Leadership Series: Making the Case for Latino Leadership

Michele
Image by socalatinos.org

Within a generation, California and many parts of the nation will have to depend on well-prepared Latino leaders to ensure continued social and economic growth and stability.

Here’s what needs to happen: Smart, talented, and compassionate Latinos need to seek out leadership roles in business, education, politics, and community service, and, the business, education, political, and community service sectors need to seek out smart, talented, and compassionate Latino leaders.

It’s a simple formula.

The term Latino leader isn’t limited to those who represent just Latino interests. Latinos are capable of representing people of all backgrounds, be it racial, ethnic, social, or economic. When I use Latino leader, I’m talking about a leader who happens to be Latino, but provides leadership for an entire community.

Making the case to develop Latino leaders to be stewards of our community’s economic, political, and educational health is in the numbers.

According to the California Department of Education, 53% of students who attend public school today are Latino. That means that in the next twenty years or so, one out of every two workers in California will look like us. Economics require that those of working age carry the financial burden of keeping a community solvent.

To ensure a robust economy, it’s important that breadwinners represent the spectrum of workers from frontline employees to executives. If more than half of the population is under-educated and unprepared, thus under-employed, the economic impact on the state’s future could be catastrophic. That’s why it’s imperative that Latinos are prepared for all levels of employment, including leadership roles.

Here are some more numbers: Despite representing over half of the students in California, only 9% of college graduates, 18% of teachers, and 6% of education administrators are Latino. So what’s the deal? Our school system is preparing more than half of its students to be service sector workers, not managers and decision-makers. The better question is: Why is this happening?

I got an inside look on how school systems work while serving on the board of trustees at the largest high school district in California. With 26,000 students and a $220 million dollar budget, it’s a pretty big and complex operation. The district serves a majority of Latino neighborhoods in the city. Its demographics match the state’s numbers on Latino students, teachers, and administrators.

The most influential interest groups, employee bargaining groups and parent organizations, are mostly led by non-Latinos. Only one of the five current school trustees is Latino. This dynamic reflects the typical school district in California where the overwhelming majority of decision-makers doesn’t demographically represent the majority of its students.

The problem with this is that education leaders who aren’t Latino are more susceptible to making decisions based on preconceived notions about Latinos. Sociologists call this phenomenon inherent bias. These biases impact public policy decisions, class schedule assignments, student disciplinary action, and the allocation of resources, all of which results in disproportionate harm to half of the students.

I met the full force of the impact of how an unbalanced demographic relationship between students, teachers, administrators, and policy-makers in 2010 when I served as board president. A few years earlier, the district chapter of the student group Californians for Justice met with me to advocate for a policy that would make graduation requirements the same as eligibility standards for acceptance to University of California and California State University schools.

Makes sense, right? I thought so. When I was elected board president, I excitedly began to reach out to administrators, teachers, and my board colleagues to get buy-in for a policy proposal that connected high school graduation requirements to college prerequisites. I was met with immediate resistance. The stumbling block was a requirement to complete Algebra II.

Administrators counseled against moving too fast raising concerns about the lack of student preparation coming from middle school, especially schools with large Latino populations. Math teachers fiercely opposed the idea. The teacher’s union president, an Algebra teacher, sat across the table from me in a coffee shop lecturing with authority that “these kids” can’t do Algebra II.

Conversations with other trustees didn’t fare any better. Two of them wanted to “study” the issue further, a standard tactic to delay a policy proposal to death. One trustee expressed concerns that the policy would “force” every student to be on a college track. What about the students who wanted to learn a trade so they could begin working right after high school graduation, he asked. I knew who he was talking about.

Was this a case of inherent bias? You better believe it. Each one of these decision-makers raised concerns about Latino students’ ability to succeed in a rigorous academic environment. But I disagreed. I was one of those students. My high school counselor recommended that I consider learning a trade instead of going to college. Fortunately, that was a non-starter for my parents.

Because of my experience, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about Latino kids. There was no inherent bias driving my decision to fight for the more rigorous graduation requirements. I figured if I could complete a college track curriculum and succeed in college so could other students who grew up in neighborhoods like mine. So, I charged ahead to change the policy.

I learned that Latino leaders can deliberate about decisions without the filter of inherent bias in the way. With Latinos serving as decision-makers in business, politics, education, and community engagement, half of the population will have more opportunities to contribute to the success of the entire state.

The other half of the population will benefit as well from this kind of leadership. After a long and contentious campaign to raise graduation requirements in 2010, a board majority led the way to approving a policy that made college-prep classes the curriculum for all students enrolling in a district high school.

The Class of 2015 was the first class in the district’s history to complete a four-year program with every graduate eligible to apply to a University of California and California State University college.

