New Neighborhood Voice

Newsletter - Edition 24 - Section 1

March 6, 2005

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Click on a thumbnail to view larger photos - More photos are in Section 2

Dom Cortese

Dom and Dave
with Gov. Reagan

Dom learned to fight
at a very young age

Dave and Dom
and their family


Mary Parker-Eves


Art Rodriguez

Matt Hammer


Dennis Nahat
Ballet SJSV


Every day is
Bird Count Day


Local Artist
Peggy Forman

One of her

Miles Henninger,
arts aficionado

Newsletter Headlines

bulletPombo’s Road Plan Grows to Include “Adjacent Rail Line” - “Sexier” plan?
bulletNotable Neighbor: Dom Cortese, "The Dom" by Ed Allegretti
bulletCounty Receives Federal Grant, Eastside schools should benefit by Supervisor Pete McHugh
bulletRemembering the Life of Mary Parker-Eves, March 22, 1945 – February 4, 2005
bulletAcclaimed Eastside Writer, Art Rodriguez, Visits Lick High School Students
bulletIf It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, Does It Take “Small Schools” too?
bulletNeighbor Dennis Nahat - Premier Ballet dazzles San Jose ballet goers
bulletNewsmaker: Beth Gonzales, Eastside Advocate, Kicks-Off Run for City Council’s District 7
bulletSchuster Thompson’s Personal Bird Count - A Cats-Eye view by Schuster “Es” Thompson
bulletNNV Briefs
bulletPeggy Forman/Affie Mahini – Fine Art/Fine Food Fusion - Featuring neighborhood artist
bulletOn the Avenue (Alum Rock Avenue) - Wacko driver whacks Miguelito Bridge guardrail
bulletOn the Road (McKee Road) - New Year mob throngs Buddhist Temple
bulletThai White Rock Cafe - A neighborhood jewel reviewed by Chris Miller
bulletRenaissance Academy - “Small Schools” exemplar in our neighborhood by Nancy Gutierrez
bulletRay Furuta Solos at Alum Rock Recital - Young flutist earns accolades for orchestra trip
bulletLick Up-date - Busy, fun times at JLHS; 4.0 students honored from Kathy Evans
bulletEd Allegretti’s Mississippi Missives - Friendly Southern folks from Ed Allegretti, Ellisville, MS
bullet1942 Reader’s Digest “Radio Quiz of the Month” The answers!
bulletSpecial Thanks Department - The NNV Hummer
bulletBrer Fox Visits NNV - Poses long enough for March edition portrait
bulletSnow on the East Side on Valentine’s Day? Well, not exactly!
bulletPublic Art for the New Alum Rock Library Branch Takes a Hit - “Modification” adopted
bulletYou Dig It?
bulletMarch Hot Topics by UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Bracey Tiede
bulletSpring Master Gardeners' Plant Sale at Prusch Park – Get your veggie and flower plants!
bulletThe 2005 Native Wildflower Season is here! - Behold the feast of color by Bracey Tiede
bulletThe Wildflower Top 10 (Again!) - Annuals to evoke delight and astonishment by Arvind Kumar
bullet“The pony had an honest face” - Larceny in Toyon neighborhood! by Mrs. Max Schultz
bulletFAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
bulletAnother story on a male Notable Neighbor! Aren’t there any Eastside women worthy of note?
bulletWell, why don’t you write about them then?
bulletWhat will be the name of the new library at Alum Rock and White Road?
bulletWhat’s happening with the NNV mail theft information “compilation”?
bulletHey, what happened to Alum Rock Florist? The business seems to have evaporated over night.
bulletThe Henningers’ little lamb, Miss Tiny, looked as though she has blue eyes. Could she be blind?
bulletNNV had Bamburg (as in Marvin and Bonnie) spelled two different ways. Which is it, you dunces?

Other Sections:  Letters to the Editor  Deer Resistant Plants  Community Bulletin Board  NNV Archives

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Pombo’s Road Plan Grows to Include “Adjacent Rail Line”

Will this “sexier” plan appeal to former nay-sayers?

