Start Up Education

Joseph DiSalvo | San Jose Inside | Link to Article

I am so proud to be a resident of San Jose. With all the draconian budget cuts, layoffs in government and education it is easy to be depressed. Yet, San Jose is a shining example of a city that can still think strategically in down times while inspiring hope for a better future for all. This municipal strength is thanks in large measure to the organizing skills of People Acting In Community Together.

PACT is an inter-faith grassroots organization that empowers everyday people to create a more just community. Two of PACT’s targeted organizational goals are to close the achievement gap and reduce the drop out rate in San Jose. It was with these two goals in mind that PACT organized a San Jose delegation to take a trip to Los Angeles last week to learn more about small charter high schools achieving both.

The members of PACT realize the drop out rate for Latino youth in San Jose is abysmal and must be improved for this current generation of children or our beautiful valley will suffer immutable decline and degradation. The goals of the trip were twofold: to inspire the delegation with information about small charter high schools achieving extraordinary results and to see if there is interest by these charter schools/organizations in coming north to Silicon Valley to set up their successful “shop”.

Executive Director Matt Hammer and his PACT leaders had the vision to organize the trip. As a Santa Clara County Board of Education member I was invited to attend along with community leaders Mark Walker and Lynda Greene of Applied Materials; Chris Payne, representing his family foundation BelleJAR; County Superintendent Chuck Weis; Father Francisco Rios, Pastor of St. John Vianny Church; Alicia Gallegos, San Jose Charter School Network; Javier Gonzalez, Office of Councilwoman Nora Campos; and several community PACT leaders.

One of the schools I was most interested in visiting was Green Dot’s Oscar De La Hoya Animo High School. Green Dot Charter Management Organization was founded in 1999 by Steve Barr as a response to the 50 percent high school drop out in LAUSD. This dropout syndrome impacts mostly low income and high-risk youth, whether we are talking LA or San Jose. Barr wanted to make a difference for those students attending his small schools and leverage their successful work while influencing the LAUSD to learn from his model.

Green Dot is now serving over 7,000 Los Angeles Unified High School Youth in several small 525 student high schools including:

The Jefferson Transformation Project- This transformation project is attempting to restructure Jefferson High School, the lowest-performing school in LAUSD, into several small autonomous schools

Animo Pat Brown- Named after the former Governor of California who was one of the guiding forces in creating a world-class university system.

Animo Ralph Bunche- Named after the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize winner and an alumnus of Jefferson High School, UCLA and Harvard.

Animo Jackie Robinson- Named after the first African-American to play baseball in the major leagues in 1947.

Animo Film & Theater Arts- A former school within Jefferson High now a Green Dot Charter preparing students for school and careers in film and theater.

Animo Justice-Named by the students because education achieves social justice.

Green Dots founding five schools, including Oscar De La Hoya, just won a competitive grant of nearly $70 million dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The results are nothing less than impressive. It is projected that Green Dot’s high schools will eventually graduate over 80 percent of its students and enroll over 75 percent in four year colleges.

A small high school culture crafted around safety, high expectations, commitment of faculty to the mission and vision that all students can learn at the highest of levels, student uniforms, the mantra of hard work pays off, nutritious meals, collaboration among staff, empowerment, and cleanliness will be an effective model for all children, irrespective of their SES or race/ethnicity. Unfortunately, Green Dot does not have a desire to come north for at least five more years. Their commitment is to the City of Los Angeles and its youth.

In the van on the way back to the Burbank Airport we were discussing that we can grow our own small autonomous high schools right here in Silicon Valley. We are the global leaders of innovation right here in San Jose. LA should have nothing over us, right? For goodness sake this area has spawned the computer and Internet revolutions. We can learn from Green Dot and develop our own start-up schools. The charter school movement is on our side. There would be no better use of new venture capital.

Mr. Matt Hammer, I am fired up and ready to go to our next planning meeting. We do not need to ask any other charter management organization to come to us. We will build our own.  Look at the success of Rocketship, Downtown College Prep, Ace…Si Se Puede.