Melissa Baten Caswell is running for the Santa Clara County Board of Education to work collaboratively to bring about the change we need to make sure all Santa Clara County kids thrive. Melissa is an innovator, problem solver, former tech executive, entrepreneur, and current school board member with a record of getting things done.
The oldest of three girls, Melissa was born in White Plains, New York, where she spent her childhood. She received her undergraduate and MBA degrees from Dartmouth and went on to spend more than 20 years as an executive in finance, marketing and strategy — first on Wall Street and later in Silicon Valley. Throughout her career, Melissa developed a reputation for problem solving that made her highly sought after by large technology companies. As a young woman in the business world, Melissa faced many obstacles, including pay disparities and the challenges of balancing motherhood and work that many women deal with. This desire for equality is something Melissa has carried with her to this day.
Melissa worked as a tech executive to implement innovative solutions in her roles at companies such as Sun MicroSystems, Compression Labs and Calico Commerce. She later went on to start her own education focused tech startup called CollegeMojo, helping students organize and manage the college application process. Today, Melissa runs her own small business, providing marketing strategy, corporate positioning and program development services to a variety of companies.
In 2001, Melissa became more active in her children’s schools and was compelled to use the skills she had garnered in her career to help solve the challenges facing their school communities. Melissa was asked to serve on the PTA board and eventually served as PTA president.
Through her work on the PTA, Melissa found her passion for high quality, transparent and accountable public education. She committed herself to supporting and improving our public school system, and to ensuring every parent had a voice in the process. She served as president of the Duveneck School PTA, president of the PTA Council, and was appointed to the 6th District PTA’s Leadership Council, which covers all of Santa Clara County. As a longtime equity advocate, Melissa worked collaboratively on the PTA to elevate the voices of Black and Brown parents during the search for a new superintendent, and pushed for policies and programs to better recruit and retain Black and Brown teachers.
Melissa continued her advocacy for public schools with her 2007 election to the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Board, on which she has served from 2007 to the present, winning re-election twice. As a school board trustee, Melissa continuously works to build effective partnerships with community stakeholders, to implement creative solutions to the many challenges students, parents and educators face, and to ensure all kids receive the education they deserve. She began her term by securing pro bono assistance from a major consulting firm to develop a landmark Strategic Plan, which provided clear, focused and measurable goals for Palo Alto schools. Melissa’s years of business experience also taught her the importance of collaboration. In order to move our schools forward, she knew she had to listen to stakeholders, focus priorities and work together to accomplish what needed to be done. During her time as a board member, Melissa has supported strong, working partnerships between the school district and city officials. Melissa also demanded that our schools do a better job of actively recruiting underserved students for our Advanced Authentic Research projects, AP classes and for leadership and mentorship opportunities. She pushed for graduation requirements to increase student eligibility to the California public university systems, as well as better first teaching and academic support across elementary and secondary levels for low-income struggling students that has included high expectations, kid-by-kid analysis, engaging academic opportunities and providing academic scaffolding before kids fail.
As a result of Melissa’s work on the Palo Alto School Board, she was appointed to serve on the Santa Clara County School Boards’ Association where she was elected to serve as vice president and then president. In these roles, Melissa continues to build a successful track record facilitating interaction between our schools and local legislators. She helps school board members connect with each other to understand countywide challenges and share best practices. Melissa is also an elected Delegate to the California School Boards Association, and has been an active participant with the California Association of Suburban School Districts and Schools for Sound Finance for many years. In these roles, she worked at the state and local levels to bolster funding for our schools and strategize on solutions to education challenges.
In addition to her work in and on behalf of our schools, Melissa has served the community’s children and families in a variety of capacities. She is currently a member of the Art Center Foundation’s Emeritus Board and a Parent Advisory Board member for Bucknell University. She was a founding board member of Youth Community Service, whose mission includes bringing students together across the economic, social and race divide in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park to address social and community service issues. She was a board member and campaign cabinet member of the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation, an ambassador for Palo Alto’s Family Resources, a member of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Community Advisory Board, a member of the Parent Advisory Board for the Downtown Children’s Center Preschool, and has actively participated in several mayoral tasks forces.
Melissa and her husband Lee moved to Palo Alto in 1990 where they raised their two children. She spends her free time reading, skiing, hiking, swimming and kayaking. She is also an artist who enjoys working with watercolor, oil paint, pencil, clay and jewelry.
- Golden Oak Award, 2010 Duveneck PTA
- Continuing Service Award, 2008 PTA Council
- Honorary Service Award, 2020 Gunn HS PTSA