This is my 298th column published on San Jose Inside. Writing once a week on the subject of education since being elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Education has been a privilege. I am very grateful for being afforded this unique opportunity. In two weeks I will pen my 300th and last column.
I have come to the realization that by writing a weekly column for San Jose Inside, I have inadvertently become complicit in promoting more negativity for the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) than it deserves. I faithfully support with all my heart, mind and soul the good work of the office. I thank our 1,700 employees who work courageously with and for some of the most fragile youth in public education.
As I turn 64 next week, I wish to turn my attention to writing a book on how the current structure of public education is leading to the abject failure of 21st century America. I will endeavor to offer solutions that will lead us toward a more enlightened future and an informed citizenry that participates fully in our democracy.
The SCCOE has taken a heavy hit the last several months on a variety of significant stumbles. Whether the mistakes made were in the category of malfeasance is debatable. I think not.
I hope the unvarnished truth will emerge in the not too distant future. Certainly, the governance team of eight—seven board members and the superintendent—is responsible for bringing accountability for the mistakes of the past, while preventing them in the future. That is what I will strive to accomplish.
It is essential that we restore the public’s trust. The board has insisted on transparency for all transgressions, although these attempts are sometimes limited by closed session meetings and confidentiality restrictions.
Much of what has been written here on San Jose Inside by Josh Koehn (my editor) is based on empirical facts. But when added together with bloggers responses to his investigative reporting, the storyline becomes hyperbolic and hurtful to the organization I have been elected to serve. At least that is how it feels to me.
The SCCOE is “well functioning” in many significant ways, even if a headline on this site mocked such a description in its last SCCOE report. Those who care to view our board meetings in their entirety can go to sccoe.org and observe the manner to which professionalism and the public good prevail. Sometimes it’s a slow process.
You will observe a board committed to the best educational results for all children; a board led with grace and wisdom by President Darcie Green; a Board that works diligently to learn the issues on each item brought up for a vote.
That said, the SCCOE must get better at managing its complex sub-systems and learn from past failures in order to build a solid foundation for future superintendents and board members. There is still critical work to be done.
I wish to use the July 29, 2015, board agenda to illustrate the point of a well-functioning organization:
Action Items 9A and 9B
At our last meeting we celebrated 50 years of the Head Start Program, part of the Great Society of President Lyndon Johnson. The SCCOE’s Head Start Program, serving over 2,000 low-income children, receives the highest of ratings when compared to all other Head Start programs nationally. This week’s Action Items 9A and 9B request approval by the board of two Early Head Start contracts between the San Jose Unified and East Side Union High School districts totaling nearly $1.5 million over the next five years. Early Head Start is a federally funded community-based program for low-income pregnant women/teen mothers and families with infants and toddlers up to age 3.
Information Item 10A
The Walden West Management Task Force issued a report to the board in an effort to ensure that the program meets or exceeds all standards for outdoor education. In 2014-15, Walden West served 17,396 students from 22 school districts. A final report is scheduled for Sept. 16.
Information Item 10B
On June 3, superintendents, board members and staff from nine SCCOE districts participated in a roundtable discussion on policies and procedures for approving and operating charter schools. At our meeting this week, we will discuss implications for a follow-up to the discussion from June 3.
Information Item 10C
Dr. Mary Ann Dewan and Dr. Angelica Ramsey, deputy superintendent and associate superintendent, respectively, will present a report titled Success Rate in Community and Institutional Schools—Challenges and Academic Outcomes. Dr. Dewan and Dr. Ramsey will facilitate a discussion with the board.
Information Item 10D
Due to the research and work by Dr. Dewan and Alternative Education Director Yvette Irving, one of the board’s strategic goals—launching the Opportunity Youth Academy—will occur Aug. 24. The OYA is a dropout re-engagement program for 16-24-year-old non-high school graduates. There are approximately 6,000 dropouts in the county each year. Roughly 18,000 youth between 16-24 have not completed a secondary diploma or certificate. The board has funded this program through its budget adoption process and has been the driving force behind its existence.
There is no doubt we have work to do to get better as an organization. That said, I am very proud to be a member of the county Board of Education and to serve with six extraordinary colleagues. I am equally satisfied with the exemplary work our staff does on behalf of all the children and school districts in the county. I have been delighted to have the opportunity to write in this space each and every week.