Today we’d like to introduce you to Darshana Patel.
Darshana, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am a believer in the effort. As a first-generation American, I quickly learned that success comes primarily from the effort, coupled with ability and planning. Consistently, it has been a combination of these three qualities that helped me achieve my goals, even during very challenging times.
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1974; the only daughter of Urmila and Ramesh Patel. At an early age, my elder siblings taught me how to be tough and face challenges head-on. My mother would remind me regularly, that because I was an American, I could be anything I wanted to be, as long as I put in the effort. Although she passed away when I was 14 years old, her encouragement continues to inspire me to this day.
As a young adult, I knew I wanted to make a difference by pursuing a career path where I could create disease-curing therapeutics. I received scholarships and grants to attend Occidental College where I majored in Biochemistry and minored in Religious Studies. During my time at Oxy, I decided to study abroad for a year in order to gain some international experience. Since I was a science major, my options were limited and I chose the University of Sussex in England.
After graduation, I completed an internship with Monsanto and an intramural training award at the National Institutes of Health. These corporate and government research experiences confirmed my interest to take my education further. I was awarded my Ph.D. in Biophysics by the University of California, Irvine in 2002. I joined the Department of Protein Engineering at Genentech, Inc., as a postdoc and later took on a role as Project Manager in the Department of Translational Oncology managing therapeutics moving from research into development. By the time I left the biotech industry, I had eight years of professional experience.
Also by that time, I was married and had three curious and active daughters. Managing a healthy work-life balance became difficult in the Bay Area, so we moved to San Diego in 2010. After deep introspection and a conscious decision to shift our family priorities, I made the choice to focus on raising my family and putting roots into my community.
My education and professional experiences gave me a unique breadth and depth of knowledge and skills that I am using in public service. Since moving to Rancho Peñasquitos, I have served on:
• The Rancho Peñasquitos Planning Board (current member of the Land Use Committee)
• SDPD Police Captain’s Advisory Board – Northeastern Division
• Park Village Elementary School Foundation – currently Advisor, formerly Executive VP, Science and Technology Director
• The Rancho Peñasquitos Town Council (served as President, and Chairs of Education, Web&Print, Fiesta and Safety Committees)
• Park Village Elementary School PTA – served as VP Legislation, Reflections Chair
• Poway Unified School District Advisory Committee, School Site Council
In 2016, I decided to run for public office to be a Trustee on Poway Unified School District Board of Education. I value the servant leader model whereby I can use my collaborative problem-solving skills to serve the best interests of my community. This message resonated with the voters and I was the top vote-getter out of nine candidates in the race. Currently, I am the Vice-President of the PUSD Board of Education. I continue to serve as an elected member of the Rancho Peñasquitos Planning Board and on the SDPD Police Captain’s Advisory Board.
I am able to provide unique insight and perspective in decision-making because of my leadership in three important areas of our community – public education, safety and community planning.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
While I try to stay focused on all the good work going on in the school district, there have been areas of particular challenge. Some of the challenges can be systematically overcome, like learning how school district budgets work (very different from the private sector), reviewing student discipline cases or even attempting to attend events at our 39 schools without negatively impacting my own family. There is one specific challenge that I am still learning to work through, which is balancing the needs of all key stakeholders in our school community and being able to effectively communicate the rationale behind our Governance Team decisions.
The school district is well established with many long-time employees and multi-generational families attending our schools throughout the decades. This longevity has resulted in intentional and some unintentional traditions or perceptions. With the hiring of our new Superintendent, Dr. Marian Kim Phelps, there will be a systematic review of the established processes to determine where there are needs for improvement or alignment with current educational best practices. Adjusting to these changes can be difficult for those steeped in some of those unintentional traditions.
Similarly, with the Rancho Peñasquitos Planning Board, we are struggling with balancing the community’s clashing needs for increased housing with the desire to maintain a suburban quality of life. While new development can mean affordable housing for our community’s first responders, service providers and educators, it also means that there could be less open space and more traffic. Our community planning process has some inherent contradictions that complicate decision-making. Once again, the challenge is in effectively communicating the board’s rationale to all stakeholders in the community.
Thankfully, my disposition and outlook for success are optimistic. We have a strong community and I know we will work through these challenges together.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Poway Unified School District – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
At Poway Unified School District (PUSD), our mission is college and career readiness for all. PUSD is regarded as a national leader in public education serving as a gateway to our students’ future. The community holds high expectations for our students and PUSD provides strong core programs, multiple focus pathways, and fosters the necessary habits of mind, behaviors and attitudes essential for their future success. Staff and parents work cooperatively to support the mission.
