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Two in running for Board of Education seat
August 29, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Leading collaboration throughout local school districts and creating partnerships with businesses and nonprofits are top goals for the two candidates running for a vacant seat on the San Mateo County Board of Education.

Two candidates, educational nonprofit director Joe Ross and Jo-Ann Sockolov Byrne, executive director for the Redwood City Education Foundation, are running to fill the area seven seat currently held by Memo Morantes, who is not running for re-election. Both visited the Daily Journal office Tuesday to discuss the County Office of Education, its board and what could be done better throughout the county.

There is a lot in common for the two candidates.

Both are parents with children attending local schools in addition to actively being involved in different districts in San Mateo County. And both candidates are actively involved with nonprofits that work with supporting local students in districts other than the ones their children attend.

Both also believe the county Board of Education could be doing more.

When it comes to offering more efficiencies, Ross would like to see the county office take a leading role in projects that may not save the district money — like payroll and compliance — but could offer an expert so districts can save a little work and money while getting a person completely dedicated to the task.

Sockolov Byrne, for example, would like to see the district working more with the county Board of Supervisors. The supervisors, she noted, fund many health services for families both organizations serve.

"I haven’t seen as much collaboration and partnership between those two bodies as I would like to see and help steward,” she said.

Both were encouraged with the technology leadership exhibited by the recent opening of the state-of-the-art STEM Center, a professional development center for educators in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The nature of the center will allow for more partnerships with businesses. However, each had different approaches to what should be done next.

Sockolov Byrne was interested in a survey of schools in districts that looked at what technology was available as well as how it was being used. With that information, she said, the county can better understand the needs as well as the unintended consequences of not having uniform access to technology within districts or even a single school.

Ross would prefer the office take a role in evaluating opportunities to use new technology developed by local startups. Picking ones it sees as viable and then presenting them to local districts could result in stronger partnerships between schools and local businesses. While a district could do that work, Ross said the county could take the lead saving the district time and money in doing the evaluations.

Both agreed the differences between the 23 school districts in terms of finances, technology and academic achievement are vast — far greater than should be the case.

Ross is a proponent of making students complete the requirements to apply to a state college or university a standard for graduation. Not all San Mateo County districts have that standard. Without it, he argued, kids are more easily falling behind in a long-term goal of graduating from college in a timely manner.

Sockolov Byrne, on the other hand, wanted to see an increased conversation about creating occupational training options for students who don’t plan to attend college.

Lastly, Sockolov Byrne wanted to work with the community to create a better understanding of the Office of Education — what it can do and its limitations.

For Ross, a goal would be to create opportunities for creating a path for teachers to gain more hands-on classroom experience before becoming first-year teachers. Such a model, he said, would help by lowering the student to teacher ratio and offering additional training for teachers.

Area seven includes Las Lomitas, Menlo Park City, Portola Valley, Ravenswood City and Woodside Elementary school districts. The seat is elected countywide.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

Jo-Ann Sockolov Byrne

Age: 50

City of residence: Atherton

Occupation: Redwood City Education Foundation executive director

Educational background: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech communications and a bachelor’s in business from San Francisco State University

Family: Married with two children

Experience: 20 years experience in organization development and human resources generalist, management, consulting and executive positions in the financial services, nonprofit and medical device industries

Joe Ross  

Age: 40

City of residence: Menlo Park

Occupation: Nonprofit educator

Educational background: Bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University; U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School; and a law degree from Stanford University.

Family: Married with three children

Experience: Since 2010, California executive director of Citizen Schools, which partners with public middle schools to extend the learning day and engage adult volunteers to teach part-time in Redwood City, East Palo Alto and other Bay Area communities along with other business ventures

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