Judge chats with San Martin/Gwinn students on about education success

Published in the March 16- 29, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Jose-Franco-(1)-web

Photo by Marty Cheek
Jose Franco talks to San Martin/Gwinn students earlier this month.

When Jose Franco last walked on the campus of San Martin/Gwinn Elementary School, he was a fourth grader who grew up in a migrant family with parents who didn’t speak English. He returned at age 42 for the first time Wednesday March 2, a judge on the Superior Court of Santa Clara County.

With microphone in hand, Judge Franco spoke at an assembly with many of the students of his former school, which is now called San Martin/Gwinn Environmental Science Academy. The day was Dr. Seuss’s birthday and the third annual Read Across America Day, so Franco discussed how learning to read played an important role in his law career.

“People sometimes may tell you different things, or you may feel different things, or you may hear different things,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you can do it, you can do whatever you want.”

Jose-Franco-(2)-webFranco’s style was a light banter with the students: “How many of you are going to graduate from fifth grade? I should see everyone’s hands,” he said.

“I’m going to graduate from eighth grade!” a boy shouted out.

“Not just eighth grade!” Franco shot back. “You’re going to graduate from high school and you’re going to graduate from college.”

Another boy said he wants to go to Harvard.

“I like that,” Franco said with a beaming smile. “You know where Harvard is? It’s on the other side of the country in Boston. I went to school in Boston because I wanted to see something different. And guess what let me go to Boston College. Reading. The more you read, the more places you go because that reading helps you do well in school.”

Jose-Franco-(3)-webFranco was born in Gilroy. The family lived in San Martin but later moved to Gilroy where he continued his education in the fifth grade, graduating from Gilroy High School in 1991. His brother, sister and parents still live in the community and Franco lives in San Jose. After high school, Franco received a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and a juris doctor degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law. He served as a deputy public defender at the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office from 2000 to 2015. He supervised the Juvenile Justice Unit beginning in 2011. He also put in time as an adjunct lecturer at the San Jose State University Department of Justice Studies from 2007 to 2012. Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him a superior judge Nov. 17, 2015, to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of James P. Kleinberg.

Franco gave advice to the students during his hour visiting his former school. There are three parts to being successful and happy. The first is the money, the second is that you enjoy what you do. “And then the third most important thing is the people you work with because they have similar interests to you and that helps you grow just like reading does,” he said.

At the end of the talk, Principal Claudia Olaciregui thanked Franco and told the students, “He came to this school and look at how much good he’s doing for the community now. He’s working as a judge for Santa Clara County. I want you to think about that and the great message he gave about reading and making sure we go to college and graduate.”

Franco’s second-grade teacher, Lourdes Robledo, felt a pride that the little boy she had taught and encouraged so many years ago was able to come back a well-educated judge and share his success advice with the students. Out of 545 students at San Martin/Gwinn, about 100 are from migrant families.

“I get so emotional that what we say to them stays in their heads,” she said. “I remember telling him, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ He was a migrant child who was struggling with language along the way, and here he is, look at him, he’s a judge.”

Franco’s life and career can serve as a role model for other migrant children at the schools, she said.

“We’re always telling them, ‘Do the reading, do the homework, do the math,’ But to come from someone who can say he was a little kid here, for them to see him this way, I think it’s an inspiration.”

Second grader James Hayes and Nicholas Pfeil both agreed that Franco’s advice inspired them.

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“It’s important to read so you can get good grades, and then you get to go to the best college like Harvard or Stanford,” Pfeil said.

The work to get good grades is vital to success in life, Hayes said. “It’s good to get a good job because it’s better for when you retire,” he said.

Franco recalled happy memories from his years at San Martin/Gwinn. On Saturdays, he and his siblings often were in the nearby fields picking strawberries, many times eating the fruit to the scolding of their mom.

“I drive to Gilroy to see my parents once a week, and driving by the (San Martin) airport brings back memories of my childhood,” he said of his visit. “My parents from the very beginning recognized the importance of school, and that’s why, even though they didn’t speak the language, they sat with us as we read.”