Also, we have engaged the local business and higher education communities through our Career Technical Education programs, PUSD Foundation and all of the individual enrichment programs at each of our schools. The school district is about 100 square miles and has 24 schools in the City of San Diego, 11 in Poway and three in unincorporated San Diego County, plus an alternative programs school and 25 preschools. It is the third largest school district in the county with over 36,500 students in K-12 public education and a 2018-2019 budget of just over $390 million.
The elected Governing Board of Education’s primary responsibility is to ensure that PUSD is responsive to our community values, beliefs and priorities.
The Boards fulfills this role by keeping focused on its five major responsibilities:
• Setting direction though official policies
• Establishing an effective and efficient structure
• Providing support to the district
• Ensuring accountability
• Providing community leadership as advocates for children, the school district and public schools.
PUSD is working to strengthen community trust that was eroded due to high-level mismanagement under the previous Superintendent. I was elected to ensure that we continue the journey of rebuilding trust and accountability within the community. One of my first significant decisions upon being elected to the Board of Education was to hire a new Superintendent. Dr. Marian Kim Phelps rose to the top of the candidate list based on her strong instructional experience and her ability to take the district forward.
Additionally, the Governance Team has reduced the structural deficit and managed to finalize staff labor contracts with modest salary increases – a task that has not been done in three years. These immediate successes will be followed by ongoing improvements to student safety and wellness, the introduction of additional world language programs and increased support for career technical education programs, to name a few. The Board of Education hired Dr. Phelps because she is the right leader to carry out our Mission of college and career readiness for all students.
While I work hard to provide leadership in all of the five responsibilities outlined above, the role as an advocate for children and public education is the one that brings me greatest joy. Whenever decision making on the board gets challenging, all it takes is a visit to a school site and conversation with students or staff to refuel my energy to address the next challenge. My advocacy for students extends beyond the classroom.
I have the advantage of comfortably networking in many policy-making circles and had no hesitation to attend the California School Board Associations Legislative Action Day in Sacramento. We met with all four state elected officials that represent residents within the PUSD boundaries. We lobbied for full and fair funding, changes to special education funding, release of school facilities bond dollars and intervention for the state pension crisis.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I plan to continue my journey on the servant leader road and learn how I can best represent my community. Each year brings new opportunity for growth, collaboration and success. I love my community and hope that I can continue to serve for years to come.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 edition of 92129 Magazine.
by JENNIFER FRAKES | photos by Zeena Gregg Photography
While the state did pass Props 51, 55, 56 and 58, there is a lot of work to do at the state level. Here is a list of education-related state bills currently making their way through the legislature to specifically address the looming teacher shortage and a link to an article from California School Boards Association describing the history of education funding in our state:
(Pavley, D-Agoura Hills)
Assumption Program of Loans for Education
This bill was introduced last year and passed the Senate. The bill would reinstate and improve the Assumption Program of Loans for Education, or APLE program. In existing law, the program forgives up to $11,000 of college loan debt for a person who teaches for four consecutive years, with additional loan forgiveness for those teaching in specific subject areas and certain schools. CSBA supported the bill.
The loan assumption language was removed from the bill with the August 19 set of amendments. The bill now deals with the Public Utilities Commission.
(Liu, D- La Cañada Flintridge)
California Center on Teaching Careers
This bill would re-establish the state’s CalTeach program to help recruit individuals into the teaching profession. CSBA has taken a support position on the bill.
The program was re-established through the 2016-17 enacted State Budget. 2016-17
Funding: The budget allocated $5 million in one-time Proposition 98 funding for the program.
(Allen, D-Santa Monica)
California Teacher Corps Act of 2016
This bill would make grants available to individual and consortia of local educational agencies to help establish and maintain school-based teacher preparation residency programs. A prospective teacher would teach alongside an experienced mentor teacher while receiving teacher training in a credentialing program at an institution of higher education. The bill is supported by CSBA.
The bill was held on the Assembly Appropriations Committee suspense file.
(Leno, D-San Francisco)
Teacher Housing Act of 2016
This bill would authorize a school district to establish and implement programs that address the housing needs of teachers and school district employees who face challenges in securing affordable housing.
The bill was approved by the Legislature and has been sent to the Governor for his consideration.
