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.