County’s Bold Steps on Education Follow FDR’s Lead Despite Lawsuits

I participated in last week’s 2014 State of the Valley conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center. Russell Hancock, president/CEO of Joint Venture, told the opening session’s 1,100 attendees that the economy is “sizzling” but the income gap by race and ethnicity is growing. This is directly related to California’s public education system.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom admitted we have a “failed education system.” Emmett Carson, of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, implored the audience to develop opportunities for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Chris Kelly, a candidate for California Attorney General in 2010 and the first chief privacy officer for Facebook, referred to FDR’s concept of “bold, persistent experimentation.” That phrase resonated with me, and I went back to find more of President Roosevelt’s speech.

“The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation,” he said. “It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy each.

“We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer. We need the courage of the young. Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you. May every one of us be granted the courage, the faith and the vision to give the best that is in us to that remaking.”

Brilliant.

My column last week enthusiastically endorsed the Gates Foundation’s selection of Franklin McKinley Collaborative Charter School Compact for the first round of start-up funding. The following day, Franklin McKinley and three other school districts filed a lawsuit was against the Santa Clara County Office of Education and our Board of Education. This is the second lawsuit filed against the Board and SCCOE as we try to find legal ways to open schools that experiment and have a track record of increased achievement for their student body.

The most recent lawsuit challenges a Dec. 14, 2011 decision by the Board—which I chaired at the time—that approved 20 countywide charters.

In 2010, the county and city of San Jose sponsored a “call to action” to eliminate the achievement gap by 2020. It was estimated that nearly 50 percent of all public school students in San Jose lacked grade level proficiency in math and English. Obviously, the consequences are tragic and in far too many cases disproportionately impact poor and Latino students. Our Board accepted the call for bold action.

For several years, and what seemed like an interminable number of meetings, formal and informal, we prepared with legal input for a vote on five, and then 20 Rocketship Charters. The hope was Rocketship schools coupled with a growing portfolio of innovative charter schools would change the status quo for poor and Latino children.

The Board was measured and thoughtful during months of debate, and in 2011, we had the courage to act with bold, persistent experimentation as the guiding principle. We have consistently voted to create new public policy compliant with law. The status quo is unsustainable, but sadly the status quo is winning.

We only conquer our decline if the children do well. This must become the priority. Let’s follow FDR’s plea of 1932.

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.

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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