San Jose parents frustrated by loss of college program
Parents, educators and students gather at a San Jose Unified School District board meeting on April 6, 2023 in this file photo.

    San Jose parents are upset over their school district’s decision to shut down a popular enrichment program and want to know why they are just now learning about it.

    San Jose Unified School District closed its middle college program last April, which allowed high school juniors and seniors to attend school at a community college while simultaneously earning a high school degree and college credits at no cost. Families said they were unaware of the decision until they tried to enroll their children in the program last month. The program’s end has reignited transparency concerns over the district’s decision-making process.

    The district warned participating families of the middle college program’s end in January 2022, but parents said the district made no public announcement. At a board meeting last April, the closure was mentioned in a general presentation about college credit options for high school students.

    San Jose Unified School District parent Rami Gideoni said his child tried to register for the district’s middle college program in March, only to find out the program was no longer available. His two older children participated in the program, and he said being able to spend an entire school day on a college campus gave them a taste of higher education.

    “My youngest now is in the tenth grade, and he was supposed to go to middle college as well before we learned that the district canceled it,” Gideoni told San José Spotlight. “This is a really great program. It doesn’t make sense.”

    Middle college is a joint program between school districts and local community colleges. Similar programs exist in surrounding districts, including East Side Union High School District and Campbell Union High School District.

    Students have an option

    District spokesperson Jennifer Maddox said students at all six of the district’s high schools will still be able to take community college courses. An existing program is available with San Jose Evergreen-Community College District, which includes San Jose City College and Evergreen Valley College.

    She said dual enrollment gives high school students access to a broader range of college courses while still being able to participate in extracurriculars at their respective high school campuses. Maddox said the program allows for students to attend community college classes during their school days, but juniors and seniors must take four out of the usual six classes at their high schools.

    “San José Unified no longer needs middle college as a standalone program because students can access community college courses through all high schools,” Maddox told San José Spotlight.

    But inadequate communication around the closure of the middle college program is a sticking point for parents, as are ongoing transparency concerns by families in schools across San Jose. School board meetings, which are technically open to the public, are often held on weekday evenings and historically have low attendance. Although San Jose Unified School District used to livestream its meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, that initiative ended in May 2021. They now only provide audio, not video, recordings.

    In neighboring Campbell Union High School District parent Maybar Durst said her oldest son attended their district’s middle college program and went on to graduate early from UC San Diego with the college credits he earned as a high school student at no additional cost. Durst said when she heard about San Jose Unified School District’s decision to cut the program with little outward communication, she was concerned something similar would happen in her area. Her youngest is still a middle schooler, she added.

    “I think everyone should have this opportunity,” Durst told San José Spotlight. “I’m scared that they would cancel it in our district without us knowing it. I don’t want it to happen here.”

    Durst said dual enrollment programs don’t compare to middle college. Middle college allows students to spend their entire day on a college campus, building close relationships with their peers and having access to academic counseling, she said. Durst’s son thrived in that type of smaller learning environment and was supported by dedicated staff on a near-daily basis, she said. She doesn’t believe those same critical elements are available in a dual enrollment program.

    Gideoni said now that middle college is no longer available in their district, his son will have to weigh other options. But he said he wishes all of his children could have experienced the program.

    “They flourished over there, I mean they really enjoyed it,” Gideoni told San José Spotlight. “He will have to make a decision (on) what to do.”

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

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