Proposal to Relocate Downtown College Prep Stirs Debate

I wish to weigh in on the growing controversy relative to San Jose Unified School District’s proposal to relocate Downtown College Prep to the south side of San Jose High School. Here are the facts as I understand them.

My sources for information: Dr. Mary Ann Dewan, chief schools officer at the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE), and Jennifer Andaluz, founder/CEO of Downtown College Prep. San Jose Unified has been engaged in a comprehensive study for several months on a strategic usage plan of district programs and buildings. The district is the largest of 31 within Santa Clara County, and it has an enrollment of 32,000 students PreK-12th grade.

A recent column quoted Stephen McMahon, chief business officer for SJUSD, as saying, "We have an obligation to make the most efficient use of buildings that the public owns. ... [The decisions] are not always clean or easy." I fully concur with Mr. McMahon. An organization built around continuous improvement must look at facility issues in comprehensive ways. And decisions made can be very messy and controversial.

A recommendation from SJUSD's facility study suggested placing many of its alternative education programs at Erickson Elementary School, located at 4849 Pearl Ave. This would cause a domino effect with the relocation of several special education programs run by SCCOE.

Approximately 100 medically fragile, severely autistic and young adult (18-22) special education students are currently proposed to move to the Downtown College Prep site on the Alameda in July 2015. This proposed SJUSD district move displaces 420 9th-12th grade students who would move to San Jose High School's cluster of portable classrooms. Many of the 100 SCCOE students currently at Erickson are residents of SJUSD, yet they are served by county special education department teachers, aides and administrators.

The proposed decisions by SJUSD appear to have been made with the best of intentions. However, it seems these decisions were rushed within the last two months and did not include all possible solutions. The SCCOE as a key stakeholder in the decision was not notified until October 27, 2014, about the move to DCP. The Downtown College Prep site on the Alameda was renovated expressly for the students of DCP in 2005. Public dollars were used for the construction and the result was a win-win for all stakeholders, including the 420 DCP students and staff. Architect Bill Gould designed the large, open space while consulting with DCP’s Jennifer Andaluz and district officials.

According to the SCCOE director of special education, the Downtown College Prep site would serve their staff and students' interests well, if they needed to move from Erickson. When I met with Ms. Andaluz on Monday, I learned that there is unused property at the DCP site on The Alameda. If cohabitation is the decision, she said there is potential interest in her Downtown College Prep students working collaboratively with the county Office of Education special education students and staff.

Getting a win-win situation could mean all parties look at the option of finding a way for Downtown College Prep and the 100 students from Erickson to learn on the same site. At the end of the 2015-16 school year, the SCCOE will need to relocate 60 additional special education students from Della Maggorie Center due to pending new construction. I am not certain how this complicates the potential for the above-mentioned scenario.

Ideally, I wish to advocate for Downtown College Prep to stay in its current location while advocating for a facility that is suitable if special need students and adults must be moved from Erickson.

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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