Every year, too many young people in the San Joaquin Valley exit our K-12 school system without the education they need to be successful in life.

They leave high school unprepared for either college or a meaningful career. They pay a lifetime price in reduced opportunity and lower earnings.

As residents of San Joaquin County, we actually all pay a substantial price for this through diminished prosperity in our region. Too few of our students will be able to earn a middle-class wage and not enough local businesses will get the employees they need.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We can say that our children deserve better without blaming anyone. We can come together to drastically improve results for our young people and make “our valley” far more prosperous. We can create a system that works for all children. One that doesn’t leave behind students in poverty, those who don’t speak English as a first language, or those who have special needs.

At San Joaquin A+, we are a group of educators, business leaders, active citizens and philanthropists. Collectively our organization has supported education since 1996 and we have almost a quarter century of experience and commitment to the Valley. We are encouraged by momentum we see at leadership levels across our region, and are writing today to re-engage the broader San Joaquin Valley community in this effort.

Across the world, successful communities value education because it makes a difference. It improves the lives of the individuals who learn knowledge and skills. It creates prosperity; it makes for caring neighbors and strong democracies. The investment that communities make in education pays dividends worth having.
The choice to make an investment both in dollars and political will is ours. Neither the state nor the federal government is going to ride in like the cavalry and “fix” our schools, but we have local leadership in place right here in the Valley in the municipal government, school boards and the private sector committed to positive change. We believe the moment to act is now, and to do so, we must come together as a community to create a path for improved educational outcomes for all of our children.

Through our collective decades of experience in this region and across the country, we find that communities like ours succeed educationally because they focus on a core set of priorities. To that end, the San Joaquin A+ Board of Directors commits to engage in a conversation about the right path forward, and to begin with an initial set of action steps in priority areas to get the ball rolling:

Educators and Staff. Like health care, education is about the people who deliver it – the teachers and administrators, the para-professionals the bus drivers and the custodial staff. We need to make sure that we hire prepared educators who both reflect and want to be part of our community, and provide them with the support and training they need. We also believe we must honor and empower great school principals as the community leaders they are, and provide them with the freedom needed to make academic decisions that will best help students in their schools improve.

• We commit to work with our local school districts, PreK programs, public charter schools, non-public schools, colleges and universities, and teacher preparation institutions to elevate teaching as the noble profession it is and incent more local individuals to pursue teaching as a career. We have already begun this effort with a working group of local experts who will put forward recommendations. In short, their charge is to make Stockton “the place” to teach in California.

Parents. Parents are the people best positioned to make decisions regarding the education of their children, and we must help them do so. We need to engage parents and offer them better options and information, which means we need a strong system of schools – traditional public schools, public charter schools, and private schools – all focused on educational success.

  • We commit to work to increase the number of quality schools in our community and improve the information parents have to determine the school that is best for their youngsters. We believe we should all have access to clear information about school quality so parents and the community can celebrate improvement in all areas of a school from academics, to personal, social, civic and vocational development that are pillars in educating the “whole child,” especially in times where trauma seems more abundant than any youngster deserves.

Employers. We need employers and labor partners in the Valley to better define what they need from graduates. The business community, trades, and other professional organizations need to be an integral part of the education conversation that ranges from early learning through college or technical training.

  • We commit to working with educators and employers to create more relevant career pathways and academies that result in local careers that bring family-sustaining incomes to more of our youth. We applaud Health Careers Academy and are pleased to see the hard work of the JobRedi Foundation as they advance the work of employers and recent high school graduates. We want to see more opportunities like these in more facets of our economy.

Leadership. Ultimately, we need leaders in education and politics from across the Valley to come to a ‘grand bargain’ of working together – rather than competing with one another – to support the kind of education that will grow our community. One example of this is in Stockton, where we are energized by the leadership that the Stockton Unified Board of Education and their new Superintendent John Deasy have demonstrated, and thank them for putting forward a vision our community can respond to. At SJA+ we will support any school district, charter school organization, or innovative non-profit program that has demonstrated an ability to close opportunity and achievement gaps, and believe that they all have a role to play in our region’s success. Improving educational and life outcomes for children in the Valley will be our north star.

  • We will actively advocate for funding for schools, and will seek local, state and national funding through governmental grants and philanthropy to support the vision of local leaders and will work with them to commit those funds to programs that most improve outcomes for students.
    If we come together now, we can create change that will lead to better results for our community for generations to come. As the late Oscar Romero famously said: “We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.”
    We ask you to join us in coming together around great schools, and to work with us on a long-term effort to improve educational opportunity for all children in the San Joaquin Valley.

San Joaquin A+ Board of Directors*
Jane Butterfield
Susan DePolo
Fritz Grupe
Kathleen Lagorio Janssen
Don Shalvey

*San Joaquin A+ is a long-standing Stockton based non-profit focused on improving educational outcomes for students in San Joaquin County. While the organization’s activities have been limited in recent years, we are excited about the momentum we see in the city of Stockton and are ready to increase our energy re-engage our school and community partners in a conversation about how we can work together to better support Stockton students.