Agee: Education reform is a righteous cause

September 17, 2013 

Sixteen years ago, I received my high school diploma from Edison High School in Fresno. As I headed off to college, I knew how lucky I was to have received an education that gave me an opportunity to pursue my dreams.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many students in Fresno, the Central Valley, and California as a whole. And that needs to change. I believe there is no cause more righteous than this — ensuring that all students have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in life.

That's why I am excited to join StudentsFirst California as the state director. I am looking forward to working to ensure that students in my hometown and across the state have the great schools they deserve.

It's an unfortunate fact that discussions on education policy frequently are negative and polarized. Too often legitimate discussions and solutions take a back seat to misinformation and personal attacks.

To be honest, I find that strange. After all, I think we all agree that California needs an education system that serves all kids — no matter the color of their skin, where they live or how much money they have.

And right now we're falling short of that goal. Unfortunately, Fresno Unified School District has a substantial achievement gap. While 57% of white students passed the 11th Grade California Standards Test in English-Language Arts, only 26% of African-American students and 27% of Hispanic/Latino students did. Additionally, only 28% of economically disadvantaged students passed the exam, while 66% of their more affluent peers did.

That is not acceptable.

But it's not just about the numbers. As a parent, I have personally experienced the challenge of finding a quality education for our child. My wife and I spent years trying to find the appropriate school for my youngest son. Even though my wife and I are well-educated and involved parents, we had to try out various traditional public, private and charter schools before we found the right fit. It shouldn't be that difficult to find the right school for your child.

In short, we need to do better.

I look forward to building on some of the great progress already being made in the Central Valley. For example, the Center for Leadership, Equity and Research just launched a program called the EL SOL (Enhancing Latino Service-Oriented Leadership) Academy. Based in Fresno, the program seeks to give developing leaders the skills they need to better serve their communities. I am honored to be serving as a mentor in the program.

That sort of community effort is crucial for making progress.

Some people may say that my decision to join StudentsFirst is surprising, given my professional background. I spent the last decade working for the American Federation for State, County, and Municipal Employees, a prominent union. Since some critics portray StudentsFirst as anti-union, they claim that I am abandoning my principles.

But I don't see it that way. When I was with AFSCME I was advocating for the interests of working families in the Central Valley and across the state; that was the focus of my work. At StudentsFirst, I will be advocating for the next generation of families by working to ensure that students are receiving the education they need to be successful. Seems perfectly consistent to me.

In the coming months, I look forward to collaborating with stakeholders across the state to implement the reforms our students need. Though it won't be easy — and at times we may disagree — I am confident that together we can ensure that our education system truly serves all students.

Every student who receives a diploma from Edison or any other high school in California should feel prepared and excited about their future. I will work tirelessly to make that happen.

I hope that you join me.

Jovan Agee of Sacramento was announced as state director of StudentsFirst California on Monday.


Jovan Agee of Sacramento was announced as state director of StudentsFirst California on Monday.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service