Four-year Integrated Teacher Credential Programs
The intent of this bill is to incentivize the creation of teacher preparation programs where students earn a baccalaureate degree and a teaching credential concurrently within four years, including student teaching. The bill creates a grant program for one-time funding to postsecondary institutions. The program will be administrated by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, with a total of 40, one-year grants available in the amount of $250,000 each.
The program was established through the 2016-17 enacted State Budget. 2016-17 Funding: The budget allocated one-time funding of $10 million from the General Fund.
School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program
The bill would require the CTC to issue a request for proposals to all school districts and county offices to seek funding for a new classified employee teaching credentialing program. The new program is designed to address shortages areas in kindergarten and grades 1 to 12, where the existing program focused only on K through 3rd grade. Applicants will receive grants up to $4,000 per participant, per year; up from $3,500 in the existing program. The author intends to provide grants for up to 1,000 new participants per year.
The program was established through the 2016-17 enacted State Budget. 2016-17 Funding: The budget included $20 million in one-time Proposition 98 funding for the program.
Last week, the WVHS Nexus published responses by all nine PUSD Board of Education candidates to several questions posed by Chief Editor Brandon Victor. Topics covered allocating funds, improving student learning, healing internal divisions, and why should we vote for you. I got a copy of the paper and was impressed with the layout, writing and broad range of student-focused topics covered.
In the same edition, the editorial staff decided to announce their endorsement in the PUSD Board of Education election.
“The Nexus Editorial Board originally anticipated endorsing two candidates for the two available seats, but a majority opinion could not be reached n both members. That being said, a unanimous vote was reached in support of one candidate: Darshana Patel.”
This endorsement was unexpected and sincerely appreciated since my top priority is in high-quality education for our children and I value youth civic engagement. Read the full article here.
I humbly accept this endorsement and look forward to the opportunity to serve our entire community as a PUSD School Board Trustee.
Elect Darshana Patel – Qualified, Dedicated, Trusted, Endorsed.
On October 6th 2016, I had the amazing opportunity to appear on The American Dream TV Show with fellow #powayusd candidate Debra Cooper. Craig Sewing is an engaging and gracious host who asked us several relevant questions in a fast paced exchange. We covered topics from PUSD budget, candidate forums, our post-election plans and, if elected, what would success look like in four years. Watch the video excerpt to hear my answer (live recording). Special thanks to George Lorimer for arranging this interview. #patel4pusd #powayusd
Dr. Darshana Patel, candidate for Poway Unified School District Board of Education, has earned the endorsement of three key organizations representing members of the PUSD Community: Coalition for Effective School Board Leadership, Poway Federation of Teachers and Poway School Employees Association.
On August 24th, the Coalition for Effective School Board Leadership endorsed Dr. Patel. Of the nine candidates in the race, eight candidates vied for this endorsement and only two met the 6 criteria: integrity, focus on students, understand complexity of public education regulation, consensus building, understand school board governance and advocate for fiscal responsibility. The Coalition is comprised of well-respected educators, community members and business leaders across the entire PUSD area.
On September 12th, The Poway Federation of Teachers announced endorsement of Dr. Patel. All nine candidates were considered and only two were endorsed. The PFT endorsement process was rigorous, with a questionnaire, board interview and member open question session. In their endorsement, PFT cited three qualities that stood out with Dr. Patel: she will put students first, support teachers and work collaboratively with all stakeholders.
On September 19th, The Poway School Employees Association unanimously voted to endorse Dr. Patel. The PSEA organization also had an open endorsement process with questionnaires offered to all candidates. While a few candidates were interviewed, only two were endorsed, and Dr. Patel was one. Dr. Patel is committed to advocating for respectful dialog with employee groups since all staff can impact the quality of education PUSD offers.
One of the primary areas of over site for the Board of Education is curriculum. There are many federal, state policies and county policies in place to guide our curriculum offerings and support differentiated learning to meet the educational needs of all of our students.
In the fourth video in my series, What do you know about PUSD?-Curriculum, I provide a high level overview of PUSD curriculum. School district policy clearly states that, “Development and implementation of a standard-based District course of study shall be considered a top priority of the District and an ongoing process which is part of the routine operations of the District.” The policy continues to articulate that, “All teachers shall follow the prescribed course of study as adopted by the Board of Education and shall meet any additional requirements that the Board may indicate.”
It is important for the Board to take this responsibility very seriously and balance resource management with the educational needs of our students.