More and more I believe that public education is in grave peril. My seat on the County Board Of Education gives me a perch to view the educational world like no other. I so badly want to feel hope that we can work together to turn the system around so all students can thrive with the skills and knowledge needed for success in the 21st century. However, I am running out of hope and I am not sure enough leaders are paying attention to the game-changing drama for which we are immersed.
I met with a congressional aide last week and was asked what I think needs to happen to change the status quo of public schools. Of course, there is my long answer and my shorter one. I decided to go with my short answer. Here is a paraphrase of what I said: there is really no way to change the status quo without bold and courageous leadership at all levels of the school system and government. Elected leaders need to focus on doing what is right and not worry about their reelection. Easy for me to say, but they must be willing to lose support from segments of the educational community to do the right thing on behalf of the children. Our children deserve the voices of strong unwavering and bold leadership on their behalf.
Just look at how the initiative to end the achievement gap in San Jose with Mayor Reed and County Superintendent Weis, called SJ2020, appears to be floundering. Too many superintendents and high-level school leaders are very close to retirement age wishing to go into the next step in life without creating the necessary wave of change needed to upset the status quo.
I get it. Many will receive an excellent pension 60-90% of the current salary (I receive one too) and do not want to go into the next stage of life defeated. The difference today from just 5 years ago is traditional public education is no longer a monopoly. The rules of the educational system we have played by for the last four decades have changed forever.
Last Wednesday evening Summit Public Schools brought to the County Board of Education an appeal of their petition denial by the East Side Union High School District on Sept. 16. Summit Public School: Tahoma, if approved on appeal by our Board would house 400 high school students mostly from East Side Union. Their small and personalized culture with a longer school day, untracked curriculum, college-going expectations for all is what many parents want to see. Interesting that ESUHSD Board will have an A-G requirement (minimum requirements for acceptance to UC and CSU) for all students on their agenda in a coming meeting. It should be a unanimous vote from my perspective, but that will change the status quo.
I get it. It is hard to vote for major systemic change with a system that is under-funded and under-resourced. If we approve Summit Public School: Tahoma and 300 students enroll from ESUHSD the district will lose over $2 million in revenue, not a good thing for the students or teachers in ESUHSD. Yet, this is not a criterian that can be used by the County Board to deny authorization.
Nationally charter schools are increasing student achievement at a similar rate to the traditional public school system yet many school choice advocates see them as a panacea. I do not.
What is true is many Santa Clara County Charters are celebrating unique successes. The SCCOE Board much maligned in the media for its infighting has been a major leader in authorizing several very successful charters making a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of Latino and low income children, K-12, in Santa Clara County. Some of these charter schools authorized by the SCCOE are ACE, Rocketship, and Downtown College Prep (DCP) to name a few. These Charters are educating the children who need help the most to their collective credit. They are all exceeding expectations and are ranked highly in state and county testing assessment measures. Are successful charters helping us change the status quo of traditional public schools? I will know so when tenure and seniority laws are rewritten, pay for performance is agreed to at the collective bargaining table, and there is agreement that longer school days and years are essential for all children.