Being part of the solution: My experience as an ESSA advocate

Guest blog post by Rodney E. Van, Work Readiness Assistant, San Diego County Office of Education

I am a former at-risk student, college scholarship recipient, college graduate, retired probation officer, and small business owner. I came out of retirement because I had a desire to continue serving my community. I currently work with the San Diego County Office of Education as a Work Readiness Assistant. I am also the father of three children, two of whom are graduates of the University of California, Los Angeles, with the youngest well on his way.

Growing up in Long Beach in the early 70s, I initially struggled in elementary school, as I was a product of my neighborhood and environment. It was in the upper grades of elementary school through high school that I was blessed to attend schools where the teachers took a personal interest in the development and growth of all students. The environment was always positive and encouraging, with teachers constantly encouraging every student to graduate from college and become successful. I want to ensure today’s children have the same opportunity.


Our work readiness team, a division of the San Diego County Office of Education, had an opportunity to learn about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and to provide recommendations for its implementation to the California State Board of Education (SBE). I jumped at the chance to participate, because the Board is making policy decisions that can help California take steps toward providing truly equitable access to a high-quality education for all children in the state.

Rodney (center) at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field Airport waiting to board place bound for Sacramento on July 12, 2017. He is reviewing California Department of Education’s ESSA Agenda items and finalizing recommendations.

As we traveled to Sacramento, I was consumed by the daunting task of presenting all I wanted to say in the one minute allotted to each person during public comment. I wondered and worried if the time given and the message I was writing could possibly make any difference to the SBE. I wondered if the Board would truly care about what I had to say.

We finally arrived and I waited in the roped off area outside the surprisingly small room that housed the SBE. This is where all the speakers would be sitting before they were called to present. Finally, the doors to the boardroom opened. I heard my name called over the loudspeaker, alerting me that it was finally my time to speak. At that moment, the magnitude of the opportunity I had been hit me like a ton of bricks. I was about to speak on an issue that could impact not just the students in my district, but more importantly, all California students! I felt empowered. I felt inspired too—because I now had a chance to be part of a solution.

After my presentation was complete, I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief. I had played a vital role in potentially progressing the educational future of our children in San Diego County and those throughout the state of California.

No matter what, I made my voice heard.

Watch my presentation below:

Rodney E. Van was raised in Long Beach, California. He settled in San Diego after graduating from San Diego State University in 1988, with a bachelor’s of science in Criminal Justice Administration. Rodney retired from the San Diego County Department of Probation after 21 years of service as a supervising probation officer. After his retirement, he built his small sporting goods business, Van Sports. For more than 28 years, Rodney has served as a volunteer coach for both football and track and field. Rodney returned to the world of work to join the San Diego County Office of Education’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools. Rodney and his wife of more than 26 years have raised three children, two of whom are graduates of the University of California in Los Angeles, with the youngest attending middle school.

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