That’s precisely why smart, talented, and compassionate Latinos need to seek out leadership roles and that’s why the community could use a bunch of smart, talented, and compassionate Latino leaders.

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Next time on the ESEReport.com Leadership Series: We’ll explore the success of an institution that isn’t hampered by inherent bias.

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Latino Thursday: The Next Generation of Leaders Looks Good

"Thank You" Poster Made by Luis Valdez Leadership Academy Student Leaders
“Thank You Poster”  by Luis Valdez Leadership Academy Student Leaders

One of my pet peeves is the phrase, “kids these days.” You know what I mean. What happened to the days when kids would speak only when spoken to and say “yes, ma’am” and “no sir.” Remember those days? My favorite is, “Kids these days don’t say ‘please’ when they want something or ‘thank you’ to show gratitude.

We old timers worry about what will happen when we get older and have to rely on the next generation to take care of us. What a mess, right? These kids can’t even write full sentences when they text. They would rather send “pics” on Instagram and Snapchat than pick up a phone or write a letter.

They listen to music that isn’t even music. What happened to the good old school days when you could understand the lyrics? Earth, Wind, and Fire. Santana. Al Green. Lionel Richie. Malo. Remember “Suavecito”?

That was music.

Many people my age wonder how kids these days will run the place when we retire. The old folks are sure that the world will go straight to the dogs when the youngsters take charge.

Well my dear readers, I absolutely, overwhelmingly, vehemently, and respectfully disagree!

I know we’ll be in good hands when the next generation of Latino leaders takes the helm. Let me tell you why.

During the last two school years, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to teach leadership classes at three east side high schools: Latino College Prep Academy, Luis Valdez Leadership Academy, and Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy. Latino students represent over 90% of the population at the schools. The program I teach is a six-week freshman course that provides students with the tools to present and conduct themselves in a professional manner.

The students learn how to set and plan goals, make professional presentations, and work in teams. They also do professional development exercises to help them with shaking hands, sitting and standing posture, making eye contact, and using body language to convey confidence. This is all done within the framework of understanding and respecting Latino cultural norms. The goal of the program is to send our kids to college and beyond with the self-assurance to succeed.

At Luis Valdez Leadership Academy (LVLA) I’ve been able to see the results of the program as the student government advisor. LVLA is in its second year of operation, so the student government is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. That means that these young leaders have an opportunity to set the cultural tone for the school well into the future.

After taking the six-week course, the elected leaders learned how to run a working decision-making government. The leadership group is large. There are four school-wide elected officers, class officers, and classroom representatives. In all, 23 students represent their peers to create and manage events and activities for the school year. In any governmental environment, a leadership team of that size is challenging to manage.

With that in mind, the student leaders are studying the fundamentals of the rules of order used by city halls, statehouses, and congress. They’re learning how to share their ideas with their fellow leaders through orderly debate and discussion. The students are using the committee system to tackle the details of putting their ideas into an actual plan.

After several weeks of intense training, the student government was ready to take on its first project. They decided to have a fall dance. As the first-ever dance in the school’s history, these young leaders felt much pressure to make the event successful. They had heated debates about the theme of the dance, the date, fundraising, the food and refreshments, decorations, and much more.

To have the event they wanted, student leaders had to raise $800 by selling tickets. They had less than three weeks to achieve this goal. That’s a tall order in a working-class neighborhood. Many on campus quietly shared concerns that the student council took on too much than they could handle.

Using the rules of order they learned, the young decision-makers developed a ticket sales and marketing strategy, and created a plan for a 100% student led and managed dance. I’ve been around many leadership teams in my career, and the students experienced all of the potential pitfalls and challenges that any team of leaders could confront. Through their raucous use of the democratic process, they worked through each barrier.

When the dust settled, here’s what happened:

LVLA had its first-ever school dance, they called it the “Falling for Fall” event. More than half of the student body attended. The student government made money on the event by raising over $1,000. The buzz on campus the next Monday was all about the dance. Everyone had a great time. The event was an overwhelming success by any and every measurement.

This gets me back to “kids these days.” Given the right tools and the confidence to succeed, Latino students will be exemplary leaders in the future. We’re in good hands. Today’s Latino civic and community leaders could learn a few things about teamwork and cooperation from the LVLA student government. In fact, so could our do-nothing United States Congress.

Oh, by the way, the student government planned and hosted an appreciation potluck for me and fellow advisor Mr. Osvaldo Ruelas, a young educator who is a future leader himself. The student leaders wanted to say “thank you” for the small role we played in supporting them.

Kids these days.

Latino Thursday: Luis Valdez Leadership Academy

LVLA-Logo

I was in the office at Luis Valdez Leadership Academy (LVLA) waiting to interview Founding Director Jeff Camarillo for today’s post. As I sat down, a student walked out of Mr. Camarillo’s office and his assistant poked her head into the door carrying several messages for him. Before she walked out of his office, he was on the phone taking a call.

