College Can Change Your Life

Tower Hall, San Jose State University (SJSU file photo)
Tower Hall, San Jose State University (SJSU file photo)

“College isn’t for everybody.” The first time I heard this was from my high school counselor who discouraged me from applying to San Jose State University. I heard it over and over again from teachers and other school leaders when, as president of the school board, I proposed making high school graduation requirements the same as college eligibility requirements.

That statement has some truth to it, but you have to make that determination on your own. Teachers, counselors, the school system, parents, family, friends, and society don’t have any business telling you if college is the right path for you. Unless your heart is set on a career that requires no education, I highly recommend that you give college a try.

Let’s get a couple of things straight first. College isn’t easy. It’s an exercise in determination, discipline, and hard work. It doesn’t guarantee a job and a high-paying career after graduation. That’s up to you.  What college does is open your mind and opens the door to limitless opportunities. During the past few months, I’ve had the privilege to speak to high school and college students about the value of my college education in a talk I call, “How College Changed My Life.”

I failed at my first try at college, so I went out into the world and tried to make a living without an education. I drove a forklift at a sheet metal company and worked in construction to quickly learn that I was miserable. I tried selling shoes, toys, and sporting goods to find out that the fastest path to management was a college degree. I coached middle and high school kids, but that didn’t provide a living.

So, in my mid-20s, I went back to college. This time I put my heart and soul into it. My goal was to be a high school history teacher and basketball coach. A funny thing happened on the way to that goal: I never got there. Studying history at San Jose State University blew my mind wide open. I became fascinated about how business, politics, education, and ideas changed the course of history. This fascination led to a career that has been a wild, but fulfilling, ride.

When I walked into Spartan Stadium on graduation day, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do anymore. I loved kids and coaching basketball, but the college experience taught me that there was so much more out there than I could even imagine. I took a position as legislative assistant to a city councilwoman, not knowing what that meant. The research, writing, and public-speaking skills I learned in college were a perfect fit for the job.

My fondest memory of that first job as a college graduate was when the councilwoman led the effort to rename the central city park in honor of Latino icon César Chávez. I suggested that the organizing committee, which included Chávez family members, honor César by engraving his name on the face of the park’s marble stage. They agreed. I got goose bumps the day that city leaders and the Chávez family unveiled the engraving. I still get goose bumps every time I see it.

Since that experience, I’ve worked in business, served on the school board, and returned to local government. Instead of teaching history, I’ve been a witness to history. I was in Denver’s Mile High Stadium as a corporate executive when President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president in2008. As a school board member, I saw parents and students save high school sports and win the fight for graduation requirements to mirror college eligibility standards.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “No one can ever take away your education.” A few years ago, I had a massive heart attack that nearly took my life. With a damaged heart, my ability to work 18 hours a day, play basketball, and ride roller coasters has been taken away. But, I can still read, write, research, speak, and share stories with anyone who’s willing to listen. I couldn’t do any of that without my San Jose State University education.

I understand that college might not be for everyone. Our world depends on people who work in the trades, drive goods to market, and provide services. These are honorable professions that deserve our appreciation. My parents worked hard without a college education, raised a family, and encouraged their children to reach for the stars. Even though they didn’t have a university degree, they knew we needed one to achieve our dreams.

Cultural and socio-economic conditions seven decades ago made it difficult for my parents to get a higher education. We live in a different age today. There are so many more opportunities than a generation ago, especially for Latinos. Society may be telling you that you’re destined to be a truck driver, receptionist, construction worker, or landscaper. That may be true. That may be your destiny.  But you ought to give college a try first. You never know what could happen.

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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.

Leadership Lessons from a Hall of Fame Coach

carrphoto
Coach Percy Carr (right) on the night of his 800th victory at San Jose City College.
(photo courtesy of City College Times)

When walking into the basketball gym at San Jose City College, the first impression is that the place is literally spotless. If you show up around 3:00 PM, you’ll likely see Coach Percy Carr sweeping the floor, as he has for the past 38 years. It doesn’t matter that custodians probably just swept it; Coach Carr wants to make sure that the floor is in perfect condition for practice.

In 38 years at SJCC, Coach Carr has won over 800 games, the most in California history, and led his Jaguars to 34 playoff appearances, 12 conference championships, and 8 state championship games. Despite this success, there are no banners hanging in the gym trumpeting his accomplishments.  That’s just Coach’s style.

