Q&A with School Board candidate Lindsay Thomasson

Lindsay Thomasson is one of three candidates vying for two seats on the PUSD Board of Education. This is her first time running for public office.

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

I’m 42 years young and have lived in Piedmont for 5 years.

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

I worked in management consulting to non-profit organizations, private foundations, and corporate grant-making programs. More recently, I owned a small business before pivoting to dedicate my time to volunteering in our community, primarily in our schools.

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

I have three children: a 7th grader at PMS, a 2nd grader at Havens, and a three year old who will start kindergarten in the fall of 2024. I will have children in PUSD schools until 2037 – I have a very personal stake in the on-going success of our schools.

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

Experience matters! I have volunteered extensively in our community, primarily in our schools. Since my children started in Piedmont schools five years ago, I have taken on a wide range of volunteer roles. Through these roles I have built key relationships, developed a strong understanding of how our district operates, learned the challenges of balancing oftentimes conflicting interests, and seen first-hand many of the challenges facing our district. 

Some of the leadership roles I have held include: Havens Parent Club President, parent representative on the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and Superintendent Community Advisory Committees (SCAC), and Wellness Center Support Committee (WCSC) co-leader. I have also worked with SERVES to expand our community services efforts beyond Piedmont’s borders.

What does public education mean to you?

I am a firm believer in the transformative power of quality public education. It should empower students to achieve their fullest potential as productive citizens and provide all students with what they need to be successful in the university or career of their choosing regardless of ethnicity, gender, race, religious affiliation, or ability. Public schools are a melting pot for our broader communities where students with a diverse set of experiences, perspectives, and priorities come together to learn not only from their teachers, but to collaborate with one another. 

I attended California public schools from kindergarten through graduate school, culminating in a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from UC Berkeley and a Master’s Degree in International Affairs with an emphasis on Non-Profit Management and Public Policy from UC San Diego. California public schools have given me a strong foundation to succeed; they should offer the same opportunities to future generations.

What inspires you to run for office?

My extensive volunteer work within the community has given me a front row seat to PUSD’s strengths and challenges. Getting involved and creating solutions is critical to effective leadership. Now more than ever, we must prioritize meaningful community dialogue, be pragmatic, proactive, and creative, ensuring all stakeholders are engaged in the decision-making processes, while making certain the students’ needs come first.

We have not had an individual with current elementary or middle school students on the Board for some time; I have both. It is critical that we have a parent with students in the district as part of the superintendent hiring process and the ongoing decisions that affect our students and schools.

My experience has shown me where the levers of change are in PUSD. I will work to ensure the district is sustainable and in a position to offer the exceptional, well-rounded educational experience the PUSD community expects for our students now and into the future.

What are your qualifications to be on the School Board? Any special skills or experience the voters should know about?

In a recent meeting, Superintendent Evans acutely observed that “Piedmont is a community built on relationships.” I have spent the past five years building and investing in relationships in this community both as a parent who has taken an active role in the community and through my significant volunteer experiences. Through these key stakeholder relationships, I’ve developed a strong understanding of how our district operates, learned the challenges of balancing oftentimes conflicting interests, and seen first-hand many of the challenges facing our district. My endorsements list speaks volumes about the community members who have stepped up with enthusiastic support for my campaign.

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

Given a national teacher shortage and because a significant number of Piedmont’s most experienced teachers are retiring in the next few years, our ability to recruit and retain excellent, diverse, engaged educators will be critical to PUSD’s continued ability to provide academic excellence to all its students. There is ample evidence that teacher quality directly affects student outcomes. I am committed to ensuring we have high quality teachers, particularly in hard-to-hire positions.

Moreover, the pandemic left our community divided, and deprived us of the opportunities to come together, discuss our priorities, find commonalities, and develop tangible solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. We must find our way back to the Piedmont community ethos of “yes we can!” and the sentiment that we are all on the same team. Division is harmful to our community and students; we need leadership that will prioritize transparency, constructive dialogue and stakeholder engagement.

What do you see as strengths of the Piedmont schools?

Our schools are the bedrock of our community and the strong reputation of our schools is the primary reason many families move to Piedmont. The Piedmont community’s engagement with its schools is second to none – this community investment, by Piedmonters both with and without students in PUSD schools – is rare and is one of our greatest strengths. 