I could hear Mr. Camarillo energetically brainstorming solutions with a colleague. He hung up, and before I could even see him, he enthusiastically welcomed me to the academy. Walking out of his office he greeted me with a big smile and hug, Latino style. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon, right around the time that most people start feeling the after-lunch blahs. Not Mr. Camarillo, he was a bundle of energy.

The LVLA is a new charter school located in east San Jose. It’s the second high school chartered by the National Hispanic University Foundation. As the education community grapples with the Latino academic achievement gap and debates over the most effective way to close it, institutions like the NHUF are seeking out-of-the-box solutions like their flagship school Latino College Preparatory Academy and LVLA.

Charter schools are proliferating in Silicon Valley, especially in east side Latino communities. For the past three years, I’ve studied charter schools and their impact on Latino students and neighborhoods. Charters are publicly-funded schools that operate without being handcuffed by the constraints of traditional public school rules. This offers advantages to be sure. But the jury is still out.

There’s no real data yet on their long-term effect on Latino student success. In Silicon Valley, the chain charter schools, derisively called “McCharters” by opponents, have been criticized for questionable recruiting tactics in Latino neighborhoods. Their source of financial support also raises eyebrows. High-tech contributors stand to profit from the chain charter reliance on computer-based “blended learning.”

LVLA isn’t a chain charter school. It’s an innovative concept. Education leaders serious about closing the Latino academic achievement and college attainment gaps should pay attention to the formula developed at LVLA.

Let’s start with staffing. Director Camarillo is an Ivy League and Stanford educated son of a distinguished Stanford professor. The Dean of Instruction also studied at a prominent Ivy League university. The team of teachers includes many who are first in their families to go to college, so they will have an intimate and culturally conscious understanding of their students’ experiences.

The savvy staff will work in an environment of a college-going culture. Nearly all of the 95 incoming freshmen that represent the Founding Class just completed a two-week summer bridge program where they were introduced to the school’s vision. The program included events and activities at Stanford and U.C. Santa Cruz. A trip to visit East Coast universities is in the works.

When students walk through the doors on the first day of school on Monday, they will have a rigorous schedule of classes. The “A-G Checklist” that’s required to gain acceptance into the University of California and California State University systems is the default curriculum at LVLA. So the college-going culture isn’t just a feel-good tactic, it represents the core of daily academics.

Rather than focusing on computer-based learning, LVLA will implement the tried and true strategy of individualized teaching and guidance. Teachers are committed to getting to know each student and students will have an advisor that follows them through the four years they prepare for college. Add a visual performing arts program created for LVLA by the famed El Teatro Campesino and you have a robust curriculum.

The legendary playwright Luis Valdez was on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony last week. The self-proclaimed “east San Jose homeboy” delivered keynote remarks that took the audience on an inspiring journey from the Latino struggle for civil rights nearly a half century ago to the innovative Silicon Valley school that now bears his name.

During my 20-minute interview with Director Camarillo, I could hear the passion in his voice and see the determination in his eyes as he described his vision for the future. As we were talking, from the corner of his eye he caught a mom and her son looking for the campus office. He jumped out of his chair, opened the window, and guided them to the office in Spanish. The mom smiled warmly knowing that her son was in the right place.

The vision, staff commitment, academic rigor, and extracurricular enrichment are all in place to make LVLA a great school. Now Mr. Camarillo and his team have to execute. After attending the school’s opening and spending a few minutes with the person who’s charged with leading the effort, there is no doubt in my mind that they’ll succeed. I walked off campus feeling confident that something special is happening on the east side.

Latino Thursdays: The Art of Being a Professional

(Stock Photo-www.htbsaccounting.com)
(Stock Photo-www.htbsaccounting.com)

I was 29 years old when I attended my first fundraising event. The guest of honor was a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles.  I volunteered to help at the event that was held at an upscale art gallery in downtown San Jose. All I had to do was sign in attendees and collect donations, nevertheless I was anxious and a little intimidated. I had never been to a fundraiser or an art gallery.

As a kid, I remember that my dad used to say that every man should own at least one suit and a sports coat with a pair of slacks, so I had something handy to wear. I wore a gray two-button business suit, light blue dress shirt with dark blue tie, and cordovan penny loafers. The reason I remember what I was wearing so clearly is because it was the only dress clothes I had other than a tweed sports coat and navy wool dress pants.

The gallery was long and narrow. Modern art paintings hung on the walls and interesting sculptures sat on pedestals. White linen tablecloths topped tall cocktail tables and a small bar was staffed by a man dressed in a tuxedo.