A Question to Gary Richards’ February 11 Roadshow column in the Mercury News asking whether there’s new information on the “Hamilton Freeway” provoked a very interesting response from Mr. Richards. First, he mentioned that U.S. Representative Richard Pombo (R-Stockton) has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives “to study building a six-lane highway that most likely would run along Highway 130, connecting Interstate 5 in the Central Valley with I-680 in San Jose.”

This concept is not new to readers of NNV as we’ve been covering and updating the topic ever since it was proposed two years ago. To refresh readers’ memory, the proposed road would make a wide swath of new pavement over Mt. Hamilton and join Alum Rock Avenue near the lower end of Mt. Hamilton Road. Alum Rock Avenue and Mt. Hamilton Road are Highway 130. What is new from Gary Richards is that Pombo is pumping for a rail line adjacent to the highway (and now we see that “a fixed guideway system” was mentioned in a Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors report on 5/18/04).

From Pombo’s Web site, we glean this bit of legerdemain, “The highway and fixed guideway system will be constructed using procedures that allow streamlined compliance with environmental requirements, without undermining the purpose of the requirements.” Huh?

The road would usurp Alum Rock Avenue from the Country Club to the 680 freeway. It’s not difficult to envision what would have to happen to the Alum Rock corridor to make it feasible to handle six lanes of traffic. Many, many neighborhoods would have their quality of life severely reduced, the atmosphere would be full of exhaust emissions and rubber-on-the-road noise, property values would tank. Alum Rock Park’s fresh rural ambience would be a thing of the past.

Gary Richards, whenever he writes on the topic of Pombo’s Road, always pooh-poohs the idea as a long shot (actually he called it a “loooooooong” shot this time) and makes it seem as though East San Jose has nothing to fear because the road “may cost hundreds of millions of dollars and would generate more controversy than any other roadway project in recent memory.”

Well, yes. However, it looks like Dick Pombo had an ace up his sleeve which he has played to salve the fiscal watchdogs and environmentalists who opposed his idea last year. Of course NNV was not in on the conversation, but it’s not too hard to imagine Mr. P. tipping up his cowboy hat, narrowing his eyes and making a proposal to his buddies in Congress: “How about if we throw in a rail line along the edge of the road? Who could resist?” he might have said.

Face it, rail lines have sex appeal. Even otherwise-sensible people salivate and go ga-ga when an opportunity arises to compete with Europeans and the Japanese who have trains!

Has Pombo’s Road moved a step (or two?) closer to reality with this new wrinkle? Maybe! So, keep your ear to the ground, read between the lines, and continue reminding your elected officials that Pombo’s Road is NOT welcome here – with or without an adjacent rail line. Even if the project would be a loooooooong time coming, it’s up to the current crop of residents to put their foot down now.

Click here for the latest from the East Bay Business Times. Click here for the quote from Pombo's Web site.  Click here for the Board of Supervisors report on 5/18/04 (PDF File).

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Notable Neighbor: Dom Cortese

McKee Rd neighbor, County Supervisor, State Legislator, ARUSD Trustee, Farmer, Husband, Dad

Before moving to Mississippi in January, NNV writer Ed Allegretti interviewed his second cousin (once removed), Dom Cortese, and wrote a last minute “Notable Neighbor” story featuring Dom for NNV. Ed’s story takes the reader back in time to Dom’s dad’s emigration from Italy to San Jose. Vince Cortese, Sr., was the patriarch and progenitor of the remarkable Cortese clan which has produced outstanding leaders in each generation including son Dom and grandson Dave.

We here in the east foothill neighborhoods know well the Country Club Villa shopping center on McKee Road with its fine, updated super market and drug store. It was once part of the Corteses’ farms. It is managed by John Cortese, one of Dom’s brothers. Everyone knows of Dave Cortese, Dom’s son, who serves on the San Jose City Council and has thrown his hat in the ring to run for Mayor of San Jose. All but the youngest of us can remember the Corteses’ fruit stand which stood near what is now the entrance to Evergreen Community College – and who doesn’t remember buying a Cortese Christmas tree?

