Op-Ed: Investing in Our Village, San José Unified School District

San José Inside
August 2, 2018

By Helen Chapman

It takes a village to raise a child. As a mother of two public school alums, I can attest to the importance of investing in our students and the village that shapes their character, education, and future.

From our teachers to our crossing guards, we all play a pivotal role in the education of our children. I began my journey with the San Jose Unified School District almost 30 years ago as a volunteer for the Home and School Clubs at Cory and Trace elementary schools. My life-long commitment to the SJUSD family has led me to serve on school district committees and build new playgrounds and parks.

As a school district employee, I proudly helped struggling students earn their diplomas and coordinated volunteer projects to bridge together our schools and community. These opportunities have afforded me the experience and conviction necessary to tackle complex issues, even if they are tough ones.

Today, as I engage with parents an overarching theme emerges, the impact of housing prices and the high cost of living in our area. Our need is to provide stability for families and teachers. Simply stated, San José is rapidly becoming unaffordable. The statewide housing crisis in San Jose has been especially difficult on our most vulnerable youth and low-income families.

According to the city of San José 2017 Homeless Census data, 7 percent of infants to 17-year-olds and 18 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in San Jose are without a home. To me, this is unacceptable. How can we in good conscious let even one child remain unhoused in our community? Housing is the foundation for success.

Youth cannot thrive in school if the conditions outside prevent them from focusing on learning. We cannot ignore these pressures on our families. As a community advocate, I know effective partnerships with the city, Santa Clara County and state are key to affordable housing. We can act locally by:

● Direct investments. Our teachers and staff must be able to keep up with the soaring cost of living. If our educators are not able to live in our community, we risk our youth having no one to help them learn.

● Resource allocation. We all know that teachers are asked to do more with less year after year. As a district it is our responsibility to ensure that every student has the resources in the classroom as well as the necessary after-school programs to succeed.

● Advocating in unity. While we have space to improve, we must appreciate SJUSD’s discipline to put personal interests and conflict aside, and advocate for the interests of students and the district first. When communication is open and everyone is provided a space, we can unite behind common goals.

● Building housing ourselves. Santa Clara Unified is the only district in Santa Clara County that has taken the bold step to provide housing for their teachers. We can too. SJUSD is facing a 15 percent teacher turnover rate mainly due to the high cost of living in San José. If we do not invest in those educating our children, we will continue to lose quality teachers and those vacancies will be harder to fill. It’s time to bring all stakeholders to the table and the community together to see what we can do about providing housing for our school workforce.

As a proud product of California’s public school system, I firmly believe that quality public education is a fundamental right, not a luxury. Raising my children and being a part of other’s educational achievements has only strengthened my resolve to protect quality public education for our children and future generations.

I have no doubt that together, we will advocate and work on behalf of the village and family we call the San José Unified School District.

Helen Chapman is a candidate for San José Unified School District in Trustee Area 2. Opinions  are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San José Inside. Send op-ed pitches to jenniferw@metronews.com.