Making Politics Work for Public Education

Someone asked me last week if there are underreported stories about public education in the Bay Area. Absolutely there are. People and ideas are converging in Silicon Valley, and they have the potential to alter the landscape of schools and learning.

These local folk heroes are emerging as champions for children and the goal of equal opportunity for all. Their footprint is getting deeper and less likely to be erased by political tides. This line from President Obama’s second State of the Union address last week captured it perfectly: “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”

A vibrant middle class is at the root of our economic and social health as a region. Most of us would agree that quality education, particularly in the early years of life (0-5), is the catalyst for life success. In his address last week, the President said: “Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. … Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on.”

Last Friday, trustees Mah, Green and myself discussed the future of education with several community leaders, including: Matt Hammer, Silicon Valley Community Foundation; Jolene Smith, CEO First Five; Dr. Lisa Kaufman, SCCOE director of Early Learning Services; Ron Gonzales, Executive Director of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley; Aditi Goel, Senior Associate Education and Health; Silicon Valley Leadership Group; and others. This meeting featured discussions on how to help the 20-25 percent of children who have no place to go for high quality preschool, as well as the 20-30 percent who are in programs that need improvement based on quality indicators.

I am convinced that with the wisdom of those around the table, and the federal/state impetus to achieve the goal, we can get this done in Santa Clara County. Tip O’Neill , the late Speaker of the House, was correct when he coined the phrase “All politics is local.”

We have an enormous opportunity to bridge the economic divide and create equal opportunities for success for our children. An investment in our children will stimulate economic growth and save the county and local cities hundreds of millions of dollars in future years through crime reduction, lower unemployment, and increased high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

We have school districts and charter management organizations that are initiating change of unparalleled scale, with broad implications for teaching, learning and life success for our county children. In addition to the above change agents, we have John Danner and Preston Smith, co-founders of Rocketship Education; and Vince Mathews and Stephen McMahon, San Jose Unified School District’s superintendent and its chief business officer, who was formerly the teacher association president.

Rocketship’s Smith, who was a local teacher and principal in Alum Rock School District, testified in front of the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 14 to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. In his testimony, he highlighted the three pillars, or core values, that lead to academic success for children from low income backgrounds: personalized learning, transformative teaching, and engaged parents. Mathews and McMahon are innovating a new teacher contract that the San Jose Mercury News described as putting children first.

Another game-changing partnership can be found in Emmett Carson and Matt Hammer. the CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation and executive director of Innovate Public Schools, respectively. Next week’s column will focus on the efforts of these six extraordinary community and school leaders.

Today’s column is my 200th since my trustee swearing-in ceremony in December 2008. Thank you for reading.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.

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