Dave Cortright for Santa Clara County Board of Education, Trustee Area 1
Public education matters
I believe that public education is the foundation of a strong society. Thomas Jefferson said, "If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it." As such, every child must have equal opportunity to a complete and well-rounded education.
Charter schools are not a panacea
While charter schools can provide new and unique learning opportunities for students, they must be implemented carefully, thoughtfully and sparingly. They must be held accountable to the public whom they serve. The county board has been far too willing to approve charter schools—20 new ones alone at a meeting last December!—without fully considering local community impact and without enough staff to adequately oversee them.
California law requires charter schools to "increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving." I promise that any charter school I approve will satisfactorily account for this in their petition. Charter schools must also serve their fair share of special needs students, and serve a racial and ethnic blance equivalent to their district.
Before approving any new charter, I want to hear from the district and community to understand why changes like those proposed by the charter cannot be implemented across all schools within the district. I am concerned that charters are not really improving educational outcomes, but merely sorting students from the most engaged families into their own little oasis while doing nothing to improve conditions for the vast majority who remain in traditional schools.
Bullis Charter School in Los Altos is a prime example of what is wrong with the county's current policy. Located in the top-ranked district in the state, it does nothing to raise academic performance of students within the district. Their admissions and retention policies have resulted in Bullis serving significantly fewer special needs, English language learners and Hispanic/Latino students, leaving the increased burden to traditional schools. Bullis shows that when not properly implemented, charter schools can create segregation and inequality that contradict the very essence of public education.
Empower local communities
I firmly believe that the primary role of the county office of education is to empower and encourage local school districts to perform at their peak potential. The role is very much like that of a teacher or mentor: sharing best practices of what is working elsewhere, encouraging continuous improvement, and taking small steps to help whenever possible.
Increasing parent involvement is key. The goal is to get every parent involved in some way—no matter how small—while being empathetic to working parent schedules. Best results are achieved when there is a positive symbiotic relationship among parents, teachers, and administrators.
Social and emotional learning
Teaching children social and emotional literacy is just as important as intellectual literacy. Children bring all of their experiences and emotions into the classroom. How they relate to one another and their teachers informs everything we are able to teach them.
Helping children to identify and manage their feelings fosters a positive learning environment for everyone involved. These skills will prove just as valuable as writing and math when these students become the next generation of leaders and collaborators in our society. Special assemblies on character, kindness and empathy and programs like Project Cornerstone or the RULER Approach are a good start. I believe it is the job of our schools to infuse these skills across the curriculum, every day.
The core curriculum continues to be important, and social and emotional learning helps students here. A recent meta-analysis of 200 studies examining the effects of social and emotional learning programs revealed that students enrolled in such programs perform significantly better in school and on standardized tests compared to non-participating students.
Keep teachers & staff happy & engaged
People work in education because they are passionate. They need to be in an environment where they feel respected and valued, where they feel empowered to do their best work, and where they love to come to work each and every day. I want to create and maintain such environments in all of our schools throughout the county.
Why me? Why now?
I am a user experience designer. I have worked on designing computer programs and web sites for 18 years. That has cultivated in me an empathy for others as well as problem solving skills, both of which can be directly applied to public education. My two degrees in engineering gave me the analytical skills necessary to seek out relevant information and make rational decisions based on that data.
I come from a family with a deep reverence for public education. My grandmother was an elementary school teacher; my father taught high school mathematics; my mother was a speech therapist helping students at schools throughout the district. Even after my mother retired, she continued to give back by teaching the next generation of speech pathologists at university. My brother—who has a PhD in biochemistry—recently acquired his teaching certificate. He just started his second year teaching middle school science.
Both of my parents passed away within the last few years. Those events got me thinking about the legacy I would leave behind. I am extremely grateful for all they did to help me succeed. I now feel it's time to step up and pay it forward by giving of my time and talents.
Santa Clara County teachers
Supports innovation & excellence in public ed.
Representing & supporting working families
Los Altos school district community group
Los Altos school district board member