What readers may not know about Dom Cortese is that he is now the patriarch of his own little clan which includes three sons (including Councilman Dave), two daughters and nine grandchildren. He told NNV with a twinkle in his eye that as a child he was a “restless” student. Somehow this was not hard to believe! A Golden Gloves poster at their home lists teenage Dom as a contestant in a Bellarmine Gym boxing competition. He boxed for a while in college also and earned state-wide recognition. His wife, Suzanne, says Dom was a really good boxer and was encouraged to continue it. However, he made the choice to focus on academics instead. Born in 1932, he was the first member of his family to graduate from college.

As Ed writes, Dom was the youngest ever member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. He served the county for twelve years. During his office there, he helped develop legislation which created what became today’s VTA (Valley Transportation Authority). But, it was the following sixteen years as a State Assemblyman for California District 24 that Dom likes to talk about.

His last year in Sacramento was especially exhilarating because he played a pivotal role as the swing vote in more than 250 decisive votes. He had been elected to office as a Democrat, but during his final year, he joined the fledgling Reform Party. As he told NNV, “There were thirty-nine Democrats, forty Republicans … and me!” Readers can imagine the power he wielded – although he admits now that his position was precarious and even dangerous!

Had Reform Party candidate Ross Perot been elected to the U.S. presidency, Dom, as a well-positioned party member, would have taken the Cortese name into national politics. Of course, might not Dom and Suzanne’s talented son, Dave, just do that little thing?

Here is Ed’s story:

The Dom

By Ed Allegretti

Often these days we read and hear much about the new immigrants who have come to Santa Clara County. Their stories of hard work and success are interesting but this may cause us to forget that those members of “old” local families most likely descend from immigrants of another generation.

This fact is certainly true of the family of Dom Cortese, one of the prominent residents of our East Side of San Jose. Although Dom was born in San Jose, he is the son of a Sicilian immigrant. This immigrant, the first Cortese to arrive in San Jose and in America, was Vincent Cortese, Sr.

Vince, Sr. was a native of Trabia, Sicily, who came with his parents to America. He first arrived at Ellis Island in New York, lived for a few years in Chicago where he worked hard as a boy in the Nabisco factory, returned to Sicily with his parents who decided to remain in their native land, and finally returned again to America where he settled in San Jose in 1912.

He was only 15 when he came to San Jose, and, like many young immigrants of the time, he worked in the thriving canneries. These included California Packing Corporation, Tri Valley Corporation, and the American Can Company. Despite being a hard and successful worker, Vince, Sr. decided to become a farmer. His first entry into farming was in 1917 when he rented 225 acres in Coyote Valley where his first profitable crop was tomatoes on land which he worked with a horse and plow.

Over the years Vince, Sr. rented other property and then started purchasing farm land. In our area he came to own 80 acres in Evergreen, 56 acres at Toyon and McKee Roads, 112 acres on Piedmont Road, 900 acres on Mt. Hamilton Road and several hundred acres in Milpitas. During his first years in San Jose, he and his wife, Rose Canova, whom he married in 1922, lived in downtown San Jose. In 1942 they moved with their five children to an old two-story farm house that was previously owned by members of the Heinz family.

Dom says that the old house stood just about where the clock tower of the family-owned Country Club Villa shopping center stands today - near the corner of Toyon and McKee. He remembers that McKee was a two lane dirt road with a creek running along its north side. There was no nearby bridge over the creek, so to leave the property, one had to exit via Toyon. Many of Dom’s boyhood memories were formed while playing in and along that little creek which now runs through pipes hidden under busy McKee Road. In 1952, father Vince Cortese built his lovely ranch house where Dom and his wife, Suzanne, currently live.

Vince was officially a member of the Santa Clara Valley Water District Advisory Board but really contributed much more to local economic and political events unofficially. In the 1950’s and 1960’s he was instrumental in working with infamous San Jose City Manager “Dutch” Hamann to have his property and that of other farmers rezoned so that much of the East Side and Evergreen became incorporated into the City of San Jose. Vince, Sr. was proud of being a farmer and always referred to himself as such but he did realize the Valley was changing and that the farms would be developed.

