Former Superintendent Xavier De La Torre, Santa Clara County Office of Education
Two inseparable goals of the new Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Xavier De La Torre, are the support of students that have not historically experienced success in our traditional public school system and the fair and adequate funding of public education in California.
One particular issue that has caught the attention of County Superintendent De La Torre is the legal battle surrounding teacher tenure laws and seniority rights in Vergara v. California, a case that seeks to strike down laws that would significantly alter the current process for determining which teachers are released from districts facing economic or other realities that would require a reduction in their teaching force.
De La Torre maintains that he has always enjoyed a positive and productive relationship with labor organizations throughout his twenty-five year career in education, including six years in the role of Chief Human Resource Officer for two large urban school districts in California. In fact, he comes from a labor-oriented family and his brother is currently counsel for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Sacramento. So, De La Torre clearly understands the interest and the rationale surrounding the opposition to altering teacher tenure and seniority rights. However, he is also acutely aware of the critical impact a teacher can have in the four corners of the classroom – both in a positive sense and, in fewer cases, in a detrimental sense. This impact is significantly magnified when a child is denied access to effective teachers for successive years – something that happens frequently in some communities.
According to De La Torre, “If we are being truly honest, we cannot quarrel with a universal acknowledgment that the quality of a child’s experience and academic progress in school is directly tied to the effectiveness of the teacher and other adults in the classroom. Conversely, it is a far less compelling argument to suggest that, in all cases, teacher effectiveness is directly tied to years of service as a classroom teacher. However, in all fairness, it is also incumbent upon principals and other instructional leaders to provide regular and ongoing supervision and evaluation of instruction in the classroom to assist all teachers and to identify less effective teachers that would benefit and grow from direction and support to improve in their craft.”
Finally, should there ultimately be modifications to the laws surrounding this issue, the potential changes should not be used in lieu of sound instructional leadership in the form of an objective system to supervise, evaluate, and support improved pedagogy and student outcomes in the classroom or to avoid the difficult, but deserved, conversations with teachers in need of assistance. True reform in our public schools must begin in the four corners of the classroom.