My 2 year update
How we’re transforming high schools in San Jose and Campbell.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over two years since we accomplished this:
…and because Thursday marks exactly two years since I was sworn in, I thought I’d write up a quick blog post to let you know what we’ve been able to accomplish the past two years.
The Campbell Union High School District (CUHSD) serves a population of around 230,000 people across 6 South Bay cities. Despite the district’s name, the majority of our community lives in San Jose (around 80%), while the rest live in parts of Campbell, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Santa Clara, and Saratoga (Map).
Five K-8 districts feed into CUHSD (Cambrian, Campbell Union, Moreland, Luther Burbank, and Union). Our district is located in the heart of Silicon Valley and as you may imagine our student body is incredibly diverse and many of our students speak English as a second language. What people often don’t realize is that even though we are in a very prosperous area, our district also has a large population of students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch.
If you think back to 2012, you’ll remember that a big reason I ran, and the reason the community stood up for change, were alarming statistics like this:
- A dropout rate of over 16%
- Test scores that ranked our schools among the lowest in the state compared to schools in similar areas across California
- An extreme lack in modern technology available to students (around 10 computers per school)
- Less than half of the students in the district could even apply to a CSU or UC after graduation because we had not given them the right classes (A-G).
- Our teachers were among the lowest paid high school teachers in the Bay Area despite living in one of the most expensive places to live in the nation.
- An achievement gap that was among the worst in Silicon Valley, and in some instances, dead last.
Sadly, these problems had been present in our district for years, well before I graduated from Westmont in 2001, and have affected our community, our property values, and most importantly, the lives of our students. While there are countless reasons to have great pride in our schools, our campaign was anchored in the belief that we can, and must, do better for our students.
Getting elected was the easy part — solving the numerous issues facing our students however would take aggressive changes away from the status quo. For the past two years I have fought hard in favor of making the big structural changes necessary to turn things around.
Two years later, I’m happy to share that thanks to the hard work of all district stakeholders, it’s clear to see that CUHSD is truly a district on the rise.
Here are some of the highlights of what we’ve been able to accomplish together the last two years:
- A new strategic plan: In May, we passed the district’s first strategic plan since 2001. The new vision for the district is ambitious, rooted in the belief that all students are capable of learning, and strives to ensure our schools are the best in the state.
- Graduation requirements that make sense: The district’s default graduation requirements have been updated to line up with the classes needed to apply to a CSU or UC school (aka A-G by default). While the college track is not for everyone, deciding whether or not to apply to college is a choice students should make for themselves, not one our schools make for them. The days of students completing all our graduation requirements only to be surprised that they cannot apply to their desired college are coming to an end.
- Advances in Career Technical Education: Our Career Technical Education programs give students hands-on experience in a variety of potential careers such as engineering, bio-tech, agriculture, computer science, and more. CUHSD was recently awarded 2 highly-selective grants from the state to expand our programs! The board also recently created a new Principal on Assignment position to help these programs continue to thrive.
- Aggressively updating technology: The Board has invested heavily in computers and tablets for our students (going from 1 device for every 93 students in 2011 to nearly 1 device for every 2 students in 2014). We’ve also created new positions that directly work with teachers to help make the most of these tools and help with integration.
- Incorporating the student perspective: We’ve increased the student voice in decisions by creating 2 new Student Board Member positions, each with an advisory vote on all issues before the Board. We also created a Student Leadership Council with representation from each school to advise the Superintendent throughout the year.
- Increased transparency: CUHSD is now the only school board in San Jose to live-stream board meetings. Videos of past meetings, along with our agendas and board packets, can be found on on the district website.
- IB Program at Del Mar: Del Mar has begun the transition to becoming an International Baccalaureate school — a true game changer for the Del Mar community.
- Giving students a path forward if they fall behind: Two years ago it was incredibly difficult for students to make up classes if they fell behind. We’ve now implemented credit recovery options for students that allow them to stay on track for graduation and college should they fall behind.
- Increasing teacher pay: In 2013 teachers in CUHSD saw their first raise in many years. While we still have a long way to go, we are no longer one of the lowest paying districts in the Bay Area.
- Suspension and expulsion reform: Thanks to the hard work of staff across the district, we’ve been able to decrease suspensions in the district by 26% and expulsions by 47%! While that’s good news, we still have a long way to go to remove unconscious bias and ensure discipline is handed out equally. You can dig into the data in our latest report.
- Closing the achievement gap: There’s been a ton of work done in this area — some highlights include expanding the Equal Opportunity Schools program across all sites to help qualified students into more rigorous, college-track classes and the creation of a Bilingual Resource Specialist position to assist teachers in serving our English language learners.
- More counselors: We’ve increased the number of counselors at each school to more effectively assist students with post-graduation plans and to focus on equity.
- Saving our taxpayers money: By refinancing our bonds earlier this year, the board was able to save our community’s taxpayers over $4 million dollars.
- Greener schools: The board created an Energy Management Specialist position to take advantage of state programs and lower the district’s carbon footprint. Additionally, our schools’ parking lot solar panels are fully rolled out and have greatly decreased the district’s energy consumption.
- Securing ongoing community support: In November 2013, the community voted to extend our district’s parcel tax for an additional 8 years with 76.8% of the vote! Thanks to your generous support, our schools will be able to greatly increase opportunities for our students.
- A stronger online presence: We’ve launched new websites for all our schools. This might not seem super exciting, but you’d probably be into it if you saw the old websites :)
- Providing support for tough community issues: The board has increased gang intervention and drug counseling programs to directly assist students with some of the toughest issues they face.
- Expanded options for students: From Mandarin to robotics, the number of classes being offered in CUHSD continues to grow!
Despite all the progress we’ve made the last two years, there’s still a long way go. None of the changes we’ve made matter if our indicators of success don’t improve drastically. The good news is that the early numbers we’re getting back are extremely positive — I hope to send out an update in a few months highlighting our growth and the areas we still need to improve.
In the meantime, I’m very excited to continue pushing for change. If you’re interested in following along I’ll keep posting updates on my Facebook page and Twitter (and I’ll try to get better at sending quarterly emails — you can join my mailing list here).
Thank you to everyone for all the support and for giving me the opportunity to serve. It’s been an absolute honor to represent our community and help improve the district I grew up in.
If you have any ideas on how we can continue to improve, have feedback, or if there’s ever anything I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I can be reached at my district email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on my cell phone, 408.761.2361.
I’m wrapping up my 5th and final year as Co-Director of New Leaders Council — Silicon Valley. In June we graduated our 4th class of Fellows, and now 60 young professionals have gone through the program. Our alumni are up to all sorts of amazing things throughout Silicon Valley. We’ll be announcing our 2015 Fellows soon — be on the lookout!
In March, I launched a local chapter of Code for America aptly named Code for San Jose. Our mission is to help San Jose become the world leader in open government and civic innovation. We hold civic hack nights twice a month at NextSpace in Downtown San Jose — if you’re interested in getting involved, you can RSVP on our Meetup page!
In the most exciting news, I recently became an uncle! My sister, Jessica, and her husband, Tom, gave birth to Julian Philip Bowmer on July 26th. Here’s a cute picture of him.
Thank you again for everything — wishing everyone a very happy holidays!