Cupertino Union School District welcomes new trustee

Los Altos Town Crier

Published: 20 February 2019

Written by Adanya Lustig - Staff Writer/

I’m a really strong believer in the power of public schools,” she said. “I think it’s important to grow where you’re planted, to get involved in your community.

The Cupertino Union School District welcomed a new trustee to its board last month, following one trustee’s resignation to join the Cupertino City Council.

Sylvia Leong, a longtime parent leader, was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Trustee

Liang Chao after her two years on the board. Leong said she’s proud to be a product of California’s public schools, from her childhood in Southern California to college at UC Berkeley.

“I’m a really strong believer in the power of public schools,” she said. “I think it’s important to grow where you’re planted, to get involved in your community.”

Leong currently works in higher-education admissions: She was previously the director of undergraduate admissions for Carnegie Mellon University, and she currently works as an admissions consultant. Leong was one of 14 candidates who applied to fill the opening on the board, and after much deliberation, the board picked her. One by one, each of the current trustees named their top choice for the position and each trustee picked Leong.

She said that before her kids were in school, she wasn’t as connected to her neighborhood. But when her children started in the Cupertino Language Immersion Program (CLIP) at Meyerholtz Elementary School, she was suddenly part of a community. She couldn’t go to Trader Joe’s without seeing parents of kids who went to school with her kids, and she liked that.

“Public schools have a unique way of bringing communities together,” she said.

CLIP was the first Mandarin-immersion school in California. It’s technically a strand rather than an individual school, but it’s fairly separate from Meyerholtz. CLIP is one of four choice programs within the district that families can opt in to. The other programs are Faria Elementary School, which focuses on the basics in a traditional, teacher-directed classroom setting; Christa McAuliffe School, an experiential K-8 school focused on the whole child; and Murdock-Portal Elementary school, which teaches students grouped in multiage “villages” with teams of teachers. The district also has 22 traditional elementary schools and five middle schools, spread across six cities.

Understandably, the district struggles to maintain a unified image, Leong said. She wants to bring the disparate groups together, which she has experience with from her home school.

Meyerholtz, in San Jose, is home to the typical elementary school, the CLIP elementary program and a special day class. Leong partnered with the PTA president of Meyerholtz while she was president of CLIPCO, the fundraising group for CLIP, to strengthen the relationships among the three programs.

“There’s always a perception that you’re fighting over limited resources, but that’s not true,” she said.


Leong said she’s excited to tackle one major issue the district faces: balancing enrollment. She noted that some of the district’s schools are underenrolled and some are overenrolled, and some schools have a better reputation than others. She’s hopeful the district can develop a plan to both balance enrollment and equity, without forcing families away from their neighborhood schools.

Instead, the problem could be solved by creating more magnet programs, like the four alternative programs that already exist. She’s seen firsthand that families are willing to travel for a special program – families from Los Altos attend CLIP, even though it’s a drive.

“If parents believe in a particular philosophy, they’re willing to drive away from their neighborhood school and go to a choice school,” Leong said.

Currently, children who attend any school in the district can apply for the choice programs and they’re chosen at random to fill the space, with siblings of current students given preference. The alternative programs are coveted – all keep a waitlist, and the board’s decision to award spaces for children of district employees left some families frustrated.

Future programs could work a bit differently, perhaps including a preference for students from that neighborhood, but an attractive new program might help fill a school that is underenrolled and reduce stress on an overenrolled school.

Leong said that by incentivizing families to switch schools rather than forcing them or closing a school, the district can balance its enrollment without frustrating families.

“I’m super excited to get started,” she said.

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