In addition to his success on the floor, Coach Carr founded the Creative Athlete Retention Response (CARR) program at San Jose City College. The CARR Program offers athletic and academic advice to all SJCC athletes. Ninety-seven percent of SJCC basketball players go on to a four-year university. In 1998, Coach Carr was inducted into the California Community College Basketball Hall of Fame. I was fortunate to sweep the floor right next to him as one of his assistant coaches from 1989-1991

Throughout my career, I’ve been around some amazing leaders, and Coach Carr tops that list.  Working for Coach was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. The lessons I learned from him have helped form the core of my own leadership journey. This season, Coach welcomed me back to the Jaguar family as the public address announcer for home games. Watching him working up close again has reminded me of those lessons.  I call them the “Four Be’s of Leadership.”

  1. Be Excellent

Many of the players that come to play for Coach Carr are from inner-city neighborhoods with few positive role models. Coach provides these young men with the highest quality of equipment and facilities. The locker room resembles a facility usually seen only at top-notch Division I universities. He’s a stickler about personal grooming, good manners, and study habits. He gives and expects excellence from his players outside and inside the gym, 24/7.

  1. Be Prepared

Early one Sunday morning, Coach called me from the airport after visiting legendary UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian and watching his team play. Coach Carr learned a new technique to help players on defense stay a step ahead against speedy opponents. He asked me to meet him at the gym when he arrived in San Jose to demonstrate the move and prepare for the next day’s practice. Monday’s practice was seamless, and the Jags defense led the team to 28 victories that year.

  1. Be a Teacher

When young men first arrive on campus at SJCC, they have little experience managing life on their own. During my two years there, I watched Coach teach them how to navigate the financial aid bureaucracy, shop for groceries, and conduct themselves in public as respectable young men. He taught them how work effectively in a team environment.  And for a couple of hours a day, he taught them how to play basketball.

  1. Be a Winner

This year’s team is a classic SJCC Jaguar squad. They’re big, fast, and very talented. The team is also young, which resulted in a rocky start to the season. The team would take early leads in many games only to succumb at the end. They couldn’t find a way to win. Coach didn’t give up. He made adjustments, tried different line-ups, and convinced the young players that they could win. The Jags started to play like a well-oiled machine and sent Coach to the playoffs for the 34th time in his career.

Although it hasn’t helped my March Madness brackets, I learned a whole lot about coaching basketball from Coach Carr. Like his players, I spent only two years at SJCC, but left with a lifetime of leadership lessons. Working to be excellent, preparing for each assignment and project, being a teacher to those under my care, and striving to be a winner have guided me as a father, husband, community leader, and executive.

At the end of the day, Coach Carr’s leadership isn’t about basketball; it’s about inspiring young men and giving them the tools to be successful. His former players are now lawyers, doctors, teachers, coaches, and businessmen.  I’m sure this year has been an incredible experience for the players and the young coaching staff. They went to the playoffs, Coach is a step closer to 900 wins, and most important, the young men he leads are headed for a successful life.

California Can Have World-Class Schools Again

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The other night I was relaxing and listening to The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour album when I heard the familiar sound of a recorder, a flute-like woodwind instrument, on the song A Fool on the Hill (hear Paul McCartney on the recorder at 1:25 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-8gd1jD0oM). The high-pitched melodic sound of the recorder brought back memories of elementary school. Readers from my generation will remember the recorder as the public school system’s introduction to music education.

Every student was issued a basic plastic recorder that taught us how to read music by belting out old standards like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Mary Had a Little Lamb. Some students were inspired to take their musical interests to the next level by joining the school band. I tried the saxophone and quickly learned that there was no way I could ever earn a living as a musician.

I was lucky to grow up during a time when California had the best public school system in the nation. With voter approval of Proposition 13 in 1978, everything changed. The anti-tax law slashed school budgets to provide only the basics. The result has been three and a half decades of limited resources and opportunities for working-class kids. With courageous local leadership, the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) could change that.

From the 1950s to the late 70s, California’s stellar public school system was a symbol of the state’s role as an economic juggernaut during our country’s longest period of prosperity. In 1968, the year The Beatles released A Fool on the Hill, 58% of the state’s funding went to education. According to the California Department of Education website, public school funding is only “40% of the state’s General Fund for 2013-14.”

So what did working-class families get for that extra 18%? In addition to the plastic recorders, there were regular field trips, art, music, and physical education. Today, music, art, and P.E. are considered “enrichment,” not basic education, and parents have to dig deeper into their pockets for fields trips and other “extras” like pencils, paper, and crayons. With the heavy emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), we’re no longer educating our kids; we’re putting them through basic job training.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially in Silicon Valley. Our tech industry badly needs a trained pool of workers, and students need job skills that help them compete in today’s economy. But let’s call it what it is, and not call it a well-rounded education. Putting all our public school resources in the STEM basket leaves few options for students from working-class families with leadership qualities and an aptitude for written and verbal communication or the humanities and arts.

