Incumbent Nancy Thomas is one of four candidates in the running for two seats on the Newark Unified School District Board of Education.
The board president, Thomas shares the Nov. 4 ballot with Elizabeth (Liz) Brazil, Tom Huynh and Christopher Wecks.
Charlie Mensinger, the other incumbent and board vice president, who was seeking re-election, has dropped out of the race amid controversy.
It's been a turbulent summer for the district since the resignation, later rescinded, of Dave Marken as superintendent.
Marken resigned in late May.However, the school board continued to seek a successor when he rescinded his resignation in August. Recognized as an East Bay superintendent of the year in 2014, Marken led the district since 2011 and has been credited with turning it around. His last day on the job was Aug. 15. There have been accusations from the public that the resignation stems from board members' micromanagement. Since Marken's resignation announcement, many speakers at board meetings have blasted board members while asking them to keep the popular superintendent.
At the Aug. 19 school board meeting, trustee Gary Stadler, one of the trustees accused of having chased Marken away along with Mensinger, resigned. It is expected the board will seek applications for the vacancy and to appoint someone to fill Stadler's term, which expires in 2016.
Also at the meeting, the board appointed Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Tim Erwin as interim superintendent while the board, now down to four members, searches for Marken's replacement.
Elizabeth (Liz) Brazil
A 1979 graduate of Newark Memorial High School, Brazil, 52, has lived in Newark since 1976. She is married to husband Ron Brazil, with four children. She earned degrees in computer science and applied mathematics from San Francisco State University in 1985.
Brazil has worked in public transportation in Alameda and Santa Clara counties for 28 years. She is a public transportation manager in Santa Clara County.
In her first campaign for public office, Brazil said she is "passionate about the role education plays in all our futures."
"To me, being a school board member is to accept responsibility that we are public servants with the best interest of our children at heart," she said. "The Newark Unified School District is an integral part of our community. It is the cornerstone of our city. To sustain it, our community deserves thoughtful representation and strong leadership."
Brazil said she is hopeful that the district will have Marken back to continue his work of improving school testing scores and managing the budgetary challenges facing the district.
"It is my goal for this district to work together as a cohesive unit including board members, district personnel, teachers and community members," she said. "It is essential that we effectively communicate across all areas, establishing and maintaining trust and common goals. One goal must be to provide a quality education to all children of our community."
The first Vietnamese-American high school principal in America, Huynh is the top administrator at Yerba Buena High School in San Jose, a low-income, Title I school with a minority enrollment of 95 percent.
An immigrant from Vietnam having grown up as a low-income English language learner, Huynh said he has "experienced firsthand the potential pitfalls and conversely great benefits of education."
The 39-year-old is married to Cindy Phan, a nurse. They have with three children, all attending Newark schools.
He taught for 10 years, including at Newark Memorial High School, and has been a school administrator for seven years. He was vice principal at Yerba Buena before becoming principal four years ago.
If elected, Huynh said he would leverage his expertise and experience as a lifelong educator to make sound decisions for education in Newark.
"As a teacher, coach and now administrator, I understand the challenges of being an educator and have the utmost respect for those in the profession. Despite my experiences, I will never presume to be the definitive expert. Teachers, administrators and district employees have all earned their positions through their hard work and education, a school board member, merely needs to be 18, a citizen and a resident to qualify," he said in an e-mail.
Regarding the superintendent issue, Huynh believes it is time to start the healing process and called for all stakeholders to work toward moving forward.
"I would like to bring some 'common sense' and much needed pragmatism and experience to a school board that in some regards has gone 'rogue.' Being a current principal of a comprehensive high school, I do not have any illusions of micromanaging schools, or a district. My role is to serve on a board that oversees and not micromanage," he said.
As a board member, Huynh said he would provide the superintendent with guidance and direction and allow him or her the independence to carry out the vision.
"The vision of the board should be guided by wishes of the community that I represent. Beyond the casual and polite greetings there should not be any interaction between board members and the teaching staff," he said.
Seeking her fourth term on the board after 12 years of service, Thomas, 71, is a retiree. She worked at Hewlett-Packard for 25 years of service, half as a development engineer and project manager, and half as the company's national contributions manager.
At HP, she managed grants to education. Newark Unified participated in HP's Hands-On Science Program in the early 1990s.
After her retirement, Thomas was co-principal on a successful $7 million National Science Foundation grant application and recruited Newark school district to participate.
She holds a bachelor's degree from San Jose State University and a master's degree from Stanford University, both in electrical engineering.
Thomas is a widow with three children and five grandsons.
Thomas, who some have also asked to step down, said she has been a "major supporter" of Marken's vision and goals for the district and has been in step with making them happen.
The district "has weathered the deep cuts of the last recession and is emerging stronger than ever," Thomas said. Meanwhile, test scores have taken off, surpassing all other districts in Alameda County in 2012, she added.
When Marken rescinded his resignation on the eve of school board interviews for a new superintendent, Thomas was one of two board members, along with Jan Crocker, who voted to accept the letter rescinding the resignation, which would have allowed Marken to continue to fulfill his contract. However, they ended up being the only trustees in favor and lost on a split vote.
"We have all been saddened by the resignation of our beloved superintendent, Dave Marken. I have done everything possible in hopes he would change his mind," she said. "With his departure I will commit my experience and knowledge to ensure the success of the district as we transition to new leadership. I am a strong advocate of Dr. Marken's vision for student success. He championed an A-G default curriculum so that all our students are CSU/UC eligible. He instituted a full-day kindergarten starting this year, and began the planning process for a middle school model for grades six, seven and eight for next year. As I have in the past, I will continue to use my experience as an industry engineer and manager to ensure the district's fiscal health."
A parent, volunteer, entrepreneur and lifelong Newark resident, Wecks is a stay-at-home father of his 3-year-old daughter with multiple special needs.
Wecks, 30, is a 2001 Newark Memorial High School graduate. He attended Newark Junior High School and Musick Elementary School. He graduated with honors from the University of California at Davis with degrees in English and philosophy.
He has spent the past year coordinating Snow Elementary School's garden program. His wife, Brandi, is a kindergarten teacher there.
"I've seen first-hand the interplay of multiple stakeholder groups trying to make a world class education happen for our children. A board member has to see all of this, and be able to make sound decisions for our children's future, while recognizing that the experts teach our children, develop programs for enrichment and manage our schools," he said.
Wecks has worked for Whole Foods Market and Cisco Systems and helped launch start-up companies with almost no money.
"I've ran large marketing budgets with dynamic funding models and multiple categorical restrictions in allocations. In some ways, Newark Unified School District's budget is as lean as a start-up, and in other ways, as dense as a large corporation's," he said.
When his daughter got very sick and he couldn't work full time, Wecks was a Starbucks barista in Newark.
With Marken's abrupt resignation, it became apparent something was "terribly awry with the partnership that he and the board shared," Wecks said.
"School boards and superintendents are supposed to work hand in hand to provide our children with education," he said. "Board members are the elected representatives of a city, tasked with setting the policies and vision of a school district, accounting for public funds use and holding a superintendent responsible for implementing all of this.
"Superintendents do the good work of implementing vision and policy and making sure that schools and teams are providing our kids with what they need. This means that a school board has a very indirect relationship to what happens at the school level. A board may collectively task a superintendent to raise test scores, improve classroom conditions, or implement other matters of public concern, but how these programs look or are implemented are very much outside a board's role," he said.
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Julian J. Ramos is a local freelance reporter who formerly worked at the Santa Maria Times and Santa Ynez Valley News in Central California.