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Interview with New Dublin School Board Trustee Niranjana Natarajan

January 8, 2019

DUBLIN, CA–The Dublin Unified School District Board of Trustees moved to fulfill a vacancy on the board created by the resignation of Trustee Joe Giannini in October. Given the choice of conducting a special election, the Board elected to appointment a community member that resides in Area 4 to fulfill the remaining two years of this term. Applications were submitted and the candidates understood that they would participate in an open question and answer session. At the December 11th meeting this process was conducted and Niranjana Natarajan was selected as the provisional appointee in a 3-1 vote.

nini and ravi

Ms. Natarajan is married and is the mother of two daughters that both attend Cottonwood Creek School. She works as a Financial Analyst and has been a resident of Dublin since 2014. We sensed that “Nini” wanted to be even more than a community organizer. But to take the next step, it would require an even greater time commitment combined with potentially fractious politics. Subsequent to her appointment, we had the opportunity for a more in-depth discussion about this new opportunity.

OneDublin.org: The decision to take on public office is a significant one. Please explain the decision points that ultimately convinced you to apply for the vacancy.

Nini Natarajan: “As a parent of two children in the DUSD, I feel it is important to contribute to the decision -making process that affects and shapes public education. And my way of serving the people of Dublin, is to be on the school board of trustees. My decision to apply to the vacancy that arose in late 2018 was fueled by the poor handling of the decision behind Cottonwood, its implementation and the injustice meted out to its students in terms of lack of facilities and tools compared to their peers. The hasty completion of construction coupled with persistent problems across all grade levels was also one of the factors that led to my decision.

“Given that we need a second high school in Dublin, I would like to ensure that the mistakes from Cottonwood do not get repeated with the second high school. We need to learn from this experience, and make sure all further planning, facilities, and management is done with a proper plan in hand.”

2018 board image

OneDublin.org: One of the areas of focus on the candidate query had to do with improved/enhanced communications. Beyond the legacy methods of a citizen offering a three-minute statement at a board meeting or trading emails, what additional forms of communications might be viable in our current environment.

Natarajan: “First of all I want to mention that having public comments start at the most inconvenient time for parents, who endure long commutes from work, household responsibilities, managing their children’s schedules is unacceptable. This prevents larger participation, which is of utmost need now. By changing the time of public comments to say as an example to 7.30pm or later would allow at least one parent to be a part of the board meetings. Long board meetings are off-putting to many people, and I am sure my esteemed co-trustees also have better use of their evenings. My recommendation is to have a very tight agenda with more focus on public relations and public inputs. I also propose having a social media committee that reports directly to the board, by encouraging people to post on Facebook, Twitter etc. of their concerns, ideas and suggestions for improvements. At every board meeting, we should have a list of top two or three public concerns posted on a large screen, or paper charts, something that drives the board’s attention to the sentiments of the residents. I also believe that as board of trustees, we owe the public a clear plan of action on such issues, target dates of completion, and have interested parents provide validation on the successful completion or not of such issues and concerns.”

OneDublin.org: There’s no secret that the launch of Cottonwood Creek School has been fraught with issues. Ironically, both of your children are enrolled there. As the newest Trustee, how do you plan to effect positive change – even just incrementally?

Natarajan: “I would like to see a well-rounded study made by the DUSD officials on the pros and cons of K-8 versus Elementary/Middle model. Next, I would like to see the administration team of Cottonwood attend meetings with other K-8s and report back with a set of best practices that can be evaluated by the Board. This in my opinion, would provide assurance to the parents of Cottonwood that there has been some thought (albeit an after-thought) into having a K-8 model.

“I would like to see a clear path for the students in grades 6-8 to have a sports program, be it using the Fallon Sports Park, or the facilities in Fallon Middle, or a combination of the two until the Cottonwood Gym is ready. A good leader makes change easier to digest. Therefore, I would push the DUSD to seriously review the current leadership at Cottonwood and make appropriate changes that would benefit the needs of the teachers, students and parents.”

OneDublin.org: Given your professional background in finance, this skill set would naturally lend itself as an area of expertise. However, you had expressed an interest in public relations and long-range planning. Please expand upon your personal interest in these areas.

Natarajan: “The board of trustees serve at the pleasure of the people of Dublin, and therefore it is our duty to listen to the needs of the teachers, volunteers, students and parents. Providing the right information to the public, accepting their ideas and being in tune with the larger needs of the students is the best way to grow participating in public education. I love working with people from different walks of life, different perspectives and being able to bridge between the two.

“To be able to best serve the community, we need to be able to plan ahead for the next 5, 10, 15 years. There has to a master plan document that drives shorter and medium-term goals and objectives, budgetary requirements and allocation of resources across our schools. The very fact that we have over-crowding in certain specific attendance areas is a testament to poor forecast of growth, is a reflection of unpreparedness, reluctance to accept reality faced by the students, inability to adopt change management that would have allowed the Board and DUSD to keep pace with change in demographics, change in needs, and overall lack of communication with the residents. There is a clear lack of understanding & communication to the public on the availability of bond funds, uses of bond funds, and planned re-issuance of future bonds. We seem to be caught in a myriad of definitions, rules and regulations, that prevents us from truly serving people that have elected us to public office.”

OneDublin.org: Given that you are fulfilling the remaining two years of an existing term in Area 4, what expectations are you setting for yourself and might this lead to the continuation in your role?

Natarajan: “If I can make some changes to things as basic as the length of board meetings, increase public participation, obtain regular reports from the Bond Oversight Committee, I will consider my tenure as a success. If I can be a part of a team that works together for the common good of the students, and is open to thinking differently, I would consider continuing in this role. If I can be a driving force behind change management, that promotes fresh thinking, constant exchange of ideas with the public, especially the students, I would love to continue in this role. However, a decision as important as running for public office cannot be made without placing the needs of my family, my children, my ability to balance work and public life above everything else.”

OneDublin.org: Anything else that you would like to add?

Natarajan: “I am a mom who has stayed on the sidelines when it came to volunteering at my kids school, or repeatedly attending board meetings. However, I am also a mom who has the same exact goals for our public schools as everyone else. I am a mom who wants the best education for her kids, and who is willing to sacrifice family time for the greater good. I am an employee who works well with people, listens to their needs and concerns. I am a manager who asks the tough questions, who doesn’t get swayed by opinions of others without the proper data to support it. I am a leader who always gives it the best and leads from the front. I am a mentor to numerous kids and love working with them, listening to their tender ideas, and futuristic crazy thinking and always encourages them to go above and beyond.

“I am a person who saw an opportunity to be a part of something good, something that can shape our children’s future, and for newer generations to come, and actually took action to apply for the vacant board seat. I do not come with prejudices, I do not come with pre-disposed ideas, and I surely do not come with hidden agenda. I bring diversity, new relationships, fresh ideas and a questioning mindset.”

OneDublin.org would like to thank Nini Natarajan for her insights and candor in this discussion. The Dublin Unified School District continues to exist in a growth mode. The effective execution of this growth will largely be contingent upon agile management and diverse perspectives. The next regular meeting of the Board of Trustees is scheduled for Tuesday, January 8th @ 5:30 PM.

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