Herman G. Hernandez is the youngest and only Latino elected to the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) board of trustees. He is 31 years old today, but only 27 years old when he was elected in 2014. This year marks his fourth year in office, and will be up for re-election in November. Herman is also the president of the board this year. However, Herman is not just a board of trustees member, he holds other positions in the community such as the Vice President of The College Tee Project, California School Board Association Delegate Assembly for Region 3, a Board of Director for the California County Board of Education, and a board member of the Elsie Allen High School Foundation. All of these boards are connected to educational access in particular for low income students.
MM: Why does someone so young and with no children run for an elected position in education?
HH: “I decided to run in December of 2013, and was elected in November, 2014. My political belief has been that there should be equal representation at every elected office level from school board to the President of United States. I learned that there had never been a Latino School Board Member on the Sonoma County Office of Education Board, and the majority of the kids we serve are Latino. Also, I am young, and I am frustrated when I hear people say that you are too young to run for office. That is not true. No one is too young. I have had a passion for education since I worked as an AVID tutor at Farb Middle School while I was attending San Diego State University. I had the greatest opportunity to work with 6th – 8th graders at a predominantly minority and military family school. This experience really opened up my eyes, and helped me realize the importance of positive role models in young people’s lives. Getting to interact and talk to the 8th graders about being the first from my family to go to college was empowering for not just the kids but for me too. It made me realize the sacrifice and education my parents had to get me there, and I also realized that these kids didn’t have what I had (two parents who understood the importance of going to college), and they needed more motivation which is why I loved my job. I learned about equity….I learned what this meant and believe it’s at the core of my heart.”
MM: What are your qualifications, and do you have kids? Why are you invested? You are only 31 years old and have a degree in business not education.
HH: “I was a student for 22 years and citizen of humanity for 27 years. I graduated from every grade in school. I graduated from the junior college. I graduated from college. I played sports. I was in media class. I was in plays. I got in trouble. I got good grades. I also was involved in organizations at San Diego State that taught me about budgets and fiscal responsibility. I do not believe there are specific qualifications needed to run for school board but my qualification if any was that I genuinely want to help support and create our future generation of teachers, scientists, engineers, artists, athletes, and leaders. I don’t have kids yet, but I feel that the role of an elected position matters, especially being on a school board. It matters to me because if we are going to change the political landscape of our county, state, and country, and have more qualified Latino leaders in elected political positions at every level of government we need to start at the school board level. The more people get involved locally, the grassroots level, the more they will get involved at higher levels.”
Herman was working with a large nonprofit that houses a specific program, Youth Connections. This programs serves out of school 16 to 24 years of age youth. He aims to represent all high risk youth in Sonoma County and to help students continue their education even if they have been expelled from their local schools or placed in Juvenile Hall. Herman indicated that the role of SCOE is to assist all children and youth continue their education. Therefore, the biggest challenges he sees SCOE facing is the lack of funding for mental health services for the kids. The county is serving children and youth that are dealing with having been arrested for different reasons, and SCOE can can barely support their mental health with the services provided. This is in addition to the teacher deficit and the rising pension costs that will be out of hand come 2024.
As a county school board trustee, there definitely been good, bad and reflective moments. Herman shared that his biggest ‘ahh moment’ was learning the impact that setting A-G as a requirement to graduate from high school has on the postsecondary future of children. Herman indicated that he doesn’t quite understand why the A-G curriculum is not the standard at every high school in the county and in California.
One of Herman’s proudest moments was last year at the SCOE Alternative Education Graduation where the keynote speaker was a young lady who had been incarcerated her whole high school career, from the age of 14 to the age of 18.
Herman shared, “She gave the greatest speech I had ever heard at a graduation. I went up to her after her ‘MOST AMAZING SPEECH’ to congratulate her and asked her a question. I asked her to give me one word of advice that she would give her friend who is struggling in life or school and she responded: ‘I used to think life is what it is, but it’s not. Life is what you make it. Now, go make it great.’ That served as the proudest reminder that we (SCOE School Board) may not govern schools with high attendance numbers and great test scores, but we are making a difference and working to make sure that even the students that people forget still have an opportunity to succeed and move forward in life, that is what I am most proud of.”
Herman said that in the last year the board had passed a resolution in support of ethnic studies and policy. Having an ethnic studies embedded in the A-G curriculum and as a course required for graduation would drastically improve attendance and graduation rates.
So what is next for this trustee? First, Herman will be serving as the president of the board. Some of the things he is focused on are working with the superintendents and exploring the idea of creating a charter school that supports youth 17 – 22 years old who are no longer in school or do not have their high school diploma and help them get back into school and connect them to a skill trade/career. He has realized that there is a huge skilled worker gap and as a community need to come together to address this issue. Herman also would like to further address the A-G requirements with other local school board members to make it a requirement in Sonoma County High School districts. He wants to push the state per pupil average spending go up.
The SCOE’s mission is to foster student success through services to students, schools, and the community. SCOE is an educational partner to Sonoma County’s 40 school districts serving over 71,000 K – 12 students. This is a total of 183 schools, 110 being elementary schools, 27 middle schools, 19 high schools and alternative schools, and about 32% of all schools are charter schools. In the 2015 – 2016 academic year of the entire K – 12 student population, 44% is economically disadvantaged, 23% are English language learners, 15% are in special education, and about 1% are foster youth. Finally, Latinx students represent 45% of the students by race/ethnicity, followed by whites (44%), Asian, Pacific Islander, Filipino (4%) mixed race (4%), African Americans (2%) and Native Americans (1%).
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