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AC Endorsement: Webster, Gen for school board

Like almost everything in life right now, the school year has been upended by the coronavirus outbreak. It’s the latest and biggest disruption in a string of disruptions that Petaluma students have faced including fires, power outages, climate walkouts and racial justice protests.

But the pandemic has had a lasting effect on education and is the biggest issue facing leaders of the Petaluma City Schools District. So far the city’s main school district, under the school board’s direction, has nimbly shifted to distance learning for the foreseeable future. Guided by public health information, the district has kept schools closed while accommodating students that need extra help or lack access to technology.

To address concerns about equality, the district has partnered with Circle Up Education, a consultancy that trains staff to be more aware of bias and discrimination.

The school board is functioning smoothly during these uncertain times despite a remarkable lack of experience. Only one of the five members has been on the board more than two years. Experience matters, especially in times of crisis. For this reason, voters should reelect incumbents Ellen Webster and Sheldon Gen to the Petaluma Joint Union High School Board.

All four candidates in the race, including challengers Linda Judah and Carol Ann Street, have teaching experience and each would have something to offer the board. But Webster and Gen are an integral part of a well-functioning board, and have earned another term.

Webster recently retired after a long teaching career at Tomales High School. She was elected to the school board in 2016 and spent two years as the junior member. But after three incumbents were defeated in 2018 and board member Frank Lynch’s death a year later, Webster became the most experienced trustee and took over as president.

She has spent time lobbying for more education funding in Sacramento, and she is familiar with the intricacies and challenges of the district’s budget. She is a strong proponent of the Circle Up program and is training to become one of the trainers.

Gen was appointed to fill Lynch’s seat last year, and has quickly become an asset on the board. The son of Chinese immigrants, he brings nearly two decades of higher education experience as a professor of public policy at San Francisco State University.

When the district board implemented office hours, Gen and Webster were accessible to district voters and parents. Gen sees challenges ahead in addressing lost instruction time due to the pandemic, fires and power shutoffs, and he wants to work on eliminating the opportunity gap for English language learners.

Judah and Street are both steeped in education experience. Until recently, Judah was a science teacher at Petaluma High School. Like Elizabeth Warren, she has a progressive policy plan for most of the challenges facing the district.

Street, who retired from Petaluma Junior High School last year, has taught generations of Petaluma students. She has school board experience, having served two terms on the Cinnabar School District.

If they are not elected, we hope both challengers continue to stay engaged in the district and work to improve Petaluma City Schools.

As the school district faces difficulties ahead, voters should trust the experienced leaders who have done a commendable job in unprecedented times.

The Argus-Courier recommends Ellen Webster and Sheldon Gen for Petaluma Joint Union High School Board.

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