Early education is a focus of Dewan’s ‘State of Education in Santa Clara County’
Santa Clara County Office of Education Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan gives her annual State of Education in Santa Clara County on Thursday morning in San Jose. Photo by David Alexander.

    Coming to the United States from Jordan wasn’t easy for Iskander Doud.

    However, a Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) program ensured he didn’t fall through the cracks.

    “It was really hard moving here. Obviously, first of all, the language — I wasn’t able to communicate,” he said. “When I joined My Name, My Identity here, it actually helped me to understand my culture, my traditions and my name way better.”

    My Name, My Identity is one of many support programs Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan highlighted Thursday morning during the 5th annual The State of Education in Santa Clara County address.

    Dewan, who has been superintendent since November 2017, detailed the county office’s many supplemental educational programs, highlighting some of the county’s achievements while acknowledging areas for improvement.

    Dewan mentioned a handful of health initiatives her office is pushing in 2020, including providing better special education, access to affordable housing and preschool, addressing food insecurity and creating programs that reduce school absences. Those programs, she said, ensure students have the support systems in place to allow them to learn.

    “We cannot separate health from education. The intersections and connections between the two cannot be overstated,” Dewan said. “We know that access to safe, high-quality care, health and education programs contribute to the well-being of the child and the whole family.”

    Dewan called the district “a true representation of core principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and partnership.” She pointed to the county exceeding state averages in math and english language arts (ELA). Those scores were 17% and 12% higher than the state average, respectively, according to Smarter Balanced Assessments. Although the county’s average absence rate is lower than the state average — 3% lower — data shows it is on the rise, a trend that needs addressing, Dewan said.

    Regular school attendance, Dewan said, “promotes achievement” and school readiness. For instance, a countywide assessment, conducted last year for the first time in a decade, showed that only half of kindergarteners were school-ready.

    Following the roughly 45-minute address, Dana Bunnett, director of Kids in Common, a children’s advocacy group funded by Planned Parenthood, said she was glad Dewan highlighted early education and integrating students with special needs into a common curriculum.

    “Readiness is really something we should be investing in. It is important that we understand whether our children arrive at school ready to learn,” Bunnett said. “The more we make children of all levels and abilities part of our community and part of the whole, the better we are as a community.”

    During his introduction of Dewan, Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, an Oakland-based research and advocacy group, drew attention to some less-than-encouraging news: California got an “F” rating for the amount of support staff on campuses. He called the grade a “reality check.”

    Lempert also criticised Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget for public schools, saying that the bare minimum for education is insufficient.

    “We’re not doing right by our kids in terms of advantages, and so, locally we need to step up even more,” he said. “Every government agency needs to be doing more to support education and support kids.”

    Ron Hansen, chair of the Santa Clara County Juvenile Justice Commission, said Dewan’s message of supplemental programs bolstering education resonated with him.

    “School and school success is not only about academic preparation,” Hansen said. “It’s about a whole variety of things: the families that students come from and what the students and their families are encountering … that is a change that doesn’t happen overnight.”

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said the “F” grade is something that needs addressing, pointing to a county program that connects 13 school districts with resources as a possible solution.

    “We need to have that or a similar program in every single school in the county because it is so directly related to student well-being,” Ellenberg said.

    She said she is working to provide funding so that every school in the county can have health and mental services, something she said is quickly becoming a “crisis.”

    Dewan said she is confident the county can address these challenges.

    “(This year) presents us with a distinct opportunity to rise to the challenges before us,” Dewan said, including creating supportive classroom curriculum and improving campus safety and emergency preparedness.

    Doing so will continue to ensure students like Iskander Doud have everything they need to thrive academically.

    Contact David Alexander at [email protected]


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