The education of our most vulnerable youth in Santa Clara County should be at the top of our agenda as a civil society. A high-quality educational program implemented for delinquent, foster and truant youth built around their academic, social, emotional and developmental needs and addictions would increase the quality of life for the student and the entire community. It would even reduce our state deficit if we have fewer adults in prison at a cost of $45,000 each per year.
The Santa Clara County Office of Education serves around 400 students in its Alternative Schools. These students are in grades 7-12 and are status offenders—that is, they have not committed an act that would be considered a crime if it were committed by an adult (curfew violations, truancy etc.). In addition, the Alternative Schools Department serves more than 300 incarcerated youth in classrooms at juvenile hall and the three ranch schools—most incarcerated for a violent crime.
Wednesday, Feb. 9, at 5pm, I will gavel open the third special meeting of 2011 in the Office of Education Board Room at 1290 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose. This is primarily a one-topic meeting dealing with a report on our alternative education programs compiled by WestEd, a nonprofit educational agency based in San Francisco. The report can be found at http://www.sccoe.org/depts/alternative_education.
When I am introduced to someone as the President of the Board of Education, I far too often am confronted with a staccato of questions that begin with “Why do we need a County Office of Education? Can’t we eliminate this unnecessary level of educational bureaucracy?” I try to respond in a manner that honors the question, but explains the importance of the role of the office. By statute the County Offices directly serve the students that school districts usually cannot, including those who are delinquent, truant, or emotionally disturbed, or are in special education, istate child development centers and Head Start.
The WestEd report’s recommendations are listed below:
For the SCCOE’s Alternative Education Program reform to be successful, reform should proceed from the ground up and be teacher based. Without teacher buy-in, all of the efforts devoted to change may proved unsuccessful.
SCCOE should spearhead the coordination of services among a greater number of community agencies and individuals invested in improving circumstances for alternative education students.
WestEd suggests that the SCCOEW develop a coordinated system of service delivery so that all staff, students, parents, and referring districts are aware of the supports available.
SCCOE should create a stronger sense of community in its Alternative Schools Program.
To ensure fidelity of curriculum implementation, SCCOE should consider slowing down the training and implementation schedule of the new curriculum.
SCCOE needs to create more positive relationships among staff and between staff and students.
WestEd strongly encourages SCCOE to develop a plan based on some of the findings and actionable recommendations presented in this report to guide the AEP efforts moving forward.
I would like to invite community members interested in these issues to be present and participate in the discussion and planning for our next steps. My goal is to produce an environment and program that celebrates our most vulnerable students as students of opportunity. No doubt my career has taught me that the students in these programs today can become strong advocates and leaders for Santa Clara County in the future if given the skill set to read, write, speak, and lead.
Hope to see some SJI readers and commenters there.