I Honor Padre Mateo Sheedy By Advocating for High Quality Schools

Growing up my family attended mass at different parishes, but when I was a teenager, my parents made Sacred Heart of Jesus our parish home. We have never lived near Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, but this has been my second home since then. Our pastor at that time was Padre Mateo Sheedy.

I fondly remember Padre Mateo walking around in his huaraches; he was so passionate and feisty. He was not afraid to confront the gang members who tried to intimidate his parishioners in the early days. He fought for social justice issues, especially for immigrant rights. But one value that he instilled in me is the value of education. In 1997, our parish theatre group, Teatro Corazón presented the play, La Virgen del Tepeyac, at Santa Clara University. Then Provost, Fr. Steve Privett was so moved by the presentation that he thanked Padre Mateo for bringing the play to Santa Clara University and indicated that he would like to collaborate more with our Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish community. Padre Mateo seized the moment and pulled two children, a girl and a boy, from the audience and asked the Provost if he can provide a scholarship to Santa Clara University when they got older. Being put on the spot, the Provost could not say no. Thanks to that moment, Padre Mateo secured an annual scholarship to Santa Clara University for one parish youth to attend, but he quickly realized that our parish youth, which included me, were not prepared to enroll at Santa Clara University; and we were not motivated to attend higher education. That’s when his work began looking for donors to reopen Sacred Heart school. He held various fundraising events. I volunteered as a server at some of those fundraiser events.

When I was in high school, one of my teachers told me that I wasn’t going to go to college. But thanks to Padre Mateo’s vision, I didn’t let my teacher define me. Although I wasn’t prepared to attend a four year college right out of high school, I took a different route, but I didn’t give up. I remembered Padre Mateo saying how important education was, and I received my bachelor’s degree in accounting.  

Padre Mateo knew that education is the key to end gang violence and poverty in our communities; all youth need to receive a strong education foundation at an early age and have school leaders who believe in them. Padre Mateo passed away in October 2000, he was not able to see his vision of reopening our parish middle school a reality, but due to his vision and work in the community, Downtown College Prep was founded and he was able to be at the inauguration of DCP. Padre Mateo’s vision to ensure that our youth have access to high quality education and are prepared to attend college also inspired other schools to open in our communities after his passing, such as Rocketship Public Schools.

Padre Mateo instilled in me his passion for social justice, but it wasn’t until about five years ago that I received the tools to learn how to advocate for social justice, especially for equity in education. Our low income youth of color have the potential to strive, but they need access to high quality education and opportunities as those in affluent communities have. Equity in education is a social justice issue, and we need to continue to ensure that youth in all communities have access to high quality education. The truth is that our education system has been failing students of color and low income students for decades across our nation.

Last month, LAUSD teachers went on strike and demanded a resolution, which calls on the state to impose a temporary ban on new charter schools while their impact on the district is studied. And recently, Governor Gavin Newsom has called on the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, to establish a panel of experts to examine the impact of charter school growth on district finances. Many teacher unions across our state are blaming charters for the districts’ financial problems, due to parents choosing to enroll their children in charter schools.

As a parent advocating for equity in education, I am greatly concerned of a potential change in law to give more power to local districts to deny a charter petition based on district financial problems. I live in a community where the schools in my district have been failing our students of color since I was in school. My school district school board, Alum Rock, was under investigation for financial mismanagement, and elected officials called on a state audit to be done. Three of the five board members were recommended by the grand jury to resign last summer. Yet, no one could force them to resign! Two were not re-elected last November, and the third board member is still on the school board. Who holds school boards accountable for their mismanagement of district funds? Who holds schools that are failing students of color accountable? We need to stop pointing fingers and start working together for ALL students! I am a taxpayer, and I want to choose the best school option for my youngest daughter, which for me is Rocketship Public Schools. My husband and I attended traditional district schools, our two oldest children attended traditional district schools, and we were not prepared academically to attend higher education. Our education system failed us growing up, and I refuse to continue to wait and hope it doesn’t fail our youngest daughter because we deserve the right to have high quality education options in our community regardless of our zip code!

Our neighborhood school is Aptitud Community Academy at Goss and is a K-8 school. According to Great Schools website, the school has 88% Latinos (majority). The school average proficiency in English is 21%, and average proficiency in math is 16%. That means that 79% of students there are NOT proficient in English, and 84% of students are NOT proficient in math. If I didn’t have school options, this would be the school that my youngest daughter would need to attend through middle school! That is not right! We parents have the right to choose the best education for our children, without allowing our zip codes to define our child’s outcome. We need to hold ALL public schools accountable, both charters and traditional district schools. We need to stop making this into a political action and truly work for ALL students. I truly believe in Padre Mateo’s vision to ensure that ALL students receive high quality education in order to help end poverty and gang violence in our communities. Education is the key in order for our communities to thrive. This is why I am working with parents in my community to challenge the status quo and bring to light our stories.

As I remember Padre Mateo this month on his birthday, I reflect on how his vision has helped many families have access to high quality education. His vision continues to motivate me and inspires me to advocate for equity in education, not just in our local community, but across our state and nation. Equity in education is a social justice issue, and I am ready to work with parents to make others uncomfortable in order to improve our education system across our nation.

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Lety Gomez

Lety Gomez

Lety Gómez was born and raised in East San Jose. She is married with three children. She is proud to be the first in her family to attend college and receive a bachelor’s degree. When she was a teenager, Fr. Mateo Sheedy was the pastor of her parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus. She fondly remembers his passion for social justice, especially justice for the immigrant community in San Jose and ensuring that the parish youth had access to high quality education. Fr. Mateo instilled in her his passion for social justice, but for many years it was kept unlit, deep inside of her. It wasn’t until her youngest daughter was enrolled at Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep in 2014 that her passion for social justice lit up. Thanks to the Rocketship parent organizer at that time, Lety received training and the tools to use her voice for social justice and learned about community organizing. She is proud to be one of the many parents who worked hard to open their school, knowing that the kids needed and deserved a better public school. That struggle is why they named their school Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep. “Fuerza” is the Spanish word for force, strength, or power. Her passion for advocating for equity in education has allowed her to be a voice for other parents in her community who seek high quality education options. In 2014, she chaired the first parent-led Mayoral candidates forum in San Jose, where she realized the power parents have to create change in their communities. She wants to share her story with other parents in an effort to motivate them to get involved so they can advocate together, because united, they can make a change in the educational system and in their communities. In 2020 Lety moved to Texas, where she continues to advocate for equity in public education and school choice across our country.

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