Pham: Let’s collaborate instead of taking cheap shots at our neighborhood schools
A student walks by a mural of Cesar Chavez, namesake of an elementary school in the Alum Rock Union School District that has become an early learning center. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    As board president of the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District, I read the May 2 Mercury News op-ed “It’s code red for six of San Jose’s school districts” by County Board of Education Trustee Joseph Di Salvo and San Jose-Evergreen Community College Trustee Karen Martinez with dismay and disappointment.

    After not seeing my letter to the editor published, I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. There is no denying the recent pandemic has greatly affected public education. The unprecedented isolation away from the classroom has left our neighborhood public schools dealing with greater social-emotional needs. Those needs have to be sufficiently addressed before a child can be in a state of mind that allows for structured learning. Let me assure the residents of Alum Rock that my colleagues and I are focused on boosting academic achievement.

    Trustees Di Salvo and Martinez leave out many facts. Alum Rock schools were able to fend off most of the learning loss through actions to provide one-to-one device connectivity and learning pods during distance learning. This is evidenced by our Spring 2021 local assessment results. Furthermore, Alum Rock has offered an unprecedented summer program each year since the reopening of schools in April 2021 to close the gap. Our district is doing so again this summer.

    Moreover, Alum Rock schools are not stopping there. Even during the pandemic, the district started and expanded effective programs that have been proven to increase student achievement.

    We’ve launched the Painter Elementary Vietnamese Dual-Language Immersion Program and have seen it grow to second grade. Our Adelante II Spanish Dual-Language Academy expanded to the eighth grade. Russo McEntee Elementary celebrated the launching of its Environmental Education Program this past Earth Day. Last but not least, Alum Rock is going to address this gap at its roots with the opening of the Cesar Chavez Early Learning Center on July 21, the first 0-5 child care facility in San Jose. This will give Alum Rock residents expanded access to preschool and early childhood services.

    These are “Made in Alum Rock” solutions to the issues mentioned by Trustees Di Salvo and Martinez that were conveniently ignored in their op-ed.

    Our neighboring school districts are also working hard to address the achievement gap.

    In early 2021 during the pandemic, three schools in the Oak Grove School District were named to the Educational Results Partnership Honor Roll. Berryessa School District’s Morrill Middle won the 2021 California Distinguished School Award. Five schools in the Evergreen School District won the 2023 California Distinguished School Award. Franklin-McKinley School District is working with Partners in School Innovation to improve student achievement. San Jose Unified School District has expanded its transitional kindergarten program to become the largest single-district effort in Santa Clara County.

    Collectively, we are doing everything we can to educate our children so they can have a brighter future.

    Finally, I would like to mention the issue of inequitable funding. Alum Rock is the district that educates the working class of East San Jose. Even though we receive a fraction of the funding of more affluent districts, we have been able to provide a multitude of services.

    For the benefit of the community, our district has maintained the performing arts, sports, parent programs, and yes, we’ve served more than 6 million meals to Alum Rock residents throughout the pandemic. If our public schools were equitably funded, we would have the capacity to further strengthen not just the academic programs, but also all the other support programs that make achievement possible.

    On that note, I ask that Trustees Di Salvo and Martinez work with our district, along with others, to improve funding for all our public schools and to collaborate on solutions to close the achievement gap. It would have been professionally courteous if Mr. Di Salvo and/or Ms. Martinez had contacted me about their concerns so that I could inform them about the “Made in Alum Rock” solutions that I have mentioned. That would have been much more productive than taking cheap shots at local school districts.

    I hope my message gives more information to the community on what Alum Rock schools and our neighboring school districts are doing to improve our children’s education.

    Minh Pham is board president of the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District.

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