Turf Wars Overshadow Education Priorities

With its vastly superior public education system, will Boston surpass Silicon Valley as the global leader of technological innovation? It’s a distinct possibility unless we get our act together. Boston is poised to win, considering the current fights focus on turf instead of better educational results for our children.

As San Jose approaches its 163rd birthday as a city—incorporated as California’s second city on Mar. 27, 1850—our next mayor must be ready to lead boldly, frankly and urgently about improving public education results for all children, similar to Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino.

Even though San Jose does not give the same kind of power to mayors as Boston, the next mayor of our city can use the bully pulpit as an effective tool to urgently move forward the education agenda. In addition, we might want to look at a stronger mayor system in our city charter. The fact that we have 19 school districts, 19 superintendents and 19 school boards in San Jose does not help the situation.

With strong leaders like Silicon Valley Community Foundaiton’s Emmett Carson, Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s Carl Guardino, Franklin-McKinnley’s John Porter and the county Office of Education and Board risking their reputations on a results agenda, the time is now. We cannot thrive as a region if we continue to get the same education results in 2020 as we do today.

From my vantage point, it is outrageous for San Jose Unified to sue the county Board of Trustee’s over a vote to pass a zoning exemption for Rocketship Education, which will allow for a school on a site the city sold it—and approved 5-0 by the planning commission. Rocketship’s strong student achievement results are indisputable. The SCCOE Board has approved 25 countywide Rocketship charter schools, and 24 will be built in San Jose.

In November 2012, the SCCOE Board voted 5-2 against approving Discovery II Charter School as a countywide charter. (Myself and trustee Hover-Smoot voted to approve.) The Board majority and superintendent thought it more appropriate in the spirit of cooperation to first see if San Jose Unified’s Board would approve the charter application. The SJUSD Board voted 5-0 in January 2013 to deny Discovery its charter after only a 10-minute presentation, according to Dale Jones, executive director of Discovery.

Last Wednesday, after a thoughtful and professional presentation by Discovery and several meaningful questions by my colleagues, the SCCOE Board voted to overturn on appeal SJUSD’s vote. We approved Discovery’s petition unanimously (7-0). No one representing San Jose Unified attended the meeting. The Discovery II charter school will be a model for others to follow. It will emphasize education for the child, parent participation and it will focus on hands-on, problem-based learning.

Roughly 21 months ago, several Silicon Valley educational and community leaders worked diligently to receive a Gates Foundation grant. As president of the SCCOE Board I chaired the first meeting, along with Anna Song and Grace Mah. Also there were four superintendents, their board president or members, their district union leader, PACT, the San Jose Charter School Consortium and county staff.

After that meeting, the Gates Foundation’s Adam Porche, wrote the following email to me: “We’ve done several of these meetings and can honestly tell you that nowhere in the country have we seen more passionate and competent leadership in moving districts and charter leaders toward productive collaboration.”

Unfortunately, the Gates Foundation did not approve our application for funding after several months of work. But I believe that we do not need the funding to continue the essential conversations. Litigation and appellate votes demonstrate that we are further away from the essential cooperation for improved results. It is imperative that we view children as all of ours to nurture and teach at the highest levels.

In December, Boston’s Mayor Menino announced he would expand an innovative compact between district, charter and Catholic schools through a $3.25 million grant from the Gates Foundation.

“We launched this compact in part so our great teachers can share what they have learned around educating all students,” said Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. “We have also watched our charter and Catholic school partners excel in many areas, and we know we can learn from them, too. The grant will help deepen a relationship that is going to help our city’s children.”

That is a visionary model. Why can’t we have the same?

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.

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.

One Comment

  1. The problem I have with your articles is that you always seem to waste time on things that don’t relate to the point that you’re trying to make.  This stuff about the public schools in Boston, and your habitual fawning over Emmett Carson PhD makes it really hard to complete your articles.

    Yes, San Jose Unified is clearly wrong spending their taxpayer’s money to sue your County Office of Education.  I’m glad I’m not in that school district.