On a macro level, hope was a common theme in the election that brought President Obama to the White House on Jan. 20, 2009. In fact, Obama wrote a book titled “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream” during the campaign of 2008. But the hope of Congress working across party lines for the greater good in a post-racial America was dashed during the negotiations on national health care and stimulus package. It’s gone downhill since then.
On a micro level, hope for a collaborative approach to improving education in San Jose was as high in the summer of 2011 as it was across America in the summer of 2008.
Over the last several months I have written two San Jose Inside columns on the Gates Foundation initiative to fund city/district/charter school collaborative compacts that bring meaningful cooperation and planning to the forefront of communities. Each time, I wrote that I had enormous hope that our collaborative compacts would be validated and funded by Gates.
These compacts help lay out a working plan to focus on bridging the divide between charter schools and traditional public schools. No doubt it is essential to work together, acknowledge that our community’s children are all our children and do the right thing to build the bridges that promote cooperation over unhealthy competition. This is especially noticeable here in California, where resources and funding have been depleted.
Unfortunately, what we have today is a political and educational environment that excoriates those of us who believe in the virtue of hope.
Some of my strong optimism that we would receive Gates funding for the good work districts and charters have done during the last few months, while agreeing on compact strategies, was softened Monday during a conference call. I participated in a call from San Jose with the Gates Foundation in Seattle, WA. On the call were Adam Porsch, of the Gates Foundation; David Esselman, a Gates Consultant; Superintendents John Porter (Franklin-McKinley), Vincent Mathews (San Jose Unified) and Dan Moser (East Side Union); Charles Weis, of the Santa Clara County Office of Education; Don Bolce, SCCOE; and Alicia Gallegos, San Jose Charter School Consortium.
The purpose of the call was to more clearly understand feedback from a Gates consultant. Draft compacts had been submitted to the foundation a few weeks prior. The feedback was quite critical of the written draft work for not being specific or bold enough to meet the Gates parameters. The deadline for SCCOE approval for each district agreeing to a final draft to submit to Gates is just one month away. This conference call was a last ditch effort to breath more hope into the chances for local success.
Unlike Hartford, New Orleans, Sacramento and Boston to name a few of the cities funded by Gates in the last year, our San Jose districts have been working with their respective unions—which to me is bolder than what I have read in other city/district/charter compacts.
In San Jose Inside on Aug. 16, I wrote that Silicon Valley public education has entered one of the most critical periods to lay a foundation for the future. In a new book called “Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools,” author Steven Brill has a featured essay in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal. In the article, Brill concludes that it will take the infrastructure of the entire public school system and its charters to “fix” our schools. And the teacher unions must play an essential and vital role.
Gates did not require teacher unions to be part of the mix to participate in the planning grant. I have always thought that was a huge mistake. I think Brill agrees with my assertion. Franklin-McKinley and San Jose Unified have had their teacher union reps at the table each step of the way. To me, that is bold and forward thinking. Gates should recognize that as bold and beyond what other communities have done. Without the cooperation from the unions, the compacts could unravel.
During the 50-minute conference call this morning, I was so impressed by the passion, courage and willingness of the superintendents who represent over 75,000 students in San Jose to continue moving forward while knowing that the Gates bar gets set higher and higher and is a moving target. As one superintendent remarked, his administrative staff has been cut by one-third the last two years and his resources to do the necessary work are very limited at best.
From what I heard, it will be difficult for us to reach the Gates bar from where we begin today. However, everyone on the call took a deep breath and said they are still committed. Yes, I am still hopeful that we can get the Gates validation and planning grant funding for the collaborative compacts in San Jose.
But the climate will get hotter in six weeks, when the SCCOE Board will be faced with approving up to 20 Rocketship Charter Schools that are destined to be within the boundaries of the districts working on these compacts.
Joseph Di Salvo is the president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education.