The Santa Clara County Board of Education this week filled an almost two-month vacancy on the dais after appointing Tara Sreekrishnan, deputy chief of staff for state Sen. Dave Cortese.
Approximately 40 county residents and colleagues of the one-time Cupertino City Council candidate called into Wednesday’s meeting to support her appointment to Trustee Area 2, which encompasses more than 140,000 people across Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga and parts of Sunnyvale.
Sreekrishnan, who competed against four other candidates for the job, said her work in supporting environmental literacy initiatives and frequent meetings with youth activists put her in a unique position to engage both students and teachers.
“I was less nervous after I took a deep breath and remembered that we’re talking about public education, our students—and those are very positive things to talk about,” she told San José Spotlight. “I really see the board as serving as our social safety net for students.”
Sreekrishnan is replacing former trustee Kathleen King, who resigned on June 11 to avoid encountering conflicts of interest with her work with the Healthier Kids Foundation, a nonprofit working toward health accessibility for more students.
Four of the six sitting trustees picked Sreekrishnan as their first choice to join the board—trustees Joseph Di Salvo, Peter Ortiz, Victoria Chon and board President Claudia Rossi.
“I was very, very pleased… to have such high quality, passionate, dedicated members of our community apply,” Rossi told San José Spotlight. “I did not know any of the candidates. So it’s kind of like you’re meeting them for the first time.”
Di Salvo said Sreekrishnan was his first choice because of “her ability to nurture the student voice.”
Trustees decided to use the appointment process rather than hold another election for the seat because of the potential six-figure cost. The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters estimates the cost of a special election to be between $1.3 million and $3.9 million, according to county Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan.
“The six of us tonight are acting on behalf of (county) voters, that’s why I don’t like doing this role—I like the public to decide,” Di Salvo said. “However, we would have had to hold an election if we weren’t doing what we’re doing now, but it was too costly, so I didn’t advocate for that.”
The other candidates vying for the seat were Mingi Bodine, Anjali Kausar, Sudha Kasamsetty and Kevin Koch.
Trustees interviewed each of the five candidates during Wednesday’s meeting, touching on topics such as accessibility to early learning, the growing achievement gap and the importance of securing more state funding for local schools.
“Funding is always a barrier,” Sreekrishnan said. “But something unique about me is I believe I’m pretty well positioned to support and advocate for more funds at the state level, to provide some of the resources our schools need in this district.”
Growing up in Cupertino public schools and graduating from Mills College, she became a community organizer for local political and advocacy campaigns, including co-founding Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action and joining Cortese’s office in 2019.
Sreekrishnan’s work with youth climate activists won her favor and respect with Cupertino high school students, said youth climate action member and incoming high school senior AJ Jayaraman.
“I think that students are going to get a larger voice, more engagement between the board and students themselves,” he told San José Spotlight. “As a youth who is civically engaged, seeing someone who really empowers people our age really just motivated me to want to help get (youth) into a position where they’d be able to push forward.”
Sreekrishnan said educational recovery will be one of several issues she hopes to tackle in the coming year, noting that remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated student achievements.
“I’ve heard so many personal stories from both teachers and parents that are worried about their kids falling behind,” she said. “And I agree wholeheartedly with and share this board’s understanding that closing the achievement gap in our county and in our state starts with early learning.”
Editor’s Note: Kathleen King serves on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.
Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.