State education policy analysts estimate that the LCFF will add $2,700 per student to local school district budgets for the next five years and even more in the future. At the East Side Union High School District, that means an additional $5.5 million next year. School boards should resist the temptation to use all of the new dollars on technology and STEM-related applications.

I’ve written in previous posts that education leaders need to allocate some of those extra dollars on developing systematic and comprehensive educational equity. Resources also need to be earmarked for student readiness projects and a gradual return of arts and humanities education. Unlike affluent families that are able to fund their children’s “enrichment,” the public school system is the only place that kids from working-class families can get a shot at a well-rounded education.

California schools have been in a perpetual state of budget-cutting for over 35 years. With the annual economizing, school leaders have been on an obsessive quest to run schools like a business. Treating kids like widgets in a factory has resulted in a system that prepares students to merely take standardized tests; rather than educating them.  That’s a shame.

I’m not saying that STEM and standardized tests aren’t important elements of the school system.  I’m saying that they shouldn’t be the ONLY elements of public education. As the Information Age continues to expand, we’ll need people who can read, write, and think critically; as well as people who can program a computer and write code.

During the 1950s and 1960s, California Governor Pat Brown created and funded a well-rounded, word-class public school system.  A half-century later, his son Governor Jerry Brown has developed an education funding mechanism to provide more funding than local school districts have seen in decades.  Let’s hope our local leaders use that extra funding to inspire another era of word-class education in the Golden State.

Educating Latino Students is a Team Effort

(Stock Photo - www.csusb.edu)
(Stock Photo – http://www.csusb.edu)

Since my tenure on the school board, I’ve been an advocate of investing in raising expectations for Latino students.  With my ongoing blog discussion about this issue, I’ve heard from many readers, especially teachers.  One educator wrote, “It all starts with the priorities in the home.”  Another commented that, “Latino parents need to know that their involvement is critical and necessary.”

A parent responded to the teacher comments by asking, “Can you educate parents on district policies for enrolling our kids and what to do?” That’s an important question.  Another teacher agreed with that parent and described how she and her colleagues invest time in families because “parents want to help their kids but they don’t have the tools to do it.”  So who’s right?

They’re all correct.  Every study about student success identifies strong parent support as an essential factor.  This component makes up one of the four legs of the stool that holds up high achievement in school.  The other three legs are high academic standards, sufficient resources, and high student expectations.  California schools are addressing standards and resources, but haven’t invested in engaging Latino parents or raising student expectations.  Why is this?

Raising academic standards and allocating sufficient resources are concepts that are easy to understand.  Test score goals and a college-prep curriculum are measurable, so policymakers just need to adjust the benchmarks to raise those standards, which is starting to happen around the state.  Governor Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula provides school districts with funding based on the demographic profile of their students, so financially underprivileged students will have more access to resources.

Increasing parent engagement and raising student expectations are harder to understand.  Immigrant Latino parents know little or nothing about our school system and American-born Latino parents are products of the very same system of low expectations that is hampering their kids.  Our school systems can’t expect parents to set academic priorities for their children if they don’t even have the means to understanding those priorities.

The misconception within education circles is that Latino parents don’t care about academic success and don’t make school a priority at home.  When I served on the school board in east San Jose, a predominately Latino community, I found the opposite to be true.  Latino parents were constantly asking me for advice about how to access district administration to share their concerns and seek counsel for their children.

Many school districts have active Latino parent groups that advocate for their students with few resources allocated by the district.  With the new funding formula, school leaders now have an opportunity to invest in parent groups that want to be more engaged with their students’ education.  For those who say ALL parent organizations, not just Latino parents, should have access to more district resources, my answer is “absolutely yes.”

Raising expectations for Latino students is a little trickier.  This is an issue I’ve discussed in past posts.  Proponents of educational equity and culturally relevant teacher development have argued with solid evidence that school systems have been historically biased along racial lines, thus creating an environment of low expectations for students of color.  In fact, educational equity experts call this the “missing link” in academic achievement.  I call it the fourth leg on the stool.

Despite recommendations from the state superintendent of schools and a Silicon Valley Education Foundation report, investing in a comprehensive program to address these real issues has been non-existent.  During the last decade of school budget-cutting, policymakers haven’t even considered addressing the fourth leg of the stool.  Local control funding provides a historic opportunity to change this.

Academic standards are rising and new school funding formulas are increasing resources.  With a growing Latino population, our education leaders can no longer accept the argument that the foundation of academic achievement can only be started “with priorities in the home,” especially when parents are asking for the tools to build that foundation.   Educators play a major role in the foundation of academic success and it must start with high student expectations.

