Trustee Leon Beauchman will step down at the end of this month from his elected seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education. I first learned of his decision during a call from him in February. It was a bittersweet moment.
I was excited about his next adventure in life: earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology with an emphasis in art therapy from JFK University. But I was also concerned about how his departure would affect the work of the Board.
Leon said he felt comfortable leaving the SCCOE after 14 years. In the last few years, he said, the Board has done more to move the needle forward on improving learning outcomes for children of poverty and color than at any other previous time in his 20-year tenure as an elected trustee. (He served six years as a trustee in Campbell). Even though Leon and I did not see the world of education similarly in the beginning of our work together—I was not a strong proponent of charter schools—we have since found common ground more often than not to authorize high quality charter schools.
Traditional public school districts have challenged the majority of the SCCOE trustees directly and in the courts. The pressure to keep the status quo is enormously powerful. We have listened intently to the people who believe charters are the wrong path to take, as well as those who feel wronged by the current inequity in the system. Those individuals who feel an intransigent system does not work for their children always know they have the attention of Trustee Beauchman.
In his historical speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama, on Saturday, President Obama said: "It's the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress, who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what's right and shake up the status quo." Trustee Beauchman's north star has been that his one vote is his chance to give voice to the voiceless and improve educational outcomes for all children, especially those of color.
Charters approved by the county Board provide parents who do not have the finances to afford private schools the "choice" to select a high quality publicly funded school for their children. The record demonstrates that authorized charters are doing quite well:
- Rocketship Silicon Valley schools are in the top 5 percent of school districts serving low-income students in California. The SCCOE Board has approved 29 Rocketship schools, including the very first one, Mateo Sheedy, on appeal from a local school district; most were approved as countywide charters.
- Ace Charter was recognized as among the top 10 middle schools in Silicon Valley in both Latino and low-income student Algebra proficiency. The SCCOE Board approved the first ACE Middle School on appeal from a local district, and DCP has 100 percent of their seniors applying to 4-year universities. U.S. News and World Reports ranked DCP number 36 out of 2000 schools in California in 2013 and 2014. The SCCOE County Board approved DCP in Alum Rock.
- Summit Schools rank among the 100 best high schools in the nation. The SCCOE Board approved Summit Tahoma on appeal from a local school district. The SCCOE Board authorized Summit Denali as a countywide middle school in 2013.
- On a 4-3 vote—with Mah, Beauchman, Chang and myself in the majority—the SCCOE Board just approved Voices College-Bound Language Academy against the urging of the Mount Pleasant School District. Franklin-McKinley School District trustees approved the first Voices TK-8th grade school nine years ago.
In addition to his votes on Charters, Leon has been outspoken about the quality of the SCCOE alternative education programs, finding ways to discuss the unification and consolidation of county school districts, improving financial transparency at the SCCOE, and making juvenile justice and the Probation Department’s work with the SCCOE a priority. He also has worked to reduce suspension rates throughout the county, end the school to prison pipeline and so much more.
No doubt, Trustee Beauchman's life experiences, growing up in Mississippi in the 50s, and his consistent vote to disrupt the system will be sorely missed by many, including this colleague. His replacement has large shoes to fill.
If you are interested in applying for Trustee Beauchman's Area #3 seat, you must live in the area serving Cambrian, Campbell, Luther Burbank, Moreland, Union and small portions of Santa Clara and San Jose. Applicants must submit a resume, letter of interest and three letters of reference. All material should be addressed to: Jon Gundry, SCC Superintendent of Schools, 1290 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95131. The deadline to apply is April 3.
The six remaining Board members will interview all eligible candidates in open session on live Internet streaming in early May. An affirmative vote by four of six members will determine Leon's replacement until the general election in November 2016.