Thanksgiving holidays have always been a time for self-reflection. This year is no different. My look in the mirror this week will reflect on my role as a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board.
When I was elected in 2008, I was not a proponent of an expanding the charter school system in. I saw it as a threat to the viability of the public school system, a system I worked in for 34 years. My first charter school votes were against a renewal of Discovery in Moreland and a “no” vote for Magnolia’s petition for three countywide charters. My votes were in the minority, and in both cases the charters were approved.
In January 2010, at the urging of Trustee Anna Song and I, the county board hosted a Charter School Summit to promote collaboration, cooperation and best practices across the county, respective to charters and traditional public schools/districts. A couple hundred educators participated. Some thought the Summit was slanted favorably toward the charter school world. That was not my perspective. However, the Summit did not lead to more collaboration or cooperation as intended. The gravitational pull of the system’s status quo was far too powerful.
In the four years I have served on the SCCOE Board, my perspective on publicly-funded charters has changed markedly. The status quo that existed in 2008, with respect to results of public schools, was in many cases a system that perpetuated mediocrity and failure, especially for Latino, African-American students and those who qualified for free and reduced lunches. The more I analyzed the data, the more I felt the status quo needed urgent change. For some students and parents it has changed for the better since 2008.
In the last four years, several local high quality charter schools have produced impressive achievement results for all students, exceeding the results in their respective districts. These result-oriented charters include Aspire, KiPP, Rocketship, Ace and Summit.
The SCCOE Board’s 5-2 vote a year ago to approve 20 Rocketship Charters has been perceived by some as capricious, given without much consideration to the “big” picture of education in the county. Having lived though the one-year planning and dialogue with key educational leaders, I take personal affront to that characterization. My view is that the Board took painstaking care to listen carefully to all perspectives and then vote its conscience.
We are now at another crossroad. How will the Board vote on a petition to approve a high quality parent participation charter school called Discovery II in San Jose Unified on Nov. 28, 2012? How will the Board vote on the request for a zoning exemption for a Rocketship Charter in the Tamien area in January 2013? Will the Board vote to approve the third Summit Charter school named Denali, a 6-12 grade school? How does the Board promote the elimination of the achievement gap with the goals of SJ/SV 2020? Are 31 school districts too many and will the Board work to promote the conversation about district consolidation/unification/realignment?
As I prepare for Thanksgiving Day with family and friends, I ponder these questions along with the ultimate question: Will the inertia to maintain the status quo be too strong to overcome? On Thursday, I will give thanks to those trailblazers who work tirelessly to see that all children have a “seat” at the table of success. That is what we should work toward achieving.
I wish all my readers a meaningful and fulfilling Thanksgiving. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.”
Joseph Di Salvo is chair of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.