Op-Ed: Parents Host Candidate Forum to Discuss Issues Facing Alum Rock Union Schools

About 120 parents, students, and community members filled the main hall at St. John Vianney last night as seven of eight candidates running for the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District board met to discuss community priorities.

“This event is intended to build trust, and is an opportunity for candidates to hear what the community wants,” parent and emcee Elizabeth Quezada said. “We are here to get a clear understanding of the short- and long-term commitments of the board.”

The forum opened with a code of conduct, which was posted around the room and presented by students who helped to write out the agreements. Both candidates and community were expected to listen respectfully and remain solution-minded.

“Our community has been met with intimidation, hostility, and condescension in the past. We refuse to allow this to become the norm, and instead are here to focus on progress and collective change,” said Olivia Ortiz, a parent of two Alum Rock students.

The room was split into four sections, where candidates and community sat around tables in smaller groups to address Alum Rock priorities—school climate, academic achievement, governance, and community engagement. The conversations were lively and engaged, but remained respectful.

“I am here because I want the school board to know that there are parents who are paying attention and will demand accountability,” parent Imelda Bautista said. “I’m tired of seeing all the bad press about our district, and I’m tired of the individual leaders whose personal behavior distracts from our students’ education.”

The district has received an uptick in media coverage the last few months, as county audits and state investigations of fraud and fiscal mismanagement have revealed poor leadership. Trust between board leadership and community has eroded, and parents are determined to make sure that when three board seats open in November, they will be filled by candidates seeking positive change.

“We have shown up to every board meeting for the past year and a half,” said Dilza Gonzalez, a member of EMPUJE, a parent organizing group. “We’ve been engaged, offered solutions, and worked to bring the attention back to the kids. But apparently that’s not enough—not much has changed. With these issues forums, we as a community are activating the broader community to take control of the narrative of our district and get back on track.”

To close the evening, candidates had a chance to answer final questions. Parents and students wanted to know how they would stop the dysfunction at board meetings, how they would put an end to reported harassment, whether they would fix outdated facilities, if they would terminate Del Terra contracts, and whether they support term limits.

“We have had great wins in our partnership with the Alum Rock School District,” Camille Llanes-Fontanilla, a parent and executive director of SOMOS Mayfair, said. “We’ve introduced restorative justice training, increased high quality early learning opportunities, and developed fantastic programs together with district staff and teachers. We continue to champion parent and community voice to ensure that board leadership will also fully commit to this kid’s first agenda—we are stronger when we work together.”

SOMOS Mayfair is one of East San Jose’s nonprofits who organized this event in response to community’s growing calls for stable leadership. This forum was the second of a series that will provide opportunity for candidates to share their commitments to Alum Rock, and for parents and community members to voice their vision for their students’ education. The next issues forum will take place on Oct. 17.

Chelsey Cartwright grew up in East Side San Jose, shaped by the rich diversity of the Bay Area and the nuances of growing up in a multicultural home. Her interest in storytelling and community-building led her back home, where she now works as the marketing and communications associate for SOMOS Mayfair. Opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

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