A jazz trio softly played soothing tunes as men in business suits and professionally dressed women deposited checks into pre-printed envelopes, ate from small china plates, and chatted with other guests. It was like watching a well-choreographed dance.

After about an hour, the trio stopped playing and the event’s host introduced politicians and other VIPS to polite applause from the 40 or so guests. A few speakers enthusiastically praised the candidate, the candidate made brief comments, and the whole affair was done. Less than 15 minutes later, the gallery was empty.

Coming from a working-class Mexican American family, the only receptions that I knew about before that evening were related to weddings. The evening starts with mariachis entertaining guests, then dinner is served followed with a night of dancing. After the dance, family and close friends go to the home of the bride’s and groom’s parents for a nightcap. They all return for menudo the next morning. Total time: about 24 hours.

So here I was at the art gallery, 29 years old with a college degree, and I had just witnessed something that was completely out of this world for me. I was intrigued with the rhythmic nature of the event and fascinated that everyone knew how it worked. Since then, I’ve attended hundreds of receptions, breakfast events, luncheons, dinners, and cocktail parties. It was on-the-job training on how to conduct myself on a professional stage.

I’ve learned that choice of attire, how you stand, sit, move about the room, and shake hands all send messages on your credibility as a professional. Nobody is watching, yet everybody is watching. The impression you make on others could be the difference in getting the dream job, earning a promotion, or landing that lucrative contract.

More Latinos than ever are graduating with college degrees. That’s a good thing. Armed with an education and a valuable piece of paper, we’re making inroads into the offices of corporate America, government, and education. Taking the next step into management is another proposition. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, just 8.5% of Latinos who work are in “management occupations.”

Most of those management positions are in the service industry. The percentage of government and education administrators is less than 7% and Google recently disclosed that only 3% of its workforce is Latino. I can’t imagine Google, or any other Silicon Valley tech firm, employing more than a handful of Latino managers.

So what does this mean?

Racial stereotypes play a major role in how managers look at their Latino employees. They expect us to be service employees, blue-collar workers, domestic help, landscapers, construction workers, and so on. Latinos may not even register with executives when developing a management team. But we can’t let these facts keep us out of the executive suite.

Unfortunately, many of us lack the confidence it takes to be considered for advancement. School systems don’t teach critically important skills like confidence, poise, and how to conduct oneself in a professional setting. For many working-class Latinos, our first job out of college is our initial exposure to the white-collar world. While we’re educationally prepared for the work, we don’t understand the subtle protocols of advancing through large professional organizations.

So what do we do about this?

As a corporate executive, I’ve learned that those of us who have attained management positions need to actively seek out talented Latinos and mentor them on the nuances of “climbing the corporate ladder.” Leadership programs focused on Latinos in business and education are popping up across the country. As a professional community we need to support these efforts.

Professional Latinos also need to share their time and wisdom at school career days. Our kids shouldn’t have to wait for a college degree and a job before they learn how to dress, stand, sit, shake hands, and speak as a professional.

Latinos are smart, talented, and ambitious. More times than not, ugly racial stereotypes get in the way of advancement. That is what it is. We need to overcome those obstacles. Those of us who have been blessed to have experienced professional success are obligated to make sure that the next generation walks into that first art gallery reception with poise and confidence.

Latino Thursdays: Do We Care About School?

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NEWS FLASH: Latinos DO Value Education

As the old saying goes, if I had a dollar for every time someone told me that Latino families don’t value education, I’d be a rich man.

During my four years serving on the high school board of trustees, the immediate response to any innovative idea on how to improve Latino educational achievement and attainment started with the “fact” that getting a higher education just wasn’t Latinos’ cup of tea.

These comments came from credible sources like school administrators, teachers and counselors, usually non-Latinos and a sprinkling of their Latino colleagues. The latter group’s worldview is puzzling to me and opens the door to an entirely different blog subject. We’ll leave that for another time.

I checked with the experts to make sure that I wasn’t imagining things. A pair of researchers from the University of New Mexico and the University of Massachusetts has studied these issues extensively. In their 2004 book on the topic, Professors Nancy Lopez and Raul Ybarra wrote, “non-Latino academics often refer to traditional family values as serious barriers that prevent access into higher education.”

According to Lopez and Ybarra, non-Latino academics claim that the rate of college attainment is “unlikely to change as Latino families value 2-year career-only degrees over a higher (four-year university) education.” The Latino professors rightly question the validity of this perception. I’d also like to know where the data is to support these broad statements. I couldn’t find anything.

To answer the question, the nationally-renowned Pew Hispanic Center went out and surveyed Latino families in 2009. Here’s what the survey said: 89% of Latinos agree that a college degree is important for getting ahead in life, 77% of Latino students ages 16-25 say their parents think going to college is the most important thing to do after high school, and just 11% say their parents think getting a full-time job after high school is important.

