The San Ramon Valley Unified School District has a new member to serve on the Board of Education, selecting San Ramon resident Susanna Ordway to fill the vacant seat on the board.
After a series of four straw votes Ordway, a teacher, college advisor, Parent Teacher association chair, small business owner and mom from San Ramon, was unanimously picked as interim board member at Monday night's special meeting in Danville. She will serve out the remaining six months of the term left vacant when Denise Jennison resigned for undisclosed personal reasons last month, though Ordway could run for re-election in the fall.
“I have extensive experience working with students one and one and in small groups, and when the position opened up I knew that I could help students on a much larger scale,” Ordway said during the interview.
“I want to congratulate Susanna as our appointee to the interim seat on the board,” board president Ken Mintz said in a statement. “We had a very strong field of candidates and any one of our finalists would have been a solid choice. I’m looking forward to Susanna’s background, experience and commitment to education to help fill the void left by Denise Jennison’s resignation.”
A 24-year San Ramon resident who immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a child, Ordway was selected from among 19 candidates, four of whom were interviewed publicly in front of the board and an audience of approximately 30 community members Monday night.
“Considering the seat that is being filled and where (Jennison’s) expertise was I lean more towards Susanna… and it (will) be nice to have another woman on the board,” board vice president Rachel Hurd said with a laugh prior to making the decision.
In the final selection process Ordway was competing against three other candidates: San Ramon Valley High School PTA executive vice president Shelley Clark, Danville native attorney Jerome Pandell and Bank of America Financier Thomas Tellner.
The four candidates waited outside as their competitors were interviewed by the board. Each candidate was asked the same series of questions, with slight variations as board members asked follow-ups for clarification.
The initial vote showed the board could not have been farther apart in their decision making, with each member selecting a different candidate as their top pick. Board Member Greg Marvel was the only one to initially pick Ordway as his top choice.
“Susanna has years of involvement at the local site level and she will help maintain a well-rounded board,” Marvel said, adding that the different perspective she offers will only improve the board.
The board deliberated, discussing the pros and cons of each candidate and voted twice more before eliminating Clark and Pandell from consideration. Marvel reasoned that he felt Ordway had the greatest variety of experience and Tellner brought the most impressive money management skills, a feeling shared by the rest of the board.
After a final round Ordway received three votes for first choice and was soon after voted in unanimously by the board.
"I am very humbled and honored to have been appointed to this important position on the Board of Education. I look forward to working with my fellow board members and Superintendent Rick Schmitt for the benefit of all our students in the San Ramon Valley community," she said in a statement.
An immigrant originally from Hong Kong, Ordway moved to Phoenix when she was just a girl. While there she said her sister was the only other Asian student in school until the ninth grade. She looks to offer the board a voice from the district's immigrant population that may not have been there before.
“My family and I have lived (in San Ramon) for almost 25 years. Since the early days, the community and district has seen a lot of community growth,” Ordway said. “I can help with the representation of different groups. To give them more information about what the school board and district does and also provide the school board with a perspective on why a group may feel a certain way.”
Ordway has worked at a diverse range of areas for the SRVUSD, not only teaching art classes at district schools, but also working as an independent contractor, tutoring K-5 students and teaching after-school STEM courses for nearly 10 years.
Since 2015 Ordway has operated her own business as a college search and application advisor. Helping students from various economic backgrounds search for the perfect college experience.
“Finding the best fit is what I do with my students everyday. I find the best fit based off of the social financial and academic conditions,” she said of her business during the interview. “I’ve been right there in the trenches working side-by-side with teachers and administrators collaborating with them, and working out how to best benefit the students.”
Working at the parent teacher level she has volunteered on the San Ramon Valley Council of PTA’s since 2012 and has served as the council's chair since 2015. Her volunteerism doesn’t stop there; over the past decade she has chaired the SRVUSD Reflections Art Program, served as the vice president of communications for the PTA and volunteered as an academic advisor on Youth Radio out of Oakland.
“From where I sit what really stands out is Susanna's deep connection to the district,” board member Mark Jewett said. “I have seen her manage through some pretty difficult tasks... so I feel very confident in her abilities to look across the entire district, not just focusing in on any one particular area or item affecting (it).”
Both of Ordway's daughters have gone through the district school system in San Ramon, attending Twin Creeks Elementary and Iron Horse Middle School before graduating from California High School.
Putting her straight to work the board had here make her first official vote as a member mere minutes after she was sworn in. A relatively uncontroversial decision, the board unanimously voted to have board member Marvel serve as the board's new clerk a position previously held by Jennison.
“It's all for the students and i have no higher aspirations if I am chosen I am here to work,” she said prior to being selected. “And when I see my qualifications matched up with the board everything is a fit.”
Ordway will serve on the board at least until the November election. She has not yet confirmed if she will be running to hold onto her position for a full four-year term this fall.
She received a BA in foreign languages and cultures from Pomona College in Claremont and a master's from Arizona State University's Thunderbird School of Global Management. Ordway also received certification in the college admissions and career planning program with UC Berkeley.