When you examine the list of critical issues San Jose's next mayor will have to confront, nearly all relate to our children's education. The issues include: public safety, transportation, street repairs, affordable housing, homelessness, libraries, rebuilding relationships with police and fire, land use, city finances, et al.
All items on this list are vital to city governance. But top of my list, as an educator and Santa Clara County Office of Education trustee, is how children thrive from birth to career. It is difficult for children to flourish in neighborhoods with high crime. Also, when two or three families must live in a small apartment/house to afford rent, many of these children enter kindergarten behind their peers.
Former Mayor Ron Gonzales once wrote an op-ed for the New York Times noting, “When we protect kids, provide better schools and stronger neighborhoods, and prepare our future leaders, we are creating a better quality of life for our residents. And that's the proper job of a mayor of any city.”
This Saturday at 10am the SCCOE Board of Education—in co-sponsorship with People Acting In Community Together (PACT), EducateOurState and Working Partnerships—will convene a mayoral forum on public education. The event will be held at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Dr. Terry Christensen, professor emeritus at San Jose State University, will moderate.
Candidates that have accepted the invitation include county Supervisor David Cortese and San Jose councilmembers Rose Herrera and Sam Liccardo.
The forum will begin with a two-minute clip from Chris Coleman, mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota, who gave a keynote speech to the National League of Cities conference a week ago. Mayor Coleman believes learning takes place 24/7 in every city. And while he cannot take over control of his city’s schools, similar to San Jose's mayor, Coleman believes an "education mayor" must be responsive to the social-emotional skills of children. This, Coleman says, can be done through after-school programming, outdoor experiences and developing skills within city staff that interacts with children.
Other topics that will be covered on Saturday include SJ 2020 (eliminating the achievement gap by 2020); charter schools zoning, facilities and collaboration; investing in education; and the importance of higher education.
One topic that might also be included in follow-up questions is the candidates’ opinions on school turnarounds. Innovate Public Schools hosted a workshop on Thursday looking at school turnarounds in Boston public schools. Turnaround or “restart” schools work to find solutions for students who are “stuck” in chronically low performing schools. The city of San Jose has schools such as these within its boundaries.
Our current system features nearly 100 non-partisan elected school board members in San Jose working with superintendents of 19 districts to address the issue of underperforming public schools. No doubt, these people have the best of intentions to promote change for their students. However, data indicate some schools are mired in issues that prevent significant alterations.
The growing charter school movement in San Jose has attempted to address the issue of consistently underperforming schools, by creating a competing system of publicly funded schools that are getting significantly better achievement results for poor and/or minority children. The next mayor of San Jose should advocate boldly and bravely for the schools Innovate Public Schools will identify as the chronically lowest-performing.
The mayor through his/her positional power can convene a conference of elected school leaders, superintendents, community-based agencies and other elected officials
to look at turnaround/restart models that are bringing needed change to communities all over this country. San Jose, the Capitol of Silicon Valley, needs a mayor who understands the urgent need for leadership in this essential effort.
The SCCOE and Innovate Public Schools, I believe, would be willing partners in doing much of the “heavy lifting.”
I hope to see many of you on Saturday at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Light refreshments will be served.