Interestingly, his son Dom, a graduate of Santa Clara University and the manager of the family’s farm in Evergreen at that time, naturally also became involved with the zoning, annexation, water, and other land issues that involved his father. It was his work and interest in these activities that really led him into politics. I say “really” because in the eighth grade at Pala School he did try to become class president but was defeated by the principal’s son. Yet, he was successful in his bid to become District Two County Supervisor. He assumed office in January 1969 as the youngest member of the Board and remained in this office until 1980. He served several times as Chairman of the Board. He left this post to run for the position of State Legislator for Assembly District 24 and represented our area in Sacramento for 16 years.

In addition to his many good works in local and state government Dom still was involved with the family’s farming and other business activities. His father developed part of their ranch at Toyon and McKee Roads into the County Club Villa shopping center in 1962 and remodeled it in 1999. Part of this ranch was developed into apartments on Cortese Circle off Toyon in 1986. Additionally, he helped with the family’s sale of their 30 remaining acres in Evergreen on San Felipe Road which has since been developed into housing tracts.

Along with his siblings and in addition to their business and apartment properties, Dom still owns the family’s cattle and hunting ranch on Mt. Hamilton Road. He and Suzanne, his wife of almost 50 years, live here in the neighborhood, but also enjoy a second home at Spanish Bay in Carmel.

When Dom left the State Assembly in 1996 he no doubt thought his official political career had ended. This, and I believe very fortunately for the East Side, was not to be true. Due much to the urging of his son, David, to help the Alum Rock School District, Dom was elected to the school board in 1998 and served for four years as a member and two years as its chairman. Dom responded, when asked if he would serve again on a school board, with an unequivocal “No!” He mentioned it was very difficult and time-consuming work. He was required to use all of his skills, knowledge and diplomacy acquired over many years of public service to help resolve the overwhelming bickering and internal issues. Yet, he is proud of his service.

This once-poor immigrant family is now one of the “old” families of East San Jose and thanks to their foresight in keeping and developing much of their farmland, they are still one of the most prominent. Although Dom currently has no plans to again enter politics, his son David served several terms on the East Side Union School Board and currently carries on the family tradition of public service by representing district eight of San Jose as its councilman.

Click here for photos of Dom and his family and his illustrious career.

NNV Note: The above was written before Dave jumped into the San Jose Mayoral race last month.

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Santa Clara County Receives 1 of 10 Federal Grants for a Healthier U.S.

Eastside school districts should benefit from this grant

By Santa Clara County Supervisor Pete McHugh, District 3

On February 8, 2005, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors accepted a Federal grant to implement the “STEPS to a Healthier US” program. The grant covers five years, with an anticipated amount of $1 million annually. The U.S. government awarded Santa Clara County with one of only ten grants nationally.

The STEPS program promotes healthier nutrition and physical activity as a way to reduce certain debilitating diseases, primarily diabetes and asthma. Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department will lead a community initiative that advances the national goal of helping individuals and families adopt a healthier lifestyle. The grant targets communities where health disparities exist and a large portion of the population is uninsured and at or below the poverty level.

Through the STEPS initiative, the County will work in partnership with local schools and community-based organizations (CBOs) to develop and implement a community action plan. The plan will focus on physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and tobacco usage as the three primary risk factors that lead to chronic disease. The plan’s major components will include:

• Message information and dissemination

• Education and technical assistance

• Access to services and resources

• Organizational practices and policy development

The STEPS program targets the downtown San Jose area and the East Valley, including unincorporated County pockets. A total of 448,287 residents making up 122,598 households live in the STEPS service area. Residents in these areas are at increased risk for chronic disease because a disproportionate number of them do not have health insurance and they live at or below the poverty level. The children in these areas attend 66 public schools in five different school districts. According to the 2000 Census, this area has the following ethnic breakdown: Hispanic (45.5%), Asian (26.2%), Caucasian (21.3%), African American (3.4%), and Multiracial/other (3.6%).

The County’s community partners for implementation of the STEPS program include participation of five school districts, two universities, and numerous community based organizations. The medical community is represented by participation from a community clinic consortium, Kaiser, and the County of Santa Clara’s Health and Hospital System. Finally, a local foundation and the City of San Jose will also partner in the STEPS program. The efforts of the various community partners will be twofold.

