Six candidates will contend for three seats on the Morgan Hill Unified school board after the official close of the filing period Wednesday.
Early on, two candidates made their intent publicly known: Rick Badillo, a Jackson Academy parent and construction business owner, and Bob Benevento, the only incumbent. As the days wore on, Steve Klem, the father of an MHUSD teacher, joined in, along with author and MHAT volunteer Marty Cheek, former candidate and a mother of two students Brenda Cayme and Amy Porter Jensen, a Live Oak graduate and parent of a LOHS student.
Eight-year veteran trustees Peter Mandel and Kathy Sullivan are hanging up their school board hats after two terms on the dais. The top three candidates with the most votes on Nov. 6 will win seats on the seven-member board of trustees.
With the pool of candidates ready, let the campaigning begin.
Brenda Cayme jumped into a familiar situation once she declared her candidacy. Though she lost in the last try in 2010 to Claudia Rossi and sitting board President Ron Woolf, Cayme said the lack of improvement since then is her motivation this time.
“The scores have actually gone down, and there are more schools under PI,” Cayme, 47, said, referring to the government’s label of Program Improvement when students don’t meet requirements on state tests. “I wanted to really focus on basics: Tutoring and doing homework,” she said.
Cayme’s two children attend Paradise Elementary, which has in recent years consistently had the highest state test scores in the district. She says the 2-year-old tutoring and Saturday homework programs have absolutely been a part of its success.
“Let’s look at what has worked at the schools that are performing well and use that to help the other schools. Sure every school and its students are slightly different, but have we tried what has worked at other schools?” Cayme said.
Cayme, a clinical associate director at a medical device company, said getting parents involved - which is what occurred at Paradise Valley with their homework club - is a simple way to start improving things.
“If at the least kids can get their homework done, they can have time to do other things and spend more quality time, family time,” she said.
With two young children progressing through MHUSD and with many more years ahead for Cayme and her husband Roberto Aguirre, “I have a direct, vested interest in the school system and it’s not short term,” she said. She and Aguirre belong to the community organization Padres Unidos that aims to ensure all children receive an equal education.
After Marty Cheek read that Sullivan and Mandel decided to not return, it was time to set aside his qualms about running for public office and step it up.
For years people had been telling Cheek to run for city council or the MHUSD board, Cheek, 45, said. But he would humor them and say “’For the good of humanity, and, more importantly, for the sake of my sanity, I’ll never run for public office.’”
“But I believe educating young people, educating young American citizens who will be the leaders of our future, is a vitally important obligation and responsibility for a democratic society,” he said.
Cheek said it was time to put his money where his mouth is, so to speak.
As a columnist for the Morgan Hill Times, author and MHAT volunteer, Cheek said it took some soul searching before making the decision. With that in mind, Cheek has already organized a campaign theme of “student excellence.”
The district’s core goal, among others, is “student achievement” - which as Cheek described is a “weak and blasé” goal, lacking dynamism.
“I believe that giving young people a challenge to excel - excel not just in academics and test-taking but also in personal growth areas ... I also want to give the teachers and staff in the schools an environment and the community support to empower them to excel,” he said.
Cheek says his goals also include engaging all district parents to partner with teachers and principals in helping their children achieve excellence as students.
Klem, 63, says he’s proficient at running things and organizing based on past experience with his involvement at Martin Murphy Middle School and as a salesman for the last 30 years for Slakey Brothers, a wholesale heating and air conditioning company.
“I’ve always wanted to help. I’ve done a lot of things for the schools because of my kids. Now I have grandkids coming up through the schools. Within the next few years, I’m going to retire. If I could get on the board now, then I can put even more time into it,” Klem said.
His children are in their 30s now, one is a teacher at Barrett Elementary School and another works at Apple and is married to Gavilan College board member Jonathan Brusco, who actually encouraged his father-in-law to try his hand at school district governance.
Klem said his philosophy is generating money instead of complaining about the lack of it coming in - though he said this without pointing fingers at MHUSD - “Everyone has money issues. Rather than worry about the money issues, we need to figure out how to get money, instead of sit and talk about it. I’m one of those that says OK this is how we do it.”
As a born-and-bred Bay Area man, Klem said his premise - lacking any political fervor - is that he wants to see MHUSD do the best it can. He used his experience of becoming the board president of a swim club in south San Jose in how he’s able to bring people together and encourage parent involvement. The club grew from 50 children to 160 with a waiting list of 50 more, he said; Klem organized family outings and trips, and parents were pleased to buy into the program. He would treat his time on the school board the same way, if voters decide it so.
“It was so successful. People wanted to get in there. They wanted to invest in their children,” Klem said.
For Amy Porter Jensen, an agriculture planner by day at Sakata Seeds in Morgan Hill, her ambition to become a public servant is pretty simple as well: Every child is entitled to an equal education.
Porter Jensen, 33, was born and raised in Morgan Hill. She graduated from Live Oak High School and has come full circle as the parent of a daughter who will enter as a sophomore at LOHS.
“I’m passionate about public education and our district and I’d like to see things go a certain way,” Porter Jensen said. She’s mum on specifics at this juncture in the election, but said she will open up as it goes along.
“It’s important that all kids get a proper education and the education they deserve and that the teachers are supported,” she said.
Porter Jensen is married and the couple and their daughter would only live in Morgan Hill, she said. Porter Jensen has no election experience to speak of, but does volunteer with the Gilroy Armory to help feed the needy, as well as volunteering in the search for Sierra LaMar and supporting the community and teens during the tragic murder of Tara Romero last year.
“I stay as involved as I can with the kids,” she said. “I want to see the community become more involved in their children’s education.”