Jorge Pacheco Jr., 28

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Jorge Pacheco Jr. for Oak Grove School District

Jorge Pacheco Jr. attended K-8 schools in the Oak Grove School District, but left feeling unprepared and ill-equipped for high school. Now a successful teacher who launched the first middle school ethnic studies program in San Jose, Jorge is running for his hometown school board, to create stronger opportunities for future students.

If you could get beers with any politician, who would it be?

I’d definitely grab a beer with Beto O’Rourke. He seems so down-to-earth, relatable, and fun so I know that even grabbing a beer with him would be an experience! And I bet he has the best stories ever.

Tell me one interesting fact about yourself that has nothing to do with your career or your politics.

Believe it or not, I’m training to be a boxer! My buddies at my boxing gym are like my brothers and sisters and we’re all training to compete in our first amateur fight in the next couple of years. We each want to win a belt! So when I’m not walking the pavement or teaching, I’m boxing.

Where’s your favorite place to hang out in San Jose?

Definitely either my boxing gym, Dreamland Boxing Club, or my favorite local brewery, Hermitage Brewery. My local brewery is definitely a chill place to have my meetings, hang out with friends, and they also have awesome taco trucks so it makes it hard to resist since tacos al pastor are my favorite food and greatest weakness!

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about millennials?

That we are a bunch of spoiled kids that just like to complain and complain. The older generation can sometimes have a difficult time empathizing with us because their struggles are not similar to the ones that my generation is now facing. Despite being working class, my parents were still able to afford so much more and able to take advantage of the housing market almost 30 years ago. That's not a reality for many of us anymore.

In your own words, what does the school board do? And why should I care about this race if I’m not a parent?

I think everybody should know that change starts local. With this specific race, there are 10,000+ students in the district and their education and their teachers are at risk. I’m running for the school board of the K-8 district I attended because that is my home, its students ARE me, their parents are MY parents, and I want to make sure that we take care of them because my district didn’t take care of me and thousands of others. That needs to change because our students’ futures are on the line.

The truth is that my district failed me and thousands of others like me. I didn't enter high school prepared and I almost didn’t even make it out of high school. But that narrative is not unique to me. It’s felt by millions of students, especially students of color across our entire country.

Even to this day, nothing much has actually changed since I graduated. 50%+ of our students are not meeting proficiency in math or English Language Arts. As a former student and present-day teacher, that’s disgraceful and unacceptable. And it's something that should concern everybody because it affects us all. These conditions deprive us of unwoken potential for the next generation.

School boards are not at the bottom of the totem pole, they ARE the totem pole. They are the foundation of our democracy and of our public education so we should care.

What are the biggest doubts people have you as a candidate?

They say that I’m too young or too inexperienced, that I should “wait my turn,” but they don’t see how my experience as a social justice teacher, as a product of the district and as a court-appointed mentor for youth in juvenile justice has prepared me for this job.

That's why I'm trying to put my foot in the race and show people that school boards should be on the top of your list, because the decisions that a school board makes impacts the lives and futures of thousands of kids every single day. And a lot of kids are left disadvantaged by those decisions such as my own experience as a student in this district, which is why we must choose the best and most representative leadership to reverse these trends. Representation matters, especially in this district that despite 50% of the student population being Latinx has yet to elect a Latinx person to the school board. As a queer indigenous Latinx-Asian teacher, I aim to change that.

What are your potholes? What are the smaller issues and your community that are getting neglected, but you really think should be addressed?

First is teacher support. As a teacher in San Jose, one of the most expensive cities in the entire country, it is extremely difficult to get by. I want to impact the teacher retention problem by increasing salaries and collaborating with the teachers union. I also want to make sure that our teachers feel empowered and ensure that their voices are present in every single district-level discussion. I also want to enable our teachers to lead innovative programs and pilot research-proven practices, curriculum and methods that close the achievement gap, such as restorative practices, Ethnic Studies, and bilingual programs.

So that brings me to my second platform, which is educational innovation. As a teacher now, I've been innovating in my own classroom for the last 5 years. I taught second grade for three years, switched to middle school and I’m just starting my third year teaching Ethnic Studies. There's currently a big movement happening not only in California but across the country, called the Ethnic Studies Now Movement. It's a movement aiming to bring curriculum that reflects the local community so that students know their histories and marginalized voices have a presence in the curriculum. The reason why this is important is because research shows that ethnic studies leads to higher GPA rates, graduation rates, and attendance rates for ALL students who take it. It exists in 1% of our public Californian high schools and it is almost unheard of in the K-8 world. So I founded the first Ethnic Studies Program at the middle school level in my hometown of San Jose, and certainly amongst the first in the state and country.

Lastly, fiscal responsibility. My school district right now, like many school districts, is suffering from school closures and fiscal deficits. Budgetary irresponsibility and dropping enrollment has been devastating our school district and we've had to close two schools in the last year alone and two other schools back in 2003. To be plain and simple, I want to keep our schools open and create new educational programs based in STEM, Ethnic Studies and bilingual education so as to attract more students and teachers and tackle our dropping enrollment and teacher retention problem. We need to make sure that our tax dollars funding our district are spent responsibly, which it hasn’t for the last 20+ years.

What have been the outcomes of the ethnic studies program and how do you want it to move forward?

My outcomes from this ethnic studies innovation have been incredible. My second graders have had the highest reading and math scores in my entire school network, and last year, 96% of my middle school students students were reading at grade level and beyond by the time they were finished with my program.

I want to bring those same innovations that I've been using in my classroom to the 10,000+ students in our school district so that they can also achieve the success that my students have felt.

I founded the first ethnic studies program at the middle school level in San Jose. The end goal is to make Oak Grove School District the first ethnic studies K-8 school district in San Jose and maybe in the country. So I think that message is going to really resonate with people, especially with people who want to see our education system transformed and in service of those who need it the most.

When did you hear the call? Where were you the moment you realize you needed to run for office?

It happened this spring. I was sitting with a mentor discussing my passion for ethnic studies and public policy. I wanted to see more social justice education. I wanted to see kids leaving my classroom inspired by themselves and their family and loving their own community. This passion of mine is worthy of the pedestal of public policy. So I asked him, “what can I do now in order to make this a reality?”

My mentor asked, “Where do you live?” We looked it up and I still lived in the Oak Grove School District and looked up when it was going to be up for election. And coincidentally, my area was. So my mentor asked, “So...what are you thinking?”

It was right then and there that I said, “I’m in.” I'm not gonna wait four years. I'm not going to wait eight years, now's the time. We looked at the achievement records of the district and it's still just as mediocre as it was 20+ years ago when I attended, nothing has changed, including the people elected to the school board, and things are only getting worse for the students and teachers. There isn’t  time to waste. I said, “now is the time to run.”

What advice would you give to another young Dem who is considering running for office?

Expect a lot of people to say you're not ready. Expect a lot of people to try to dissuade you. Use what they say as fuel for your fire. If you truly feel passionate about getting your ideas codified into public policy, then that's exactly what you should be doing. Those are exactly the people we need in office. We don't need anybody to warm these seats anymore, that generation of policymakers needs to go. The only people that are going to be able to bring change are people like us.

Lacy Wright