SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — East San Jose parents and community leaders gathered Monday night to call for the creation of more and better middle schools in the Alum Rock School District.

The meeting was organized by People Acting in Community Together, a community action organization, and was held at the Mayfair Community Center.

“I’m tired of hearing that our Latino children will not be successful in college, that they will only be ‘laborers,’” said Maria Teresa Barcenas before the meeting. Barcenas is a school district parent and member of PACT. Like Barcenas’s children, the majority of students in the district are Hispanic.

Like other PACT members, Barcenas said she would like to see adequate funding, more small schools, charter schools, and a longer school day.

In a statement Monday, PACT asserted that only about 50 percent of students who graduate from the district’s elementary schools are prepared to succeed in high school—proven in part by the district’s wanting scores on the Academic Performance Index, a statewide test.

According to the school district, of its seven middle schools, only two made it above the API passing score of 800 — Renaissance Academy and KIPP Heartwood Academy.

“Do we have challenges ahead of us? Yes. Are our schools improving? Yes,” said Alum Rock Union School District Board Member and President Esau Herrera, himself a graduate of Alum Rock schools.

Herrera and board member Dolores Marquez attended Monday night’s meeting.

According to Herrera, the school district faces a number of unique challenges. Many students come from low-income homes where English is not the primary language.

Additionally, Herrera said, state funding continues to be cut. However, the district still plans to open another charter school similar to Renaissance Academy for the coming school year.

“I wish we had the facilities and the resources to create 20 Renaissances… but at some point we’re going to have to make some hard choices,” Herrera said, adding that unlike many school districts, Alum Rock has protected its music and performing art programs.

According to Herrera, those programs create significant education benefits that are seen by teachers, but rarely quantified by test scores like the Academic Performance Index.

“I reject the notion that the measure of our kids can be determined by the one fill-in-the-bubble test that’s taken once a year,” Herrera said.

Speaking again about the challenges that the evening’s meeting plans to address, Herrera said, “Are we taking them on? Yes we are.”

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