Open Letter to the Board of Education

On Sept. 21, in a SJI post I said, “…school boards as a systemic cause of school failure did not resonate with me.” My post on my pride in the SCCOE Board was very sincere four weeks ago, but rings hollow today. I sit at my computer ashamed at our collective behavior.  What follows is an excerpt of opening remarks I gave in public session on Oct. 13 prior to the vote on whether to undo the censure vote of August 25 against Member Mann and then revote.

Nearly two years ago on Nov. 4, 2008 I celebrated with 50 of my friends and family about my election to this Board. I felt as a lifelong educator in various positions I had the knowledge and skills to help incrementally move a progressive agenda forward for the teachers and children of this county. I felt my new elected service would be an honor and privilege to fulfill. 

Tonight I sit here in this seat confused, sad, and angry. It feels a little like one of those days I supervised lunch as a principal when a food fight in the cafeteria erupts suddenly and some of the perpetrators of the fight want to keep the feud alive for weeks, months or years. The lack of diplomacy, decorum, and resolve to do better on our behalf is appalling to me. The public’s disgust with all of us on this Board is hurtful to me.

I am criticized regularly for the positions that I take, but so is this Board. Here is what the SJI bloggers say about us in recent weekly posts:

Blogger Teachable Moment writes, “Ladies and Gentlemen, In the midst of a 12 percent unemployment, a crumbling economy, and a twenty billion dollar deficit, we are paying for this pointless and silly sideshow.  God help us.”

Poster Al Schlarmann writes, “ Get rid of or drastically change the role of school boards. Too many school board members know almost nothing about education. School Boards are used as a stepping stone to higher political office and as such, many of the board’s decisions are political, not aimed toward what is best for schools.”

Blogger Reader says, “…this (September) month there were no efforts to censure fellow trustees, no race-bating memos from board members and no call on the Superintendent to defend his job, so I guess that counts as a pretty good month for the SCC Board of Education.”

We are here in this special session tonight to undo something we did several meetings ago and then perhaps redo the sanction vote against Member Mann.  And now we have new sanctions being requested to be agendized for October 20 by Member Ma about campaign contributions not disclosed to this Board by Member Mann and President Song from 2008’s city council and assembly races, respectively. When does it end? When do we discuss and give voice to some/all of these issues:

Instead of this meeting tonight we should be having a special meeting on how the SCCOE can support the goal of attracting, recruiting and retaining quality credentialed math teachers to SCC. It appears there is a problem.

Instead of tonight’s meeting we should convene a special meeting with the Committee on School District Organization on the Civil Grand Jury’s Report on School District Consolidation.

Instead of tonight’s meeting we should convene a special meeting with year one results on our SJ2020 goal of eliminating the achievement gap.  The project was inaugurated with much fanfare at the SJ City Council Chambers with Mayor Reed 1 year ago and the clock is ticking and the gap is still as wide as ever.

Instead of tonight’s meeting we should convene a special meeting on the pay for performance models that are being used in other states and in Charter schools in the State of CA and right here in Silicon Valley. Then we should distribute that information to our district’s superintendents, school boards, and teacher union leaders.

Instead of tonight’s meeting we should convene a special meeting about the results of our Charter School Summit and Proposition 39 Roundtable and actionable steps we can take as a County Office to continue to promote the goals of collaboration, communication and coexistence.

Instead of tonight’s meeting we should convene a special meeting to discuss the work Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing on alternative structures to the current practice of existing tenure laws.

In conclusion there are many things we could be doing as a governing body and office instead of the money and staff time we are using up tonight, for what I ask? I know the problems with our system of public education are enormous, but remain solvable with bold and courageous leadership at the local, state, and national levels. I would like to be part of the solution and not the problem. Elected school boards can lead boldly and courageously in concert with a superintendent that desires to take risks for the betterment of the whole”.

Can we please get back to the most important business the children and teachers of Santa Clara County and the Office of Education? Please?

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.

6 Comments

  1. Bravo, Joseph.

    I believe the government should get out of the role of administering education. Fund, yes. Administer, no.

    But until we can get government removed from that role, kudos to you for pushing to keep the government eye on the ball – 99% of your actions, time, money and energy should be geared towards educating children.

    I appreciate all your efforts to make government schools more competitive (read: better).  Looking forward to the day when we let the competition happen, and parents will decide which schools thrive and expand and which schools disappear.  (Hint: good schools with thrive and expand, the worst schools will disappear).

    Wouldn’t you be happier on the board of a Charter organization, where you can spend 99% of your time helping improve education?

  2. > I felt as a lifelong educator in various positions I had the knowledge and skills to help incrementally move a progressive agenda forward for the teachers and children of this county.

    A centralized, heirarchical bureaucracy operated by “expert” technocrats for the purported “benefit” of the ignorant masses and their children IS the “progressive” model.

    The progressive model IS the problem.

  3. “…my pride in the SCCOE Board was very sincere four weeks ago, but rings hollow today.”

    Well Joe like they say: Pride comes before a fall!

    While I do not generally subscribe to the “Get rid of all incumbents” sentiment, when it comes to the SCCOE Board a top-to-bottom house cleaning is long overdue.

  4. “Instead of tonight’s meeting we should convene a special meeting with year one results on our SJ2020 goal of eliminating the achievement gap.”

    Here are some results from the October 29, 2009, announcement of San Jose 2020.

    (1) Almost complete success in blinding local observers, educators, and reporters to the reality of the existing federal 2014 deadline for bringing students to grade-level proficiency.

    (2) By emphasizing “the achievement gap,” it blinded almost everyone to the fact that there are many educational gaps, not just one.

    (3) And San Jose 2020 conveniently ignored the cluster of schools directly administered by the County Superintendent under the guidance of the County Board of Education.  There is entirely too much silence about closing education gaps in the schools administered by the county.