Former San Jose official appointed to county education board
Donald Rocha, former San Jose councilmember and current Cambrian School District board member, will represent Area 3 on the Santa Clara County Board of Education. Photo courtesy of Donald Rocha.

    The search to fill a Santa Clara County Board of Education seat is over after an expedited selection process.

    Sitting members appointed former San Jose Councilmember Donald Rocha on Monday to represent Area 3, with San Jose District 1 Councilmember-elect Rosemary Kamei vacating the seat next month.

    “I want to thank the Board of Education members for their confidence in me,” Rocha told San José Spotlight. “My next steps are to get up to speed with the (Santa Clara County) Office of Education’s work, and the board’s work, and also meet one-on-one with my colleagues so I can learn as much as I can from their vantage point.” 

    Rocha, a San Jose councilmember from 2011 to 2018 and current Cambrian School District board member, beat out three other contenders for the role. He will join two other new faces on the board, including Franklin-McKinley School District trustee Maimona Afzal Berta and Santa Clara County Health Advisory Commissioner Raeena Lari.

    Area 3 represents Cambrian, Campbell Union, Luther Burbank, Moreland, Union and Campbell Union High school districts, in addition to portions of San Jose Unified and Santa Clara Unified school districts. The Santa Clara County Board of Education oversees more than 30 school districts.

    After hearing from residents, board members interviewed candidates on topics like pandemic learning loss and expulsions. Other candidates included Jesus Salazar, a Luther Burbank School District board member, former Salinas Councilmember Deborah Jyl Lutes and Santa Clara County Unified School District board member Michele Ryan. Ryan left the meeting ahead of interviews for another commitment, prompting board members to disqualify her.

    “Hearing all of your answers to the questions and the way you all have brought forth your passion and your experience and past endeavors truly shines a light on how each of you are qualified for this role,” said Peter Ortiz, board president. “The true winner tonight is going to be the residents of Area 3.”

    The appointment process lasted under a month. The board initially gave candidates a little over a week to apply, but extended the deadline after community leaders protested the rush.

    Rocha highlighted his experience as a parent navigating distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic with his children and wants to prioritize addressing student mental health. Rocha also emphasized his roots as a former student of Area 3 schools with educator parents.

    “My relationships in the community will help me be an effective trustee, including the relationships I have with many of the elected officials in this town,” Rocha said. “I personally know the schools and I personally know the neighborhoods. This is where I grew up.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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