By the same token, Latino parents can no longer relinquish the role of setting the foundation of academic success solely on the school system.  If school systems provide tools for parents and welcome them to engage in their children’s education, then Latino parents must meet their obligations and responsibilities to guide students toward a successful academic career.

Ensuring a robust economic future for California will hinge on the success of today’s Latino students, who will make up a majority of the state’s breadwinners within a generation.   We can no longer put all of the responsibility on the school system, nor can the school system merely rely on the home to achieve this.  California’s future rests on a team effort.  Schools need to provide all four legs of the stool to achieve success, and Latino parents and students need to answer the call.

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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.

We Must Invest in Raising Expectations of Latino Students

(Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis)
(Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis)

Last week, I wrote about California’s Latino student population becoming the majority in the state and how education policymakers have historically struggled to educate them by focusing more on social and political solutions rather than academic rigor. The result is that most Latinos still work in low-paying service jobs.  I concluded the post by rhetorically asking, “Could it be that the mindset of our school systems is that Latinos should be working in service and support roles?”

A couple of readers, both educators, responded with well-reasoned comments.  They mentioned the lack of professional Latino role models, student apathy toward academic achievement, and the social challenges faced by today’s digital world. Self-motivated students do well one reader wrote, “it is those in the middle and below that we are fighting against cultural, societal, and self imposed limitations.”

It’s the students “in the middle and below” that have been collateral damage to policies that rely on social and political solutions. High standards, tools to achieve them, and high expectations form the foundation of Latino student success. In recent years, we’ve seen positive change in raising standards and providing resources.  One reader was on target by writing, “I believe the challenge is getting students to believe that they are NOT limited to those [low-wage service and support] roles.”

What are those “cultural, societal, and self imposed limitations” the reader mentions in his comments?  What causes them and how can school systems overcome them?

My friend Linda Ortega, a retired educator, recently posted a video on Facebook that shines a light on how cultural and societal representations of people of color impact children.  The video shows young Black kids evaluating the value of white and black dolls solely based on color.  Their answers are predictably disturbing: the white doll is good and black doll is bad.

(To see the video go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mPtHpgjEP8)

Cultural images of Latinos are similar, so one could argue that the resulting negative effect is the same for Latino students.  In the mainstream media, Latinos are portrayed as tattooed gangsters, illicit drug traders, domestic workers, gardeners, and Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants.  Given these images, it’s understandable that all but the most motivated students impose limitations on themselves and don’t do the hard work that’s necessary for academic success.

The cultural and societal representations of Latinos also impact the expectations of educators and school systems.  School board members, administrators, teachers, counselors, and school support staff also see the same portrayals of Latinos in the media.  Former California State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell called this phenomenon the “expectation gap.”  Despite his recommendations to address this gap, little has been done about it at the policymaking level.

So how do we as a society overcome these cultural and self-imposed academic limitations on Latino students?  First of all, we need to talk about it.  We should have what educational equity experts call a “courageous conversation” about how race impacts our school systems and students of color.  This is difficult to do in an era when people don’t want to acknowledge that race is still a barrier to achievement.  The video that Linda Ortega shared proves that we’re not even close yet.

Once we have that “courageous conversation,” school systems may better understand why many Latino students truly believe that they are limited to the roles portrayed in the media and that educators unwillingly may perpetuate that expectation.  Many Latino professionals I meet during my travels recount stories of teachers and counselors with good intentions encouraging them to seek opportunities in the trades and the service industries.

In California, the governor has changed the funding mechanism to provide schools with more dollars to better serve its students.  School boards and administrators are rushing to upgrade technology and infuse teacher development funds for the Common Core, the latest one-size-fits-all social and political solution to academic achievement woes.  Despite higher standards and increased funding, our state is headed down the same road unless we truly change what we expect from over half our students.

Education policymakers at the school district level need to invest in raising the expectations of Latino students through systematic and comprehensive educational equity and culturally relevant teacher training, as recommended by former State Superintendent O’Connell over five years ago.  This will help resolve the challenge of “getting students to believe that they are NOT limited to those [low-wage service and support] roles” described by a reader of this blog.

It could be generations before the mainstream media and society change their perceptions about the largest growing community in the United States.  That’s why our education systems are so important in effecting change and preparing the next generation of breadwinners and leaders.  Maintaining a large and permanent underclass in the nation’s biggest state doesn’t bode well for our future.

Education policymakers can take the first courageous step by investing in systematic change in their perceptions of Latino students.  Only then can Latino academic achievement begin to reach the levels necessary for our state’s future success.   I hope to hear from readers on this as I continue the conversation next week.

