After its newly-elected trustee ditched the job before taking office, the Alum Rock Union School District selected a replacement — Minh Pham.
The district’s four sitting trustees voted unanimously to accept Pham as their fifth member late Thursday night.
“While we had two good candidates, Mr. Pham’s depth and breadth of experience made him the better candidate this evening,” said trustee Andres Quintero. “I am proud to have been able to support an Alum Rock alumnus, whose experience will serve to guide his actions on the board.”
Pham, who is a lifelong resident of the district, was the overwhelming favorite of trustees Thursday. A freshman admissions counselor at Cal State University, East Bay and member of the district’s bond oversight committee since 2017, Pham was only one of two candidates to apply for the position. He also worked for former State Legislators Nora Campos and Joe Coto.
Scott Hung Pham won the seat in November but declined to take his oath of office, leaving the trustees scrambling to fill an open seat just a few weeks later.
The other applicant was Minh Nguyen, a math teacher at Independence High School.
Trustees asked the candidates to publicly answer six questions Thursday evening, with three minutes to respond to each. Board members then scored each candidate’s answers on a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 being the lowest and 5 being the highest scoring answer. A district official tallied the scores on an Excel spreadsheet.
Minh Pham garnered 106 points while Minh Nguyen earned 66, beating out his opponent to win the appointment.
While most trustees varied, trustee Quintero rated all of Pham’s responses with a score of “5” and all of Nguyen’s with a “1.”
“My vote was based on the responses that were provided by both candidates,” Quintero said in an email to San José Spotlight. “Those same responses were provided to the public as part of our board agenda.”
When asked how he supports restorative justice and racial equity in Alum Rock, Pham said he prefers “to create alternative opportunities to move away from punitive measures.” Instead of punishing students, he prefers to help them learn from mistakes. He pointed to his work on the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority Citizens Advisory Committee where he pushed to create volunteer opportunities for students in lieu of punishment.
Pham said that as a person of color himself, he knew there are systemic racial issues in Alum Rock that need work.
“(During my time as a student in Alum Rock) certain advanced offerings tended to have more students of Asian and Caucasian backgrounds, while there were more Latino and African-Americans in the remedial settings,” Pham wrote in a response in his application to the board. “Given that our district serves many disadvantaged families of Latino and African American backgrounds, my focus in my past work has been to find additional resources for our students.”
Nguyen agreed with using less punitive measures in the classroom, saying he stopped writing disciplinary referrals for students.
“I’ve realized that referral writing is just starting a profile for a student when they’re not an adult yet, when they don’t have contact yet with the criminal justice system,” Nguyen said. “So instead I just did away with (referrals).
Pham said his goals for the district include guiding it through the COVID-19 pandemic and safely reopening schools, as well as “managing the after effects of the pandemic on our finances,” he said.
Candidates were asked their opinion on charter schools and whether they would accept a job at one.
As a graduate of Alum Rock schools, Pham said he doesn’t support charter schools. “I believe we ought to be focusing on protecting and enhancing our schools than to approving more charters.”
In a public letter, Pham acknowledged the district’s challenges and said he would use a “forward-thinking” approach to help the district recover from the COVID-19 crisis.
“At the end of the day, I want to focus on what Alum Rock has been doing for over ninety years, ensuring that our children are better off educationally at the end of the day, while preserving our commitments to the families we serve, the teachers who staff our classrooms, and the support staff who make our facilities work every day,” he wrote.
The East San Jose school district has been rocked by scandal over the years.
In 2018, three trustees were called to resign by a Santa Clara County Grand Jury for creating a conflict of interest through their handling of a deal with the construction company Del Terra stemming from the district’s decision to hire the firm in both program management and construction management roles.
A state audit in 2019 found the embattled school district’s “operational and financial practices” did not comply with state law and poor governance led to violations and “diminished the board’s transparency.”
That’s why community members and parents urged the trustees Thursday night to get it right.
“(Whoever is appointed) must give proposals clearly backed by facts and community voices,” said Claudia Coello, an Alum Rock parent.
Another parent, Araceli Sandoval, said the new trustee should show the community respect.
“I would like the person…to respect and value the community and also understand the experience of parents and students as valuable and as a priority,” she added.
Pham could not be sworn in Thursday night because he did not have a working camera during the Zoom call. District counsel Rogelio Ruiz said the oath required a face-to-face interaction, even if it’s virtual.
Those interested in watching the board’s proceedings can do so at the school district’s YouTube channel here.