Each school district will receive $90,000 to educate students and parents on the importance of physical activity and healthy eating, as well as the dangers of being overweight or obese. Some CBOs will work with the faith communities to communicate these same messages. Other CBOs will work with the business community and neighborhood community centers to address workplace policy development regarding physical activity and eating practices. All community partners will participate in a “community saturation” campaign to provide the most information possible across each of the STEPS areas. County staff, school districts, and the CBOs will all make efforts to address the unique cultural and linguistic needs of the target Santa Clara County population as STEPS strategies are developed and implemented.

As noted in the State of the County address this year, one of the primary goals of Chairperson Kniss is to champion a community that demonstrates safety, health, and economic sustainability. I wholeheartedly agree and believe that with all of these forces coming together, Santa Clara County is leading the way in the most important area, our residents’ health.


Pete McHugh
Supervisor, District Three
Santa Clara County 

NNV Note: Additional information from Supervisor McHugh’s office:

  1. The five school districts are: Alum Rock Elementary, Eastside Union High School, Franklin-McKinley Unified, San Jose Unified, and Mount Pleasant Elementary.

  2. The following organizations will serve as community partners with the County: The YMCA, Diabetes Society, ALA, Catholic Charities, a community clinic consortium, the five school districts, Kaiser, Healthy Santa Clara County, University of California Cooperative Extension, City of San Jose, Health and Hospital System, San Jose State University Department of Health Sciences, and a local foundation.

The STEPS program will be forming a Community Action Team (CAT) and information will be available on when/where it will meet.

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Remembering the Life of Mary Parker-Eves

March 22, 1945 – February 4, 2005

“Do Justice, Love Kindness and Walk Humbly With Your Lord.” These words from the book of Micah could epitomize the life of Rev. Mary Parker-Eves, the beloved pastor and soul of Alum Rock Methodist Church who, seemingly in the blink of an eye, passed on to “The Sweet By and By” on February 4th.

All the members of her flock seemed to agree – as did the many dignitaries who came to sing her praise – Mary would not have wanted such a big fuss made in her memory. However, an enormous crowd of Those-Touched-by-Mary congregated in the sanctuary of the church on a Saturday afternoon, a week and a day after her very unexpected death to honor her memory and gather some comfort by leaning upon one another as they mourned the passing of their great friend.

Every designated parking space in the large church lot was filled. Every quasi-parking space was also filled. Both sides of Kirk Avenue were bumper-to-bumper with parked cars. In the sanctuary, all pews were packed. All folding chairs were erected and filled, all choir loft seats were taken. And still there were dozens of standees. Mary surely was humbled at the outpouring of love (and tears) in that room.

It was an ecumenical service. A Methodist bishop, a rabbi, several pastors, PACT leaders, lay leaders and Mary’s daughter all spoke. Children of the congregation carried flowers to the altar, the Burmese choir sang, the crowd joined in hymns and took part in the liturgy. A saxophonist provided grace notes which, by turns, blended the melancholy of the occasion with a little sweet sassiness reminiscent of Mary.

What was it about Mary? She graduated from college in Kansas with a double major, with honors – no surprise. She came to the ministry rather late – after she became community-involved establishing a child care center when she saw the need as a mother herself. She was organized and driven to make the world a better, safer, fairer place for all. She inspired others by the energetic example she set. She lived a life of tolerance and love. In her office there’s a sign that says “HATE FREE ZONE” and she made it stick. She was only 59 years old.

When one of the speakers was telling about Mary’s powers of persuasion, he said that just before her death, she had been cajoling some church leaders to attend a bishop’s conference which is coming up. Upon finishing his sentence, a door near the front of the sanctuary immediately slammed shut – loudly providing an enormous exclamation point to her wishes. If anyone wondered if Mary’s spirit was in the room that Saturday afternoon, all doubts were dispelled forthwith.

The challenge now for the people of Alum Rock United Methodist Church will be to move on without Mary’s leadership to carry out her missions using the tools she gave them. She was an exemplary teacher; they will rally and make her proud.

Click here for a photo of Mary Parker-Eves.