So there it is, straight from the caballo’s mouth. We do value education. So, what gives? Why does the data show that Latinos care about education, yet test scores and college attainment and completion rates continue to lag behind non-Latino counterparts?

The answers are no doubt complex. Academia and education policymakers will surely debate the merits of competing strategies on how to solve this problem for decades to come. In the meantime, education leaders need to find the courage to confront the misguided stereotypes and assumptions that create barriers for 89% of Latino students and 77% of their parents who want to take the college route. That way, we can get past assumptions and get to solutions.

Latino parents also have to get off the sidelines and participate in their children’s education. I know that could be intimidating. As long as the stereotypes and the obstacles they create persist, parents will continue to feel unwelcome. But we have to do it for our kids. Get to know teachers, go to back-to-school nights, attend after-school activities, volunteer, join the PTA. If we show the school system that educating our children is important to us, it will become important to them.

The good news is that that there’s solid evidence that the myth of Latinos not valuing education is just that, a myth. Once educators acknowledge and erase the negative images and parents get into the game, Latino students will be able to fully participate and benefit from the education system. The bad news is that I won’t become rich anytime soon. But that’s okay with me.

Quotes & Quips: Speaking from the Heart

Delivering the keynote address at the annual Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement Awards Dinner at San Jose State University (photo courtesy of SJSU)
Delivering the keynote address at the annual Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement Awards Dinner at San Jose State University
(photo courtesy of SJSU)

“Eloquent speech is not from lip to ear, but rather from heart to heart.”  ~ William Jennings Bryan

From the late 19th century through the early 20th century, William Jennings Bryan was the driving force behind the populist wing of the Democratic Party.  He was the Democrats’ candidate for President of the United States in 1896, 1900, and 1908. Although he lost all three times (that’s something I can relate to), Bryan spoke from the heart and captured the soul of the modern Democratic Party.

Over the last several months, I’ve had the privilege to speak at community gatherings, corporate partnership meetings, San Jose State University, Gavilan Community College, and local high schools.  Each one of these opportunities has been a humbling experience as audiences have inspired me to speak from the heart about my passions: leadership, education, and second chances.

If your organization or event planners are looking for a speaker who inspires audiences with heartfelt, amusing, and compelling stories, check out my speaking services.

I tailor each talk to engage your audience by drawing on stories about life growing up in a working-class neighborhood and sharing insights from over 25-years as a corporate executive, school board president, community leader, and high school and junior college basketball coach.

To learn more about speaking services, click on the following link: https://esereport.com/speaking-engagements/

To schedule me for your next event or conference, send an e-mail to eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net or call 408-426-7698.

Winning the Fight for Higher Standards on the East Side

(Stock Photo)
(Stock Photo)

Sitting in the back of the multi-purpose room at Mt. Pleasant High School in east San Jose on Friday, I reflected on the untapped potential of this dynamic community. The occasion was the annual MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science & Achievement) College Poster Contest.  MESA is a non-profit organization that helps prepare educationally underrepresented students to graduate from college with an engineering, science, business or mathematics degree.

The college poster contest, one of many MESA programs, challenges students to research a college of their choice, make a poster, and present their findings to a panel of judges. For the past two years, I’ve had the honor to serve as a judge in the high school division. To my delight, the entire afternoon was an east side affair. MESA’s executive director at San Jose State University is a James Lick High School alum like me, the contest coordinator is an Evergreen High School grad, and the students represented east side schools.

I was impressed by the meticulous research, creativity and oral presentation skills demonstrated by the students. Two junior girls from Silver Creek High School, who chose to highlight UCLA, made my day. When I asked if they took the A-G class schedule needed to apply to UCLA, one of the girls said, “everyone takes A-G classes,” while the other smiled and nodded in agreement. A rush of emotion washed over me as I remembered the 2010 “A-G” fight at the East Side Union High School District.

In California, the A-G curriculum is the checklist of classes students need to take to be eligible to apply for college in the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems. Most school districts don’t require an A-G curriculum for all students. According to a 2009 California Post Secondary Education Commission report, “the college-going rate for students in California to UC schools was 7.2% and the rate to CSU schools was 10.5%.”

In 2008, just six of the state’s over 400 school districts that issued high school diplomas required an A-G curriculum. The East Side was like the vast majority of school districts where 90% of the graduates weren’t even eligible to apply to a UC or CSU. During my term serving on the school board at the East Side from 2006-2010, a group of students from the district’s chapter of Californians for Justice (CFJ) were campaigning the school board to make A-G the required curriculum for all students.

