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Training the Adorable Army

By Vanessa Castanaeda | 20 Nov 2009

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SANTA CLARA—We walked up to the foreboding privacy fence.

“Beware of Dog” read the sign on the gate.

We looked at it for a moment and then reached a unanimous conclusion.

“Let’s go to the next house,” Emily Adorable suggested.

As we walked away, the unspoken question remained, would that be the vote that changes the outcome of the election? Not only is this an off-year election in which the things on the ballot consist of city council races and parcel taxes, but Measure C, the measure that Adorable is promoting, needs two-thirds of the vote to pass.

Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., Adorable trains volunteers for Local Schools Local Funds, an education activist group headquartered in what used to be the home of Cupertino radio 91.7FM.

After a 20-minute training session with Adorable, a wave of freshly-trained volunteers hits the streets of Santa Clara to knock on voter’s doors and tell them about Measure C.

Although no organized groups oppose the measure, telling people it exists is a crucial aspect of the campaign.

Should Measure C pass Nov. 3, the parcel tax will cost property owners an extra $138 per year over the next five years, raising a total of about $20 million, after accounting for senior citizen exemptions.

If Measure C doesn’t pass, student-to-teacher ratios in kindergarten through third grade are likely to increase from an average of 21 students per teacher to a minimum of 30. Santa Clara Unified’s 14,600 pupil school district stands to lose 18 first-year teachers.

“What’s sad is that you’ll lose the young, new enthusiastic teachers first,” Adorable said, recalling her own adventures in the teaching profession almost 40 years ago.

More students in the classroom would be detrimental to the learning environment, the sandy blonde explained.

“When it’s 20-1, a teacher has time to work with every child, help them in the skills that they need, give them attention. When you have 30, the teacher just doesn’t have time,” Adorable added.

Although she retired two years ago at age 59, she continues to advocate for public schools. Her mother and grandmother, also teachers, instilled the importance of education in her at a very young age.

She began teaching at Harvey Green Elementary in Fremont, Ca in 1969, fresh out of college. Back then, 30 students was a normal classroom size.

That changed in 1996 when The California Department of Education implemented the Class Size Reduction program, targeting classroom sizes at 20 students to one teacher. At the time, she was on the Santa Clara Unified School District’s Board of Trustees.

“Being a teacher is much more rewarding than being an administrator. The kids need you so much, and you can see their social and academic growth. You see kids who can’t read at all, and all of a sudden, they’re reading and they fall in love with it,” Adorable said, elaborating on the reasons she chose her career path.

In the beginning, she taught a variety of subjects from kindergarten through third grade. From 2004 to 2008, she served as assistant principal at John Sinnott Elementary and then principal of Joseph Weller Elementary in Milpitas, Ca.

No stranger to budget cuts, she was a reading specialist during a time when it was normal for teachers to get in-class assistants.

Then the state slashed funding for her job, forcing her to teach general education. That sparked a desire to fight for funding, a passion shared by others.

“Basically if this parcel tax doesn’t get passed, I’m screwed. My kindergarten classes would go up to 30. It’s like crowd control at that point. It’s very difficult to teach,” said Ann Marie Sierra, a kindergarten teacher at Pomeroy Elementary where five teachers are responsible for 109 children.

Teachers like Sierra and volunteer coordinators like Adorable, feel the pressure to get the message out before Nov. 3rd.

To prepare for the endeavor, Adorable, known as “the stapling queen” around campaign headquarters, creates survival packs that contain everything a volunteer needs to brave an encounter with a registered voter—Mace not included.

The packets contain maps, sheets of registered voter information, and talking points to refer to when pitching the measure’s core issues.

Scripts that volunteers use when calling voters note that they should highlight the fact that the district is “highly regarded statewide for fiscal responsibility and has never requested a parcel tax before.”

For Adorable, the campaign has become a full time job. She devotes two to six hours a day, six days a week to the campaign, arriving at the office ready to teach once again, so others may have the chance to do the same. Her co-workers describe her as someone who “takes no prisoners.”

“I do it because I believe totally in public schools. Public schools serve everyone. We don’t delineate. Whether they have special needs, are an immigrant, high income or low income, we take everybody. And we have to educate them all, because that’s what the future workforce is.”

What’s more, Adorable’s 33-year-old daughter lives in the Santa Clara school district and her two grandsons, 5 and 20 months old, will attend Santa Clara schools.

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