LocationAlhambra , CA
It is Friday afternoon at the office of the Alhambra Teachers Association on West Main Street and Tammy Scorcia, the association president, is looking ahead. She’s thinking immediately about Paint and Wine Night, an ATA mixer scheduled for that evening.
More broadly she’s thinking about the issues that may be most vital to maintaining quality education for the 16,000 students in the Alhambra Unified School District. They include affordable housing and the census, both of which have an impact on school funding. And, of course, she thinks about retaining and growing ATA’s membership, which now numbers to about 950.
Scorcia is being honored Friday, May 17 by the Alhambra Latino Association at its 22nd Annual Fundraising Dinner and Dance at Almansor Court with Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler serving as MC. ALA will present scholarships to five Alhambra Unified School District seniors as they head off to college. Congresswoman Judy Chu is scheduled to attend and speak to the gathering. (For more information on the ALA banquet, visit www.alhambralatinoassociation.com)
Self-effacing to a fault, Scorcia says that while she was “surprised and flattered” when ALA selected her for this year’s recognition, she feels that the honor is actually “acknowledging what we’re doing here.” And the we she is talking about is ATA.
ALA President Teresa Ybarra, left, and ATA President Tammy Scorcia were among the organizers for Kids and Candidates: A Community Engagement Forum last October. Photo by Bastian Mendez.
Scorcia has worked in the district for 21 years and for 18 of those years she taught at Ynez Elementary School in Monterey Park, mainly 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th grades. She has been a member of ATA for 16 years and worked her way up in the leadership ranks. She is now in the second year of her second term as president, which is a full-time job.
“When I came into this role three years ago, I wanted to change the direction of how ATA was viewed. Not just within our district, but in the community and with the families. I felt we had such an opportunity to be a part of the community and do so much, and for me, I’ve always been very active personally in my life….getting out there in the community and doing what I can.”
And that’s why you see Scorcia at so many Alhambra events involving children, including “Read Across America” at Alhambra Park in April, which ATA hosted in collaboration with AEF and AUSD. ATA’s outreach is broader than that. ATA members participated in the Science March and the Women’s March. They raise money for homeless shelters on L.A.’s skid row. They lead by example.
Scorcia was raised in the San Gabriel Valley and went to Pasadena City College before transferring to Pacific Oaks College where she earned her bachelor’s degree. She started her master’s work there but when her thesis advisor left she eventually moved on as well before finishing her master’s work at University of Phoenix.
She did some fill-in teaching in the larger Pasadena district for a time but says she found her home in Alhambra.
“When I came to Alhambra, I was impressed my first year going in as a fifth grade teacher when I had students that were struggling and I’m like, I don’t even know what to do, and I guess I don’t have the resources to do it, because I’m coming from a different mindset from working in other districts.”
“I remember my principal at the time said, ‘No, we don’t let kids fail. We don’t let kids fall through the cracks. What do you need?’”
“I said, ‘What do you mean what do I need?”
“She says, ‘What do you need? How can we get you what you need? What resources do your students need to be successful?’
“And I knew then that this is my home. This is where I need to be, because it’s all about the kids.”
She was asked if she thinks that mindset still exists now 21 years later.
“I do, I do, I think the hardest part is the financial constraints,” she said noting that ATA and AUSD and its Superintendent Denise Jaramillo, are continually looking for creative ways to get things done.
She credits the leadership at the top of the district with working to facilitate a mindset that “we are all working together to benefit the kids.”
Scorcia also pointed to the great fundraising and support work of key groups, including ALA, with its annual scholarship efforts and the Alhambra Educational Foundation. AEF, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for AUSD, included ATA in its list of honorees at its recent gala and Scorcia noted that AEF is a key provider of resources for district music programs that are personally important to her.
Circling back to two of her key concerns, she recalled an incident from her early days in the district.
“I remember that it was difficult back when I was at Ynez Elementary and we would have families paying $500 just so they could rent a couch in a house” to put their kids in AUSD schools.
“I couldn’t afford to live in this area now,” she says, noting that she and her husband and their two teen-aged children live in Glendora.
The housing affordability issue has brought a marked decline in student enrollment over the years. And when the enrollment declines, state money for districts also declines. Couple that with the fact that California ranks somewhere in the 40s out of 50 states in student funding and it can have dire consequences.
Housing costs have an impact on teachers and staff as well, many of whom, Scorcia says, have commutes that make her drive to and from Glendora, which is usually more than an hour, look reasonable.
Getting an accurate census count is equally important, she says, to make sure that the most vulnerable populations in AUSD are not ignored .
“If that means we have to rally our ATA unit members to get out there and go door to door, then that’s what we do,” she said, noting that this kind of public outreach is vital to letting people know that the financial stake in obtaining an accurate count in terms of federal funding “can be staggering.”
“We know that when we walk and we knock on a door and those kids go, ‘Oh, my god, that’s my teacher!’ They get so excited, the parents respect you. They know you’re doing everything for their children. That’s where we know we can make a difference. It that’s what we need to do, then that’s what we’ll do.”
As she considers her time as president of ATA, one of the things that most pleases her is the increased diversity both in the membership of the association and in its leadership.
“I think [diversity] helps you as an association. That is the one thing that I really worked on when I got this position, too,” she said.
Asked if she plans to run again when her term is over, she responds thoughtfully.
“You know what? I always say that I love what I do but I have to talk to my family because my priority is always my family, and if they give me their blessing, then I move forward.”