Additionally, both parents and teachers generally have high expectations for their students and are willing to provide support to help them succeed. We have historically been a “destination district” meaning we have been able to attract and retain high quality teachers, many of whom have made their careers in PUSD. Our new high school campus provides incredible opportunities to our students to learn in a twenty-first century environment to help prepare them for their future careers.

What will be your top priority if elected?

My top priority will be ensuring that PUSD schools are a place where all students are able to thrive. This requires that we have a rigorous academic program taught by excellent teachers with robust social-emotional support in a caring and inclusive environment.

Specifically, I will achieve this by working to:

  1. Provide all PUSD students with an excellent, well-rounded academic experience with the essential STEAM, language arts, and critical thinking skills necessary to succeed at the universities and in the careers of their choosing;
  2. Support robust social-emotional learning to ensure students develop positive relationships, healthy identities and make responsible decisions;
  3. Rebuild trust and accountability, ensuring transparency across the district and between stakeholders with the right policies and processes; 
  4. Attract and retain excellent, diverse, and engaged educators; and
  5. Consistently engage all key stakeholder groups, working collaboratively as decisions are made.
Do you see yourself being especially involved in any particular school issue or program, whether or not it’s your top priority?

I have a strong interest in the curriculum adoption process, specifically putting structures in place so that stakeholders feel engaged and invested in new curriculum. There is widespread stakeholder agreement that the current process is broken. The top-down model that has been in place for some time has resulted in a lack of trust amongst teachers and parents alike. Teachers have shared with me that they don’t feel that they are engaged or consulted in curriculum adoption processes.

Similarly, parents feel that they are completely shut out of decisions about curriculum adoption and are only consulted after a decision has been made – there is scarce opportunity for meaningful feedback, including from community experts. At a minimum, the Curriculum Adoption Committee, which last met in 2014, should be revived as a collaborative forum for stakeholders to collaborate around curriculum adoption.

If you are elected to the School Board, you will be involved in the search for a new superintendent. What will you look for in a candidate?

I will look for a candidate with successful teaching and administrative experience leading a district like Piedmont. The candidate will be a consensus builder who views engaged stakeholders as a strength, and who is able to navigate between an invested parent population and meet the needs of district educators, administrators and staff, while putting students first. 

Specific qualities I will look for are:

  1. A visionary with dedication to and plan for providing educational excellence to our students to equip them to thrive in the twenty-first century universities and careers of their choosing;
  2. An inspirational leader who is passionate about creating a learning environment which encourages each student to reach their full potential while enjoying learning; 
  3. Someone who recognizes the importance of having strong social-emotional supports in place and is experienced in creating an inclusive learning environment; 
  4. A firm commitment to transparency;
  5. Financial intelligence.
Student surveys show many Piedmont students are struggling after the pandemic. How should PUSD work to resolve lingering learning loss and mental health challenges?

We should have strong systems in place to monitor for early student warning signs paired with evidence-based interventions to help students recover both emotionally and academically.

PUSD must determine what learning loss has occurred and be transparent with parents so we can collectively work towards resolution. To address learning loss, PUSD should provide high-quality instruction based on current and comprehensive evidence. Evidence shows that learning loss is likely to show up differently across grades and subjects; interventions should vary accordingly. Research-backed solutions including supportive school environments, high-dose tutoring, and extended learning time interventions help accelerate learning loss recovery. 

Similarly, PUSD should be providing proactive social-emotional lessons to help kids cope with stress and anxiety paired with enhanced support through the Wellness Center for those identified to be at elevated risk for mental health challenges.

Teacher recruitment and retention has been a challenge for Piedmont in recent years. What should Piedmont do to improve this situation?

Research shows that an effective teacher is the most important factor contributing to student achievement. Ensuring we offer competitive teacher compensation packages – both pay and benefits – is critical. We should review our district budget annually to identify the changes and compromises we must make to pay our teachers a competitive wage. Inadequate teacher pay is a statewide issue; the status quo is unsustainable. We must figure out how to maximize teacher pay with PUSD’s limited resources while also demanding that the state provides funds for all districts to pay teachers a living wage.

Moreover, our teachers must feel supported by the parents and community as a whole. The past two years have been divisive; finding our way back to a place of mutual respect and collaboration is critical to ensuring that PUSD is a desirable district for teachers to work in.

PUSD’s budget depends on state and local funding. What would you do to ensure our funding is robust?

