Mixed Bag Up for Board

Two of the six applicants have previously served on the school
Gilroy – The rumors didn’t pan out.

Many locals expected a bevy of former school board members to apply for the Gilroy Unified School District board, but in the end, only two of the six candidates previously served on the GUSD board.

And, in another surprise twist, TJ Owens’ widow dropped off her application Monday, the deadline to apply for the seat vacated by the death of her husband.

TJ Owens was serving as GUSD board president when he died in October. There is one year left on his term.

Trustee Tom Bundros said he was surprised to hear that Brenda Jordan-Owens added her name to the roster.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “I think we’ve got a real strong slate of people running for the position.”

Besides Jordan-Owens, other applicants include: Javier Aguirre, Bob Heisey, Kai Lai, Bill Paterson and David Stiffler.

Aguirre has served as senior policy aide for Santa Clara County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado for five-and-a-half years. As Alvarado’s policy aide, Aguirre provides analysis and policy recommendations on all county related housing, transportation, land use, finance and environmental matters brought before the Valley Transportation Authority and the Local Agency Formation Commission of Santa Clara County.

Aguirre earned his bachelors from Stanford University and Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School. The Gilroy native did not pass the State Bar and, thus, is not a practicing lawyer.

But Aguirre doesn’t intend to retake the bar since he enjoys working in the public sector and plans to stay put. The Gilroy High School graduate, who is currently serving on the El Portal Charter School board, said he has a lot to offer to the district.

“I think just with my background, being a part of Gilroy schools, being involved with El Portal,” Aguirre said.

The 32-year-old doesn’t have children in local schools yet, but in five years, he pointed out, his newborn baby boy will enter kindergarten.

Bob Heisey is a familiar name in Gilroy since he was a ran for the board in 2004. Heisey, said he was excited to hear about the six applications.

“I’m glad to see that there’s a lot of people interested …” said Heisey. “I’m looking forward to answering my questions, but not until after Thanksgiving.”

After the election, Heisey continued attending school board meetings and has remained active in the school district. Heisey, senior plant breeder at United Genetics Seed Company in Hollister, said he likes the direction the board is going.

Heisey’s youngest son is a sophomore at Gilroy High School. His older son graduated from GHS and attends University of California, Davis. Heisey earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Paterson, a 17-year veteran of the GUSD board, applied simply to fill the position for one year.

“I don’t see (it) as a stepping stone,” he said. “My ploy is to do a good job. I’m willing to fill out the rest of TJ’s term.”

The retired orthodontist and part-time Gavilan College instructor served on the board from 1973 to 1990. Now that he’s a senior citizen and has a handicapped sign dangling from his rear-view window, if selected, Paterson said he would be representing a different sector of the population.

The 73-year-old was happy to see that Jordan-Owens had applied for the position, particularly since her appointment would mean one more woman on what used to be a predominantly male board.

Paterson served as an orthodontist in U.S. Air Force from 1956 to 1964 and went into private practice in Gilroy from 1965 to 1988. He grew up and attended public schools in Seattle.

Lai, who is currently vacationing in Bhutan, is a retired engineer. The father of two grown children, Lai served on the GUSD board from 1981 to 1991. Throughout the years, he has served on a variety of community boards such as the Gilroy Planning Commission, South County Planning Advisory Committee and the Santa Clara Office of Education, committee on school district organization and is currently a member of the GUSD Accountability Taskforce.

Stiffler, 59, is a newcomer to the Gilroy area. He and his wife moved to California from Indiana four years ago and initially settled in San Jose. While living in San Jose, he served as president of Brooks College in Sunnyvale and Bryman College in San Jose, two vocational schools.

In Indiana, Stiffler served on the school board. He works at the Chevrolet Cadillac dealership here.

Since moving to Gilroy, the father of two has been “looking for an opportunity to volunteer and serve the community and thought this would be good place to begin.”

“As a school board member, we have an obligation to make sure students have healthy, safe environment and the skills to be successful,” Stiffler said.

The retired soldier said his life is a “lesson in perseverance.” Stiffler spent 21 years as a part-time college student. He started going to school at the age of 26, when he was married and raising his children.

Stiffler said he likes to tell his story “to show people if I can make it, anyone can.” He earned his doctorate from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. in 1994.

Jordan-Owens was unavailable for comment as of press time. According to her resume, she has taught for more than 30 years in continuation and mainstream schools. Currently she teaches at Foothill High School, a continuation school in San Jose.

Jordan-Owens earned a bachelors and masters from Hampton University in Hampton, Va.

Candidates still need to turn in written responses to 10 questions from the board by Dec. 2 at 5pm. The applications and written responses will be delivered to board members Dec. 5. Applicants will be questioned by both members of the board and the community Dec. 12 at 6pm. At the end of the meeting, the board will select a candidate to fill the vacancy.

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