Sylvia Leong is running to retain her seat on the board. She was appointed to the board in January 2019 to fill the seat of Liang Chao, who resigned to join the Cupertino City Council.
Before joining the board, Leong served in a variety of volunteer positions in the district, as well as working as a substitute teacher. Leong’s children have now graduated from CUSD and are in high school.
For more information on Leong’s campaign, visit sylvia4cusd.com.
Why are you running?
I joined the board because I wanted to make a difference. I had already spent over 12 years serving the district as a parent and as a leader. In the two years I’ve been on the board, I’ve made a lot of progress in helping the community build transparency and communication. I’ve made difficult decisions about our finances. I’ve worked really strongly to advocate for our students’ holistic education – that social-emotional piece is very important to me.
The reality is that my work is not done. Our district is facing a lot of additional challenges with the pandemic, on top of our ongoing budget challenges. Now is the time we need seasoned leaders, we need that stability to continue leading our district in the right way.
What strengths would you bring to the board? Why should voters choose you?
As the daughter of immigrants, I’ve seen the power of education to transform lives. I’ve spent 20 years working in education. I’ve worked at top-tier universities, like USC and Carnegie Mellon and UC Berkeley, doing college admissions. I’ve been an English as a Second Language teacher overseas. When CUSD was having a substitute teacher shortage, I went and earned my emergency teaching credential, and I started subbing.
Pretty much every volunteer position in the district you can think of, I’ve had. It’s given me a wide perspective of all the different things that parents are concerned with, because I’ve been in those parents’ shoes.
What do you see as the three most pressing issues the district faces, and how would you address them?
The No. 1 issue is our budget, hands down. We have declining enrollment, decreasing funding and increasing costs. For the last seven years, we’ve had to make cuts every year. Those cuts come at a cost, because the work is still there, we just have less money. We need to be creative in being able to do more with less.
For me, it’s important that we focus on holistic education. Our parent community is so engaged, and that’s one of our biggest strengths. But I think in any place an extreme is bad. If you focus too much on academics, you lose out on the balancing part, which is wellness, social and emotional learning, and teaching students not to be afraid of failure.
In that same sense of holistic wellness, we need to continue to keep our teachers safe and valued. Related to the budget, we need to make sure we can continue to pay our teachers, retain them and attract new staff.
As the district faces steep budget cuts, how will you prioritize which areas of the budget to reduce?
We really have to think about our people and our programs, and we have to prioritize that over our properties. When we look at our school district and we see that in five years we’re going to be down to about 14,000 students, we have to make decisions for the next generation, not just for what’s happening right now. Part of the role of a board member is to see where the inefficiencies are, and make changes that benefit students in the end.
With the coronavirus pandemic at the top of many families’ minds, how will you weigh if, when and how to bring students and staff back to campus?
We have to be guided by science. One of the things that I appreciate about our district is that we have been working regionally, with the 31 other districts in our county. Certainly, we’re still unique as a district, and we want to make decisions that are just for our students, but we also want to bear in mind that the decisions we’re making should be somewhat in sync with what’s happening in the region.