In Defense of the Santa Clara County Office of Education

This is my 298th column published on San Jose Inside. Writing once a week on the subject of education since being elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Education has been a privilege. I am very grateful for being afforded this unique opportunity. In two weeks I will pen my 300th and last column.

I have come to the realization that by writing a weekly column for San Jose Inside, I have inadvertently become complicit in promoting more negativity for the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) than it deserves. I faithfully support with all my heart, mind and soul the good work of the office. I thank our 1,700 employees who work courageously with and for some of the most fragile youth in public education.

As I turn 64 next week, I wish to turn my attention to writing a book on how the current structure of public education is leading to the abject failure of 21st century America. I will endeavor to offer solutions that will lead us toward a more enlightened future and an informed citizenry that participates fully in our democracy.

The SCCOE has taken a heavy hit the last several months on a variety of significant stumbles. Whether the mistakes made were in the category of malfeasance is debatable. I think not.

I hope the unvarnished truth will emerge in the not too distant future. Certainly, the governance team of eight—seven board members and the superintendent—is responsible for bringing accountability for the mistakes of the past, while preventing them in the future. That is what I will strive to accomplish.

It is essential that we restore the public’s trust. The board has insisted on transparency for all transgressions, although these attempts are sometimes limited by closed session meetings and confidentiality restrictions.

Much of what has been written here on San Jose Inside by Josh Koehn (my editor) is based on empirical facts. But when added together with bloggers responses to his investigative reporting, the storyline becomes hyperbolic and hurtful to the organization I have been elected to serve. At least that is how it feels to me.

The SCCOE is “well functioning” in many significant ways, even if a headline on this site mocked such a description in its last SCCOE report. Those who care to view our board meetings in their entirety can go to sccoe.org and observe the manner to which professionalism and the public good prevail. Sometimes it’s a slow process.

You will observe a board committed to the best educational results for all children; a board led with grace and wisdom by President Darcie Green; a Board that works diligently to learn the issues on each item brought up for a vote.

That said, the SCCOE must get better at managing its complex sub-systems and learn from past failures in order to build a solid foundation for future superintendents and board members. There is still critical work to be done.

I wish to use the July 29, 2015, board agenda to illustrate the point of a well-functioning organization:

Action Items 9A and 9B

At our last meeting we celebrated 50 years of the Head Start Program, part of the Great Society of President Lyndon Johnson. The SCCOE’s Head Start Program, serving over 2,000 low-income children, receives the highest of ratings when compared to all other Head Start programs nationally. This week’s Action Items 9A and 9B request approval by the board of two Early Head Start contracts between the San Jose Unified and East Side Union High School districts totaling nearly $1.5 million over the next five years. Early Head Start is a federally funded community-based program for low-income pregnant women/teen mothers and families with infants and toddlers up to age 3.

Information Item 10A

The Walden West Management Task Force issued a report to the board in an effort to ensure that the program meets or exceeds all standards for outdoor education. In 2014-15, Walden West served 17,396 students from 22 school districts. A final report is scheduled for Sept. 16.

Information Item 10B

On June 3, superintendents, board members and staff from nine SCCOE districts participated in a roundtable discussion on policies and procedures for approving and operating charter schools. At our meeting this week, we will discuss implications for a follow-up to the discussion from June 3.

Information Item 10C

Dr. Mary Ann Dewan and Dr. Angelica Ramsey, deputy superintendent and associate superintendent, respectively, will present a report titled Success Rate in Community and Institutional Schools—Challenges and Academic Outcomes. Dr. Dewan and Dr. Ramsey will facilitate a discussion with the board.

Information Item 10D

Due to the research and work by Dr. Dewan and Alternative Education Director Yvette Irving, one of the board’s strategic goals—launching the Opportunity Youth Academy—will occur Aug. 24. The OYA is a dropout re-engagement program for 16-24-year-old non-high school graduates. There are approximately 6,000 dropouts in the county each year. Roughly 18,000 youth between 16-24 have not completed a secondary diploma or certificate. The board has funded this program through its budget adoption process and has been the driving force behind its existence.

There is no doubt we have work to do to get better as an organization. That said, I am very proud to be a member of the county Board of Education and to serve with six extraordinary colleagues. I am equally satisfied with the exemplary work our staff does on behalf of all the children and school districts in the county. I have been delighted to have the opportunity to write in this space each and every week.

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.

14 Comments

  1. Sadly the “successes” claims confuse activity with outcome and actually support the perception of negligence and mismanagement.

    Example: How much has each percentage point in rate graduation rate cost? How is the correct funding level determined for Head Start – are we spending too much to be #1 at the expense of more important programs?

    More important is the relevancy of SCCOE: why not simply nuke it and give funding directly to SCC school districts?

    There’s an enormous amount of bureaucratic redundancy, that if eliminated, would provide more direct funding to schools.

