Q&A with School Board Member Amy Koo

Amy Koo

School Board | Belmont-Redwood Shores, CA

Amy KooTell us about your background. What are the experiences, including education, that make up the person you currently are?

I’m a 4th generation San Franciscan, and my parents emphasized the importance of education in being successful in life. My own experiences in education were not always rosy; I was often picked on for doing well in school and not being good at sports. Because I attended a small parochial school, I never felt challenged in the classroom – the teachers taught to the middle and the kids who were struggling stayed there, and the kids who were excelling were either goofing off or daydreaming. Attending Lowell High School was a game-changer because for the first time everyone around me was a nerd like me! A pivotal moment in high school was during World Civ – the teacher skipped over all the chapters on Asia even though 60% of the school was Asian. He said there was no time to teach all the chapters. Why call it World Civ when it is Western Civ? I was so livid, I read all the chapters on my own and I eventually minored in East Asian Studies in college. I like challenges and living life with no regrets, so I will always take the fork in the road that will be new and exciting.

I got a BS in Chemical Engineering at MIT, worked as a consultant for Accenture for 5 years before pursuing an MBA / MS Eng degree at Stanford. My career has been varied, from IT consulting to Supply Chain / Distribution to Analytics in different industries – Telecom, High Tech, Life Sciences. I’m currently the Vice-President of the API School Board Members Association and the Director at Large, API for the California School Boards Association. That anger from high school about how Asians are invisible and overlooked stays with me through today, and I want to change that for future Asian American students. My ultimate goal is to live life to its fullest and leave this world a better place.

What was your trigger moment and why this specific office?

I was an angry mom! My son didn’t get into his neighborhood school (along with 25 other kids) and there was no communication to prospective parents that this was a possibility. The school assignment letter was poorly written and did not acknowledge that we didn’t get into our neighborhood school and there was no waitlist or outlining of the next steps to appeal. We sent emails to the district administration and the board, then stormed the next board meeting. There were 3 other groups angry about other issues that filled a packed room – that’s when I realized the district was in disarray something needed to change.

What made you feel qualified to run for office?

The district was facing a lack of school capacity, and with my supply planning background, I knew a thing or two about how to forecast demand and ensure there was sufficient capacity to house the rapid increase in enrollment. I had previously been part of a campaign to create a language immersion program in the district, and when they said there was no money, I volunteered to help the education foundation. I had a good understanding of the various players and the key issues, and due to the school assignment issue had attended every single school board meeting since March 2013.

Do you work full-time or part-time?


Most people don’t know what their elected official does on a daily basis. What’s a typical day looking like for you?

Get my kids out the door to school, work 8 to 9 hours at a full-time job, then it’s back to mom-duties and finally school board stuff after dinner. I’m fortunate my job is flexible because sometimes I need to participate in school board meetings or school site visits during the day, so I make up the work at night. We have school board meetings every 3 weeks, so the days leading up to the board meeting are very busy due to reading the board packet, and our board meetings usually last 4-5 hours (longer during the past 1.5 yrs). I am also involved in school board associations (San Mateo County, API, and CSBA) so those require additional time outside of my local school board duties.

Additionally, they might not know what their elected official is responsible for. What is your role in comparison to other elected offices on your level?

I am responsible along with 4 other board members for the hiring and management of the superintendent, setting the vision, direction, strategy for the school district, and providing oversight and approval on district policies, administrative regulations, budgets, and personnel.

What do you think people would be surprised to know someone in your position does?

As the President of the Board, I need to sign every single employment contract in the district. Used to be wet signatures (tired hand!), but since shelter in place, we transitioned to electronic signatures.

What are 3-5 skills needed to be successful in the elected office you served in/are currently serving in?

Active listener with empathy, strong communicator that can build connections and navigate different situations and personalities, strategic approach/ability to stay in your lane, transparency, and being willing to ask questions and not know all the answers.

What’s the best part about serving in elected office?

Seeing the impact of the work that I do on people’s lives.

What has been the accomplishment you’re most proud of while in office?

Massive improvement in communication (lack of clarity and poor communication was one of the big reasons why I ran for office). The new family orientation is something I’ve very proud of – it didn’t exist before, and we created it right after I joined the board, and it has been standing room only since then.

In terms of finances, how much money did you have to raise for your campaign?

$6000 (unfortunately, I put in half of that amount). Mailers are expensive.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who’s thinking about running for the position you serve/have served in their community?

Go canvassing door to door – the personal connection / personal touch gets out the vote. Plus you learn a lot as you talk to people, so I treated it more like a listening session than an ask for a vote.