A New Day for Petaluma School Board?


Photo by Lucía Garay

Lucia Garay and Sue Jacob

In November, the ballot for Petaluma City School Board members will include the names of Mike Baddeley, Sheri Chlebowski, and Phoebe Ellis, who are running together in order to be re-elected into office as a slate. Casa Grande alumnus Caitlin Quinn, retired Casa Grande English teacher Mady Cloud, former Kenilworth Junior High School counselor Joanna Paun, and Kimy Ruiz Seitz, are new faces attempting to take a seat from the current three.

To those who are following the race, it is clear this election has the potential to dramatically change the Petaluma City Schools Board and by extent, the management of area schools. However, information on the election is not readily accessible to possible constituents. There is no mention of the upcoming election or the candidates on the Petaluma City Schools website. A few candidates may have Facebook pages dedicated to their campaign (Facebook is blocked on school wifi); however, the only candidate with a website is that of Casa Grande graduate Quinn.

Quinn makes herself available to the public. Her website includes her qualifications, political platform, resources for finding information on a host of political issues, endorsements, a request for donations, and Spanish translations of most of the site.

“I remember two years ago when I was voting in the School Board races—I had no idea who to vote for. I tried Googling all three candidates and couldn’t find a single useful piece of information online,” said Quinn on making her information available. “I don’t want to lose someone’s vote because they couldn’t access information about me.”

Quinn made it clear that solidarity with marginalized voters is important and cites her history in Petaluma and her political work throughout college as important qualifications.

“I attended Petaluma City Schools from 2005 to 2011; I grew up in Petaluma and I largely think I am the person I am today because of my upbringing through these fantastic public schools,” said Quinn. “I was very involved with efforts in local government in Berkeley, statewide government, student government, and some work at the federal level. I may be young, but I am qualified. I know these teachers, I know these administrators, and I know this city.”

Retired PCS teacher Mady Cloud also feels a strong connection to the city and its schools.

“I have lived in Petaluma for over 31 years; I raised my children here and they attended and graduated from PCS schools. My unique experience as both a parent of children who attended West Side schools and a PCS teacher at Casa, an East Side school, gives me insight into the many issues that affect us all. I can act as a bridge to unite the community, on both sides of town, in the classroom and in the community,” said Cloud

“I believe there needs to be change on the board: we need to establish and encourage effective outreach and communication with the entire Petaluma community: students, teachers, staff, administrators, and community members,” said Cloud.

“The current school board has a lot of room for improvement in terms of showing respect for educators and other employees of the district,” said Quinn on how she would improve the school board. “I think the Board should be more involved with the students. I don’t think that sexual and racial violence is happening on a massive scale at our schools, but if students even feel like it is happening and that their reports won’t be taken seriously, that is a violation of Title II, VI, and IX (for disability, race/ethnicity/nationality, or gender/sex/sexual orientation/gender identity, respectively). I also understand that no students that I work with know what to do when they are bullied or sexually harassed (and yes, they have been). And that is a violation of Title IX and Title VI, and that is unacceptable.”

“The problem I see with the present school board is that they seem to have abdicated their oversight responsibilities,” said Cloud. “This has resulted in a district administration whose decisions about budgets, curriculum, technology, personnel, discipline and student rights violations, and various other education programs, lack incisive debate, stakeholder input, collaborative process, and transparency.” Cloud thinks this communication should extend to students as well.

“We could possibly form a committee in which the Superintendent, a rotating school board member, and student representatives meet regularly to have a conversation about what’s going on at different sites from the students’ perspectives and what student issues the school district is concerned with,” said Cloud.

Current School Board member Sheri Chlebowski stands by the Board’s decisions.

“I know this is difficult for people at times because they want to know what is being done when they feel something has gone wrong. Unfortunately, we can’t share information regarding employees or student discipline,” said Chlebowski. “We must do our best for every student and every employee. There are projects and goals that I would like to continue as a Board Member.  My top priority is to continue to work with our representatives in Sacramento to see how we can acquire more funding for education.”

Current School Board member Phoebe Ellis aspires to be re-elected this term.

“I am hoping to serve another term so that we can see to completion the bond projects and continue to build programs that benefit our students. We are always working to improve and build programs to ensure that our students are career and college ready,” said Ellis.

“There are established policies and procedures that are strictly followed and documented with each investigation,” said Ellis on the allegations of racial and sexual harassment in Petaluma City School.

“I am running because I think people feel disconnected from the running of our schools and feel disempowered,” said Quinn on her motivations.

“The district must reevaluate their Title IX and Title VI policies with the current cultural changes in mind. The #MeToo and the March for Our Lives student rights movements require the district to acknowledge the changing culture in order to better provide a safe environment for our students, free from harassment and discrimination,” said Cloud.

After two attempts by the Gaucho Gazette staff to contact candidate Mike Baddeley for his comments and opinions, there was no response until after the deadline on this article had passed.