Putting Mexican-American education on the agenda

05/25/2018

A few days after I discreetly took out papers on Feb. 22 to run for Marin County superintendent of schools, a reporter called me up and asked his first question: “Are you serious?” Well, yes, of course I was serious. After all, I had written checks for nearly $6,000, but that reporter was incredulous that anyone would take on the most powerful politician in the county: Mary Jane Burke.

Later, another reporter, Silas Valentino of the Point Reyes Light, interviewed me, and elicited my distaste for one-candidate elections—you know, like the one I saw in Cuba when I visited one summer over 20 years ago. All of this was printed in the March 1 edition of the Light, along with a photograph of myself smiling with my arms crossed.

In less than a week, I received an email from Superintendent Bob Raines to meet so he could hand me a letter informing me that there was a strong possibility that I would be demoted. And it continued to get more bizarre, with three consecutive Shoreline board meetings packed with student, parent and staff supporters speaking in my favor, more articles in the Light, and the other newspaper in the county casting the story as a David and Goliath battle. (I’m David, Mary Jane is Goliath, just to be clear.)

It has not stopped, either. Last week I debated Mary Jane with the Marin Latino Leaders, and a day later I received a letter of reprimand from Bob for saying “I don’t think so” at a public board meeting in April.

So was it worth $6,000 and the threat of losing my job to run? Yes, absolutely.

For one, academic achievement is that important to me. Most county students do well every year, but a few demographic groups do not, including Latino, African-American and low-income students. Research suggests that when these groups achieve, all student groups achieve. The largest of these groups are made up of Mexican-American students, so I want to begin by focusing even more on them.

Second, I want to engage with students, parents and staff by visiting all county schools in the first 100 days of office. I want to listen to their needs, I want to see what they are doing well, and I want to lead by being direct and blunt with my praise and my feedback. In contrast, Mary Jane visited Shoreline in August to ask for money.

Third, I do not want voters to spend more than we have to. I will not suggest another county tax because I do not want to divert attention from the need of every school district to ask voters for new bond funds and parcel tax extensions and increases. With all her power, Mary Jane was unable to convince voters to pass the 2016 Measure A to fund preschool, and now the current political climate does not support an increase in the sales tax.

Finally, I want to increase political participation and representation in Marin County, instead of just persisting and protesting. For example, only two of the seven Shoreline trustees won an election. The rest were appointed by virtue of no competition. It is the same situation with the county school board, which increased Mary Jane’s salary to over $300,000. There are no Mexican-American trustees on either board. That is not equity, that is not democracy.

Competition is good. I have had to compete against dozens of applicants for every principalship I have won. I competed in the 2015 Tamalpais Union High School District election, and I won. Then, over a week later, I lost by 188 votes after they found more ballots. 

Regardless, for two more weeks—and maybe four more years—Mexican-Americans will not be invisible in Marin. People will come to understand that they want the same things for their children as everyone else does: security, educational opportunities, and the belief that their children can excel in math (even if my daughter is the only person of color in her A.P. calculus class).

I have asked for no donations or endorsements, and I am not spending on advertising. Still, I feel like I have already won this contest. For the first time, people are saying the words Mexican-American academic achievement. I guarantee that the 2022 county superintendent of schools will be a Mexican-American, or at least a Latino. 

The most important win, however, has been the respect I see in the eyes of my wife, my high school daughter, and my sixth-grade son, not just for resisting or standing up, but for running against the most powerful politician in Marin County, which is pretty serious.

 

Matt Nagle is the West Marin-Inverness School principal and a candidate for Marin County Superintendent of Schools. He lives in Fairfax.