County Can’t Miss on New Superintendent

The Santa Clara County Board of Education is nearing completion of its most important statutory responsibility: the hiring of a new county superintendent of schools. From Friday to Sunday, we interviewed exceptional semi-final candidates from all corners of this nation, including California. The interviews were conducted at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in Mountain View. I offer a huge thank you to Dr. Emmett Carson, CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), for providing us with a great environment to conduct this important work, without fee.

This type of public-private partnership needs to become the norm if we are to address the vast needs of public education and our children. Dr. Carson was at the forefront recently when he funded a forum on asking an essential question the new superintendent must address. This question keeps coming up from all corners of the community, including the civil grand jury. The Mercury News ran a full-page summary on the Jan. 17 forum in Sunday’s paper. The Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s forum question was, “Are 31 School Districts Too Many for Santa Clara County?”

No doubt the status quo is broken, children are hurting and we need to make certain we effectively utilize every dollar. If we do, then maybe some of the venture capital dollars will flow to public-private partnerships to address the numerous issues in public education, including an unprepared labor force for jobs being created in Silicon Valley.

On Oct. 27, 2009, here is what I wrote for SJI: “ The monolithic structure of public education is resistant to change. As evidence the system continues to use an antiquated calendar from the agrarian past, and it organizes school districts in historic slices that make no logical sense. … The nonsensical structure causes redundant expenditures and weaker student outcomes than necessary. Reorganizing these districts with more wisdom and thought, I truly believe, would be beneficial to the goal of increasing student achievement.”

As Dr. Carson said in the Jan. 17 Forum, “In our 32 districts, there are 169 school board members.” Carson inferred that holding anyone accountable for the results when systems are so diffuse is nearly impossible. In fact, there are seven feeder school districts to the East Side Union High School District. As a system, whom might we hold accountable for the tragic high school drop out rate in ESUHSD? Just East Side Union? I don’t think so.

The new county superintendent must be willing to encourage the utmost in school district transparency relative to the dollars expended, the test results, the grades, etc. Without transparency, public education can continue to obfuscate rather than improve. The new superintendent must be bold enough to make county scores by school district transparent to the public and media in regards to demographics, grades, race/ethnicity, etc. Without transparency it is impossible for parents and taxpayers to hold districts, their superintendents, and elected board members accountable.

The time for change is now, and the county board members cannot be concerned about their own popularity or reelection when hiring a new superintendent. The children will gain more when the truth, based on irrefutable data, is known clearly by individual grade, school and district unit. Every dollar of public funds for education must be spent wisely and prudently. That is not the case today.

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.


  1. The Mercury News article (2/19/12, p. A19) to which DiSalvo referred above was about a high-concept talkfest of which we have seen many since the ill-fated San Jose 2020 reform plan began in October 2009. Already one-fifth of the time to 2020 has passed since SJ 2020 began. 

    Imagine how many more people could have been helpful with SJ 2020 if it hadn’t relied on racial profiling to push people away. Or if County Superintendent Weis hadn’t decided that the diverse white American students lacked diversity and nationality by slamming them as “Caucasoids.”

    Now we see new racialized gaps promoted in the Mercury News article, namely the “gap” amongst high school grads who met the UC/CSU requirements.  Here is what CEO Carson of the SV Community Foundation had to say in the article:

    “For the 09-10 school year in this county, 18 percent of 12th graders did not graduate.  Fifty-one percent of graduates did not meet UC/CSU requirements.  Seventy-five percent of all Hispanic graduates did not meet them; 68 percent of African-Americans did not; 42 percent of white graduates did not.”

    Once again in computing gaps, educators and the Mercury News suppress information about the diverse Asian American students.  I wonder what that means?

    But now we’ll be treated to hair-pulling analysis about new racialized gaps.  The one fun thing in the article was the b-t-h slapping that went on between Carson and Weis over whether some figure was 54% or 58%.  Talk about grown men wheezing about the chairs on the Titanic.

  2. > The new county superintendent must be willing to encourage the utmost in school district transparency relative to the dollars expended, the test results, the grades, etc. Without transparency, public education can continue to obfuscate rather than improve.


    I am reminded of an incident I witnessed at a school board meeting (East Side Union?) a number of years ago.

    A parent complained that her child’s teacher refused to return the child’s test papers, but only reported the child’s test grade.

    “How can the kid know what he got wrong, and what he needs to learn?” complained the parent.

    “Oh, we can’t return the tests”, said a school board member.  “That would compromise the tests, and the teachers couldn’t use them over again.”

    Members of the audience were livid.  I was livid!

    The school board was basically declaring that they didn’t care if the students had a quality learning experience.  They were simply trying to save the teachers from having to do the work of compiling updated and unique tests.


    What could be more “transparent” than for a student and his parents to know what the student learned and what the student failed to learn.

    This as a classic example of the school system serving the needs of the ADULTS in the system—the teachers, their unions, and administrators—and not serving the interests of teachers and students.

    If the schools want TRANSPARENCY—return the corrected and annotated tests to students!

    • This sounds like you are talking about me. I will let the students see their answer forms and review the test in class but will not allow either to leave the room. Parents may come and review tests and a their child’s answers, but again the tests and answer sheets do not leave my room.

      For every test I have at least 3 versions that I use for test day and in some cases up to 6 versions. Students will try to copy from those sitting near them, pass answers to friends in later classes, etc… There are also additional versions for the makeup test that is given to students who were absent the day of the test.

      Thus a good test will take many hours to design, copy and make answer keys for. After giving the test the first time, I review the most missed questions to either revise the questions, or revise my teaching on the topic. If I had a new test I would not have a valid comparison year to year if I were doing better or worse. If I improve my teaching, I should see an increased test average year to year. Make me redo my tests every year, way too much effort, there are more important things to do.

      Transparency is great as long as there is integrity.

  3. Mr. DiSalvo,

    I hope the board finds a leader that can develop our county’s 31 superintendents (and principals). We need more of a culture of effective professional learning among all adults working with students, even at the very top.

    It is my professional opinion that how many districts matters less than how many good school leaders we have.

    Without looking at the quality of leadership, structural changes can cause as much damage as it can good.

    Christopher Chiang
    a teacher

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