By Joe Tash
Throughout her adult life, education has always been a focus for Dede Alpert.
She volunteered at her three daughters’ schools, served on the Solana Beach school district board and during 14 years as a state legislator, she worked on bills that developed a master plan for K-12 education in California and improved school accountability.
Since she left the state Senate in 2004 due to term limits, the 67-year-old Fairbanks Ranch resident has continued her work in education, serving on the board of a charter school in Southeast San Diego, and most recently, brainstorming about creating a new organization to promote and support educational excellence across school district lines in San Diego County.
For the past six months, a committee including Alpert, county schools Superintendent Randy Ward, former Solana Beach Superintendent Leslie Faussett, Judy McDonald of the Parker Foundation and Paula Cordeiro, dean of education at the University of San Diego, has been meeting to discuss the feasibility of launching the “San Diego Center for Education Excellence.”
“At this point, it’s still a dream, but it’s something we’re exploring,” Alpert said. “If it’s able to come together, I think it could be very beneficial for the region.”
The group would raise money for educational programs from local and national sources, such as grants and donations, and use the money to support educational initiatives, Alpert said. The center might commission research, or look to expand and replicate programs that have proved successful at individual schools. The center would also serve as a clearinghouse, so that educators across the region could learn about successful programs at other schools and school districts.
School officials are enthusiastic about the idea, Alpert said, and now the committee is trying to find out if businesses and philanthropic organizations will also come on board.
During their research, the working committee has studied similar organizations in Texas, Oregon and Pennsylvania, she said.
Alpert, a Democrat, spent six years in the state Assembly and eight in the Senate. Among her achievements was legislation that established the Academic Performance Index for California schools, which created benchmarks for individual schools and school districts based on standardized tests. The annual API scores are intended to encourage schools to improve their ranking each year, Alpert said.
Rankings for individual schools and districts are published online each year, where parents and students can see them.
“I think it’s made a difference, I think it’s been an improvement,” Alpert said.
While the debate has continued over how much testing — and in which grades — is appropriate for students, Alpert said standardized tests do provide valuable information to educators, parents and students.
“I would still argue that things that aren’t measured aren’t paid attention to,” she said.
Alpert, who was known as a moderate who could work with colleagues across party lines, said she has watched with dismay in recent years as the political atmosphere in both Sacramento and Washington has become more polarized.
Compromise is essential to the political process, she said, and noted that during her time in the state Legislature, she worked with Republicans on such legislation as after-school care for children and free community college tuition for military spouses.
It’s unrealistic to expect to get 100 percent of what you want, whether in the Legislature, or in life, she said. “You just have to accept you’re making progress and moving things along.”
She said she is hopeful that recent changes such as California’s open primary, in which two Democrats or two Republicans could face off in general elections, and allowing state legislators to serve a total of 12 years in either chamber, will have a moderating influence.
Alpert said her career has now come full circle, beginning with involvement in Girl Scouts, recreational sports and schools, then transitioning to the Legislature, and now back to volunteer positions in education. She has no plans to re-enter politics, instead preferring to travel with her husband, Michael, a retired attorney, play golf and spend time with her extended family, including three daughters and five grandsons, all of whom live in San Diego.
“At this time in my life it’s a nice mix for me,” she said.