Adams to Fill Empty Seat on Board

First published in the Nov. 12 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

After receiving the unanimous endorsement from other school board members this week, Karissa Adams is slated to spend at least the next year on the South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education.
Adams, a prolific volunteer in the community who has three children in SPUSD schools, will take her seat at the board’s next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 14. She emerged out of nine considered applicants, who each were interviewed by the remaining board members in October. (The district received 11 applications, but two were incomplete and not considered.)

Karissa Adams

“Karissa’s broad knowledge of all five schools, commitment to volunteerism, deep understanding of South Pasadena Unified students, teachers and parents, and her ability to dive right in and to work collaboratively with our existing board members were the qualities that stood out to the Board as we made this decision,” Board President Ruby Kalra said in a statement Wednesday.
Adams will replace Suzie Abajian, who resigned in October after moving to Glendale. The appointment will last through at least next November when an election will be held for a two-year term to finish out Abajian’s elected window. She was elected last year to a four-year term on an at-large basis, but the board expects by next year to have transitioned to geographic districts.
Board clerk Zahir Robb, who is positioned to be board president in 2022, first named Adams as his candidate of choice during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I think while everyone brought a lot to the table, through our discussions, I felt we started to learn a lot about Karissa,” he said. “So much we already knew, but obviously some pieces were new to us and it really seemed, from my end, that she could dive right in, have a lot of connections and awareness within schools and in the larger community to help us move forward in our work and contribute to the conversations we have as a board.”
Presently the South Pasadena PTA Council president, Adams was previously president of the Arroyo Vista Elementary School PTA. She also is a member of the booster clubs at both South Pasadena Middle School and South Pasadena High School, a commissioner with the South Pasadena Little League and a Girl Scout troop leader.
Adams and her husband have lived in town since 2007. She grew up in San Diego, graduated from Boston University and worked at a research lab at Harvard Medical School.
Kalra hailed Adams for her leadership at the Arroyo Vista PTA at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when the organization pivoted to virtual meetings and found ways to remotely engage all stakeholders with isolation or social distancing in mind.
“That, I think, says a lot,” Kalra added, “because when you’re a PTA president — especially at an elementary school, that’s the hardest PTA role to have — [you need] to be able to interface with the teachers and the staff and the parents and the students. … I think she’s always had a really positive attitude. Every time I’ve ever seen her at any of those PTA meetings, she’s really been supportive of everything that goes on on campus.”
The board opted out of calling a special election for the seat, with SPUSD Superintendent Geoff Yantz citing a $378,000 price tag for one on Tuesday. It will be much more cost-efficient to hold one next year, when three of the board’s seats will already have elections.
Other considered applicants were Jefferson Crain, Christina Ghaly, Jessica Mockler, David Moore, Ann Rector, Nicholas Rodak, Karen Tamis and Phillip Vi. None of the candidates who unsuccessfully sought a school board seat last year were considered.
“They each brought to us a great wealth of talent, experience and dedication to our schools,” Kalra said. “Plenty of the applications even work in other school districts. We were really pleased with the caliber of our applicants.”
Board member Michele Kipke said in thinking about which applicant to support, she considered how the candidates’ experience would help with what she considers to be a fairly steep learning curve when it comes to school board business.
“I was really looking for some who … knew us well enough that it might be a little less of a steep learning curve so they could jump in and contribute throughout the course of the year,” she said.