Goals to Improve Public Education in 2015 and Beyond

Elected school board members have a critical role in the progress we make toward growing economic opportunities, reducing crime and improving the quality of life for our children.

After teaching for two years at Osborne School at Juvenile Hall, I became convinced that there is no more important social justice issue than quality public education. The incarcerated students I taught at Osborne, according to the data at the time, were an average of three years below grade level in reading.

I knew then, as a 23-year-old teacher, that we wouldn’t need expensive buildings to house teenagers who have committed felony crimes if we simply ensured students had a grade-level reading ability by 3rd grade. That was 40 years ago. We still have a long road ahead.

In the final two years of my second term as a county Board of Education trustee, I have laid out the following goals:

  • Ensure all 3 and 4 year olds receive quality preschool instruction, even if their parents can’t afford it.
  • Provide and promote best practices for childbearing, low-income mothers at the new EduCare facility in Franklin-McKinley School District, the first of its kind in California.
  • Reframe SJ/SV 2020 to eliminate the achievement gap by 3rd grade. This will require the assistance of new county Superintendent Jon Gundry and willing school districts.
  • Increase the number of programs for students with high-risk special needs.
  • Expand the offering of civics courses to encourage young people to get involved in the democratic process and vote.
  • Advocate for a joint meeting between county trustees and the county Board of Supervisors to partner on strategic goals, such as early childhood education and programs for youth who are on probation or incarcerated.
  • Encourage a collective impact strategic plan like Strive in Cincinnati and The Big Lift in San Mateo County. I have been waiting impatiently for two years to have the item moved from a future agenda to information on a current agenda. The time to do so is ripe in early 2015.
  • Bring school district leaders and elected school board members together to collaborate and cooperate with charter management.

This last goal will require us to learn from cities like Boston, where a compact to cooperate on behalf of all children is a model. The current road we are traveling on leads to division and distrust. We are all in this together and it is our obligation to do better.

It is my hope that we can develop smarter, strategic paths to accomplishing our goals despite a complex governance system of 15 cities, 31 school districts (which come with their own boards and superintendents), and county entities that could improve their communication. Almost 1.9 million people depend on it.

With that said, congratulations to all the elected school trustees in Santa Clara County who will be taking their oath of office—some for the first time. At 5pm this evening, the county Board of Education meeting will commence with the swearing in of trustees Darcie Green, Dr. Michael Chang and new board member Claudia Rossi.

In total—if I counted correctly—there are 168 elected school trustees in Santa Clara County. We won’t always agree, but we must work together.

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. A powerful way to support civic education is for the county to spearhead the growth of the Center for Civic Education’s We the People program in Santa Clara County. A program that Norma Wright built over the years, but has begin to decline ever since the federal and state government reduced funding for it. For example, we don’t have a middle school We the People event anywhere in the county, but in San Diego County, over a dozen middle schools meet each year for students to present on civic issues.

  2. Clean house in the Alum Rock School District. Axe the board, fire principals and teachers, and start all over. Bring in competent folks who can culturally and socioeconomically identify with students, but who are NOT part of the old infestation of nepotism and corruption we have here in the East Side.

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