Alkesh Desai is putting a whole new spin on the term “parent participation” in school. This San Jose resident and father of two Berryessa schoolgirls is running for a spot on the Berryessa union school board this month. What does an IT guy (Desai is a business analyst at a Valley company) know about school administration? Desai’s record of community involvement, especially with the school district, helps to put his experience into perspective—from being site council member for Summerdale School and Piedmont Middle Schools in San Jose, to serving as chairperson on Berryessa District Advisory Committee representing Summerdale School and Piedmont Middle School, to volunteering in fundraising for Science Camp at (Ellis Elementary School, Sunnyvale)—you could almost say he has been following his daughters to school!
Desai’s campaign motto is: “Making a Difference for all Children.” At the nitty-gritty level, he proposes to focus on issues plaguing all schools and their boards—recruitment and retaining good teachers; small classroom sizes; getting maximum possible state funding; and making schools a safe learning place. Also, not all in the Silicon Valley is rich and resourceful, says Desai. He wants to create awareness that “after-school and many other programs depend on outside funding.” Desai is also running for another reason: to encourage Indian-American parents to get involved in school activities and issues. “They have a long wish list but they are short on representation or voicing concerns to the authorities in organized ways,” he says. Maybe this winter, he will get to be that voice for the next four years.
Did you know that 40 percent of the student population in the Cupertino Union School District (CUSD) is Asian-American? An organization called the Asian American Parents Association (AAPA) is making it its business to tell this to the CUSD. Sitting on the board are two Indian-American parents—Om Talajia and Nidhi Mathur, who through their involvement with the AAPA, are working to educate the school district on the cultural aspects and needs of such a diverse student body.
“The school administration is of strictly one ethnicity, while students are from diverse backgrounds. Hence, teachers often don’t understand why students from another culture are behaving in a particular manner,” says Talajia. A simple example: Asian students look down while talking to their teachers because they avoid eye contact out of respect for their elders. Teachers misread this as a signal that the students are trying to hide something. This is only one of the several cultural adjustment problems Talajia illustrates. Other issues include academic curriculum where American history went all the way back up to the arrival of Columbus in America, but made no mention of Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans, both of which groups have contributed in many ways to the making of America. With input from the AAPA, the CUSD has revised some of its history curriculum. Talajia has been on the board for four years. Mathur joined the AAPA this year—besides wanting to contribute in some way, she wanted to “work closely with the school district and understand how the system works,” especially in light of the fact that she belongs to a minority group.
Together, Talajia and Mathur, along with the other concerned parents, are not only striving to bring about a better student-teacher-parent understanding but are also a glowing example of how effective parent power can be when it is clubbed with the effectiveness of organization. “By not being organized, the Indian community is losing.” “I keep telling my friends that all the time,” says Talajia. www.aapa.net.
On a Mission in Mission College
Eight years ago, you could have irreverently classified Gagan Singh as FOB—Fresh off the Boat. Today, “He came, he saw, he conquered,” might be a more appropriate description for this motivated young Indian-American. In going from age 17 to 25, Singh has not only earned a college degree and clinched a software engineering career, but he is running for a seat on West Valley-Mission College’s governing board. Why bother with a college board when he has a cushy job and bright future ahead? You could say it was the call of loyalty and a sense of responsibility towards the institutions that helped him succeed in his new life in the U.S.
“I will bring a fresh perspective to the board,” says Singh. If elected, he plans to resolve the issue surrounding the building of a stadium at West Valley College. Also on his agenda are the college’s Global Education program, and expanding the Middle College program (which allows high school students to take college classes and earn both high school and college credits). Deteriorating college buildings on both campuses can also expect a facelift if he is elected to the board.
Singh’s efforts are largely self-funded and he plans on direct interaction with voters and door-to-door campaigning. Should he not get elected to the board, he still has an agenda under his belt: continuing in his current position as Mission College student trustee, he plans to set up a scholarship for needy students.” And what’s in store for him in the future? “Maybe an advanced degree and a career change, possibly a doctorate in law in conjunction with a master’s in public policy,” says Singh. Oh, the young and the restless.