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Acclaimed Eastside Writer, Art Rodriguez, Visits Lick High School Students

Students hear unvarnished, but creatively-told, stories of growing up in 1960’s San Jose

Why would anyone venture out to a lecture by a man who admits that he used to be a “rough kid who did bad things” – one who spent three years locked up by the California Youth Authority for his part in a fatal rumble? Why would a hundred James Lick High students listen quietly and respectfully to a big old man of fifty-five wearing a dorky brown felt hat? Why would perhaps fifty kids shell out ten bucks each for paper back books penned and autographed by this quiet man looming in front of them in the school library on a rainy Wednesday late in January?

Art Rodriguez is a spellbinding story teller; that’s why! His voice is soft – so soft that it’s hard to believe that it carries to the back of the room. But, carry it must, because the students intently listened to this man’s story. One is tempted to write that the kids listened “politely” – actually they did, but it was more than politeness that kept them focused. They related to this man’s tales of poor parenting (his father cruelly made him fight older boys; his mother was unfaithful), his struggles in school (he knows now that he is dyslexic) and his successful triumph over the system which could have left him forever in the loser mode he embraced as a youngster.

Rodriguez was not a natural-born writer – far from it. He charmed his way through Overfelt High School, but he couldn’t write worth beans. He could concoct entertaining prose (he helped his CYA buddies promote their romances by dictating flowery flatteries for their girlfriends), but when he sat down to write, the words were unintelligible, the pages filled with run-on sentences and gobbledygook. But, he knew that he had something to write.

He had all these recollections of growing up in fast company on San Jose’s East side. Those who heard him relate tales of himself, his buddies, his girlfriends, the cars they all drove, the beer they swigged in Alum Rock Park in the 1960’s, all encouraged him to write them down. Some said that he was an “artist.”

Many of Art’s cousins are artists, or doctors or writers, he said. Even though he had found his business niche in 1985 in his company “Number One Disposal” he was ready to join his talented cousins by letting his inner artist create. He told the Lick kids how he taught himself to type and to write with the aid of computer programs. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight, but in 1999, his first book, East Side Dreams was published. This little book was honored by being named one of the New York Public Library’s “Best Teenage Books” and it won a first place prize for its cover illustration and best first book award from the Latino Literary Hall of Fame. Lick librarian, Kathy Evans, says that the book is a favorite with students there. “They read it, they loved it, they even stole it!” she says.

Art Rodriguez has written several more books based on his colorful memories of youthful excesses and the consequences they brought him. Those Oldies but Goodies is the latest. The Monkey Box is a story based on the experiences of his grandparents and great-grandparents living in Mexico.

Listeners never heard the words “should” or “ought to” when Art Rodriguez spoke to the Lick audience. He doesn’t preach. He lets kids use their heads and draw their own conclusions from his words. This would seem to be his secret. A lot of Rodriguez books went home in a lot of backpacks that day (purchased not stolen!) and a lot of young lives were touched by a large, soft-spoken local artist who isn’t afraid to tell it like it was. That he models his success in such a gentle way can’t help but encourage kids toward promising futures.

Click here for photos of Art Rodriguez at JLHS.

NNV Note: Mr. Rodriguez waived his usual $700 speaker’s fee to speak to the students of James Lick High School. He also discounted his books’ usual $13.95 price – making them all available, personally dedicated and autographed at $10 each.

NNV asked for and received permission to excerpt the books. Stay tuned for some insider stories. Want to know more about Art Rodriguez and Dream House Press? Check out

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If It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, Does It Take “Small Schools” too?

Matt Hammer explains Small Autonomous Schools to Methodist Women’s Group

Fulfilling part of a Lenten mission study of Public Education, the United Methodist Women’s Group of Alum Rock United Methodist Church invited Matt Hammer, Executive Director of People Acting in Community Together (PACT) to speak to them on the topic of “Small Schools” in ARUSD on February 2nd.

The Small Schools project is just PACT’s latest endeavor to improve the lives of the children of San Jose. Working through congregations such as ARUMC’s via their Local Organizing Committees (LOC’s), PACT has instituted the Children’s Health Initiative and, growing out of study in the 1990’s, begun reforms of local public education.

