Spring can be a period of new beginnings for all of us. Or it can be more of the same: a war of words and posturing while some of our children fail to achieve their academic potential.
At Mission Santa Clara's Easter Mass on Sunday I prayed and meditated for a new, constructive dialogue on local education. I certainly hope we can make peace and find a path to move forward the conversation on charter and traditional public schools. We can find common ground to eradicate the achievement gap that threatens the region’s future.
It was recently asserted that my columns and votes since becoming a Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee have added divisiveness to the issue. I believe my votes and opinions have been solely to advocate for children and parents. Newly elected San Jose Unified trustee Susan Ellenberg penned a thoughtful response to last week's guest column by several teacher association presidents:
"I don't think anyone can seriously claim that traditional public education is fully achieving its mission of providing a high quality education for every single student,” she wrote. “Public schools open their doors to every single child, regardless of language skills, intellectual aptitude or social, emotional, and/or economic challenge. They do not target specific populations and are expected to teach to an extremely broad range of learners. An unfortunate and unacceptable by-product of this system is that a clearly definable demographic of students consistently has been left behind in this system: students who are most often English language learners (and specifically of Latino heritage), of very low socio-economic status and are often engaged with the foster care system.”
I completely agree with Ellenberg's commentary.
To promote a healthier debate, dialogue and strategic planning, the Santa Clara County office of Education and its Board have championed transparency regarding the approval of charters in my six-plus years as a trustee. Some examples are the Summit I in 2010, Proposition 39, Summit I part 2, the Charter School White Paper in 2012 and an enhancement to the website for the Office of Innovative Schools. Each event or publication is a proactive effort to enrich the conversation.
We reviewed the new website at our Board meeting last week, and it features quick links to each of the county’s 23 authorized charter schools, as well as accessible links to each school's homepage, CMO homepage, charter petition, board meeting schedule, SARC, Local Control and Accountability Plan, admissions process, parent and student handbooks, fiscal audit, and other key resources. Charter School Summit 2 and 3, coming in the next several months, will provide future opportunities to collaborate on behalf of students.
My meditation on Easter Sunday included visualizing a community of leaders finding all potential solution sets to the enormous, and too often intractable, problems our children face.
We know the answers:
- High quality early learning for all children at least two years before kindergarten.
- A school system that has ample resources for children, teachers and parents.
- Longer school days.
- Integrated technology in all classrooms.
- Data analytics on each child to promote achievement.
- Applying skills to real world situations.
- Enriched assessment systems, such as the new Smarter Balanced Common Core aligned system.
- Sharing best practices from birth to age 5, like Educare. (The first one in the state opens in August in San Jose.)
- Fixing the broken teacher pipeline.
- Improving school leadership.
If we are committed to eliminating the achievement gap we will stop the saber rattling and work together to accomplish the above elements.