In my 38 years in public education, I never witnessed as consequential a vote as was taken on Dec. 14 and the early morning hours of Dec. 15. The Santa Clara County Office of Education Board, on a very controversial 5-2 and 4-3 vote, approved 20 new Rocketship Education charter schools in Silicon Valley.
This is a momentous time for county public education. Rocketship Education is one of the best local non.com stories ever told. The board did not make this decision lightly. We recognize that there are many ramifications to sort out, but in the end the board majority felt it was in the best interest of all students. The ultimate strategic goal is for San Jose/Silicon Valley to eliminate the devastating racial achievement gap.
Public education is at a crossroads. With the continued disinvestment in public institutions, new approaches to accomplish the mission on behalf of the children, all children, must be created. The achievement gap has not narrowed significantly for 30 years, and it is at the root of the new sense of urgency.
Yet, still too many in the education establishment don’t get the changing narrative. Trustee Jim Zito, Pro-Tem of the Evergreen School Board, spoke eloquently in denial of the petition and urged the SCCOE Board to vote “no.” Although, I think Trustee Zito now gets it. The very next night after the vote we coincidentally bumped into each other at Santa Clara University, where this Rocketship story began (see last week’s sanjoseinside.com column), and he said he is now interested in making “wine” out of the previous night’s grape mash-up.
The target should be making this new configuration of schools work well for all children, but at least five districts are threatening litigation over the decision. Using public money to finance a legal battle would be a disservice to the children.
In his new book “Class Warfare,” Stephen Brill says it will take charter schools and traditional public schools working together to fix the broken system of public education. In the last few years, I have succumbed to the belief that Brill is correct. This vote was by far the most difficult one for me to cast in my three years on the Board of Trustees.
No doubt, the vast preponderance of teachers and principals work tirelessly to see that their children succeed, yet 15-25 percent of the workforce in today’s schools are not adequately prepared to meet the complex challenges children exhibit in the classrooms of today. This is a major systems problem. Rocketship’s model of professional development, R & D, hiring, recruitment, and pay structures eliminates these challenge and places all energy on student achievement.
We have no assurances that the our decision to authorize 20 additional Rocketship schools will work to help eliminate the achievement gap in San Jose/Silicon Valley, but we do know current results have been very promising and exceeded all expectations. In the next few years, we hope to see a trend when the data is crunched. If we are right, this region will become a beacon for the nation.
Lastly, a warm thank you to Mayor Reed; Vice Mayor Nguyen; Councilman Liccardo; Fred Ferrer, CEO of Health Trust; and Dennis Cima, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, for showing up and speaking on behalf of Rocketship’s petition. Every voice in support helped pave the way for the passage. Every voice in dissent, including Cindy Chavez of Working Partnerships, was clearly heard by the Board. We will endeavor to address many of the issues raised in dissent in our Memo of Understanding with Rocketship Education and the Board of Trustees of the County Office.
Rocketship Education and their principals Danner, Smith, Kohn, and Billings have enormous work to do to make these 20 schools a reality in the next five years. They all will have to work schedules approaching 24/7 to see this through. They deserve the support of this community, for when they succeed, so will the children and Silicon Valley.
As we try to heal the divisions we might have inadvertently created by our vote last week, a sermon by the late president of Santa Clara University, Father Paul Locatelli, might be instructive. In December 2006, Father Locatelli said:
“May we use this holy season as a time to discover again the goodness deep down in human hearts, binding our lives and freedom to each other. May we choose to act locally to effect change by reaching out in love to those estranged from families and being generous to those not so well off as us. When peace is personal, it will more readily become a reality for families, communities, and our world.”
Today, I am at peace with my vote.