The Latino Decade Is Here…Now what?

Speaking at Gavilan Community College
Speaking at Gavilan Community College

I was invited a couple of weeks ago to be the featured speaker at the Enhance Your Potential Conference hosted by Gavilan Community College.  The conference included workshops on practical skills to provide students with tools to navigate through college and the competitive job market. My role for the conference was to give a motivational talk about the value of a college education and the limitless opportunities available to those with a degree.

I was rehearsing my prepared remarks on my morning walk through the neighborhood when I was pleasantly surprised to hear norteño style Mexican music blaring from a house.  Since it was home to an Indo-American family, I was confused until I saw Latino workers inside. On the drive to Gavilan College, I stopped at a McDonalds drive-thru for a Diet Coke.  The young woman who took my order was Latina as was the older woman who gave me the soda.

A group of about 70 undergraduates attended my talk at the conference; about three-quarters of the students were Latino.  After the speech, on my way back to San Jose, I heard Latina megastar Shakira singing on a easy-listening radio station. I started reflecting on how every ten years since the 1980s demographers proclaim that we’re living in the “Decade of the Latino.” Given that Latinos and Latino culture was all around me that day, it appears that the Latino Decade has arrived In California.

What does that mean?  Now what do we do?

The Pew Hispanic Research Center estimates that there are 14.3 million Latinos statewide, which represents a plurality (39%) of the Golden State’s population. A more telling number is that over half of the state’s 12 million students are Latino, according to the California Department of Education. Latinos are part of everyday life in California and come from every sector of our community. This means that a whole bunch of us live in California.

Before racist fear-mongers prepare to fight a Latino revolution or old-school Chicanos call for a coup, let’s look at the reality that, despite the massive shift in demographics, most Latinos still work at low-wage service and administrative support jobs. This isn’t good news for California’s future. Public policy analysts have been warning for years that the state can’t sustain itself if more than half of the population is undereducated and absent from civic life.

So, what do we do about this? First and foremost, we must provide access to a quality education for all students, including the 50-plus percent who are Latino. Unfortunately, state policymakers have historically failed to do this. During the 1930s, 40s, 50s, educators sought to “Americanize” Latinos by teaching valuable skills like eating bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast instead of chorizo, beans, and tortillas. I’m not making this stuff up.

In the 60s and 70s, the Chicano Movement took hold and forced school systems to realize that Americanization wasn’t working. Bilingual education became all the rage in California schools throughout the 70s and 80s. There was one major problem with this, most Latino children were born and reared in the United States and grew up speaking English. The watered down bilingual curriculum was devoid of academic rigor.

When Mexican immigration increased during the 80s, Ron Unz and his entitled Silicon Valley chums thought ridding the state of Spanish altogether was the solution. Voters passed his state initiative banning bilingual education and education policymakers were again scratching their heads. English as a Second Language (ESL) was the answer, they thought. Forget math, science, and history.  Immersing students in English for the entire school day will prepare them for the 21th century.

The state’s response to educating Latino students has always been based on political and social practices, rather than academics. Americanization, bilingual education, and ESL all left out the most important factor of a quality education: high academic standards. Each one of these movements places the responsibility entirely on the socialization of the student and not the practices of the system. If students just assimilated to “our” ways, the thinking has been, they would be smarter.

Most experts agree that a quality education is multi-dimensional.  High academic standards, well-trained teachers, high expectations, and parent involvement form the cornerstones for academic achievement. Traditionally, schools with large Latino populations lack one or more of these cornerstones, thus access to a quality education is difficult. That’s starting to change in Silicon Valley.

The East Side Union High, San Jose Unified, and Palo Alto Unified school districts have all raised graduation requirements to meet college entrance eligibility and the state plans to spend $1.25 billion dollars training teachers in the recently approved Common Core Standards. Parent involvement is also increasing and these school districts have active Latino parents groups. Missing are high expectations for Latino students.

A 2009 State Superintendent of Schools report on closing the academic achievement gap recommends that high expectations, educational equity, and culturally relevant teacher training should be included in schools’ approach to educating Latino students. However, little has been done to implement this recommendation. Could it be that the mindset of our school systems is that Latinos should be working in service and support roles? If so, why? Could we even change that mindset? Look for more on this next week.

NEW FEATURE: Speaking Engagements

Speaking to a group of community leaders
Speaking to a group of community leaders

I’ve written about failing at my first try at college and suffering a health crisis that nearly took my life 25 years later. Both episodes resulted in life-changing transformations. I eventually earned a degree and had a dynamic career in executive management and public service, and after that awful summer in the hospital, I got the gift of time to reflect on my experiences. In the reflection process, I found purpose in life.

