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San Jose’s Cesar Chavez school shifts focus to early learning

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For some East San Jose elementary students, next year will mean moving to another nearby school.

The Alum Rock Union School District board of trustees voted unanimously on Thursday to turn Cesar Chavez Elementary School into an early learning center for children in preschool through kindergarten next year. Students in grades 1-5 will have to choose another school, while younger students will remain at the current site.

Board President Andres Quintero said by changing the school to an early learning center, the district will save about $1 million in overhead and administration costs. School partner Kidango will bear part of the cost of running the facility and bring in additional funds.

“I do not want to make light of the pain being felt,” Quintero said, “but it is the medicine we have to take to survive.”

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The loss of students due to attrition has contributed to the district’s financial problems. The Alum Rock Union School District merged Clyde L. Fischer and Lee  Mathson middle schools with Renaissance Academy at the start of the 2021-22 school year due to a $3 million deficit.

The Santa Clara County Board of Education added to the district’s woes when it decided to approve 25 charter schools from one organization, he said, as did families moving to the Central Valley.

By repurposing the campus as an early education learning center, the school district will have an opportunity to help give the community’s youngest population an early start in their development, Trustee Minh Pham said.

“We have an opportunity to blaze a trail not yet taken and fulfill the need for early education in the Alum Rock community,” he said.

The Alum Rock Union School District is prioritizing affordable and universal access to high-quality early learning experiences, said Dianna Ballesteros, director of early learning. She said early investing in childhood results in decreasing the achievement gap and a better outcome in life.

“Ninety percent of a child’s brain development happens by age five,” she said. “Kids need to be ready before they come to kindergarten.”

Pleas from parents

A vocal and passionate group of parents lined up on both sides of the argument to weigh in at the board meeting Thursday night.

Parent Teresa Gonzales was concerned with students being displaced and hoped for a hybrid solution.

“This comes at the expense of students currently there,” she said.

The early learning center will provide nine hours a day of child care and education for infants through kindergarteners, something desperately needed for the working families in this East San Jose community.

“It took a very long time to find a program that met my needs as a working mom,” parent Yeta Illago said, adding she went from babysitter to babysitter. “If I had the opportunity to enroll my child as an infant-toddler, I would feel at peace knowing he was being taken care of at a facility where he was learning and developing his social skills.”

Prior to the meeting, a number of students and parents were upset about the possibility of having to leave Cesar Chavez Elementary School and said they didn’t receive enough notice. They weren’t aware this was the intent until they attended a March 29 in-person meeting “to discuss important site information for the 2022-23 school year,” per an email from Principal Julio Villalobos and district Superintendent Hilaria Bauer to parents.

Bauer emphasized she did everything to inform parents of the possibility starting back in April 2021 when the issue was being explored. She reiterated this is not a school closure.

Students from Cesar Chavez will likely attend San Antonio Elementary School, which Bauer said would not close as it is the district’s newest facility. She said these are unprecedented times for the school district, but sees the school’s restructuring as a win.

“This was not an easy decision,” Bauer said. “It has been done very thoughtfully… so we can increase the services that Alum Rock provides to the Mayfair community.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

The post San Jose’s Cesar Chavez school shifts focus to early learning appeared first on San José Spotlight.

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