    • Hi Taxpayer. Just curious, in your understanding which of the SCCOE’s services to districts are “redundant”?

      • There are more than 30 different school districts in Santa Clara County. Each with trustees and directors and superintendents all charged with running schools within their jurisdiction. With this in mind the Sccoe seems entirely redundant.

        • SCC is an urban system with may districts. Unlike rural counties, our large districts have expertise in the business of education – not just service delivery (i.e., teaching). There are a few exceptions, but those that lack expertise could use services of larger districts at much less cost that maintaining a bloated SCC bureaucracy.

          Additional efficiencies are possible across county lines. SCC currently shares services with San Benito County for some programs for example.

          I keep waiting for a vote of ‘no confidence’ by the teachers union. Our teachers are some of SCCOE’s most vocal critics and I suspect have the most insight.

  2. I recently saw that Joe’s “education mayor” Sam launched SJ LEARNS and has put out an RFP for organizations to score up to $500,000 to provide “quality after school programs” for children K to 3rd grade!

    Wonder who the “process” will reward…. my money is on Rocketship!

    • Don’t forget when Sam was running for mayor that he issued a plea for school volunteers and tutors. His website was just for show as the site was evidently abandoned Ditto for SCCOE’s similar effort.

      Instead they worry about salad bars in schools. Healthy Kids or Dumb Kids? SCCOE’s priority is clear.

      Yes, I contacted every board member that the volunteer link was ignored – which they failed to act on as well. Just another proof-point that SCCOE is badly broken.

      Joe’s very personable, dresses well, seems sincere, but hasn’t shown results that I’m aware of.

  3. Nice let’s-all-pat-ourselves-on-the-back agenda, Joe. Kinda like the Oscars, Grammys, Emmys and CMAs all in one. Where are the agenda items citing reports of what was done with all the money and what results were achieved? So, has all that spending narrowed the achievement gap you moan about incessantly? How many more education industry parasites, whose only successes are their grant writing, will all your new federal money spawn? Seems like it’s no data, no metrics, and sparse quantifiable results @ SCCOE, Joe.

    Instead of writing your weekly SJI columns and dreaming of your upcoming book, perhaps you should have spent the time keeping a watchful eye on Gundry’s profligate spending with no documentation, and the hiring of cronies who spend a lot of taxpayer dollars travelling.

    I can’t wait for your book, Joe; but you should postpone writing it until your final term is up @ SCCOE. Keep your eye on the ball, I mean Gundry. That’s what you were elected to do, what the taxpayers pay you to do. But I’m sure when it comes out, your book will be a real page turner and just fly off the shelves. Best if you tell your publisher to notify Jeff Bezos well in advance of the release date so he can buy more robots to fill the inevitable flood of orders for your magnum opus that will pour in at Amazon. And, be sure to place at least ten copies in every branch library to satisfy the heavy demand from those who cannot afford to buy it; you know, the “underserved” folks you’re always talking about. I’m sure they’re as breathless to read it as I am. Hey! How about a downloadable Beta for all your fans here at SJI to read? We can pen some laudatory comments for inclusion on the back of the dust jacket.

    • Very nicely put! The members of the SCCBOE were elected by taxpayers to be stewards of public funds. After reading the numerous San Jose Inside articles, one would question the board’s ability to manage taxpayer money and staff. It’s a shame that the SCCBOE is allowing Superintendent Gundry and his corrupt supporters to abuse and waste public funds. Where is the transparency and accountability? We cannot tolerate this misuse of public funds.

  4. It’s amazing that it only took 298 columns for Mr. DiSalvo to come to his breathtaking epiphany. It’s like a farmer finally realizing that flies love ‘sh$!’. Come on, really? This video best expresses my feelings about DiSalvo’s column coming to a merciful conclusion, http://youtu.be/QnxdW_bcMjg

  5. I am Charlie the Citizen and Tony the Taxpayer.
    I have looked at the SCCOE website.
    I still do not understand what SCCOE does and why it is needed.
    I am surprised there are 1700 employees.
    What are the top five things budgeted from the SCCOE?
    What are the top five reasons we need the SCCOE?

  6. It just gets worse and worse. SCCOE’s web site Highlights area gives a district statistical report- FOR FY 20110-11. The “latest” report is 5 years old. No mention of the CA Attorney General’s latest ‘Every Kid Counts’ truancy report https://oag.ca.gov/truancy/2014 showing truancy GREW WORSE in SCC – among elementary school children. The report does not detail middle or high school.

    Per pupil funding loss declined – evidently due to jiggling the formula since truancy has gotten worse.

    It’s astounding that SCCOE’s board avoids accountability and transparency.

  7. Anyone who thinks the Santa Clara County Office of Education is “well-functioning” is either clueless or turning a blind eye to the facts.