When I was elected board president in 2009, I joined the CFJ students, their families, and community supporters to fight for A-G at East Side schools by announcing at the annual State of the District Address that I would ask the board to approve an A-G curriculum for all students by the end of the year. The standing room-only crowd in James Lick’s multi-purpose room that night expressed full support for what would be called the A-G Initiative.

I thought the proposal was a no-brainer that would easily pass the board by mid-summer. The day after the State of the District Address, I quickly learned that it would be anything but easy. I met with opponents who were concerned and angry that I made such a bold statement without consulting the broader education community. They warned that the rigorous curriculum would “set up students to fail” as “these students weren’t prepared to pass Algebra II.”

Together with students, parents, and community supporters, we moved forward nonetheless. The Silicon Valley Education Foundation joined the fight by providing critical resources to educate the public and my board colleagues on the values of A-G. Later that spring, I had a massive heart attack with complications that kept me in the hospital for over 100 days. As I fought for my life in the ICU, the community fought for A-G and higher standards on the east side.

The A-G vote was scheduled for the October board meeting and the initiative’s opponents had asked the board to delay the vote and convene a study session to better understand the impacts. Although I was home from the hospital, I was in no condition to participate in the board meeting, so my four board colleagues would determine the fate of A-G. The board ended up deadlocked so both proposals failed to get the required three votes for move forward. A-G was dead.

The next day, I confirmed with district officials that I was still board president and could vote by teleconference, so I asked the administration to once again place the issue on November’s board agenda. Student, parents, and community supporters rallied their troops to attend the November board meeting to show solidarity for the initiative. I planned to by on telephone standby until the issue came to a vote.

By the night of meeting, I was strong enough to attend and persuaded Sandra to let me participate in the A-G vote. An overflow crowd came to the board chambers on November 18, 2010, to enthusiastically urge the board to vote for the A-G Initiative. After brief comments by each board member, we unanimously voted to require the A-G checklist to be the default curriculum for all students beginning with the Class of 2015.

After casting my last vote as a school board member, I turned toward the door behind the dais and walked out of the board chambers for the last time as students and families celebrated their hard-fought victory. That was, and always will be, my proudest moment as an eastsider . We showed everyone that our community valued high standards that night. Last Friday, when the young woman from the Silver Creek High Class of 2015 matter-of-factly told me that, “everyone takes A-G classes,” I smiled, assured that 2010 was worth the fight.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #17)

The newlyweds hanging out with Mickey during the summer of 1991 (Eddie & Sandra García Family photo)
The newlyweds hanging out with Mickey during the summer of 1991
(Eddie & Sandra García Family photo)

Sandra and I rented a small one bedroom apartment in the east foothills, not far from Alum Rock Park and the expensive houses up the hill.  She was in her first year as an elementary school teacher and I taught Spanish to pre-school kids at a private elementary school/day care center.  It was a job that didn’t require a college degree and paid next to nothing.  I also coached basketball at City College and made extra money tutoring the basketball players.  We were able to scrape by financially and married life was treating me well.

For the first time since I was a teenager I felt a sense of accomplishment and stability, this time without the brashness and bravado of one of the big men on campus.  Soon after the basketball season ended, Sandra and I made the decision that I should return to San Jose State on a full-time basis and put my career as a basketball coach on hold until I earned my bachelor’s degree and teaching credential.

I had been taking courses at State here and there for a couple of years to meet reinstatement eligibility to the university and to remove the academic disqualification from my record, so I was ready to submit an application for acceptance.  When a letter from San Jose State arrived in the mail, I anxiously opened the envelope, read the letter, and let out a huge sigh of relief.  My failed academic record had been cleared, and I was officially a college student once again.

The next day, a Saturday, Eddie Velez and I were working on a side job with Mr. Peralta replacing sidewalks at an apartment complex, but I wasn’t participating in the usual banter about sports, politics, the weather, and the aches and pains that come with construction work.  My mind was spinning with thoughts about my past failures, my new opportunity, and my second, and perhaps, last chance to redeem myself by earning a college degree and pursuing my dream of being a teacher and a coach.  Right then and there, I decided that I would work harder than ever in college to stay focused on the prize.

Because the acceptance letter arrived just days before classes were to begin, I had to sit in on the classes I wanted to secure a space before I could actually register.  It would be a tedious process that required patience and perseverance.  With a determination I never had before, I sat in class after class, cajoled professors to allow me to stay, and registered for a full load of classes to qualify as a full-time student.  I threw myself into my schoolwork, finishing projects, writing papers, and completing reading assignments ahead of schedule.

Early that first semester, I ran into a mental roadblock that could have compromised the entire effort; I realized that I was almost ten years older than my classmates in first year general education courses.  I started to doubt myself, I questioned my decision to drop everything to return to school, and I felt out of place as a weathered twenty-seven year old man among bright, young, and eager college students.

