In the first district election in its nearly 100-year history, two candidates are vying for the one contested seat on the Gavilan Joint Community College District Board of Trustees.
The seat represents Trustee Area 6, one of six new, population and demographically balanced voting areas in the 27,000-square-mile district that stretches from South San Jose to southern San Benito County.
It encompasses the southeastern corner of Santa Clara County, including parts of San Martin and Gilroy that are mostly east of Monterey Road, a sliver of north central San Benito County and the northwestern corner of Hollister.
Previously, trustees were chosen by at-large voting, a system challenged by Latino groups who claimed it diluted the votes of Latinos. The board enacted the change to district elections last year.
The Dispatch will profile the candidates starting this week with Rachel Perez of Gilroy. Danielle Davenport, who is also running for the Area 6 seat, will be profiled in an upcoming edition.
A veteran of 43 years in education in the Milpitas and Gilroy K-12 systems and at Gavilan College, Perez now works as a community college consultant.
She has been a classroom teacher and created and oversaw programs and services for both young and adult learners.
After several posts at Gavilan, she retired as its dean of student learning and engagement where she ran nine student support services including the library, tutoring, and adult education.
This is her first run for elective office.
A graduate of San Jose State University, Perez and her husband, dentist and Gavilan graduate John Perez, have three grown children. All graduated from Gavilan and went on to earn four-year degrees.
Perez said she is devoted to the community college system and to helping students improve and move on to the next level and careers.
Along those lines, she said she is open to Gavilan transitioning to a four-year institution, but not at the expense of diluting its current mission or the mission of a four-year school.
“I believe in any kind of innovation or programs that get students a leg up or can help them to do something additional, and you have students who are very interested in that kind of model,” said Perez, 70.
The California Community College System last year launched a pilot program to explore transitioning community colleges to four-year schools. Gavilan did not apply for the program.
The following questions were answered in writing by Perez.
DISPATCH: Why are you running?
PEREZ: I can do a better job of representing the demographics of the college district because I have worked to develop and implement new innovative programs for them. I have used a regional approach in the development of these programs and services engaging all community stakeholders bringing together federal agencies, local governments, K-12 and Gavilan College to solve issues leveraging our collective resources.
What experience do you bring to the post?
During my career, I developed programs and resources for the following area: 1) A HUD grant that reshaped Old City Hall for incubator businesses; 2) educational programs that became a model for our area, including the noncredit program; and 3) the Computer Technology Center which designed a computer lab with classroom space for adult learners. I also expanded Gavilan’s community education, fee-for-service offerings that addressed unmet needs in the community. These efforts have given thousands of community members the opportunity to use education “to level the playing field,” close the “digital divide,” and provide hope of obtaining a better job and becoming economically self-sufficient.
What is your single biggest criticism of either the current board or any single policy or practice at Gavilan, and what do you advocate on that issue?
Being a successful trustee requires the knowledge of and ability to meet the challenges that community colleges are facing. I would like to see more of a systematic discussion of issues related to the college’s mission. Who should Gavilan College be serving? How well are we doing? Do we have data that supports our mission? How well are students being prepared for industry standards as they enter the workforce? What evidence is there that they and the public are being well served? How can we extend college services to those who do not use them? I am hopeful, that with our new president, Dr. Kathleen Rose, we will be able to draw out this discussion amongst us as trustees as we lead Gavilan College into the next era.
What would you work hardest to implement or achieve if elected? Please name your top three priorities.
I will focus on the following: new mandates from the state require more accountability and transparency in how we are teaching and supporting student success. The focus is on “completion of college” rather than the previous “access to” college. This new focus is on helping students identify the reason they are attending, helping them identify their goal and developing a plan to complete and reach their goals. This allows more students to transfer, improve their basic skills and/or complete a career degree or certificate.
California Community Colleges serve as the main avenue for 1.2 million students toward higher education, training, and workforce preparation and development. The community college system offers more than 175 fields and is the main training ground for many students. With the ever-changing global economy, affordable access to higher education, training and completion of credentials is the key to narrowing the skills gap that many employers are facing. Higher education means more and better jobs that will help bring the nation prosperity.
I will advocate for more well-articulated regional partnerships with business/industry, the labor councils, K-12 schools for the development of bridge programs, career pathways and apprenticeship programs because we have a significant student population that needs these skill sets and can be successful in this area if given the opportunity.
Your district represents parts of San Benito and Santa Clara County. How do you propose to balance the interests of each county’s residents?
I have approached my work as a former dean at Gavilan College working to ensure that there is parity in all geographical areas of the college district with regard to programs and services offered. Access to college and the availability of student support services should be available to all students at times that are opportune for them. We must continue to work with our site coordinators and listen to our local communities in addressing issues of workforce preparation, career ladders and transfer opportunities that meet the diversity of our communities.