As I have written on a multiple occasions, public education is the most critical civil rights issue of our day. And since it’s that time of the season, I wish to give thanks to those who are making a measurable difference in education results, today and into the future.
Thousands of people are working to chart a new course locally, where all students will be ready to learn when they reach kindergarten or move on to college/career. Those I will mention here are toiling each and everyday on behalf of publicly-funded schools and the students residing within those walls:
• Superintendent John Porter and the school board of the Franklin-McKinley School District. They have had the foresight to work collaboratively with charter schools to increase the number of seats at the educational table for their K-th grade students.
• People Acting in Community Together (PACT) continues to train and empower parents to become strong advocates for their children when navigating the complex system of publicly funded schools.
• Preston Smith, Jessica Garcia-Kohl and the faculty and staff of the Rocketship Charter Management Organization, which has enrolled nearly 4,000 students currently enrolled—90 percent of whom are free and reduced lunch eligible, and 75 percent of whom are English-Language Learners in San Jose. Rocketship Education is the only California applicant (31 nationwide) to make the first cut for U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top awards. If the organization is successful in making the final cut, it will receive several million dollars to demonstrate its result-oriented approach to education.
• The Association of County Teachers (ACT), which is made up of people who dedicate their careers educating some of the most at-risk youth in our schools. ACT is the organization that represents hundreds of teachers employed by the Santa Clara County Office of Education. They teach Head Start, state preschool, special education, alternative education, incarcerated youth and career technical education programs.
• Emmett Carson, CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, leads the conversation for reducing the number of school districts through consolidation and unification. His group has also produced key research findings on mathematics, the correlation between high school placement courses and collegiate success and the subtle impact of race on key life decisions. Carson also published the first-ever report—Broken Promises—to conduct a comparative analysis of traditional public and charter schools disaggregated, most importantly by race and gender.
• San Jose Councilmembers Sam Licarrdo and Madison Nguyen believe the mayor of San Jose must provide leadership about public education on behalf of children and constituents.
• Thanks also go out to SCCOE Board President Grace Mah, Trustee Darcie Green, Dr. Lisa Kaufmann, Don Bolce, of the SCCOE; and Jolene Smith and Avo Makdessian, of First Five. All of these people have worked since January to bring the issue of universal quality preschool for 3-4 year olds to the forefront.
Seattle’s city council passed a resolution to develop “Preschool for All” to make quality early education available to all 3 and 4-year-olds in the city. San Antonio approved a 1/8th cent sales tax increase to provide $30 million-plus for public pre-K. Denver voters in 2006 approved a sales tax to reach 70 percent of the city’s 4-year-olds.
In all these efforts, local voters stepped up to the plate to prioritize quality early education spending. For each $1 invested in quality early learning, up to $8 is reaped in lower crime and incarceration rates, higher wages, lower federal and state assistance, higher employment, etc.
With these people and others continuing to push for progress, we will come closer to addressing the most important civil rights issue of the day.
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 and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.