Growing up in a working-class family, coaching basketball at my high school alma mater, serving as board president of a large school district, working as a vice president of a major U.S. company, and serving as senior staff to public officials have provided me with a treasure trove of stories and anecdotes. These stories are my inspiration for writing East Side Eddie Report.com.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few life lessons about failure, despair, hope and the power of perseverance. The purpose behind creating East Side Eddie Report.com and writing Summer in the Waiting Room is to share these stories to inspire others to achieve their dreams and aspirations. With that in mind, I’m now available as a motivational speaker at conferences, corporate meetings, school activities, and community events.

For my talks, I draw from a broad set of experiences to engage audiences with inspiring, amusing, and colorful stories. My signature keynote address is called, “From Working-Class Family to Corporate Executive, Life in the ICU, and Beyond.”  In this speech, I share the inspiring story of persevering through failure, a life-threatening illness, and hopelessness to find success and redemption.  I’ve also developed a series of talks on the following topics:

  • How to Navigate the Executive Office and Achieve Success in the Corporate World
  • Creating Educational Equity to Provide Leadership for Diverse School Systems
  • Organizing and Empowering People for the Good of the Community
  • Be Your Own Advocate: Managing Personal Healthcare in the 21st Century

In addition to being an engaging keynote speaker for any breakfast, luncheon, dinner, or fundraising event, I’m available for presentations as a panelist, seminar presenter, or moderator specializing in corporate, non-profit, and education conferences.  My areas of expertise include:

  • Education Policy and Leadership
  • Executive Leadership
  • Healthcare from a Patient Perspective
  •  Coaching Athletics
  • Organizational Development

Speaking fees are reasonable and negotiable in order fit any budget.  I’m also available to speak to middle and high school students at no cost.

To learn more about speaking services and to schedule a speaking engagement for your next event or conference, click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab at the top of the East Side Eddie Report.com page, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

Leadership Lessons: Reaching Out to Rivals

President Obama and Cuban Leader Raul Castro Shaking Hand at Nelson Mandela's Funeral (file photo)
President Obama and Cuban Leader Raul Castro shaking hands at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. (file photo)

When President Obama reached out and shook hands with Cuban dictator Raul Castro last week at Nelson Mandela’s funeral the Republican leadership in Congress rushed to the television cameras to criticize the president.  The GOP’s shameful response to the president‘s display of graciousness during a solemn ceremony in honor of someone who epitomized forgiveness is exactly why Congress lacks the leadership skills to get anything done in Washington.

Had President Ronald Reagan declined a working relationship with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, the world could have been consumed by nuclear holocaust.  Perhaps the most famous example of leadership by reaching out to rivals is President Abraham Lincoln.  He appointed campaign opponents to cabinet posts; then extended his hand in peace to Confederate rebels promising a post-Civil War America, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

One of the most difficult challenges for effective leaders is to be able to bury the hatchet with opponents to benefit those they serve.  True leadership embraces conflict and bridges differences for the common good.  When I served as a trustee on the East Side Union High School District, overcoming differences with a rival led to the approval of two of the most important district initiatives during the past half dozen years.

The district’s board of trustees appointed me in 2006 on a 3-1 vote.  Trustee Frank Biehl was the lone dissenter who vigorously argued against my appointment, so our relationship started off on the wrong foot.  Adding to that dynamic, he and I are from different worlds.  Frank is white, I’m Latino.  He’s the oldest son from a successful family business.  I’m the youngest son from an east side working-class family.  He’s pragmatic, I’m passionate.  On the board, we rarely found common ground.

Two years later, Frank was again the sole “no” vote on my reappointment to the board.  That term we started off on two wrong feet.  I broke the cardinal rule of leadership; I took Frank’s opposition personally.  Instead of looking for common ground, I sought out conflict with him.  The result was a lack of productivity on my part.

When the board took a preliminary vote to eliminate after-school sports, we again were on opposite sides of the fence.  As a former student-athlete I understood the value of athletics and proposed a plan that would restore funding to the programs.  After Frank’s initial vote to eliminate sports programs, he reconsidered and unveiled his own plan to save sports.  I didn’t like his ideas and prepared myself for a long fight.

My personal issues with Frank had trumped doing what was right.  Rather than fighting for student-athletes and their families, I realized I was opposing Frank’s plan because he had opposed me.  It was a valuable on-the-job lesson.  I learned that leadership shouldn’t be about me, it should be about those I serve.  I reached out to Frank and expressed my concerns about his ideas, and he did the same.  With his pragmatic approach and my passion for student athletics, we compromised and saved sports programs.

