In front of more than 150 people Saturday at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, county Supervisor David Cortese and San Jose councilmembers Sam Liccardo and Rose Herrera answered questions for nearly two hours at a forum about public education in San Jose. Their thoughtful answers to questions from event moderator Dr. Terry Christensen are an indication that each believe that a mayor has an integral role to play in leading public education efforts from preschool through college.
Unfortunately, Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio could not attend due to calendar conflicts. In discussions I have had with Vice Mayor Nguyen, and in her answers to questions at the first forum on education, it is clear that she believes the next mayor has a strategic role to play.
Unless an upset is in the cards and Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio is elected mayor, the 10th largest city in the United States will be led by a person willing to collaborate on education efforts within the city's boundaries. In a Mercury News op-ed earlier this year, Councilmember Oliverio wrote that the mayor has no role to play in the education landscape, other than supporting those who have a direct role in the governance of schools.
SJ/SV 2020 was the first subject of Saturday’s event. In 2010, Mayor Chuck Reed and former county Superintendent Charles Weis launched an initiative to end the achievement gap by 2020. The candidates were asked to assess the progress toward this goal and what would they do to address the gap.
All answered that there has been slow progress and much more needs to be done. Charters and school choice issues were explored in a series of questions. All three candidates believe charters play a role in this effort, but that more cooperation, collaboration and collegiality is needed by all to get us in a better place. Rose Herrera does not like the term achievement gap and prefers the term “opportunity gap."
The Santa Clara County Office of Education, EducateOurState, Working Partnerships and People Acting In Community Together (PACT) co-sponsored the forum. When I asked during the welcome to clap loudly if you are here representing a particular stakeholder group it was evident that labor had a strong and enthusiastic presence. Jen Thomas, president of the San Jose Teachers Association, and other teacher labor leaders were present in large numbers. The four co-sponsoring agencies to this education forum worked cooperatively for several months to bring the debate to the people. Even though those representing the various agencies do not see eye to eye on all issues education, we agree about the end goal: creating a system of public education where each and every child thrives and is ready for career or college upon graduation. We also want a system where teachers are respected and valued for their good work, and we are increasing the number of college graduates that want to become teachers.
More collaboration with charter leaders, traditional public school leaders, superintendents, parent groups, elected officials and unions is an essential element to meet the ultimate goal. In 2010 I worked with my board colleagues Anna Song and Grace Mah, as well as with the Charter School Department at SCCOE, to bring people together for a summit to address issues in conflict. We were not ready to begin that dialogue.
Today we are stuck with a growing divide that involves public dollars being used to litigate conflicts in court. There is a better way. Saturday's forum left me hopeful that labor, parents, elected leaders on school boards and City Hall can bring about a spirit of collaboration and sharing. It is the next step forward on behalf of our children. The next mayor and county superintendent can help chart that course.