need as much stability as possible to plan for work and child care.
  • Make sure there’s a welcoming place for every learner in Piedmont schools. I want to see every student nurtured and challenged, whatever their ability, background or trajectory after graduation.
  • Plan carefully for what education will look like in the years to come. Students learn best in the classroom and need to be with peers to thrive, but lessons we’ve learned this year—and continue to learn—should help us prepare students for colleges and careers that may increasingly rely on remote learning and working.
What are your qualifications to be on the School Board? Any special skills or experience the voters should know about?

I have a deep and wide understanding of Piedmont schools from serving as a board member of the Beach Parents Organization, PMS Parents Club and PRAISE (the special education organization). I was a long-time producer of Beach Revue and a member of the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee. I have kids who have attended Havens, Beach, PMS, PHS and Millennium, and I’m a PHS graduate.

My years as a labor and employment attorney have taught me that fairness and good faith between the District and teachers leads to outstanding educational results. I want Piedmont’s amazing educators to have the facilities, materials, and support to continue to succeed.

What do you see as the most challenging issues currently facing the school district?

Distance learning and the decisions on how and when to re-open in-person learning is the biggest issue facing our schools right now. Many students, especially younger ones and those in special education, are struggling to learn in this model.

Many families are overwhelmed with the responsibilities of work and at-home learning.

Students’ social skills and independence are also being negatively impacted. Educators are working to find ways to deliver the best education under the circumstances.

What do you see as strengths of the Piedmont schools?

One of the biggest strengths of our schools is the incredible level of parent involvement. Parents care deeply about education here, and they volunteer and donate at amazing levels.  I believe it is important to have parent representation and involvement at all levels, including on the school board. We are also fortunate to have a dedicated and hard-working staff of educators that cares deeply about the students.

What will be your top priority if elected?

Ensuring that students can return to in-person learning as soon as it is safe to do so and working to make sure that transition is 1) safe for students, educators, families and the whole Piedmont community, and 2) done in a way that maximizes stability so that families can plan for work and child care.

Do you see yourself being especially involved in any particular school issue or program, whether or not it’s your top priority?

One area of particular interest to me is special education. I have years of experience with this facet of our schools, and want to be a voice advocating for those families. Other areas that particularly interest me are arts education and facilitating continued close parent involvement in our schools at all levels.

How and when PUSD should return to in-person instruction has been a polarizing topic since the start of the pandemic. If elected, how will you balance the needs of various stakeholders — teachers, parents, classified staff, administrators, students — in your decision-making on this issue?

The principles that would guide me in making decisions about return to in-person learning if I were elected to the school board are:

  1. Safety – ensuring schools have the resources to comply with health regulations to protect students, families, educators and the whole Piedmont community;
  2. Stability – finding ways to make transitions stable and lasting so families can plan for work and childcare, and
  3. Consensus – engaging in ongoing consultations to ensure all parties are heard so that any waiver application can be supported by the broadest range of stakeholders possible.
PUSD’s budget depends on state and local funding. What would you do to ensure our funding is robust?

Piedmont residents vote to tax themselves to fund our schools above and beyond what the district receives from the state. In order to ensure that support continues when taxes measures are up for re-approval, we have a responsibility to take care that those tax dollars are spent wisely and that all the students that come to our schools receive the benefits of those dollars.

A school district that is responsive to the needs of the community and shows that it has prepared students to succeed after graduation will continue to enjoy the support of that community.

What do you think about PUSD facilities and bond measure H1?

I was in favor of bond measure H1. It is important that PUSD facilities are able to support the educational mission of the district. Class offerings change over time to meet the needs of students and prepare them for life after high school, and facilities should be updated to support those changes. I am proud of Piedmont’s long history of support for its schools.

Between the city and the schools there are many shared facilities and programs. What is your perspective on city-school partnerships and collaboration?

In a small community, it is important that we find ways to partner between the district and the city to meet the needs of our students.

The recreation department, especially, provides a great partnership for PUSD with the Schoolmates program. City and District collaboration have been an important part of planning the bond measure now before the voters to rebuild the community pool.

As we face budget constraints moving forward in light of COVID, city-district partnership will be key.

Recent events have highlighted the educational inequity between Piedmont and nearby school systems such as Oakland Unified. What measures, if any, do you think PUSD should take to address this problem?

I applaud that ways that Piedmont supports neighboring school districts. Two particular methods come to mind:

  1. In special education, Piedmont partners with several nearby districts to enable students whose districts cannot serve their needs to attend classes and receive services in other partner districts.
  2. As well, Piedmont’s Millennium High School enrolls many students from nearby districts. Both of these programs help lessen educational inequity in our region.

Finding ways to support and expand opportunities like these is important.

School Board members must navigate a wide range of parent opinions and demands. How will you handle those pressures?

As the parent of a middle schooler and a high schooler as well as the educational guardian of another high schooler and an elementary student, I have contact every day with parents at all three levels of schools in Piedmont.

A balanced school board should have members representing as many stakeholders as possible to ensure all voices are heard. My immediate connection to parents and schools will allow me to represent parent interests on the board if I am elected.

Contact Jason Kelley at jason.kelley.piedmont@gmail.com and learn more at www.jasonforpiedmont.com.

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