There has been a considerable amount of angst created by a controversial facilities plan in San Jose Unified School District. Unfortunately, it did not have to be this way.
Here’s what went wrong and a way to move forward on a potential win-win for all stakeholders.
On Monday, a meeting convened by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and SJUSD Superintendent Vince Matthews took place in the mayor's conference room. Other key stakeholders who were present included: Akemi Flynn, executive director of PACT; District 3 Council member Raul Peralez, Santa Clara County Office of Education trustee Leon Beauchman and myself, as well as city staff and representatives for the SCCOE, SJUSD, Downtown College Prep (DCP), ACE Charter, and Sunrise Middle School.
The new district facilities plan was a complicated mix of moves that required many dominos to fall into place in just a four-month window. The dominos included moving DCP from its Alameda location to San Jose High, and the SCCOE’s Erickson special need students to the Hester/DCP site. Also included in the Jenga-like process are ACE Charter, Sunrise Middle, SJUSD's Enrollment Center and alternative education programs.
The plan, developed by SJUSD, had good intentions from the outset. As I wrote in December, "An organization built around continuous improvement must look at facility issues in comprehensive ways." The District's chief business officer, Stephen McMahon, said: "We have an obligation to make the most efficient use of buildings that the public owns …" I agree.
I have advocated for productive collaboration between charter schools and traditional public schools for many years, and I believe the district's original plan took this issue into consideration.
Mr. McMahon, when he was president of the San Jose Teachers Association a few years ago, created a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement with management that was more consistent with the Race To The Top national priorities: a salary schedule based on skills and substantial change in how teachers are evaluated. Current SJTA President Jennifer Thomas was the driving force behind its final ratification.
What McMahon and Thomas realized that in order to get buy-in on forward-thinking change, the proposition must appeal to people’s interest. Negotiations on key contract provisions, if positional, would not work. The leadership of all parties in the agreement needed trust and transparency as the foundation. Perhaps the strategy must be different for facility lease agreements with charter schools, but I don’t think so.
Open dialogue is critical to the success of any plan, and from what I know the transparency in the process was compromised early and trust was lost for some, but not all. Time constraints were also real for the district and some charters.
At Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Matthews was given the first opportunity byMayor Liccardo to present a new plan in the form of a Board resolution (available at SJUSD.org). Matthews prefaced the summary of the resolution with a quote from Henry Ford: "Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."
Matthews asserted that the original plan and new resolution is in concert with the SJUSD’s Opportunity21 Strategic Plan and the Equity Policy. The resolution
(2015-01-29-01) gives DCP and Erickson SCCOE Special Need students one more year in their current locations. The terms of the one-year lease with DCP is to be determined. The resolution also gives DCP Middle School and ACE temporary locations at San Jose High School and at Bachrodt Charter Academy, respectively. Sunrise must move once again to some interim classroom space at San Jose High for the third year in a row.
At this juncture, I support the SJUSD’s proposed resolution, although I am very concerned about the students and staff at Sunrise being used as pawns in this chess match.
With the aforementioned exception, I support the resolution because I think it is prudent to invest more time in the district's yet-to-be-realized attempt to develop collaboration and trust. Trust begins with egoless work, transparency, honesty, integrity, the right people at the table and always keeping the student’ best interest as the top priority.
DCP and Sunrise Middle should be able to express their interests going forward openly and honestly, without fear of reprisals from the district. After all, these are all students in the village we call San Jose.
I applaud Mayor Liccardo for using his new positional authority to help move the ball forward. I hope his office stays involved. This new year gives us new opportunities to do important work. Every dollar that is invested into public education must be leveraged for the good of all. Anything less means the egos of leaders are inappropriately oversized.