Diverse Voices Need to Come Together

A little more than a week ago my wife and I attended Outside Lands, the three-day concert at Golden Gate Park headlined by Sir Paul McCartney. The music festival featured scores of top tier bands playing a variety of music, some familiar and some not. The Nationals, Camper Van Beethoven, Young the Giant, Red Hot Chili Peppers and James McCarthy, Paul’s son, were some of the musical acts we caught. Even though we were at the upper age bracket of those assembled, we felt no discrimination.

The music, food and people-watching at the historic polo field venue were all first-rate. The 65,000 attendees each day were exceedingly respectful and well-behaved.
From all accounts on Facebook and those we spoke with who attended the San Jose Jazz Festival, held the same weekend, it was amazing weather, great music and crowds all around.

Both events provide opportunities for a diverse group of people to come together for a common purpose. And like Outside Lands and Jazz Fest, I thought, Silicon Valley must do the same when it comes to meeting its education goals.

If diverse people can come together for music, they can do so for public education.

The 2013-14 school year has just begun. Unfortunately, it is only 180 days long. Too many students will attend their first weeks of school with summer learning loss. Yes, I know it is not only about the quantity of days, but more importantly it is about the quality of teaching and learning. But we cannot get around the research that indicates that far too many children have too little opportunities for mental stimulation during the summer, and too many other children will be forced to begin the new school year bored with repetition of content they have already mastered.

Therefore, my first goal for this new school year is for districts to begin discussions about how to create an extended all-year school year as Alpha Charter Middle School is doing at Blanca Alvarado Middle School in the Alum Rock School District.

With new state dollars in the local school funding formula, this discussion for high-need school districts should become real and timely. It would be tragic to have all the new discretionary dollars go to salary and benefits. In a longer school year, teachers will rightfully make 10 percent more for 18 days added to the 180-day year. This is a win-win for students and teachers. Districts should look at the Alpha Charter’s 15 days of summer school model before the school year begins. I saw it in action last week, where all students were becoming reoriented to content and process so they can hit the ground running academically on the first day of the new school year.

For too long traditional public school districts and charter schools have been feuding over student enrollment, facility needs, flexibility, etc. This is the year we must change the dialogue to one that is collaborative and cooperative. With more than 264,000 students in Santa Clara County, 385 schools and 31 districts, there is enough to do to ensure each and every child has a pathway to success in school and career.

Fighting over turf, facilities, authorization processes, zoning waivers and the like takes our collective eye off the ultimate goal. Public dollars are much better utilized for quality teaching and learning than paying lawyers for their briefs and arguments.

There are encouraging signs in the Alum Rock and Franklin-McKinley school districts. Their local charters are on a short list for a grants through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

One last goal, and perhaps the biggest one, is to continue to create quality early learning experiences for each and every child in Santa Clara County. If every child is ready for kindergarten, we will significantly narrow the achievement gap, increase graduation rates, increase productivity and reduce crime.

Even though I do not play a musical instrument or sing particularly well, I will use whatever noise I can muster to keep the focus on these three goals.

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.

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