As a high school civics teacher at Ann Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill, veteran educator Jeanie Wallace asks her students to believe in the democratic process.
As a staff representative with the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers, Wallace helped recruit candidates for the local school board.
So when the Hollister resident read in the Free Lance newspaper that there were not yet any candidates running for the Gavilan Community College Joint District seat that she resided in, the 60-year-old Wallace—who is contemplating retirement in the near future—decided to step up and live the civics lessons she had been teaching for years.
“There’d been times when I was recruiting people for the Morgan Hill school board and it was really hard to find people with the type of experience that I have in education to take the time out. So, I felt like a bit of a hypocrite if I didn’t do anything,” said Wallace, who has a daughter attending UCLA and a son set to graduate from Sobrato in the spring. “I guess it’s time to step forward.”
Two days prior to the candidacy filing period closing this past summer, Wallace went to the San Benito County Registrar of Voters office and inquired if anyone else had pulled papers. After being told “no” by the clerk, Wallace pulled papers and returned the next day, again asking if another resident had stepped forward for the Trustee Area 5 seat. After getting the same response, Wallace filed her candidacy paperwork.
Unbeknownst to her, before the end of the filing period, which was extended since the incumbent did not seek re-election, Wallace had competition for the seat in Richard Perez Sr.—a 49-year-old small business owner and retired telecommunications specialist.
Wallace said she thought about pulling out of the race after learning the news of Perez, but decided to stay on course because of her experience in education. She met with several student leaders from Gavilan College, participated in one candidate forum hosted by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (declining others due her teaching schedule) and also walked her trustee area district to knock on doors and hear from the people.
“I didn’t do as much (campaigning) as I would have done had I not been a classroom teacher. Since I’m still teaching full-time, I had to prioritize my responsibilities to my students,” said Wallace, who has been teaching for nearly three decades. “At first I was leery going out ringing doorbells, but people were very gracious about me introducing myself.”
Her limited campaigning, however, paid dividends on election night along with endorsements from the South Bay Labor Council and 30th District Assemblymember Robert Rivas (who handily won his new seat in the assembly Nov. 6) and some local activists. Wallace jumped out to an immediate lead over Perez and has never looked back as she garnered 4,043 votes, or 60.75 percent, as of the latest unofficial results from the county’s registrar office.
“I’m still contemplating (my retirement). I think it’s likely, but not 100 percent,” said Wallace, leaning toward the end of the 2018-19 school term. “That will give me more time (to focus on Gavilan) and I will be able to spend some of that time on the Gavilan campus.”
Wallace said her only past experiences with Gavilan are from taking three classes there “that filled a need for me and gave me opportunities that I was able to take advantage of (since) that’s part of what community colleges are for.”
Wallace has already begun to do her homework on Gavilan, including meeting with the school’s President Kathleen Rose, reviewing the college’s Facilities Master Plan to see how it relates to Measure X (a bond passed by voter Nov. 6) and going back over the bond language from Measure E, passed by voters in March 2004.
“I didn’t follow the old bond (but) once I found out that people were unhappy (with how those funds were allocated), I did go back and research what had been done,” said Wallace, who also spoke with the chairperson from that bond committee and believe the college did what was promised in the bond measure by purchasing the land for a San Benito County satellite campus.
Now, with the passing of the $249 million Measure X, Wallace said, after speaking with Rose and seeing the new campus as a top priority on the FMP, she is “confident that they are going to break ground this spring (since) the plans are already drawn up.”
However, Wallace said the location—on Fairview across from Ridgemark Golf Club heading out of town—will pose its challenges for some students who may not have a way of getting there.
“I hope that we will have a shuttle service on a frequent basis from the downtown to that site so it’s convenient for students,” said Wallace, who also wants to start talks of a student shuttle from Hollister to the main Gilroy campus. “I still feel it’s important for our Hollister students to feel welcome on and be able to get to the Gilroy campus.”
Another initiative Wallace wants to introduce is adding a health clinic to the Gilroy campus and ultimately the Hollister campus; partnering it with Gavilan’s nursing program.
“That’s a pet project of mine,” said Wallace, who has attended several Gavilan board meetings over the past few months. “What I have noticed is that this is a board with deep commitment and thought. It seems to be an effective board.”
Wallace will join newly elected Irma Gonzalez (TA7) and Edwin Diaz (TA3) as well as incumbent Laura Perry (who ran unopposed in TA1) and current trustees Jonathan Brusco (TA2), Mark Dover (TA4) and Rachel Perez (TA6).
Wallace praised the work and dedication of the two departing Hollister district Gavilan trustees Lois Locci and Kent Child, neither of whom sought re-election
“She did a great job at reaching out to the community and that’s something I feel responsible to step up and do,” Wallace said. “Kent Child has 50 years with the college and really has put so much heart and soul into the college…He’s been very gracious about sharing his stories and making himself available. I’m going to take advantage of that.”