Hello and goodbye, school board members

James Pace

After eight years serving as a trustee on the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education, outgoing member Rhoda Bress, 62, received a heartfelt farewell and standing ovation from colleagues, friends and family as her second term came to a close Thursday evening.

“We have all learned so much from Rhoda,” said the board’s new president, Jaime Rosso. “She has set the bar very high for the rest of us.”

Bress’s seat is now occupied by new board member James Pace, 39, a highly involved GUSD parent who has one son attending Rucker Elementary School and one daughter enrolled at Ascencion Solorsano Middle School. Pace assumed one of four vacant seats alongside returning incumbents Mark Good, Fred Tovar and Pat Midtgaard.

Pace and the three incumbents filed running papers with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voter’s Office during the November general election, but were uncontested. Their names, therefore, did not appear before voters on the official ballot.

This is standard protocol in certain scenarios, according to Election Division Coordinator Shui Ling Chu with the Registrar’s Office.

“If there is no contest for a school board position, and an interested and qualified person properly completes the nomination process and turns in all necessary paperwork, then there is no reason to have a ballot,” she explained. “If another person decides they are interested after the July 16 – Aug. 10 nomination period is over, they can have the nomination period extended by five days and force a ballot by collecting the necessary number of signatures. If successful, they can then be considered as a write-in candidate on election day.”

Pace, 40, Director of Land Development for Pembrook Development in Morgan Hill, has been extensively involved with five school site committees and recently made a point to visit all 15 school sites in the district to “gain a new respect for what our teachers, principals and staff are doing.”

A former computer engineer and “lifelong computer nerd,” Pace said he will bring a heightened focus on better utilizing technology to benefit students.

Pace was among two of eight candidates who made the final round of interviews in December 2011 to fill the vacant seat let by former trustee Francisco Dominguez after he resigned last year.

Then candidate Pat Midtgaard, who previously served on the board, was appointed over Pace.

At that point, it looked as though the busy parent was ready to step away from aspirations of running again, at least in the November elections.

But after telling the Dispatch, “I don’t think the board position would be a good fit for my life right now,” Pace reconsidered his stance after attending an informational candidate session hosted by then Board President Tom Bundros.

“As an active parent in the district, I felt that I had some responsibility to step forward, so I decided to go for it,” said Pace.

He did just that Thursday evening, alongside three veteran trustees who welcomed their newest colleague to the team.

This includes Pat Midtgaard, 68, a veteran educator who worked for 28 years in Gilroy as a teacher and principal. A former GUSD board member who served from 2004 to 2008, Midtgaard is serving a shorter two-year term until 2014, following the resignation of trustee Dominguez.

Dominguez is the embattled former GUSD board member who is facing two separate investigations into alleged embezzlement and grand theft by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. Dominguez submitted his official letter of resignation Nov. 9, 2011.

Trustee Fred Tovar, 42, who is currently the Director of Student Affairs and Assistant Director of Admissions for Stanford University School of Medicine, is serving his second term on the GUSD board. Tovar’s current term will end in 2016.

Trustee Mark Good, 54 – a GUSD board member of eight years now entering his third term – previously told the Dispatch he was “leaning against” running again. He served from 1996 to 2000, and from 2008 to the present.

But after learning that six of the eight former candidates who interviewed in December 2011 to replace Dominguez wouldn’t be throwing their hats in the ring again, Good was surprised to hear the once robust pool of “new blood” is a lot smaller than he thought it would be.

“We’ve accomplished so much and the challenges are so great, I had to raise up my hand,” he previously told the Dispatch.

His new term ends in 2016.

As for his fellow board member with whom Good served during his second term, “Rhoda will be missed for a myriad of reasons, including but not limited to her dedication, organization, good nature, tolerance and zealous advocacy for academic excellence on behalf of all children in the District,” said Good. “Rhoda is also an excellent baker and makes mouth-watering pies from fruit that she grows in her garden.  I will miss her as a good friend and confidant during my time on the board.”

GUSD Superintendent Dr. Debbie Flores gave Bress high praise and accolades before presenting her with a plaque of appreciation for her time spent as a board member.

“Without a doubt, Rhoda was one of the best board members I have ever worked with,” Flores said. “She has worked tirelessly for eight years on the board and three years on the executive committee.”

Bress stood at the podium for the last time and bid farewell to her colleagues.

“There must be a place for every child in the public school system,” she said. “In order for a school district to be excellent and high performing, excellence needs to permeate every pore of the district.”

She went on to give a special thanks to newly-appointed Board President Jaime Rosso.

“I remember the exact moment when he said to me, ‘Rhoda, if you are so unhappy with the school board, why don’t you run for it?’ He was right. It’s easy to criticize; effecting change is more difficult,” she said. “I ran as a challenger to the status quo, and I know that initially there was some trepidation amongst district staff and board members about my being part of the school board.”

As someone who went through the public education system, Bress stressed the importance of families being able to expect that their children’s needs will be addressed by GUSD.

“A public school education should never mean an inferior education,” she asserted. “It is full of challenges, and meeting these challenges is not an easy task to accomplish, but I do believe GUSD is moving in the right direction.”

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