SUSD board candidate aims to raise awareness of district issues

October 26, 2016 — by Ashley Su and Katherine Zhou

Mother of senior and SUSD board candidate sets her goals.

At a typical SHS School Site Council meeting, Saratoga Union School District Board candidate Sophia Kao avidly contributes her ideas to enhance students’ educational opportunities and experiences.

Her personal and professional life intersect at these meetings: With her son Theo Luan as a senior at SHS and daughter Esther Luan as a seventh grader at Redwood Middle School, she sees herself as highly invested in Saratoga schools. Kao said her dedication to the schools is what inspired her decision to run, competing against parent Rue (Rita) Cao and incumbent Arati Nagaraj for two open seats on the board that oversees the three elementary schools and Redwood.

According to Theo, the quality of Saratoga schools has been a constant conversation with his mother.

“I’ve talked to her about our high school’s extracurriculars,” Theo said. “And since my sister goes to Redwood, my mother noticed that Redwood is at a disadvantage in terms of extracurricular resources, which makes it harder for students to have a well-rounded education.”

Kao hopes to address these problems as a SUSD school board member. She said that Saratoga schools have “the highest per student funding in the area, so students deserve every aspect of learning.”

Kao’s main goal for her campaign is to bring out more awareness in the community about school issues for example, the adoption of Common Core which requires her to “open up the communication and collaboration channel.”

Currently, Kao is heavily involved in the Redwood Task Force, which reviews “collective community input” to try to enhance the extracurriculars at Redwood. One of Kao’s proposals is to have the orchestra program rehearse during the day so that students wouldn’t have to allot after-school hours for rehearsal.

In addition, because the only after-school club available at Redwood is Math Club, Kao supports the district’s proposal to add additional after-school programs, including a media arts program or foreign language program.  

“Based on feedback from the parents, we hope to include more elective options or after-school clubs beyond just math or academics. I think our students deserve to have a lot more options,” Kao said.

Kao also wants to bring more technology to the schools. She received a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (MSEE) from the University of Texas at Austin and spent 13 years in engineering and management positions at various high-tech companies. She believes her background in technology will allow her to help the district bring about more reforms to keep Saratoga schools as modernized and up-to-date with the best technology for the teaching curriculum.

However, Kao said running for the board has not been entirely effortless, especially trying to connect with less-informed citizens.

“Probably more than 60 percent of the city voters don’t have a student in the district, so one of the challenges is to reach out to those voters, who may be parents of graduated children or retired senior citizens,” Kao said.

Another difficulty Kao faces is the amount of time her campaign requires, leaving less time to spend with her family. Nevertheless, Kao said she is grateful for the aid and support her family has contributed in order to help lighten her workload.

“I’ve helped with designing her flyers and website and taking care of things that she doesn’t have enough time for, like driving my sister to and from orchestra practice,” Theo said. “We are all supportive of her by taking over some responsibilities while she’s busy planning and researching for the campaign.”

Despite these challenges, though, Theo believes they are nothing his mom can’t handle.

“She is very strong-willed and will push for change where it’s needed,” Theo said.

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