How Community Leadership Launches San José to a Higher Trajectory

Downtown Neighborhood News — Sam’s Corner

A year and a half ago, I sat down over breakfast with San José Rotary Club members Teresa Alvarado and Carl Salas to discuss an idea that Carl had hatched with his wife, Marianne.   They sought to bring Independence Day fireworks back Downtown as part of the Rotary’s 100th Anniversary celebration.

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Only weeks before my initial conversation with Carl Salas, I sat down with John Sobrato, Davide Vieira, Khanh Bui Russo, and other local community leaders about another venture: launching a unique East San José high school focused on propelling children from low-income families into college.

The school’s innovative model— known as “Cristo Rey”– started in Chicago a decade ago, presenting first- and second-generation students with a unique twist: the teens work with a Valley employer for five days a month. That employer helps to foot the bill for the student’s college preparatory education.    Students often start a year or more behind grade level, but quickly accelerate within a college preparatory curriculum by attending school during the summer and on Saturdays to catch up.   All of the graduates in Cristo Rey schools Chicago and L.A. go on to college, and almost universally, they are the first members of their families to do so.

My role focused on recruiting companies to employ the kids and foot the bill for their tuition.  To my pleasant surprise, many great Valley employers stepped up to the challenge of training and employing a teenager to work in their offices, including Wells Fargo, Adobe, Cisco, Focus Business Bank, HP, Therma, the VMC Foundation, VTA, and many others.

Peter Pabst, SJ agreed to spearhead the organization, and quickly assembled a great team around him to launch the school.  Sobrato and BJ Cassin led a team to fundraise from Valley business leaders, and under Vieira’s leadership, the Five Wounds community graciously welcomed the school at their former elementary school site on East Santa Clara Street.

Cristo Rey San José has launched.   The first class of over 100 students eagerly arrived to start their preparatory sessions a couple of weeks ago, and teachers are busily preparing for their fall classes.

Whether by fanning the flame of learning among promising youth, or by lighting up the nighttime sky, we’re fortunate to have great leaders in our San José community make great things happen.    As we contemplate the future of the San José Rep, or homelessness, or a host of other challenges in our community, we’ll do well to leverage the leadership that is all around us, ready to strike the first match.



Sam Liccardo
Source: Downtown Neighborhood News -- Sam's Corner
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