He supported my candidacy for president of the board a year later.  When I announced an initiative to make college entrance requirements the default curriculum for all students, Frank and I shared ideas and worked together for the good of students.  I spent that summer in the hospital and he came to visit me.  A personal rivalry had turned into friendship.  That fall, Frank and I joined a unanimous board in passing a historic policy that ensured that every East Side graduate can to go to college.

I learned a valuable lesson.  Leaders must overcome personal differences in order to make decisions that benefit those they lead.  Whether you’re PTA president, on the Little League board, a supervisor at work, or President of the United States, these three simple rules can help you avoid the pitfalls caused by personal problems:

  1. It’s not about you.  Your role as a leader is to serve others, not the other way around.  Your decisions will impact, negatively or positively, those you lead.  So make decisions with them in mind.
  2. Keep Your Eye on the Prize.  Why did you seek out a leadership role in the first place?  Probably to make things better or to make a change.  Don’t let personal issues get in the way of accomplishing what you set out to do.
  3.  Find Common Ground.  Rival leaders may share your vision to make improvements or change, but have different notions on how to get there.  Listen to what they have to say.  You may find that you have more in common than you think.

Leaders are like the rest of us replete with biases, emotions, fears, and dislikes.  Yet unlike the rest of us, they must overcome those personal barriers to ensure the common good.  Just imagine what kind of world we would be living in if President Lincoln didn’t have the courage to embrace his rivals to keep our nation united or President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev let personal philosophies keep them from the Cold War peace table.

La Directora: A Genuine Latina Leader

Hon. Carlos Ponce Martínez, Consul General of Mexico, (pictured with Directora Sandra García) visits Adelante Academy to plant a ceremonial friendship tree on Mexican Independence Day
Hon. Carlos Ponce Martínez, Consul General of Mexico, (pictured with Directora Sandra García) visits Adelante Academy to plant a ceremonial friendship tree on Mexican Independence Day

Blogger’s Note: The following post is about my wife Sandra García.  I was initially reluctant to post it because Sandra is uncomfortable with the spotlight.  I post it at my own risk.

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Sandra García was always a good student.  She was 6th grade class president and student body president in high school.  Her mom once told me that she has always known what she wanted.  She wanted to be a teacher, then a principal; and she accomplished both.  Throughout her life, this east side girl has quietly exemplified what it is to be a leader.  On December 5th, she will be honored by the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce as the Outstanding Principal of the Year in the Silicon Valley

Sandra comes from a family with strong Latina role models.  Her maternal grandmother was a young widow who raised nine children teaching them the values of hard work and perseverance.  Sandra’s mom taught her daughters the value of education by participating in their school life during an era when the place for a Latina mother was in the home.  These two resilient women forged the foundation of Sandra’s leadership journey that complements her skill, talent, and experience.

I’ve written about how Bob Williams built a team of east side kids into a shoe selling machine at Kinney Shoes during the late 70s and early 80s.  I’ve shared with you how Chris Boyd provides the tools his team at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center needs to save lives.  Raised in a hard-working family with strong Latina role models, Sandra is a genuine leader who brings her own brand of compassion and determination to the leadership table.

A little more than a decade ago, Sandra, several colleagues, and a group of parents dreamed of building a Spanish-English dual language school on the east side.  After putting together a design team and getting approval from the school board, Adelante Dual Language Academy opened a year later with three teachers, and 60 kindergarten and first grade students.  Sandra has served as principal for all but the first year.  Her leadership style comes from the fortitude and nurturing handed down by her grandmother and mother.

Sandra is a stickler for high standards (how she ended up with me begs that question and is fodder for another post).  From the smallest household project to gigantic dreams like creating and building a school, she expects the best from herself and those around her.  Anything less is just unacceptable.  Her passion for Adelante and its success is displayed on a daily basis whether she is coaching a teacher to reach higher, encouraging a student to achieve, or picking up an errant wad of paper littered on the ground.

For her, getting the job done is simply a function of good old-fashioned hard work.  I joke with friends that I didn’t realize how much Sandra worked until I stopped working.  If the girls and I really need her, we know where to find her.  On any given night, Adelante is teeming with students and parents on campus for a book fair, “Reading Under the Stars,” a sporting event, or a Dia de los Muertos student exhibit.  The Directora, as her students and parents affectionately call her, is on campus as well supporting her school community.

Like all leaders of a complex organization with many stakeholders, Sandra has had her share of problems and challenges at Adelante.  To overcome these challenges, business guru Patrick Lencioni says that leaders must have a “rallying cry” that keeps organizations focused on what really matters.  Adelante’s rallying cry is centered on student success, parent participation, and community cohesion.  With dignity and grace, Sandra ensures that all involved stay on course on a daily basis.