Although Matt acknowledges that there’s still a long way to go, PACT can document many accomplishments toward creating a youth-friendly big city in San Jose. He pointed to the after-school programs, homework centers and youth centers which have sprung up around the city with the nurturance of PACT. With fine work accomplished for kids after school, PACT realized that the schools themselves were in trouble and set about studying the problem, he said.

Matt asked the women for their impressions of Alum Rock schools. Their answers were honest and blunt. They said they were upset by school closures and the fact that few children in their neighborhoods go to public school – opting instead for a better education in private schools. They mentioned the periodic dissension on the school board and the fact that the superintendent changes every two or three years. They commented on the extreme diversity of the district.

Matt said that PACT’s impression of the school district was that it had major problems. They investigated to learn whether the children’s schools were really working. They found that schools had little parental involvement. Parents didn’t know what to do. Kids were not bringing home their homework. In some cases, PACT found “third class” conditions with dirty bathrooms, broken water fountains, worn out books. In at least one case, PACT discovered new books slated for use at the beginning of the school year, still in their cartons in warehouses in October.

PACT got people talking to each other. They got parents to see and identify problems at each school. They button-holed the trustees of the school board and asked them to fix the problems. They got commitments from the board to do the things parents wanted to see done in the schools. And they began researching “small schools.”

A group of PACT leaders, school board trustees and parents visited a small school carved out of a little corner of a large troubled Harlem, NY school. In this small school, a core group of really fine teachers was given flexibility to create their “ideal dream school” in six classrooms. Through a process of enabling teachers to be creative and professional - operating outside the usual burdensome bureaucracy - the school and its students soared!

What are the tenants of education in small schools? Reach and teach children from the very early years. Establish a relationship between every teacher and every child – schools should be small enough that every adult should know every child and possibly every family, too. Instill in children the importance of “taking ownership” of their own learning.

Matt Hammer pointed out the diminishment in the value of a high school diploma. “Students need college degrees now, but our schools are still set up as they were fifty years ago. Fifty or sixty years ago, only about 10% of all students went on to college. Of Latino children graduating from an Eastside high school today, only about 10% go to college.” Obviously this figure hasn’t changed and our high schools are now considered “failing” because so few Latinos go on to college. “Our public schools have not figured out how to get kids to college,” according to Matt and that’s where small schools come in.

The Small Autonomous Schools initiative can use existing facilities in creative, innovative ways free of the standard public school bureaucracy. Three such schools opened at the beginning of this school year in ARUSD schools (two elementary schools and one middle school). At Renaissance Academy (see related NNV Brief) the current sixth grade class will grow to 250 students in two years. Every child at Renaissance is a child on track for college. Kids are happy; parents are happy!

PACT would like to help other local school districts expand small schools onto many more campuses. Over the next five or six years, they’d like to see as many children as possible in college prep classes.

There are hurdles to clear, of course. The current perception of our local schools is that they are “hard places to be a teacher.” Good, experienced teachers are put into classrooms of “good” well-behaved children; “difficult” children are placed with new, inexperienced teachers. After four or five years, teachers transfer away to schools where the work isn’t so hard. Small schools have a way of making school districts more attractive to teachers and, as Matt points out, “they still have the union protection” of the district while having the advantages of starting a new school.

Asked whether it’s too soon to tell if the program is working, Matt says that it will take four to five years to really know if they’re truly working. One of the women at the meeting, Donna Furuta, said she finds small schools to be really inspiring, but she worries about the kids left behind.

That’s when Matt smiled and said that the hope is that the small schools will act as models for others. Already, he said, parents of “regular school” kids, seeing the after-school programs in which small schools kids are involved on the playground, are asking how their kids can be involved. Perhaps if the modeling works, even “large” schools can be “small schools” – if kids and parents can get motivated toward making the most of all the educational opportunities available for growing successful kids.

Click here for photos from the meeting - and read the NNV Brief in this edition on Renaissance Academy.

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Click here for Section 2 of the March 2005 Newsletter

(This newsletter is in two sections to reduce the download time for this page)

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Copyright© 2005 by Judy Thompson, 16174 Highland Drive, San Jose, CA 95127 
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Copyright© 2005 by Judy Thompson.  All rights reserved.  Updated 3/6/05.

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