New Haven Unified appoints Vanessa Hernandez to fill school board vacancy

Vanessa Hernandez answers questions from members of the New Haven Unified School District Board of Education.

UNION CITY, Calif. — The vacancy on the New Haven Unified School District Board of Education is set to be filled by a district alumna with deep roots in the community.

During a special meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 8, the board voted, 2-1, to appoint Vanessa Hernandez to replace former Boardmember Mel Shuen-Mallory, who officially resigned on Oct. 31. Hernandez will represent Area 2, which includes the Decoto area and a portion of south Hayward, until the next election in November 2024. Board President Lance Nishihira was opposed and Boardmember Shamsa Rafay was absent.

“I feel, right now, the one thing I’m looking for is much more experience,” Nishihira said. “And I feel that Ms. Hernandez, while she has the right heart for sure, I think for a 12-month appointment, the learning curve is going to be very, very short.”

Boardmembers Shruti Kumar and Michael Gonzales disagreed. Gonzales said he was impressed with Hernandez winning the endorsements of fellow candidate Melanie Freeberg, who dropped out to endorse her, and outgoing Boardmember Shuen-Mallory.

“If I were to make a list of everything I would want in someone to take this spot and serve Area 2, Vanessa would check all of those boxes,” Shuen-Mallory told the board. “Every single one and more, probably things I never even thought of.”

Hernandez, a lifelong Decoto resident and former transitional kindergarten teacher, was a third-generation New Haven student and currently has a child enrolled in school. She serves on the school site council and parent teacher club. Hernandez said the community she has in Area 2 could serve as a valuable source of insight for the board and she would like to be their voice.

Hernandez was picked over five other candidates, including Mt. Eden High School teacher Charles Kennedy, former Boardmember Michelle Parnala, longtime district employee and union leader Tanya Leno and Christopher Bowe, a senior plant manager with the FedEx Office Manufacturing Network.

Kumar’s top two candidates were Hernandez and Bowe, while Gonzales said he preferred Hernandez and Parnala. Nishihira’s top picks were Parnala and Bowe.

Hernandez’s appointment is expected to be made official at the next board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 510-952-7455.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated that Hernandez was currently a transitional kindergarten teacher.

Photo caption: Lifelong Area 2 resident Vanessa Hernandez answers questions from members of the New Haven Unified School District Board of Education during a special meeting Wednesday, Nov. 8. (YouTube screenshot)

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