A row of people sitting in chairs holding protest signs at a school board meeting
Parents and community leaders called for San Jose Unified School District trustees to replace Superintendent Nancy Albarrán at a recent board meeting. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Parents and community advocates are calling for new leadership in San Jose’s largest public school district following a county report that highlights numerous issues — which the district disputes.

Community members spoke Thursday at a San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) board of trustees meeting, citing a Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury report that said the district is adrift and plagued with leadership and safety issues. The June 10 report echoes a district survey done last year, and notes high turnover of administrators, lack of mental health services and gaps in campus safety plans. Jurors also said they heard numerous examples of district leaders lacking sensitivity for the concerns of parents, teachers and other employees.

Crystal Calhoun, a member of the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition, said SJUSD creates a hostile environment for its employees.

“There’s a lot of distrust,” she told San José Spotlight. “That’s why we have a high turnover rate of teachers and principals. With so many people asking… (Superintendent Nancy Albarrán) should step down.” 

Calhoun echoes the report’s demand for SJUSD to open fully staffed, full-time wellness centers at all its high schools.

“When you have one wellness center for 25,000 kids, you don’t care about their mental health,” she said.

Superintendent Albarrán said SJUSD welcomes fact-based, constructive feedback, but sees the grand jury report as a missed opportunity.

“Reliance on 80 interviews and 500 documents instead produced unrepresentative, misleading and inaccurate information about SJUSD operations and practices,” she told San José Spotlight. “SJUSD will use our required response as an opportunity to reflect on areas of potential growth.”

Parent Chris Webb said SJUSD not video streaming board meetings reflects its lack of transparency and accountability. The report said all of the larger school districts in Santa Clara County, except for Fremont Union High School District, offer livestreaming and video recordings of board meetings with remote public participation. But SJUSD only offers audio recordings of board meetings on its website.

“My faith in the superintendent is totally shattered. We are overdue for new leadership,” Webb told San José Spotlight.

A Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury report said the San Jose Unified School District suffers from leadership and safety issues.  Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

But Jennifer Ponzio, principal at Reed Elementary School, said she feels supported by district leadership.

“Anytime anything happened at the school site, or I needed support, communication was readily available,” she said at the meeting. “What I read in the grand jury report does not align with what I’ve experienced as an administrator my first year in this district.”

The findings from the grand jury report echo a 2023 school climate survey of parents, students and district employees conducted by SJUSD. The survey revealed 41% of employees, 55% of all teachers and 68% of high school teachers don’t have a high degree of trust in the district. About 33% of high school administrators don’t feel they can share ideas and concerns with leadership without fear of retribution.

Parent Jeffie Khalsa said teachers aren’t respected or prioritized, especially with the district going back on its promise to give the most experienced educators a raise. She said the trustees should be replaced if they don’t take action and hopes more parents and teachers voice their complaints.

“I think being organized will let people see that their experiences aren’t individual or an anomaly at their site,” she told San José Spotlight. “It’s a systemic problem.”

The report highlights school safety issues and points to the district’s own survey, which found 47% of all teachers and 57% of high school teachers said they’ve been concerned about their physical safety at school. Parent Trudi McCanna wants the district to provide clear, standardized emergency response protocols, especially due to confusion around emergency response and barricades. She said parents and principals at some schools have created safety plans, but this requires an enormous investment of time. 

Citing the report, Tomara Hall, a member of the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition, said SJUSD has lost 54% of its principals during the past two years, compared with 22% at other districts. 

“We need a superintendent who’s willing to admit there are several problems that need to be addressed and changed,” she told San José Spotlight. “They have money and they’re not putting it toward programs and they’re not paying teachers enough. If the superintendent doesn’t step up, I don’t see her staying. Anything that was in the civil grand jury report that they don’t do… we should get rid of some of these school board members.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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