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Davis, California

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

UC Davis professor gets seat on Davis School Board

On Nov. 4 at local restaurant Tucos, over 40 people attended Madhavi Sunder’s election night party, celebrating the final day of her campaign for a seat on the Davis School Board.

Attendees mingled with one another while watching the results roll in on a wall projection, and many thought it was obvious that Sunder was the winner. On Nov. 12, at 12:22 p.m., the Yolo Elections Office officially announced that Sunder won the seat for the school board, with 11,030 votes in her favor.

A professor at the UC Davis School of Law, author and active community member, Sunder felt she was an ideal candidate for the school board. Since her campaign kicked off on March 19, Sunder has organized a large number of events and visited each school in the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD). Orange lawn signs labeled “Sunder for Schools” were ubiquitous in Davis.

“Some people are clueless and they don’t really know how to get things done, and [Sunder] did,” said former Davis Senior High School PTA president Laurie Rollins, who endorsed Sunder. “She zeroed in on issues that needed changing.”

The main cornerstones in Sunder’s campaign were opportunities, diversity and leadership, which can be all boiled down to her mission to make education accessible for all children. On her campaign’s website, Sunder said that she hopes to emphasize STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics – geared education.

In 2005, Sunder was also responsible for naming a local charter school, Korematsu Elementary School, after 1940s Japanese Civil rights hero Fred Korematsu. (Calvin Covell, the mayor of Davis at the time, lead a city council ordinance which was unanimously held that no Japanese Americans could come back to Davis even after the end of World War II. Since Korematsu’s case against Japanese internment went all the way to the Supreme Court, Sunder thought he would serve as a good role model for children, encouraging them to stand up when they thought something was wrong.)

Time spent in the classroom, Sunder believes, helps her empathize with the needs of teachers, and the culmination of her past experiences has helped prepare her for her role on the school board.

“I know what it means to get a classroom full of students excited,” Sunder said. “I know what diversity in the classroom and faculty means, and the benefits of that.”

Kevin Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law, also backed Sunder’s aptitude in the classroom, noting how many of her students liked her accessibility as an instructor and her down-to-earth style of teaching. Some of these students were also involved with the campaign and attended events, including her election night party.

Johnson was also part of the faculty that helped hire Sunder at the UC Davis Law School over 10 years ago and thought Sunder had amazing potential as a teacher, scholar and community member.

“I talked with Professor Sunder about [running for the School Board] and I know she is very devoted to public schools and has been very active in the public schools,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have any sort of reluctance to offer my support for her candidacy, so it was pretty quick.”

Even after Rollins left the Davis High School’s PTA once her son graduated, she still felt invested in the DJUSD. She found Sunder’s Facebook campaign page and began to research more about her candidacy, and found Sunder to be the best option out of the eight candidates running.

Rollins said she believes Sunder was thinking about the bigger picture, saying the one thing she learned after being a part of something like the PTA or the school board is that it is not wise to merely be working for the benefit of your children.

“She’s smart and organized and she knew the school districts and she knew the issues and how to get support for all types of kids,” Rollins said. “[It’s about] kids across town, in different areas, all across the economic spectrum, learning styles and language skills — it’s everybody. It’s a little town, but it’s complex bunch of kids.”

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