a conversation with…
Albert Gonzalez, 2024 CSBA President
Albert Gonzalez headshot
CSBA 2024 President Albert Gonzalez has served on the Santa Clara Unified School District board for 16 years. All three of his children are graduates of the district. Gonzalez was elected to CSBA’s Board of Directors in 2014 after serving as a Delegate since 2010. He attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and currently works as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley.
a conversation with…
Albert Gonzalez, 2024 CSBA President
CSBA 2024 President Albert Gonzalez has served on the Santa Clara Unified School District board for 16 years. All three of his children are graduates of the district. Gonzalez was elected to CSBA’s Board of Directors in 2014 after serving as a Delegate since 2010. He attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and currently works as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley.
Albert Gonzalez headshot
Tell us a little about your background including your own K-12 education and professional experience
I was born in the city of Los Angeles to parents who were originally from Mexico and met in LA. When I was in first grade, we relocated to Concord, and I was raised in the East Bay. I graduated from Concord High School, which is in the Mt. Diablo School District. After graduating from high school, I attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where I received my Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. I decided to move to San Jose because that is where most of the high-tech jobs were and ten years later, I moved to Santa Clara where I have served on the board for 16 years. Public education is what got me through everything. It was vital in my life and has brought me to this point. I think it’s indispensable in the lives of most of our students in the state.

I grew up with parents who had a second and third grade education, so I know that all students can succeed. The digital divide is a big problem which was really exacerbated and more visible during the COVID epidemic. Even in Silicon Valley, we have neighborhoods where the cell coverage is very minimal, and carriers might differ in their ability to provide service to different areas. Different hotspots from different carriers were imperative for our students to be able to utilize the technology, just to be able to access the content that they needed so that they could learn and complete assignments.

I think more districts and more classrooms are moving to not only STEM but STEAM, so that we can have not only the technology part of it but also the creativity that our students bring. It’s crucial for them to be able to utilize the technology. And even though not everybody’s going to be in engineering, what you find today is that there is some level of programming in everything. You may not be coding eight hours a day but if you have the ability and the understanding of how things work, it is going to help you thrive in today’s world.

Can you tell us when and why you became active in CSBA and why would you encourage board members to get more involved?
My first taste of CSBA was at the Annual Education Conference, which was right before I got seated as a school board member. The AEC and trainings like the New Board Member Orientation and Masters in Governance® (MIG) really helped me get a strong footing and a strong foundation. And I’ve always liked to give back. I saw how public education impacted my life, so giving back to our students today was inevitable.

CSBA has been such a big part of my development as a board member; I’ve learned even more as I became a Delegate in 2010, and then a Regional Director in 2015. As I’ve seen the different aspects of CSBA, I’ve not only enriched my ability to guide my board and advocate at the local, state and federal level, but also realized that I can help CSBA be a better association. And I think that’s why I’ve moved into this role. CSBA is vital for our districts and county offices of education — and for our students in the state. We need to be more involved to make sure that we’re the essential voice for public education.

What do you see as the most significant challenges schools are facing in providing an equitable education to all students?
There are quite a few factors, but I think with COVID we’ve been able to somewhat bridge the digital divide. But now we see that the state budget is not looking as rosy as it has been in the past. There’s not a new infusion of money from the federal government and there are disparities in resources in different districts. We have districts that are much more well-resourced than others and some districts that have a difficult time even passing a [general obligation] bond to bring their facilities up to a better state. So, there are disparities in facilities and in funding. And for many of our districts, the demographics that they’re dealing with are challenging sometimes — newly arrived migrant students, English learners, students who are not as well-resourced at home and cannot get additional help at home. Our public schools are working to provide those vital supports. We need to advocate for the resources that our students need so that they can have the best educational opportunities.
students sitting together and looking at laptop
How does your background as an English learner and first-generation college graduate influence your perspective on public education?
I’m glad you asked that question. I think a lot of times people find it difficult and don’t know how to help students with challenges, like being an English learner, and I would say that I’m a good example of somebody who has succeeded. My bachelor’s in science in electrical engineering has really helped me meet the needs of my family. As a parent, you want to make sure that you can provide for your family. And we understand that in our economic environment here in California things are expensive, and we must ensure that our students succeed. With the last of the Baby Boomer generation starting to retire, we must make certain that we are getting students ready to meet those needs.

As an English learner from parents who had modest means, it was through public education that I have gotten to this point where I feel that I’m thriving in our economic environment. And we want everybody to thrive. No matter what zip code or area they are from, or if they’re English learners or whatever the circumstance, we must provide the support for them to succeed.

What advice do you have for boards dealing with increasing partisanship, both internally and from the community?
At CSBA, every board member is part of our association and we’re going to help them and equip them to be the best board members they can be. And we would hope that board seats are nonpartisan. However, we know that’s not always the case. Even though there might be partisan disagreements, one of the things that I have seen is that everyone is there for our students. You are there to make sure you advocate for the resources that are needed for your students. If your heart is in it for the students and for their quality education, I think we’ll be in a better place.
What are some of the more rewarding experiences you’ve had as a board member?
I think graduation is always a great time — on a personal level, I’ve given the diploma to each one of my three sons. It’s not actually a diploma but a little booklet with the school’s name and pocket to display the diploma. But as I look at my role as CSBA President, one thing that I’ve seen is that when you advocate, you can make a difference. Whether it’s in legislation or in policy, CSBA has become a bigger voice and a stronger voice. I would say, we’re getting to be the vital voice of education here in Sacramento. The more we advocate, the more we can help our districts and county offices of education maintain local control. Our local educational agencies need local control to be able to provide the opportunities that make the most sense for their students, which in quite a diverse state, can be quite different. I believe that that’s probably the most rewarding thing that I’ve experienced recently.

At the local level, visiting classrooms and seeing how students are doing is inspiring. You can see that many of them are really just happy to be in school. As we know, sometimes our schools are that place where they feel safe. They might get their two warm meals every day where they might not have that at home. Schools are really that place where our students can be safe and flourish.

Santa Clara is one of the only districts to have successfully built education workforce housing. Why do you think that’s important for the district?
It’s important for many urban districts where it’s very difficult for staff to find an affordable place to live within or near their district. I’ve heard of teachers and staff that must travel more than an hour to get to work. It can be quite daunting. And you can see why you really want teachers and staff to be able to be close to campus. A lot of times the school day doesn’t end whenever class ends. Usually, they’re doing tutoring, grading, lesson planning, preparing for back-to-school events, parent/teacher conferences, and attending after-school events. If our staff is finding it difficult to get to work or to get home, it makes it difficult for them to really have a strong relationship with the students.

Santa Clara USD was able to build units that accounted for, at that time, about 10 percent of our teachers. When I got on the board in 2008, we finished that second phase with about 74 housing units there in Santa Clara. I think workforce housing is vital so that we can keep the system running smoothly with staff nearby so that they’re not having to fight hours of traffic to get to and from work. Quality of life is very important.

As a veteran board member, what advice would you give to new or aspiring board members?
Get involved with CSBA and any training that is offered, from webinars to in-person and virtual options. The New Board Member Orientation is a great starting point and in the MIG training you learn the tools that you need to be able to look at the budget and analyze policies and how to really advocate for your students.