Voters on Election Day will have a field of contrasting experiences and backgrounds to choose from among the four contenders for the San Jose Unified School District Area 2. Some candidates are familiar names while the others are political newcomers, and there are generational, class and other demographic differences.
Even having kids of their own isn’t a given among the pool. One half hasn’t let their non-parental status deter them from entering the race, while the candidates known by some as Mom or Dad argue their personal experiences ushering offspring through the school system helps uniquely qualify them for parts of the job.
Helen Chapman has plenty of experience navigating the Herculean task of parenthood and the Gordian knot of bureaucracy. The former District 6 San Jose City Council candidate spent 16 years researching test scores for the district before joining District 2 Councilman Sergio Jimenez’s office in 2017 as a policy aide. The volunteer veteran also served nine years on the San Jose Parks and Recreation Commission, along with many other community organizations, and is backed by labor groups including the San Jose Teachers Association.
“It’s a natural extension of all the work I’ve done and it feels like a very good fit for me,” Chapman said about her run. As the only candidate who has both been employed by and had children enrolled in the same district, Chapman has seen plenty of changes. She blames recent decreased enrollment on the housing crisis and plans to tackle the problem from both sides using her policy knowledge and personal insight into the district.
“This was asked a couple weeks ago, are we losing (students) to charters? I think it’s to the housing crisis and high cost of living,” Chapman said, adding she’s “a fan of public schools” like those her sons attended here but doesn’t mind charters if “they’re producing results, they’re transparent.”
Hailing from a long line of teachers, Peter Allen hopes his local roots and nearly decade on the San Jose arts and planning commissions will land him on the school board. Prior to a two-year stint as now-former district spokesperson, Allen ran against Chapman during the 2016 District 6 primary. The active Democrat has no children but says “education is the cornerstone of our democracy and our community, so I think we need really good representation at that level.”
Allen intends to foster address equity problems among students particularly struggling in the district right now like special ed, foster youth and Latino males.
“While we do okay overall, we’re being propped up because our Asian and white students are really excelling,” Allen said. “We're not doing our job with more than half our students and that's just not acceptable.”
He’s also critical of charter schools, framing them as places to “create laboratories of innovation in education” but lacking sufficient accountability and oversight.
Allen would prefer to “create those kind of labs in existing traditional public schools” and encourage multiple education paths including trade skills. “Reluctance to move in that direction and think outside the box is what created that desire for charters,” he added.
Jose Magaña’s challenging childhood shaped his decision to work as an educator in the public school system. Raised by a teenage mother while his father sat behind bars, Magaña’s campaign website promotes him as a K-8 instructional coach, San Jose Library and Early Education commissioner and, above all else, a dedicated advocate for children (although he has none of his own). Access, equity and results are his main concerns for students, he told San Jose Inside.
“Right now we aren’t serving our English language learners, Latino students, our African Americans students and even some populations of lower socioeconomic levels,” he said. “Students are dealing with more trauma than before, the cost of living is pretty tough.”
He also thinks there’s a place for charter schools but that “the end of for-profit charters should’ve happened a long time ago.”
Although he’s new to the political realm, Magaña still snagged endorsements from the Santa Clara County Democratic Party and Silicon Valley Young Democrats and aspires to tap into more state resources and increase per-pupil spending.
“It’s not charter versus public, it’s how can we get more resources from the state,” he said. “I want to know how we can all actually come together and advocate to the state for bring more resources to our kids.”
Arguably the least connected politically but definitely the least known among everyone, Roumen Boyadjiev entered the board race with just a couple months to go before Election Day but still wants to give it a go. Boyadjiev is a high-tech developer—ironically with no campaign website or much presence online, let alone a candidate statement. But he does have a child currently enrolled in the district and says he is ready to make his mark on the school board.
“I don’t see the system work how it’s supposed to, at least in my mind,” Boyadjiev said. “If we the parents don’t take any action, nothing will change.”
Boyadjiev, a long-time San Jose resident originally from Eastern Europe, is “not a person supported by any party, special interests ... except parents in this school district,” and would like to fund programs based on results, promote greater transparency with parents about test scores, and develop benchmarks to evaluate student progress.
Right now, Boyadjiev sees a widening achievement gap between locals and the workers being courted from around the world by major tech companies right in their backyard.
“The school district is focusing on progress, which is a good thing,” he said, “but progress is something that is very vague.”