Concerned Over ‘Furthering Political Agendas on the Backs of Our Students’

Dear Editor,
The aftermath of the Gilroy School Board candidate selection
meeting has not been a positive one for our community. Though I was
not planning to speak about this issue again, I have decided to do
so in the hope that the board can move on with the important
business of educating our students.
Dear Editor,

The aftermath of the Gilroy School Board candidate selection meeting has not been a positive one for our community. Though I was not planning to speak about this issue again, I have decided to do so in the hope that the board can move on with the important business of educating our students.

I share Martin Luther King’s dream of a day when people “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” For that reason, I found the question asked of me regarding the ethnic makeup of the board offensive and divisive. Perhaps if it had been asked of both the final candidates it would have been a fair one, but I was singled out. If I had answered what I truly thought, that this was a question with discriminatory overtones, the controversy would have erupted immediately, and the meeting would have been disrupted. I did not want that to happen because, up until that time, the selection procedure was working in a very professional manner.

In fact, race and ethnic background continued to be an issue throughout the meeting with the clear intent of discrediting me as a candidate. I did not bring the issue of race into the board room that evening. That was done by some members of the audience and Trustee Jaime Rosso, who spoke out of order during the alphabetical roll call vote and identified race as the deciding factor in his vote.

During a recent board study session, the possibility of applicants being subjected to embarrassing and offensive questions was discussed. I left with the clear understanding that the questions were to be screened to prevent this from happening. President Pat Midtgaard, who otherwise did a fine job running the selection process, was not present at the study session, and it appears from her letter to the editor that she was not informed of the discussion. I commend the board for putting together a solid selection process, but it did contain this serious flaw.

Trustee David McRae has made some reckless accusations regarding my “alarming paranoia about Hispanics” in a letter to the editor. There is not one shred of paranoia or prejudice in my words or in my manner. Many questions regarding ethnicity, the achievement gap, and the needs of English language learners were directed at me during the question period. These were not new questions; I have asked myself the same ones, and was asked similar questions several times during the 2004 school board election campaign.

My measured responses were not due to paranoia but simply because I do not know if I have the answers to these difficult questions. I do not think I am alone in this regard. Certainly, if there were magic solutions, our Gilroy Unified School District curriculum leaders would have already implemented them. Moreover, these challenges are not unique to Gilroy but are systemic to public schools throughout California. I do know that simply identifying the fact that there is an achievement gap is not going to solve the problem, nor is pouring money into programs that have not proven effective. We need some new ideas.

In my response to the Dispatch reporter regarding the events of the evening I said I will not view certain members of the Hispanic community in the same way as before. There was definitely a group at the meeting who behaved rudely and boorishly. Behavior like this from any group of people should not be allowed in our district nor in our board room. I know that the overwhelming majority of the members of our diverse Gilroy community has the same aspirations for their children that I do, that all students be given every opportunity to learn and to reach their academic potential. I did not hear that position from some of the members of our community present at the meeting, and I will no longer give those few individuals the benefit of the doubt.

In addition, I have made a commitment to better educate myself about the plight of English language learners in our district. Perhaps as a person who struggled to learn a second language while working in a non-English environment I can offer a unique perspective. In the meantime, I will continue to hold the new board and the district administration responsible for improving the academic achievement of English language learners and all GUSD students.

I hope the current controversy leads to a better understanding of the problems our community faces.

We need the help of all community members to improve Gilroy schools.

We do not need people furthering political agendas on the backs of our students.

Robert Heisey, Gilroy

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