The new year brings renewed hope for children, especially those who need a hand up. As a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, I begin my work this year with excitement about how far we have come in the last five years and the path we are paving to create a system of publicly funded schools that provide educational equity for each and every child and are held accountable for the results.
Here is my list of top initiatives, in order of importance, that have required enormous energy, courage and passion from community and state leaders and educators that will pave the way to increased economic development and job growth, less crime and, once again, a burgeoning middle class:
1.This week, the state of California is poised for regaining its golden glow in public education. On Tuesday, Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg was joined by fellow senators, educators and law enforcement officials to announce a measure to provide California’s children access to a “Transitional Kindergarten for All” program. It is being heralded as the highest quality kindergarten readiness program in the nation.
If you read this column, you know there has been a broadly represented leadership group working to bring universal access to high-quality early learning to Santa Clara County. We have called ourselves the Santa Clara County Universal Preschool (SCCUP) for the last year and have worked on developing an initiative we call “Strong Start.”
When the new transitional kindergarten legislation is signed into law by the governor, then we at the county level can work on providing the same high-quality early learning experience for our neediest 3-year-olds. The research is crystal clear. A dose of two or more years of pre-kindergarten learning narrows the achievement gap through school, increases high school graduation and college going rates, reduces crime, increases personal and family income, and constricts need for federal assistance.
2.The charter school revolution picked up steam locally with new publicly funded charter schools K-12. This list includes Rocketship, Alpha, Summit, Downtown College Prep, KIPP, Discovery and Navigator. From my vantage point, the increase in high-performing charters in SCC is reducing the achievement gap and providing appropriate levels of competition to the traditional school system. The effort is raising all boats for children’s instruction. My wish going forward is that we learn to collaborate more about teaching and learning with traditional public schools and districts and charter management organizations in 2014. There are plenty of examples of educators and community leaders taking the work to higher levels across this country. Unfortunately, we are still engaged in legal battles and other unnecessary rifts that take the focus and money away from the critical work.
3.Educare will break ground this year in the Santee Neighborhood of Franklin-McKinley School District. Silicon Valley Leadership Group has provided the backbone of leadership to the venture. Educare is a state-of-the-art facility that will foster parent involvement in the education of at-risk children from birth to age five. I am proud the SCCOE Board voted unanimously to allocate $1.5 million dollars to its first two years of operation. This private and public partnership for our region bodes well for our future. Superintendent John Porter, his staff and Board have been a beacon of good leading the region forward. In fact, Franklin-McKinley S.D. and their charters are in line this year for a Gates Collaborative Foundation grant to promote a meaningful, game-changing partnership with all their publicly funded schools to better meet the learning needs of all the communities’ children. All our districts can learn from this model. fighting over the issues convolutes the real mission of the work and is counterintuitive to producing better results for the children who need help.
4. Innovate Public Schools and its CEO Matt Hammer are rocking the boat by publishing data-laden reports that highlight a very unequal system of public education in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The two-part reports are titled “Broken Promises.” This information will help inform discussions in school board rooms going forward. Children will benefit.
5. Lastly, I was elated to see that one candidate has stepped out to confront the issue of becoming an education mayor for San Jose. Councilmember Sam Liccardo’s special to the Mercury News published this week is right on target. Liccardo wrote: “…if the next mayor hopes to improve public safety, economic opportunity and city services, then supporting public education must become a top priority.” I hope I can work with EducateOurState to sponsor a mayoral debate on the issues of public education in San Jose. It’s in the works.
I am optimistic that 2014 will be a banner year for our children. After all, if our children are well, we are well. Happy New Year, San Jose Inside.
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 and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.