I shared these sentiments with a professor, Dr. Randall Jimenez, with whom I had developed a good relationship in his freshman communications course.  He told me that I had a natural talent for public speaking and using words to persuade and lead others.  Then he asked me how old I was and when did I anticipate on finishing my degree, and I responded that I hoped to graduate by my thirtieth birthday.  He said with good health and God’s will I would be thirty years old, so I had to decide whether I wanted to be thirty years old with a college degree or thirty years old without one; the choice was mine and mine alone.

From that day on I had a laser focus toward achieving success at the highest level possible, as a student and in my future career as an educator and basketball coach.  To help Sandra with living expenses, I spent the next three years tutoring freshman for the professor’s public speaking courses.  I ran into Dr. Jimenez two decades later, and with a bear hug and heartfelt smile, he mentioned how happy he was to see me, and that he had followed my career and medical problems in the newspaper.

I reminded him of and thanked him for the wise words he imparted on me that day early in my return to college.  He thanked me for listening because he knew that I would use my gift for public speaking to make an impact in people’s lives.  His wise advice twenty-one years before sent my college career and the professional life that was to follow into high gear.

For the next three years, I was a full-time student and part-time homemaker.  After that first semester, I met with an advisor on campus, selected history as my major, and mapped out the schedule of classes I would need to graduate by the time I was thirty years old.  At home, in between reading and writing assignments, I washed clothes, kept our little apartment clean, and experimented making different meals so dinner would be ready when Sandra got home from a long day with her students.

More often than not, my experiments would go badly and we would end up at one of the mom and pop restaurants or fast food joints that dotted our new neighborhood.  In addition to my studies and tutoring for the professor’s public speaking courses, I worked as a referee for intramural sports at San Jose State and tutored a neighborhood kid to further supplement Sandra’s teaching salary.  I was absolutely dedicated to my studies, devouring books faster than professors could assign them; reading in the laundry room at our apartment complex or at the kitchen counter while preparing another disastrous meal.

Let’s Start a “Courageous Conversation”

Book cover for "Courageous Conversations About Race" (courtesy of Google Books)
Book cover for “Courageous Conversations About Race”
(courtesy of Google Books)

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a kindergarten classroom at a school on the east side. I was able to see an excellent teacher at work. Just holding the attention of energetic five-year-olds seemed like a tall order. The teacher was engaging and positive as she led the students through a math exercise. Some kids were attentive, others were restless, and most were somewhere in between. What impressed me most was that the teacher worked hard to involve each student.

I witnessed the teacher practicing what educational equity experts call “meeting students where they are.” In other words, the teacher didn’t expect every student to be the same and she made adjustments for each student’s strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, as an education blogger and former school trustee, I’ve heard many other teachers express frustration that students don’t come to school ready to learn.

So what does “ready to learn” mean? Essentially, it describes the model student: conscientious, organized, and prepared to learn every day. This must start at home, the argument goes. With that reasoning, some educators believe that high academic achievement could become a reality because the school system would be able to do what it is designed to do: teach.

Unfortunately, that’s just not real life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone was conscientious, organized, and prepared? That would eliminate most of the world’s problems for sure. The reality is that students, like all people, come in all colors, cultures, sizes, intellectual abilities, and social classes. Despite this diversity, every student can succeed if school systems truly understood and accepted that everyone is different.

In their insightful book about equity in education, Courageous Conversations About Race, Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton use meticulous research to demonstrate that society, school systems, education leaders, and classroom teachers more times than not prejudge students based on race, cultural background, and socio-economic status. This results in practices that marginalize students of color and sets them on a course that discourages a future college education.

All too often the school system and educators dismiss kids of color with the cop-out that “college isn’t for everyone.” In response to my post last week, several readers shared with me their own experiences with this discouraging phrase (click on https://esereport.com/2014/03/17/college-can-change-your-life/ to read last week’s blog). One reader recounted how her son’s high school counselor encouraged him to be a truck driver because he could make good money without a college education.

In his 2009 report on closing the achievement gap, former California State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell recognized this problem and recommended culturally relevant professional development as a solution (click on http://svefoundation.org/svefoundation/files/p16_ctag_report.pdf to read Superintendent O’Connell’s report). Unfortunately, few school districts have attempted to develop a comprehensive and systematic approach to implement this recommendation.

Why is this? To even start thinking about implementing a culturally relevant professional development program, school systems must first acknowledge that racial and cultural bias actually exists.  Singleton and Linton write that talking about these biases is “a difficult conversation, one that clearly troubles educators and can make everyone downright uncomfortable.” It’s hard for good people to believe that they hold such biases.

