40 years and he wants more

GILROY
– T.J. Owens wants to continue what he’s been doing.
Yes, that means he wants to get re-elected Nov. 5 as a Gilroy
Unified School District trustee, something he’s been since
2000.
GILROY – T.J. Owens wants to continue what he’s been doing.

Yes, that means he wants to get re-elected Nov. 5 as a Gilroy Unified School District trustee, something he’s been since 2000. It also means the 15-year “garlic town” resident wants to continue his involvement in education, something he did for more than four decades in California as a teacher, district school board member and high-level district administrator.

Involvement in education is something that’s in Owens’ blood. It’s in his blood because he lived it for 40 years as a high school teacher and school board member in Barstow, as a counselor and assistant dean at San Jose City College and as vice president of student services at Gavilan College. It’s in his blood because his parents, neither of whom graduated from high school, instilled it in Owens and his siblings.

Of Owens’ eight brothers and sisters, all but one are college graduates. Of those seven siblings, all of them work in education.

Facilities

“Your school should be a good school no matter where you live,” asserts Owens.

That belief is reason number one he supports Measure I, the district’s $69 million bond on the Nov. 5 ballot that will construct a new high school and renovate several other district campuses.

“Measure I is essential for us to have the quality of education that we want, that we need,” said Owens.

While Owens acknowledges the extra expense it will bring to Gilroy home owners, roughly $60 per $100,000 of assessed value for 25 years, he notes that property values increase when schools are improved.

“People complain about raising taxes, but good schools need to be paid for,” Owens said.

Curriculum

Owens admits he was disappointed last year when the issue of reinstating honors classes for 10th graders became controversial. Owens supports a strong honors program at Gilroy High School and says honors classes are not a means of discrimination.

“I’m a life member of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). I’m well aware of discrimination. I believe anyone involved in discrimination in this district should be removed. But there are honors programs out there, most schools have them, and they are not discriminatory,” Owens said.

Nonetheless, Owens says trustees and administrators need to stay cognizant of factors that could keep deserving students out of an honors program.

“We do have to make sure we have qualifications that are fair to everyone,” Owens said. “I believe it’s possible to have a good program where everyone is eligible to apply, but you’ve got have standards.”

While honors programs do not bother Owens, he does hold mixed feelings regarding the state’s recent emphasis on standardized test scores.

“I do think accountability is very necessary. But (an emphasis on standardized test results) may or may not be the answer. Unfortunately, people tend to test for tests, rather than prepare for education,” Owens said.

Owens said teaching to the tests and not providing a well-rounded education reminds him of physical education tests mandated in the 1960s.

“Everyone was practicing pushups and sit-ups, but that’s not physical education,” Owens said. “One thing we know about tests is that not everyone can sit down and take a test. There is something called test anxiety. If we use only (standardized tests) as a measuring point, some people will be unfortunately penalized.”

Finances

Owens says the GUSD budget is in good shape, but is quick to note “there’s never enough money.”

He praised Gov. Gray Davis’ deferral of education funding cuts to next year, but pointed out that it will make the next school board’s job tougher.

“That means next year isn’t going to get any better, it might get worse,” Owens said.

If cuts in the Gilroy budget must happen in the future, Owens won’t support slashing staff salaries.

“We need to keep (employee) salaries up so we can continue to have good teachers,” Owens said.

In light of Owens’ refusal to cut salaries, the state’s budget troubles makes passage of Measure I even more significant, Owens said, because funding for facilities could be in short supply.

Communication

Owens takes the district’s recent emphasis on improved communication and increased parental involvement very seriously. He says the district needs to make concerted efforts to let people know what’s going on in the GUSD, from student performance to district events.

At Gavilan College, Owens supported the hiring of a full-time public relations specialist to accomplish that goal for the school. However, with the current tight budget, he acknowledged such a position would be an unaffordable luxury in the GUSD. Still, Owens wants to see a commitment by the district to getting the positive news out to the public.

“Communication will facilitate (parental involvement),” Owens said.

Owens would like to see more parents involved with advisory committees, field trips and tutoring programs, noting that Gilroy’s diverse and expanding parent base could serve students here well.

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