She’ll be the first to say that the honor bestowed by the chamber of commerce belongs to the students, parents, and faculty at Adelante.  And, she would be right.  Just walking around campus, you can see that students come to school every day ready to learn.  The level of parent support is unequaled for a public school and the teachers are passionate about their students.  Under her leadership, Adelante has become a bona fide east side institution.

All of this is reflected in the school’s academic performance.   Adelante is among the highest performing schools in the district as its standardized test scores have increased phenomenally during the past several years.  Its students have reached the finals in the state Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Achievement competition and the National Spanish Spelling Bee.  What started as a school of 60 students housed on another campus, now serves nearly 600 students on a campus of its own.

With the rise of charter schools and the launch of a new national curriculum for public schools called Common Core, education policymakers are once again grappling with the Latino academic achievement gap.  They could look at the Adelante formula of high standards, good teachers, and engaged parents.  At the helm is a genuine Latina leader who, like her grandmother and mother before her, expects excellence, isn’t afraid to toil tirelessly, and maintains her laser-focused eye on the prize.

Can Latino Students Achieve?: Part II

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Last week’s post about the Latino student expectation gap struck a few chords with readers.  Most commentators voiced support for raising student expectations through equity policy and culturally relevant training for educators.  They ihttps://esereport.wordpress.com/wp-admin/index.phpncluded college professors, education administrators, and parents of school-aged children.  Others shared their own stories of how they overcame the barriers created by the inherent bias of the Mr. Jones Effect.

One reader especially caught my attention by challenging the notion that inherent bias in individuals and school systems result in low expectations of Latino students. The reader concludes that the Mr. Jones Effect isn’t caused by bias, so “cultural relevancy is not as important as the ability to spot individual attributes.”  If this is a debate about the ideology of rugged individualism vs. institutional intervention, the reader’s argument would be cogent and sound.

However, this isn’t an issue that can afford to be caught up in the quagmire of ideological debate.  One just needs to look at the current paralysis of the federal government to see that ideological sparring isn’t productive.  This issue is about raising expectations and accountability, allocating resources, and providing access so Latino students have an opportunity to achieve academically in our increasingly competitive world.

Let me explain.

The reader stated that individual student success is “still about [the school system] providing equal opportunity, plain and simple.”  Makes sense, right?  With equality, every student receives the same resources and access.  The problem is that not all students are born equal.  The child of a Beverley Hills heart surgeon has a dramatic advantage in resources and access to quality education compared to the child of an East Los Angeles landscaper.   So, providing equal opportunity in the school system actually widens the resource and access gap.

With that said, the school system should provide an equitable opportunity to all students.  Equity is the concept of allocating resources and providing access to where they’re needed, not equally, or the same, across the board.  Governor Jerry Brown’s recent schools funding mechanism is an example of assigning resources equitably.  Local school districts should allocate their newly gained resources in the same equitable manner to level the playing field for Latino students.

This brings us to culturally relevant training.  The reader raised valid issues when he asked the following questions about Mr. Jones: “Did he not care?” “Was he being racist?”  “Was he culturally biased? “  “Was he even trained to assess human potential?”  Of course, only Mr. Jones himself can accurately answer those questions, but I’ll take a stab at answers: I believe he cared, I don’t think he was being intentionally racist or culturally biased, and he probably wasn’t trained to assess human potential. There’s a good chance, however, that his unintentional inherent bias was trained to pre-judge a student’s potential based on race and socio-economic background.

That’s why culturally relevant training for school board members, administrators, counselors, teachers, and staff is so important.  Conservative critics will dismiss this as another minority as victim feel-good program.  They’re wrong.  Culturally relevant training is about individuals and school systems coming to terms with their own inherent biases to view Latino students as distinct human beings that should be expected to achieve in a rigorous academic environment like everyone else.  In short, educators will be “trained to assess human potential,” and not assess students on their own perception of Latino potential.

In the final analysis, the reader and I are on the same page with respect to Latino student academic achievement.  We both want high standards, accountability, and personal responsibility.  He stated it perfectly by saying that public education is “also about making sure that educators know that they are in the human potential business.”  As the Latino population continues to grow at an exponential rate, the future of California and, in the long view, the future of our nation depends on Latinos to be successful.

Latinos, like all human beings, have the capacity to learn and achieve.  Individuals need to capitalize on that fact and institutions need to allocate the resources and provide the access to provide a level playing field so that individuals can achieve their potential.  Engaging in ideological debate over whether the individual or institution is responsible for one’s success is fruitless.  As another reader eloquently commented, “I’m for action…No talking; let’s do.” I agree.  So, let’s get on with it.