The Choice of a New Trustee

It’s sadly ironic that the Gilroy Unified School District’s
selection of a replacement school board trustee for the late TJ
Owens, an area founder for the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People chapter, has ended with bitter
charges of racism.
It’s sadly ironic that the Gilroy Unified School District’s selection of a replacement school board trustee for the late TJ Owens, an area founder for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, has ended with bitter charges of racism.

Perhaps an airing of community issues is in order, but the words should be carefully chosen, and any charges should be well thought out before being leveled. Too often accusers are those who have excused themselves.

In analyzing what has taken place thus far, there are some points to ponder.

First, we believe the rigorous process developed by the GUSD Board led, we believe, to the two best final candidates, both on paper and in interviews. The selection process was far more engaging and thorough than any previous process to name a replacement board member.

In retrospect, however, allowing individuals to ask anonymous questions hurt the process. The lack of accountability allowed people to hide behind a dark curtain. But in fairness, those who criticize that decision should temper it with the knowledge that the board wanted the process to be as open as possible. No good deed goes unpunished.

Also, those who are suggesting that board members and/or the superintendent should have censored the question directed to Bob Heisey are just plain wrong. The process was set – write down a question anonymously and those will be picked at random and asked. If audience members had seen questions being chosen, read and then discarded, the hue and cry of “unfair and rigged” would be ringing in the rafters.

Then, there’s the matter of whether or not the question directed at Bob Heisey was legitimate. Sure it was. It would have been better if the person who wrote and submitted the question had been identified. That way, our reporter, for example, could have asked some follow-up questions, and the public would at least know from whom the question came. But asking this: “The Gilroy Unified School District is made up of over 60 percent Latino students. Shouldn’t the board reflect this reality?” is no more racist than an answer such as, “Not necessarily, because that question assumes that a person has to be of the same skin color and ethnic background to be able to represent and have compassion and understanding for another. Moreover, following that percentage logic, a black American like TJ Owens would not have been allowed on the Gilroy School Board.”

Then there’s the deeply troubling matter of disrespect from the audience. Guffaws and giggles because a trustee is having trouble reading a question in Spanish aren’t appropriate, neither are loud comments of profane disagreement following a trustee’s vote and explanation of that position. Respect the process, respect the people involved. Rudeness begets the same.

Now, what’s getting somewhat lost in all this is an important fact: Javier Aguirre, the eventual selection by a 4-2 trustee vote, is a Gilroy success story and potentially a wonderful representative on the school board. His mother worked the graveyard shift at Gilroy Foods while he was growing up and going to school. He worked hard to get into and graduate from Stanford University. He is a well-respected and thoughtful policy aide for a well-respected and thoughtful Santa Clara County Supervisor, Blanca Alvarado. Most importantly, he has come back to the community and is willing to serve on the school board despite the demands of his job and his young family. And, yes, he speaks Spanish. That’s worth bonus points.

There is every reason to believe that he can and will represent all the students of Gilroy Unified. There is every reason to hope that he will be an independent voice empowered by those qualities that we hope to develop in our students: hard work, critical thinking and compassion.

Finally, let’s remember that the focus should be on moving the needle of student academic achievement forward. There’s more than enough work to be done.

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