The cost of educating a Piedmont student will be $21,478 next year: with 9% funded by the Giving Campaign, 28% by parcel taxes, and 63% by the state.

Our schools are the reason many families move to Piedmont. Ensuring PUSD provides opportunities for all students to thrive is critical not only to attracting families to the district but keeping students enrolled. Strong enrollment is tied directly to state funds, parent donations, and community support.

The School Board should actively collaborate with other districts to lobby for state funding. In 2021, California ranked 36th nationally in per-pupil funding. California spent an average of $11,269 per pupil compared with $20,610 in New York and $16,984 in Massachusetts. It is critical that our state invest more in our schools.

Finally, we should have a financial advisory committee composed of a set group of stakeholders with robust financial skills that meet at a regular intervals, similar to what Ross has established.

How should PUSD tackle the issue of declining enrollment?

The enrollment decline is multi-faceted. Not only is enrollment declining statewide, and in the Bay Area in particular, but our schools also lost students to private schools during pandemic-related school closures. Yet, while campaigning, I have met a number of new families who have recently moved to Piedmont specifically for the schools. Ensuring that Piedmont remains a destination district is critical. 

As families move into the district, we should ensure they feel included in the community, and work to understand what brought them here so that we can hone our strengths as a district. Similarly, when families leave the district, we should conduct “exit interviews” to understand why they are leaving. While these responses will undoubtedly vary, and it is impossible for a district to have a zero percent attrition rate, as we see trends we should actively work to find solutions to prevent further attrition.

The current board and administration have redoubled their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. How do you think the Board should support these goals?

For students to learn effectively, they need to feel supported and like they belong. Havens Principal Anne Dolid summarized her DEIB goal in a way that resonated with me. She aims for all Havens’ elementary students to reflect and say “my elementary school experience was amazing, everyone knew me and I belonged.” 

Although students’ needs change as they progress into middle and high school, the need to feel supported, included, and engaged does not. It is essential that we come together in discussion and define our DEIB objectives and how we will meet them so the greater community feels invested in the outcomes.

We must reconcile the misguided tension between academic excellence and DEIB; this is not an “either/or” scenario. All families that I have met with want their students to learn in a rigorous academic environment that meets students where they are at and provides appropriate support so that students can achieve their fullest potential in their universities, careers, and beyond

California’s most recent attempt to overhaul the state’s math curriculum framework has sparked debate. How do you think PUSD should approach K-12 math instruction?

In the most recent Program for International Student Assessment rankings, the US ranked 38th in math. The crisis is more dire in CA which ranks in the bottom quartile among states for 8th grade math scores.

CA’s goal of improving math outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged students, is overdue. However the proposed framework is entirely untested. Over 430 academic staff members at colleges and universities, including UC Berkeley, Caltech and Stanford, recently signed a statement criticizing the framework and argued it will inadequately prepare students for college-level math courses and exacerbate existing racial and gender disparities in STEM.

CA should look to states that have strong math outcomes and model its framework on their proven successes. PUSD should use evidence-based curriculum, particularly for core math, instead of adopting an untested framework. We should continue to offer differentiated math pathways while working towards improving math outcomes for all students.

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

The key criteria for being a strong Board Member is the ability to conduct research, take differing perspectives into account, and make a well-educated decision that puts our students’ needs first. Serving as Havens Parent Club President during the 2020-21 school year was a crash course in juggling parent demands. There was extreme community division during that time and, as a parent club president, I was responsible for taking all perspectives into account and ultimately for advocating for the best interest of our students. 

I have subsequently served on the Superintendent Community Advisory Committee, site council and as a LCAP Parent Representative, in addition to other volunteer roles. I have honed my ability to listen to all perspectives and make decisions in the best interest of our students and community. I will lean on community support groups to provide me with information and data to make well-educated decisions.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with voters about your candidacy?

I am proud to raise my family in Piedmont. My desire to serve on the school board stems from a desire to serve this community that I love. The outpouring of support my campaign has received is humbling. I aim to run my campaign in the same way that I will serve as a School Board Member, with honesty, respect, and dignity. As a community leader, our kids look to us as role models; I take that responsibility seriously. I don’t have all the answers, but I will work collaboratively and in good faith with all stakeholders to do what is best for all Piedmont students.

Please share your candidate website and email with voters.

https://www.lindsayforpusd.com | lindsay@lindsayforpusd.com

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