One would think that in a place as diverse as Silicon Valley, having this conversation would be easy. But it’s not. I’ve discussed this issue with several superintendents who have implemented equity and culturally relevant professional development programs in their districts. In those initiatives, teachers, staff, and the school communities were skeptical and resistant to even begin the conversation. Although long-term relationships were tested and challenged, the end results for students were good.

School leaders may be reluctant to venture into the wilderness of starting that difficult conversation.  It will take conviction, courage, and commitment. Nevertheless, we need to have these discussions as a community for us to ensure that all students have an opportunity to achieve and succeed.

So, I suggest that we support our education leaders and start a “courageous conversation” right here on East Side Eddie Report.com. I want to hear about your experiences with racial and cultural bias as a student, parent, teacher, school administrator and how it impacted your decision to continue (or not continue) a higher education? If you don’t feel comfortable posting publicly, but want to share your story, please feel free to e-mail me confidentially at eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net.

Let’s be bold and start talking!

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Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #14)

Written on the back of the photo is, "Sandy 5th Grade" (Peralta Family Photo)
Written on the back of this photo is, “Sandy 5th Grade”
(Peralta Family Photo)

It was during those long phone calls between our first and second date that I got to know Sandra very well.  She was born Sandra Faustina Peralta on September 30, 1966, at Doctors Hospital just west of downtown San Jose, the second of four daughters born to Fausto and Connie Peralta, a construction worker and cannery worker.  She was a cute baby with big brown eyes, chubby cheeks, and puffy arms and legs that looked like they were tapered at the joints with rubber bands like a cute Michelin Man from the tire company’s commercials.

As she grew up, Sandra was obedient, studious, and cheerful.  In elementary school, she helped in the school library, cafeteria, and could always be found at recess time helping a teacher with some odd job in the classroom. Beneath the exterior of the model student and obedient daughter was a girl who had tremendous strength of character and unflinching determination.  According to her mom, even as a toddler, “Sandra knew what she wanted to do and was confident she could do it.”

The family next door had a daughter the same age that constantly competed with Sandra in the classroom and with extracurricular activities.  Only once did Sandra let the pressure of that competition get the best of her when in a fit of anger she called the other little girl a bitch, and abruptly went home to confess to her mom, express remorse, and return to apologize.  This incident accurately describes Sandra’s dual qualities of toughness and compassion.

Sandra went on to excel in school earning good grades, playing clarinet in the award winning high school marching band, participating in after school activities, and eventually getting elected student body president her senior year at Silver Creek High School in east San Jose.  After two years of community college she enrolled at San Jose State University to begin a journey that would lead to her career as an educational administrator.

Sandra’s success can be attributed to her spirit, personality, and the unconditional support from her family.  Her parents, Fausto and Connie Peralta, are the personification of the American Dream.  Born in the village of Cumpas, Sonora, Mexico in 1938, Fausto was raised by aunts and uncles because his father Mariano died as a young man; and his mother Concepción left him, and his sister and brothers in the care of relatives to go to the United States in search of work and a chance to send for her children so they could have a better life than the one they had in Mexico.

He came to the United States at the age of sixteen and settled with his mother in the small California farming town of Mendota; his brothers followed later.  In Mendota, Fausto quickly established himself as a hard working young man who provided much value to the farmers who employed him in the cotton fields of central California.  When not doing the back-breaking work required in the hot and dusty fields, he could be seen around town neatly dressed in clean and pressed clothes, polished shoes, and hair combed just right.

Sandra’s mom, Connie Rosales, was born in 1941 just a few miles up the road from Mendota on the Hotchkiss Ranch just outside of Firebaugh, California, the ninth child of Jesus and Encarnación Rosales.  Like Fausto, she was raised by a single mother as her father passed away when she was just three years old.  Connie, a strong-willed, hard-working, and compassionate woman, grew up dreaming of one day living in a nice house and raising a successful family just like the Americanas who lived in town.

Connie and Fausto met in 1958 when Connie’s presumably match-making aunt invited Fausto to a New Year’s Eve party at the home of Connie’s sister.  Two years later they were married, then moved to San Jose looking for work where Fausto made his way as a cement mason and Connie supplemented their income working in the canneries of Santa Clara Valley, and where they built a family with their four daughters: Valerie, Sandra, Kimberley, and Shelley.  They worked hard and did whatever it took to ensure that their daughters had a chance to succeed.

Raising four daughters was a challenge for Fausto and Connie as each woman has her own distinct personality.  Collectively, the Peralta girls made an impression at Silver Creek High School and proudly call San Jose State University their alma mater.  A large photo of the sisters standing together resplendent in college cap and gown under the shadow of the university’s ivy-covered Tower Hall hangs in the entryway of the Peralta house.